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TBR News January 3, 2020

Jan 02 2020

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. January 3, 2020:“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.

Trump aches from his head to his toes
His sphincters have gone where who knows
And his love life has ended
By a paunch so distended
That all he can use is his nose

Commentary for January 3:” Comments from Pascal

• Men wish to be great and see that they are small.
• Men wish to be happy and see that they are miserable.
• Men wish to be perfect and see that they are full of imperfections.
• Men wish to be the object of the love and esteem of others and see that their shortcomings merit only their dislike and contempt.
This situation in which they finds themself produces in them the most unjust and criminal passions imaginable, for a man conceives a deadly hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults.
He would like to crush it, and, unable to do this, he destroys it the best he can, and in his consciousness, and that of others.
He takes every precaution to hide his shortcomings both from others and himself, and cannot bear to have them pointed out or observed.

Pascal-Pensées 743”

The Second Coming
by W.B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The Table of Contents
• The Coming and Going of an Ice Age
• NASA Warns Solar Minimum Could Lead To Mini Ice Age
• Thousands flee fires in Australia, navy helps evacuate the stranded
• “They’re abysmal students”: Are cell phones destroying the college classroom?
• Encyclopedia of American Loons
• The Season of Evil

The Coming and Going of an Ice Age
American Museum of Natural History
Certain landscapes in Canada, the northern U.S., and northern Europe are bona fide strange: Lone boulders squat on grassy, gentle hills. Rocks are raked with deep scratches. Rectilinear piles of gravel are aligned almost too perfectly in a single direction. Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz was among the first to realize that ancient, monstrous sheets of ice spanning entire continents produced these odd geological leftovers. In 1837, such an idea was highly controversial.
However, 150 years of follow-up research is finding that Earth’s climate has actually undergone many such glaciations in the last 2.5 billion years. In the past two million years alone, Earth has experienced around 20 ice ages–cycles of advance and retreat of large continental ice sheets. Currently, Earth is between glaciations. How exactly our anthropogenically influenced global warming is forcing large-scale natural cycles, however, remains to be seen.
Plotting the Pleistocene
The glaciation that scientists in the 1800s noticed was our most recent one. At the maximum extent of its ice sheets 21,000 years ago, Earth’s air temperature was, on average, about 4 degrees C cooler than today. Around 30 percent of the land surface was covered with ice up to 3 km thick. The sheets carved the basins of the Great Lakes and bulldozed the gravelly ridge we now call Long Island.
The event took place in the Pleistocene Epoch, which began about two million years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago. For roughly the first half of it, every 40,000 years or so contained a single cycle of prolonged, extensive glaciation, then a shorter warm period. For roughly the last half, each cycle took 100,000 years.
This timing became clear only in the early 1970s. That’s when researchers working in the Indian Ocean drilled the first cores of deep-sea sediment deposited throughout the entire Pleistocene up until current times. By measuring oxygen-isotope ratios in the carbonate “rich shells of tiny marine organisms buried in the strata of these cores, scientists estimated the temperature of the ocean’s surface when these organisms lived. Using computer models, scientists were able to infer average global temperatures during the entire Pleistocene from this data.
Milankovitch Cycles
The effort to explain how glaciers retreat and advance began decades before scientists studied these cores, however. The Indian Ocean work simply confirmed long-debated speculation that astronomical cycles may have timed the Pleistocene’s glaciation.
Cyclical changes in the way Earth orbits the Sun and spins in space were worked out by Serbian mathematician Milutin Milankovitch in the early 20th century, based on calculations made by two earlier scientists. Three changes were scrutinized:
Orbit: Earth orbits the Sun in a slightly elliptical path. Sometimes, the orbit is more elliptical than at other times. The shape of the orbit changes the maximum distance of Earth from the Sun, and with it the amount of solar radiation Earth receives. The transition from “most circular” to “most elliptical” and back again takes about 96,000 years.
Tilt: The tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation also varies. It shifts between 21.5 and 24.5 degrees in a cycle of 41,000 years. The tilt affects where the globe is receiving the most solar radiation. During times of more tilt, higher latitudes receive more sunlight.
Precession: Earth doesn’t rotate perfectly around its axis. Instead, it wobbles like a top, a motion called precession. Precession influences the amount of solar radiation striking a given location for a given season. This causes the difference of temperature between seasons to be either large or small. For example, sometimes winters will be extra frigid and summers extra warm (large difference). Other times, mild winters are followed by cool summers (small difference). Precession operates on a 21,000-year cycle.
Milankovitch reasoned that these cycles could work together to vary the amount of sunlight a given place on Earth receives by 20 percent, especially at high latitudes. That could nudge the advance of the polar ice caps: Less radiation at the poles would mean more snow would survive until the next season. Snow would therefore increasingly accumulate into glacier ice.
Milankovitch cycles explain much about how and when climate changes have occurred in the last 2.5 billion years. But they’re not the whole story. The magnitude of large-scale climate change is influenced by many Earth-bound factors. Among them are changes in topography and plate motions, the hydrosphere, the biosphere, and the atmosphere. The concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases is important: The higher the concentration, the more these gases trap escaping radiation close to Earth’s surface. Ice-core analysis indicates that levels of greenhouse gases were lower during glacial periods than interglacials.

NASA Warns Solar Minimum Could Lead To Mini Ice Age
May 27, 2019
by David Cohen
Scientists are warning that a new ice age could be on its way. According to some researchers, activity on the sun has indicated that a phenomenon known as the “solar minimum” has arrived.
Sunspots have been present for 79 days since the beginning of the year, which is 55 percent of the year. The intensity of sunspots is a sign to scientists that the solar minimum is near.
The solar minimum is a period of time where the sun is giving off less heat.
The sun operates in cycles that are marked by periods of increased and decreased temperature, and lasts roughly 11 years in total. There is also a solar maximum, which is a time of increased sunspots where more heat emanates from the sun.
The website “Space Weather,” said, “The sun has been without sunspots for 79 days so far this year – more than half the time. To find a similar number of blank suns, you have to go back to 2009 when the sun was experiencing the deepest solar minimum in a century. Ground-based neutron monitors and high-altitude cosmic ray balloons are registering a new increase in cosmic rays. The Oulu neutron monitor in Finland, which has been making measurements since 1964, reports levels in April 2019 only percentage points below the Space Age maximum of 2009. What’s going on? The answer is ‘Solar Minimum.’ During the low phase of the 11-year solar cycle, the sun’s magnetic field and solar wind weaken.
Researchers knew that this solar minimum was coming, but were not expecting it to arrive until 2020. It appears that the mini ice age will now be coming a year early.
The last time that a solar minimum happened, a mini ice age did occur and it lasted for over 70 years. This was a period in history known as the Maunder minimum, which took place between 1645 and 1715. For people living during this era, shorter seasons and food shortages were a common occurrence.
The Maunder minimum saw global temperatures decrease by 1.3 degrees Celsius.
“All weather on Earth, from the surface of the planet out into space, begins with the Sun. Space weather and terrestrial weather (the weather we feel at the surface) are influenced by the small changes the Sun undergoes during its solar cycle,” NASA said on its website.
Space Weather said that this will be the deepest solar minimum that the Earth has seen in an entire century.
“Cosmic rays find it easier to penetrate the inner solar system. In 2009, the sun experienced the deepest solar minimum in a century. Cosmic rays reaching Earth naturally surged. Ten years later, solar minimum is back with renewed weakening of the sun’s magnetic field and the solar wind. Again, it’s a ‘perfect storm. A panel of experts led by NOAA and NASA recently predicted that the current minimum would reach a nadir in late 2019 or 2020, likely matching the record-setting minimum of 2009,” Space Weather said.
Martin Mlynczak, a scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, warns that “A cooling trend is obvious in the atmosphere…High above the Earth’s surface, towards the edge of space, the atmosphere is losing heat energy and if current trends persist, it could mean soon to set a Space Age record for cold…the knowledge of this is quite startling to think for a start that something out of our control and visible could cause the next ice age, is not just a little frightening but scary.”
The correlation between low sunspot activity and cold winters in England has recently been analyzed using the longest existing surface temperature record, the Central England Temperature record. The researchers found that the decrease in temperatures was not worldwide, but localized to specific areas.
Scientists are not exactly sure why this happens, but the best theories suggest that the output from the sun varies at different times, which means that it would be hitting areas differently depending on the axis of the earth. The mini ice age that occurred in the middle ages also coincided with a massive volcanic eruption, the aftermath of which likely decreased the earth’s temperature as well. With this being the case, it is not certain that a solar minimum will reproduce the same conditions as the Maunder minimum.

Thousands flee fires in Australia, navy helps evacuate the stranded
January 1, 2020
by Jill Gralow and Sonali Paul
BATEMANS BAY, Australia/MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of holiday makers fled seaside towns on Australia’s east coast on Thursday as bushfires approached, and military ships and helicopters began rescuing thousands more trapped by the blazes.
Fuelled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, threatening several towns.
The NSW state government declared a state of emergency, beginning on Friday, giving authorities the power to forcibly evacuate people and take control of services.
“It is hell on earth. It is the worst anybody’s ever seen,” Michelle Roberts said by telephone from the Croajingolong Cafe she owns in Mallacoota, a southeastern coastal town where 4,000 residents and visitors have been stranded on the beach since Monday night.
Roberts hoped to get her 18-year-old daughter onto a naval ship, which arrived off the town on Thursday, in order to escape the fires and thick smoke engulfing the town.
The HMAS Choules is expected to make two or three voyages over the coming days, state authorities said.
Elsewhere, long queues formed outside supermarkets and petrol stations as residents and tourists sought supplies to either bunker down or escape the fires, emptying shelves of staples like bread and milk.
More than 50,000 people were without power and some towns had no access to drinking water.
“Everyone’s just on edge,” said Shane Flanagan, a resident of Batemans Bay on the NSW coast.
Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on the southeast coast, an area popular with tourists during the summer holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires.
“The priority today is fighting fires and evacuating, getting people to safety,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “There are parts of both Victoria and New South Wales which have been completely devastated, with a loss of power and communications.”
Eight people have been killed by wildfires in NSW and Victoria since Monday and 18 are missing, officials said on Thursday.
Temperatures are forecast to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) along the south coast on Saturday, bringing the prospect of renewed firefronts to add to the around 200 current blazes.
“It is going to be a very dangerous day. It’s going to be a very difficult day,” NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Jill Gralow in Batemans Bay; Editing by Jane Wardell, Neil Fullick and Mike Collett-White

“They’re abysmal students”: Are cell phones destroying the college classroom?
A cri de coeur from a philosophy professor.
December 27, 2019
by Nate Anderson
ars technica
In the early 2000s, when I taught freshman writing at the University of North Carolina, disengaged students couldn’t rely on the Internet to distract them—they had to make their own fun. One male student used a light “get to know each other” first-day exercise as a chance to tell the whole class an aggressive story about how he once peed in his much-despised stepfather’s aftershave; another female student delivered a “professional presentation” to the whole class while wearing a sheer shirt and no undergarments. And you know what? I respected them both. That’s the kind of old-school subversion of the classroom experience, the unspoken challenge to the authority of the teacher, that I can get behind. It takes creativity, it takes guts, it takes rebellion.
Today, who’s got the energy for that kind of acting out? I’ve been in and around universities for my entire adult life, and in the last few years I’ve observed an astonishing “tuning out” taking place in the classroom. I’ve seen a student, in a course where cell phones and laptops were forbidden by the professor, slip his phone out of his pocket every two minutes, checking for messages and occasionally tapping out a quick reply under the table, apparently convinced that the professor did not notice this. (He did.) I’ve seen students shop for boots in class, log in to their stock market portfolios (!), read the newspaper, write emails, and even work on papers for other classes. One spent each class period scrolling through his Twitter account on a laptop, pausing to watch every moving GIF and video clip.
This is not just my experience. Take yesterday’s piece in MIT Technology Review, where philosophy professor Ron Srigley writes about what cell phones have done to his own classroom. His conclusion is sobering: “I have a real fondness for my students as people. But they’re abysmal students; or rather, they aren’t really students at all, at least not in my class. On any given day, 70% of them are sitting before me shopping, texting, completing assignments, watching videos, or otherwise occupying themselves. Even the ‘good’ students do this. No one’s even trying to conceal the activity, the way students did before. This is just what they do.”
Safe, secure, and distracted
After two mediocre classroom experiences—one in 2014 and one in 2018—Srigley suspected that online distractions were to blame. He gave his students a voluntary extra-credit assignment: ditch the cell phones and write about the experience.
A third of the students did so, and they wrote about how cell phones cut down on human interaction, saving people from having to navigate awkward interactions. Simply passing a stranger in the street or the hall caused “almost all of them to take out a phone ‘right before I could gain eye contact with them,'” wrote one student. Others complained about friends who pulled out cell phones while talking to them. Still others wrote about how not using a phone freed them from the burden of responding to a long string of texts, social media posts, emails, and voicemails. “Didn’t have to hear the fucking thing ring or vibrate once, and didn’t feel bad not answering phone calls because there were none to ignore,” wrote one student.
Not surprisingly, students also found that their ability to concentrate in class and while writing papers improved.
But students also reported a creeping sense of fear—what if I need my phone for an emergency? What if I need to contact someone right now? (This despite leading physically safe lives in a largely crime-free environment.)
The experiment was not rigorously controlled and may not be representative; by making it voluntary, those who felt the most dislike of their electronic tethers may have been the most likely to participate. Still, Srigley’s informal experiment mirrors many of the findings of , a book by MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle. After plenty of fieldwork and interviews, Turkle argued that too many of us are using technology in ways designed to kill solitude, relieve awkwardness, keep us feeling safe, and provide connection… on our terms.
But awkward interactions, calculated risks, time alone, and connecting with others without being in control of the interaction are all important parts of being human. Navigating those experiences is part of a healthy engagement with a world that we can never fully master, and the illusions of safety and control provided by our technology also produce isolation, distraction, and anxiety as we retreat from that uncontrollable world.
On the other hand, both Srigley and Turkle found that young people who are heavy smartphone users stay in near-constant communication with their parents, which was not true of previous generations. (Turkle argues that there is a dark side to this behavior, as younger people seem increasingly afraid to “cut the cord” and live on their own. As a parent myself, though, I take some comfort in the thought that my kids may actually want to text me while away at college.)
While the broader debate about screens, devices, and Internet usage continues to rage, what about this narrower question of how technology affects the classroom? It seems inarguable that widespread use of Internet-connected devices in the classroom has had a negative effect on student attention, but maybe I’ve just been in the wrong classrooms. And maybe, as some critics like to claim, it’s old-school teaching models that need to change—and student disengagement is a symptom of boredom with lectures and discussions, not of a pathological distractedness. So what should the college classroom look like in the age of the smartphone?

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Gerald Schroeder

Gerald Lawrence Schroeder is an Israeli-American physicist, author, lecturer and teacher at the College of Jewish Studies Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Seminar. Schroeder does indeed have a genuine science background and may have been a real scientist at some point, but he is also a creationist, and seems to have spent most of the last 40 years doing apologetics, such as investigating “the confluence of science and Torah” and constructing elaborate, tortured ad hoc explanations to get the apparent age of the universe to fit with the literal Biblical six-day account of creation; in particular Schroeder draws on relativity to reconcile a six-day creation as described in Genesis with the scientific evidence that the world is billions of years old using the idea that the perceived flow of time for a given event in an expanding universe varies with the observer’s perspective of that event. As such, it isn’t really young-earth creationism in the traditional sense, but it is still serious nonsense (there is a comprehensive explanation of his silliness here; Schroeder’s non-response to being refuted is discussed here), and still creationism. Although he attempts to reconcile Genesis and science when it comes to the age of the universe, he simply rejects science in favor of the Bible – including the Bible Code – when it comes to all other matters (these areas are, after all, beyond his area of competence anyways, and you can always reject the science of things you don’t understand). Schroeder is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s silly petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism (Schroeder has no expertise on anything related to evolution), and currently seems to be considered something of an authority in the Intelligent Design movement, being invited to give seemingly scientifically informed talks by various denialist groups across the US.
His books include titles like The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom a book that has generated research such as Andrew Mark Sibley “A Photon Reference Frame and Distant Starlight: Analyzing Ideas from Gerald L. Schroeder’s The Science of God” published in the venerable Answers Research Journal, Answers in Genesis’s house journal. Schroeder’s most famous book is presumably The Hidden Face of God, however, since it apparently impressed ex-atheist Antony Flew during his conversion process; it is reviewed here (“[n]o one should read this tiresome book for any serious purpose other than to find examples of popular science-abuse”). Given Schroeder’s background, the most striking characteristic, apart from its New Age-style handwavings, is perhaps the many misinterpretations of and obvious errors in the physics he describes.
Diagnosis: At least he is pretty clear that what he is doing is fundie dogmatism: start with the conclusion you like, try to make the data fit and just reject whatever doesn’t. But Schroeder is also something of a star in the creationist movement, and seems to spend quite a bit of effort promoting denialism. He must accordingly be considered a moderate threat to civilization and human flourishing.

Jeffrey Schone
Martin Luther College (MLC) is a religious institution (the college of ministry for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) in New Ulm, Minnesota, that pretends to offer something resembling “education”. It does not, of course – not even remotely. Instead, they profess creationism, teaches the Genesis story as a factual, historical account, and do their best to prevent their students from being exposed to pollution from reality, truth, science, evidence or similar tricks of Satan. In 2013, for instance, when a local group planned to put on the play “Inherit the Wind” MLC refused to allow them to use any of their facilities for practice, and also pressured the actors to drop out, because evolution is contrary to their teachings. Jeff Schone, vice president of student life at the MLC, made it absolutely clear to its students, WELS members and the public that creationism is the only option. He did admit that he recognized the subtext of the play (or something), but nevertheless said it was unfairly critical of creationism and that most people would only see the criticism. “We felt it was not compatible with what [the school] teaches the Bible says about the universe and the world,” said Schone. “People employing our students need confidence about their views.” In other words, that they prevent their students from being exposed to science, truth and accountability in research, is a selling point for the MLC.
Diagnosis: Deranged Taliban fundie. It may, however, scare us even more that there is a market for the people “educated” at this camp.

Jeff Schoep

The National Socialist Movement (NSM) is a Detroit-based neo-Nazi organization, and a part of the Nationalist Front. NSM refers to itself as a “white civil rights organization” but objects to being referred to as “racist” and “Neo-Nazi” in part because such descriptions of their goals are unflattering. The descriptionsare not what is wrong here – the group did for instance use the swastika as logo until 2016, and has stated that “When you put on your NSM uniform, you are not just representing the NSM but all National Socialists that fought and died for our Race and our Cause! You are showing the Jews and the rest of the world that our Führer is not forgotten and that his life’s struggle was not in vain!”. The aforementioned goals include a US inhabited only by those of “pure White blood” (Jewish people and homosexuals need not apply), and they demand that “all non-Whites currently residing in America be required to leave the nation forthwith and return to their land of origin: peacefully or by force” – according to their website “The Constitution was written by white men alone. Therefore, it was intended for whites alone.” Supporters include Randy Gray and Christian Identity pastor James Wickstrom.
Jeff Schoep was chairman of the group from 1994 to 2019. It was hence under Schoep’s tenure that the NSM for instance led the demonstration that sparked the 2005 Toledo riot and the rally that turned into the 2016 Sacramento riot – ostensibly “non-violent” NSM has a history of seeking out violence that distinguishes them from other expressedly non-violent groups. In November 2016, following the election of Donald Trump, the organization changed its logo from the swastika to an Odal rune, apparently eyeing an opportunity to enter mainstream politics. Apparently Schoep worked hard to unite “pro-white organizations”, though he also sought to distance his group from the KKK: “We’re both pro-white, but our politics are very different,” said Schoep, apparently because whereas the NSM is political, the Klan promotes religion. Anti-semitism is of course at the core of NSM’s conspiracy theories, and according to Schoep “illegal immigration from Latin America is driven by an international Jewish conspiracy whose leaders are plotting “the destruction of all races through the evils of race mixing.”
In 2019, Schoep was replaced as director and president of the NSM by James Hart Stern, a black activist vowing to eradicate the group. Apparently Schoep was responsible for the takeover because he wanted to leave the group due to the legal issues he was embroiled in (nothing suggests that Schoep has become noticeably less lunatic about the issues that constitute the core of NSM’s mission). Matthew Heimbach used to be the group’s community outreach director.
Diagnosis: Yeah, well …

Rob Schneider

Celebrity loonis a pretty common breed; after all, celebrity status is only rarely the result of cognitive skills and qualities. We cannot cover them all, but some celebrity loons are particularly vocal and may actually wield enough influence to have a negative influence on civilization. Actor, comedian, screenwriter and director Rob Schneider is one such. Schneider is an anti-vaccine activist (and far from the only antivaxx celebrity loon). And as you expect, Schneider has no idea what vaccines actually are, how they function or how and what the science behind vaccines actually work and says.
Schneider promotes the thoroughly refuted claim that vaccines are dangerous and cause autism. In Schneider’s opinion “the efficacy of these shots have not been proven … And the toxicity of these things – we’re having more and more side effects. We’re having more and more autism.” All of those claims are false, of course, but Schneider seems to have a rather foggy idea of how to determine whether claims are true or not. But then, Schneider has claimed that California lawmakers are Nazis for passing a law that requires parents to get educated before getting a vaccine exemption, so there is perhaps a certain bizarre consistency in his position (education, knowledge, research, facts are to be viewed with extreme suspicion), just not of the kind most people should be looking for. Of course, even that sense of consistency is undermined when Schneider claims to be all about advocating “informed consent”; he explicitly doesn’t care about the “informed” part.
Schneider is in particular a vocal opponent of the state of California’s restrictions on non-medical exemptions to school vaccines, mostly invoking the “health freedom” gambit, and views any actions from the state he perceives as attempts to mandate vaccinations “government overreach”. As Schneider sees it, “it’s illegal [it is not].You can’t make people do procedures that they don’t want [which the laws don’t, which is (in part) why it isn’t illegal]. The parents have to be the ones who make the decisions for what’s best for our kids. It can’t be the government saying that [Parent intuitions and conspiracy theories trump facts every time]. It’s against the Nuremberg Laws [and down the rabbit hole we go, as antivaxxers are wont to do].” Some would see it as a shortcoming of Schneider’s statements that they lack any basis in facts or reality; Schneider’s fans don’t seem to care. It is worth mentioning that the Nuremberg Laws were actually the Nazi laws that stripped Jewish people of their citizenship; Schneider might have meant the Nuremberg Code, but who knows – besides: details – details are related to facts and accuracy; good antivaxx conspiracy theorists hate details. Schneider has also railed against Big Pharma, claimed that kids get 70 vaccinations (apparently a number selected at random), claimed that there are no safety or efficacy studies of vaccines (presumably because he hasn’t seen them because he cannot be bothered to check because that would only be relevant if we cared about truthand this has nothing to do with truth), complained that doctors won’t tell you “both sides”, called for a randomized, blinded vaccinated vs. unvaccinated study (which would, ironically, straightforwardly violate the Nuremberg Code; hint: why don’t we have a randomized, double-blinded study of the efficacy of car seatbelts?), and finally claimed that vaccines contain mercury, which is idiotic for a number of reasons. And he wasn’t done: more stupid here; Schneider’s rant is actually kind of remarkable for being wrong about absolutely every single detail.
His main schtick is to claim that “there’s no medical science behind vaccines” or “don’t vaccinate. Vaccines don’t work. There’s no science behind them” or “they don’t research this stuff” (apparently betting on the idea that if he repeats a claim three times, it transforms into an argument). The claim is remarkably easy to refute, of course, but we suspect that Schneider doesn’t even have the faintest clue what he would be looking for. Nor do vaccines work, according to Schneider; “vaccines had nothing to do with the eradication of smallpox from the world.” Instead, according to Schneider, “diseases run cycles.” It is, of course, just a remarkable coincidence that the cycles abruptly end when vaccines are introduced and never return (at least until unvaccinated people bring them back).
Despite being wrong about everything, Schneider has, as mentioned, passionately fought the passage of California Assembly Bill 2109 and California Senate Bill 277, which both intended to make childhood vaccination exemptions harder to obtain. In 2012, Schneider joined California State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly at a “Medical Freedom Rally”, urging governor Brown to veto 2109. In 2015, after Schneider had talked to California state Assemblywoman and Bill 277 co-author Lorena Gonzalez, Gonzalez aptly illustrated the ridiculousness of having that conversation: “he was actually much nicer to me, but let’s be honest … that is 20 mins of my life I’ll never get back arguing that vaccines don’t cause autism with Deuce Bigalow, male gigolo.”
His own people in the antivaccine movement don’t really see or care about the difference between Deuce Bigalow and scientists, however. Schneider was for instance invited as panelist, along with e.g. Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association (an antivaccine group sponsored by Boiron), and disgraced fraud Andy Wakefield, at the Give Autism a Chance Summit in 2014. He has also given numerous radio show appearances and narrated deranged videos for the Canary Party published by NaturalNews and apparently shown at a Congressional briefing explaining how antivaxxers completely and fundamentally fail to comprehend how the Vaccine Court works – Schneider really, really doesn’t get it – and venturing deep into Alex Jones-style conspiracy territory, e.g. with the familiar “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy (decent summary of that one here and here); Schneider is of course himself a champion of the side of wrong regarding that particular conspiracy theory.
Also predictably, Schneider claims to have had his free speech rights violated since his vocal, stupid and dangerous claims about vaccines have generated a backlash and a certain amount of criticism.
He has also claimed that he can’t be bothered to work because California Democrats tax so much and put bureaucratic obstacles in the way of his vitamin company (Schneider is a Republican).
Diagnosis: The immediate reaction among minimally reasonable people is of course that the feeble idiocy of dense celebrities like Rob Schneider hardly matters; the thing is, of course: antivaxxers have never been able to distinguish the authority of fact, evidence and science from the authority of glitter and nonsense. Unfortunately, the efforts of blathering fools like Schneider actually do make a difference.

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.
To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019

Chapter 47

There was a small sauna in the basement which had never been used and perhaps they might all follow Nordic custom, heat themselves up and run around naked in the snow, beating each other with tree branches. On the other hand, that might lead to some kind of an orgy and Chuck was determined not to let that happen again, at least not insofar as he was concerned.
While he was driving back, Claude had discovered the sauna during a private tour of the house, and was now hooking up the heating elements in anticipation of enjoying one of his favorite pastimes.
With the van safely in the garage, the presents and Christmas items hidden in the generator room, Chuck carried the bags of food into the house. It took three trips to empty the van of food and by the time he was finished, he went into the living room. There was no one there and as far as he could tell, the house was empty.
Perhaps a squad of assassins had come in the meantime but he recalled that all of the vehicles belonging to the house, in addition to Claude’s car, were still in the garage.
Finally, he discovered a towel by the open door leading to the cellar and he went down to investigate.
There was the smell of steam and damp wood and he heard muffled laughter.
The sauna was now in full operation and when he opened the door, a thick wall of steamy air engulfed him. There were dim shapes on the benches but he could not identify any of them.
“If that’s you, Chuck, come on in but leave your clothes on the rack,” Gwen said, laughing.
“Who did you think it was? LeBec trying to get warm? What are we having in here, an orgy?”
“No,” said Claude, “just warming up. Come on in and join us. There’s plenty of room here.”
Chuck stepped back, closing the door, and looked at the clothing rack beside it. When he saw a bra and other items of underwear, male and female, he very nearly decided to go back upstairs and listen to his new CDs. In the end, he concluded that there was so much steam in the room that no one could see anything so he stripped and went in, closing the thick door behind him
The heat was unexpected and he fumbled around, looking for a safe bench, one that was not occupied.
The wood was hot and he had no towel to soften the effect so he lowered himself carefully onto the slatted bench.
“Is this one of your bizarre schemes, Gwen? Get us all in here naked and play some kind of loony card game?”
Gwen, who apparently was at the end of the room, began to laugh.
“You must be joking, Chuckie. It’s too hot to play with yourself in here, let alone have a card game. You want to have sex in a place like this? Get real, lover.”
“This is really neat, Chuck.” Lars said from the bench directly across from him.
“Neat, my ass. We’ll all parboil in here.”
It was certainly hot but Chuck very quickly got accustomed to it and began to relax. Someone, probably Lars, coughed and the dim shape of someone, probably Claude, walked past him to pour more water on the coals. There was the sound of cold water on the hot pumice rocks and Claude got back onto his bench.
“Where were you, friend?” he said as he lay back and stretched out. “We looked for you but your van was gone.”
“I went shopping for some food.”
“Not in town,” Gwen said, “You’ve been gone for hours.”
“I went to Duluth, if you have to know.”
“You could have told me, sweetie. I would like to have gone with you. There are some things I need.”
When Claude had finished hooking up the sauna, he had gone upstairs to see if anyone was interested in using it. Gwen, always interested in projects that had a sexual overtone, immediately and eagerly accepted. Lars was another matter entirely.
He was not happy that Claude was staying in the house and had spent more time than usual in his room. It took Gwen to get him involved but he was not pleased with the prospect of sitting naked in a room with someone he considered a rival for the affections of his friends. Lars had always taken a narcissistic pride in his anatomy and was soon further angered to discover that Claude was even better constructed than he was, although not as well endowed.
Once inside the wood-lined room, they picked their places, spreading towels on their benches and then Claude poured cold water over the glowing fake coals in the stone container on the floor. There was a great hissing and thick clouds of steam quickly filled the room.
Lars found it hard to breathe at first and began to cough. He had never been in a sauna before and the heat was more than he was used to.
He was thinking about going back upstairs when Chuck arrived and he decided to stay.
There was not much conversation in the enervating heat until Claude began to comment on it.
“I was in a health club one time that catered to senior citizens. I remember when old man MacFarlane fell asleep in the sauna and was pretty well cooked when they found him.”
This alarmed Lars.
“Do you think we’ll cook in here?”
“No,” Chuck assured him, “you will not cook. When we get tenderized, we can all run out into the snow and roll around for ten minutes. Isn’t that the way it goes, Claude?”
“You can if you want to, Charlie, but I don’t think I will.”
“Look, Frenchy, I hate to be called Chuck because it isn’t my name but I draw the line at Charlie. OK?”
“What is your name then?”
Lars, who was feeling encouraged by Chuck’s sarcasm, began to laugh.
“Cyril. His name is Cyril.”
“Shut up, Osvald!”
“That’s kind of cute,” Claude said, “it sounds like a kiddy cartoon. The Adventures of Cyril and Osvald. Which one has the harelip?”
Chuck sat up on the bench.
“You’re thinking of Elmer Fudd, butt breath, and he stutters. I mean Claude isn’t mainline either.”
“Claude is super mainline. I am well known to everyone as Mr. Cool.”
Chuck slid off the bench, stumbled around until he found the bucket of ice water and poured a quantity of it onto Claude’s crotch. There were loud noises from Claude followed by considerable laughter from the company assembled.
“At least we cooled off part of you.” Chuck said, getting back on the bench.
“Hey, Cyril, the very best part!”
“Watch it weasel breath or Lars here will become Eric the Red and punch your lights out. He was a champion boxer once.”
“Where? In day care?”
“No, in high school. He coldcocked a guy once and killed him with one blow.”
“Do tell. I knew a black queen that could do that three times a night. There wasn’t a sailor in San Diego that was safe. Old Twaneeza could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. Hey, Lars, were you a boxer?”
“Yes, Claude, I was a boxer once, like Chuck said.”
“Did you really kill someone?”
“Yes I did. I hit John Petersen in the nose and pushed a piece of nose bone up into his brain. It killed him and I never boxed again.”
Claude said nothing at all.
Gwen was enjoying the masculine banter.
“Such a bunch of studs in here. You sound like you’re all about ten years old.”
She then became the object of conversation.
“Well,” said Lars who was feeling on a roll, “you look about ten.”
“Listen, cricket dick, I don’t need any crap from you.”
There was general loud and ribald laughter.
“Cricket dick?” Claude said, “Jesus, lady, old Lars here would make an elephant wince.”
This caused Chuck to start laughing until he ended in a spasm of loud coughing.
Lars was getting over his weeklong sulk. His boxing career and his physical accomplishments were being spoken of with some respect and he decided that perhaps Claude was more acceptable than he originally thought.
Gwen, on the other hand, was angry.
“You know, guys, Christmas is coming and if you don’t watch yourselves, Santa won’t bring you anything nice.”
“I’ve got something nice for Santa,” Claude said with a snicker.
“Lars could really give him something nice,” Chuck added.
“Chuck, I am not going to fuck Santa Claus. You know, sometimes I think you are really lame.”
For some reason, this caught Claude in just the right way and he began to roar with laughter. In his mind, he could see Lars chasing the bearded intruder around the fireplace.
Chuck said, “I think you’re right, Lars. Christmas is coming and we ought to be nice to each other. Maybe we can set LeBec up in the living room and hang lights on him.”
Gwen began to squeal with laughter but Claude had no idea at all what was funny.
“Who is LeBec?”
“Oh,” Gwen said when she stopped laughing, “he’s the guy that tried to shoot Chuck last week. We stuck him in the snow just outside your window.”
“I hope to God he was dead, honey.”
“I think he was. He said he was alive but people do lie so much these days.”
Claude sat up and leaned across the aisle, poking at Chuck.
“Hey, is that for real? Is there some body out in the snow? Someone tried to kill you?”
Chuck yawned.
“She’s right. My uncle hired him to blow me away but he got caught in the last really big storm. If we hadn’t dug him out, he’d have frozen to death. All that work and he had a heart attack.”
“Oh sure. What caliber?”
“Gwen beat his brains out with a poker.”
“No shit!”
“I am not kidding you. I wouldn’t let her use one of my cast iron frying pans and the good kitchen knives were out so she did him with a poker. My God, such a mess. It looked like someone dropped an institutional jar of beets right on the floor of your bathroom.”
Gwen was furious.
“Hey, Chuckie, he died when you were talking with him. How do I know you didn’t use the poker?”
“It was your idea to kill him, love, remember?”
Claude was finding this conversation well worth listening to but he made an effort to be gallant.
“Hey, guys, there’s a lady present.”
Both Chuck and Lars said, simultaneously,
Gwen, finding herself outnumbered, grabbed the bucket with its still-cold water and sloshed the contents all over her companions.
Soon enough, the small sauna was thoroughly wet, a thrown towel had landed on the coals and caught fire and it was generally agreed that enough was enough and the sauna session ended for the day.
While they were all dressing, Claude tapped Lars on the shoulder.
“Hey, show me your stuff, Lars.”
“I just put my pants on, Claude, sorry.”
“No, asshole, I meant this,”
And he held up his fists as if he were about to start a boxing match.
“Oh, I don’t want to hit you, Claude.”
“Just fake it, Like this…”
And he jabbed at Lars and touched him several times on the shoulder and rib cage.
“See, no damage. Show me your footwork, kid.”
And Lars went into a partial crouch, feinted with his left and grazed Claude’s left ear with his right. Before the startled Claude could react, Lars had lightly smacked him on his jaw and twice in the ribs.
Claude dropped his hands. There were dull red patches on his bare upper torso.
“That’s enough, friend and Claude gratefully thanks you for not doing a real number on him. You know, I used to box at a gym in Boston a few years back and they told me I was pretty good but you’re better than pretty good, Lars. I have a whole storage shed full of gym stuff down in New Orleans Weights, machines and especially boxing gear. If Chuck doesn’t object, I’ll have the stuff shipped up here and set it up right here in the cellar. Then we can all have fun and improve our bods while it snows outside.”
Chuck put on his shoes and left his wet socks on the bench outside the sauna door.
“I don’t mind.”
“And,” Claude said, pulling his sweater over his head, “you can pump a little iron yourself. Wouldn’t do you any harm.”
Gwen had finished dressing and was getting ready to go upstairs.
“I guess I can come down here too, can’t I? Or are you afraid of a woman working out with you?”
“Well,” Chuck said, preparing to dodge a missile, “you could add inches to your chest, Gwen. Pretty soon, you’d look like David in drag.”
“David who?”
“The statue by Michelangelo.”


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