Jesse Singal on Coleman Hughes vs. TED

September 30, 2023 • 11:30 am

By now most of us know that Coleman Hughes, a heterodox black thinker, got into trouble when he gave a preapproved TED talk echoing Martin Luther King’s “don’t judge a person by their skin color” trope. Hughes’s point wasn’t that we shouldn’t be aware of color, but what we need to do is concentrate on fixing general societal inequalities, and should do that by a form of socioeconomic affirmative action versus pure race-based affirmative action.

As I said, this talk was approved by TED well in advance. I didn’t realize this, but giving a short TED talk involves months of preparation, which includes interacting with TED people so that they know in advance and approve of everything that is going to be said.  So they knew what Hughes was going to say! Then a group called Black@TED, made up of TED employees, objected to the “let’s not concentrate on race but on well being” trope.  As has been described by Hughes and verified by Chris Anderson (TED’s boss), post-talk objections by this group (and others) to what Hughe saids led to TED’s attempt to put video “asterisks” on the talk.

First TED asked Hughes to okay the release of a single video that included both original TED talk as well as a moderated discussion of it. Hughes naturally bridled at this. It’s unheard of!

TED then offered a deal in which Hughes’s talk could be released as a standalone video, but then there would be a long “debate” released separately (it was, with Jamelle Bouie as the interlocutor).  But TED broke its part of the deal by not promoting Hughes’s talk like other TED talks, so it got relatively few views. (TED talks are, of course, very important for young people’s careers, and Hughes, though spectacularly smart and accomplished, is only 27).

As Jesse Singal describes in his analysis of this fracas below (click on screenshot; you may have to subscribe), TED (or at least its head Chris Anderson) screwed up big time. Given that Hughes’s talk was vetted extensively beforehand, there is no excuse for publishing it with post facto conditions.  This was done solely because Black@Ted (which refused to meet with Hughes) said that the talk would cause “harm”, a palpably ridiculous assertion. What it would cause was discussion.

The other issue came from the social scientist Adam Grant, who, after the talk, claimed that Hughes ignored a meta-analysis by Leslie et al. showing that a “color blind” attempt to achieve equality was less effective than one based on racial awareness. I haven’t read that paper yet, but Hughes has. Here’s his reaction, which I present without agreeing or disagreeing:

I read the paper that Grant referenced, titled “On Melting Pots and Salad Bowls: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Identity-Blind and Identity-Conscious Diversity Ideologies,” expecting to find arguments against color blindness. I was shocked to find that the paper largely supported my talk. In the results section, the authors write that “colorblindness is negatively related to stereotyping” and “is also negatively related to prejudice.” They also found that “meritocracy is negatively related to discrimination.”

Singal, in his Substack piece below, says he’ll provide an analysis of the Leslie et al.  paper later, and I’ll be sure to call that to your attention. If you want to read it now, be my guest. At any rate, even if Grant is right, his objections came post facto, and why didn’t TED, which is supposed to vet all the empirical claims of a talk in advance, know about it?

Singal is really angry, especially at Anderson, and it shows. I’ll give a few substantial quotes from Singal if you can’t read his site (but do subscribe; he writes about important stuff):

First, Singal on Adam Grant:

Grant is a superstar within psychology, and he claimed that Hughes’s argument was “directly contradicted by an extensive body of rigorous research,” linking to this meta-analysis. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth piece on this particular facet of the controversy soon, if I have time to do enough reading about it. But based on my own knowledge of the field of diversity trainings, I think Grant is badly overstating (1) the strength of the evidence that any one particular approach to framing these issues “works” better than others (though different people define “works” differently, which is part of the problem); and (2) the extent to which that meta-analysis could in any sense “directly contradict” Hughes’s argument.

Singal is good at dissecting papers, so I sure hope he take a look at this one.

But Singal reserves his ire for Anderson, who, he claims, dropped the ball, and that that is irrelevant to what Grant claims. A few quotes:

This was already a ridiculous story, and the available facts suggest Chris Anderson botched it every single step of the way. As anyone who has read about the polished, whirring machine that produces TED Talks knows, the organization does not leave anything to chance in terms of quality and content. TED Talk participants run a bit of a gauntlet, and that includes, obviously, TED knowing exactly what’s going to be said during the talk long before the speaker actually steps onstage. This is far from a poetry slam open mic night.

And then he reveals what I think is the real reason Hughes was given an asterisk:

I can’t say for sure, but based on what we know and the approximately zillion other instances of this sort of dysfunction seizing liberal institutions in the last few years, I would bet that Chris Anderson is far more concerned about an internal revolt, about “Black@TED,” than whether Coleman Hughes’s talk was perfectly in line with a nerdy meta-analysis. And, supporting this theory, his botching continued Wednesday, in a follow-up piece in which The Free Press allowed him and Adam Grant to respond.

Anderson explained that Coleman’s talk “was received with huge enthusiasm by many in the audience. But many others heard it as a dangerous undermining of the fight for progress in race relations. So yes, there was controversy. When people on your own team feel like their identity is being attacked, it’s right to take pause.”

In recent years radical types within liberal organizations have realized that if they utter certain magic phrases, they can extract sympathy and sometimes other concessions from management regardless of the merit of their claim. It has the effect of turning off management’s brain and getting the organization’s leadership instead to react from a fearful, gut-oriented place. A common tactic is to claim that the presence of some person or idea in their workplace constitutes “harm” or makes them less “safe.” In many cases, these claims are on their face ridiculous, but I think the choice of words evolved because some phrases contain implicit threats that whatever the employees are freaking out about could cause legal problems for management. An unsafe workplace summons HR, and once HR is involved, who the hell knows where things could end up?

Yes, it’s the “harm” trope again, a trope that for some reason the Left takes way too seriously.  To think that Hughes’s talk would harm people is ridiculous. In fact, Singal says that if you think you’ve been harmed by that talk, you need therapy. (It’s true unless you’re simply doing performative outrage.) Or, if you don’t want therapy, get another job:

But if these TED staffers aren’t just being strategic in their language — if they genuinely, viscerally feel like “their identity is being attacked” by a black man advocating for a color-blind approach — that’s something they should take up with their therapists.

This is not mean-spirited, for Singal says he’s in therapy, too, partly as a way to dampen his overreactions. He continues:

 . . . If you work for an Ideas organization and you can’t psychologically handle your organization platforming someone expressing a popular view, and you don’t want to seek out therapy to gain more resilience, then you should honestly consider a different line of work. It’s just not a good fit, in the same way journalists who get deeply upset when their colleagues refuse to toe the activist line 100% on some fraught subject should go into PR instead. Jobs like “being a journalist at a major outlet” or “working for TED” are cushy by any sort of international or historical standard, to be sure, but for some people they’re not cushy enough, and such folks should seek out a job that will fully embrace their delicate nature: a big, comfy, plush sofa of a job.

Anyway, back to Chris Anderson. As these employees’ boss, he should obviously not say the mean-sounding things I’m saying.He also shouldn’t suggest his employees go to therapy or find different work. (Though I would reiterate that telling someone who might need therapy to consider it is not, in fact, inherently mean, and the fact that it’s taken as such points to the ongoing stigmatization of mental health care).

But he very easily could have effectively ended this conversation by telling his disgruntled staffers something like this:

We appreciate your feedback and we have heard it, but at the end of the day, as an organization sitting at the intersection of ideas and public speaking, we simply can’t outlaw or restrict speakers’ ability to express popular but contested views — even views some of us disagree with strongly. Heck, for this to be a truly robust and useful and thriving organization, we might have to sometimes platform people expressing certain unpopular views. But this particular case isn’t a close call, frankly. All the available evidence suggests Hughes’s views are popular, his talk was well-researched enough to get a green light from our fact-checking team, and while we seriously value you all as staffers and always welcome your feedback — TED is stronger when you provide that feedback — we simply can’t grant you veto power over individual talks, nor the power to alter preexisting editorial and production processes, especially after an approved talk has already been filmed.

Instead, Anderson appears to have been held hostage by a group of employees making rather hysterical claims — again, sorry for the harsh language, but that’s what this is. And not only did he fail to compassionately but firmly push back against these hysterical claims for the health of his organization (and to prevent the negative PR event that subsequently occurred, which I’m happy to contribute to given how ridiculous this is and how sick I am of these sorts of incidents), he went out of his way, in his response, to reemphasize how seriously he was taking them:

Many people have been genuinely hurt and offended by what they heard Hughes say. This is not what we dream of when we post our talks. I believe real progress can be made on this issue by each side getting greater clarity and insight from the other. We share more in common than we know. We all ultimately want a just world in which all can thrive.

The problem is simply one instantiation of why wokeness has prevailed even though most people aren’t down with it: people are simply too afraid to stand up to accusations of “harm” or “racism”, even if those accusations, like the ones we’re discussing, are ridiculous.

The solution, of course, is what John McWhorter suggested in his anti-racism book: ignore these people and stick up for your principles, which is what Anderson should have done. Singal’s suggested speech for Anderson is right on the money.

In the end, this too will pass, but it’s already besmirched the reputation of TED. And it will only create a Streisand Effect for Hughes, as all the press this kerfuffle is getting can only be good for him,  Even if he got the data wrong about ameliorating equity, which we’ll know soon, he didn’t know about the paper (and TED should have), and the “colorblind” discussion is still relevant in many contexts.

Caturday felid trifecta: U.K.’s cat of the year; why cats love tuna; woman feeds Colorado State Fair cat daily for 20 years; and langiappe

September 30, 2023 • 10:00 am

We’re back to Caturday Felids again, and let me know if you want this to continue, as I’m not sure people are that keen on Caturday felids, and it takes a bit of work. At any rate, we’ll have one today, at least.

The Washington Post has a lovely story about an English woman, profoundly deaf, who got a kitten. It turned out that the kitten, now an adult, helped her in many ways, and so he beat out 3,000 competitors to become the UK Cat of the Year.  Click to read:

A precis and some photos (and their captions) from the Post:

Genevieve Moss has profound hearing loss, and she was feeling lonely and isolated as she flipped through the local newspaper at her home in Chesterfield, England.

“Being in a silent world and living alone without any human support caused a lot of distress and anxiety,” Moss said in an email interview with The Washington Post.

Then something stopped her as she read the paper that day in April 2021, deep in the pandemic.

“I saw a photo of a tiny black and white ball of fluff, and I fell in love with him then and there,” said Moss, 66.

A family had placed an ad, hoping to find a home for the last kitten in their cat’s litter. When Moss reached out to them, the family arranged to bring by the two-month-old domesticated shorthair with tuxedo markings. Soon, the deal was sealed.

“He jumped from their arms straight into mine, and I knew that he had chosen me,” said Moss, who decided to call him Zebby because his colors resembled those of a zebra.

Moss had heard of studies showing that pets can help to alleviate loneliness for people who live alone, but she had no idea the cat would turn into her helper and her ears, even grabbing her mail and slippers for her.

And last month, about 2½ years after Zebby leaped into her life, Moss was stunned when her cat was named Britain’s National Cat of the Year by Cats Protection, the country’s largest feline welfare charity.

he helps Moss, said Zahir White, spokesperson for Cats Protection.

“He’d had no training at all,” Moss said, “but his cat instincts and curiosity seemed to tell him that I needed his help — that I wasn’t able to hear anything at times when the hearing aids were out of my ears.”

. . . From their first night together, Zebby slept next to her, and if he heard noises in the dark, he would jump up and become agitated, she said.

After several weeks, Moss noticed that whenever her phone rang or somebody knocked on the door, he would tap her with his paw or pace in front of her to alert her.

When security lights came on outside, she said, her cat would scratch at the glass and run around the room until she woke up.

“He became my security guard and night watch cat,” she said. “Sometimes, he would even nibble my toes to wake me.”

It wasn’t long before Zebby took on another task: picking up Moss’s mail.

“He heard the rattle of the letterbox being opened, and he stretched up on his back legs and pulled the letter from the flap as a hand posted it through,” she said. “I thought at first it was a ‘one off’ game, but he continued to do it every time the post arrived.”

Zebby now carries the mail in his mouth and drops it at her feet, Moss said. He also fetches her slippers if she’s not wearing them.

“He has helped break the loneliness and has made my house a home,” she said. “Zebby always makes me laugh.”

Zebby gets the mail!

Besides Zebby, this year’s National Cat of the Year finalists included a sociable cat named Elsa that visits local shops in Bridgwater, England, and Dali, a cat from Shipley, England, that survived for a month while stranded on a patch of river rocks.

At the July 17 ceremony, Moss’s eyes filled with tears when Zebby’s photo popped up on a giant screen and he was announced as the grand prize winner. The only downside, she said, was that Zebby wasn’t there with her.

There were three finalists, but Zebby won!

She took home two glass-engraved awards for Zebby and a gift package that included a pet store voucher worth $255.

“As soon as I got home, I hugged him, then ordered him a superhero costume,” she said. “I can’t envision not having Zebby in my life now. Because of him, I’ll never have to go back to those dark, lonely times.”

Zebby’s awards:

And a giant photo:


The article below was in Science (click on screenshot), but reports findings from an article in the Journal of Chemical Senses.

In short, cats love tuna because they have umami (“savory flavor”)receptors on their tongues that are stimulated by tuna (DUHH!). First, the scientific abstract:

. . . and from Science:

. . . . tuna (or any seafood for that matter) is an odd favorite for an animal that evolved in the desert. Now, researchers say they have found a biological explanation for this curious craving.

In a study published this month in Chemical Senses, scientists report that cat taste buds contain the receptors needed to detect umami—the savory, deep flavor of various meats, and one of the five basic tastes in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Indeed, umami appears to be the primary flavor cats seek out. That’s no surprise for an obligate carnivore. But the team also found these cat receptors are uniquely tuned to molecules found at high concentrations in tuna, revealing why our feline friends seem to prefer this delicacy over all others.

“This is an important study that will help us better understand the preferences of our familiar pets,” says Yasuka Toda, a molecular biologist at Meiji University and a leader in studying the evolution of umami taste in mammals and birds. The work could help pet food companies develop healthier diets and more palatable medications for cats, says Toda, who was not involved with the  industry-funded study.

The study’s funding is describes as “Mars Petcare UK supported the study financially; they did not have any influence over the study conception, design or interpretation, or the decision to publish the data.”

But cats’ love of tuna then raises the question, “Why do cats favor a flavor their ancestors never detected?” (Remember that the housecat evolved from Felis silvestris lybica, the European wildcat, which doesn’t encounter tuna.) Here’s the answer:

But cats must taste something, McGrane reasoned, and that something is likely the savory flavor of meat. In humans and many other animals, two genes—Tas1r1 and Tas1r3—encode proteins that join together in taste buds to form a receptor that detects umami. Previous work had shown that cats express the Tas1r3 gene in their taste buds, but it was unclear whether they had the other critical puzzle piece.

So McGrane and colleagues biopsied the tongue of a 6-year-old male cat that had been euthanized for health reasons unrelated to the study. Genetic sequencing revealed his taste buds expressed both the Tas1r1 and Tas1r3 genes—the first time scientists showed that cats have all the molecular machinery needed to detect umami.

When the researchers compared the protein sequences encoded by these genes with those of humans, however, they found a striking difference: Two critical sites that allow the human receptor to bind to glutamic and aspartic acid—the main amino acids that activate umami taste in people—were mutated in cats. “So I began thinking, maybe cats can’t taste umami,” McGrane says.

To double check, he and his team engineered cells to produce the cat umami receptor on their surface. They then exposed the cells to a variety of amino acids and nucleotides. The cells did respond to umami—but with a twist. In people, the amino acids bind first and the nucleotides amplify the response. But in cats, the nucleotides activated the receptor, and the amino acids further boosted it, McGrane says. “That’s the exact opposite of what we see in people.”

In the last part of the experiment, McGrane and colleagues gave 25 cats a taste test. In a series of trials, they presented the felines with two bowls of water, each with various combinations of amino acids and nucleotides, or just water alone. The cats showed a strong preference for bowls that contained molecules found in umami-rich foods, suggesting this flavor—above all others—is the primary motivator for cats.

Well, that’s a bit of a yawner. Cats like tuna because they like meat, and have similar molecular machinery to other animals that like meat, though the response works in a slightly different way.  Just remember, if you give your cat ice cream, it likes it because of the creaminess, not the sweetness. At any rate, it must have been a slow news day at Science.


Finally, from Fox News in Colorado, the story of a woman who feeds a cat that hung around the state fair (click to read):

A precis:

As the Colorado State Fair approaches next weekend, one remarkable tale of devotion and friendship, spans two decades, involving a dedicated state fair worker and an endearing state fair cat named Garth.

Sheri Giordano, a dedicated employee of the Colorado State Fair since 1994, reminisces about the day she first crossed paths with Garth, a little black dot under the grandstand.

“I saw a little kitty that was sitting in the grass under the tree right outside of the grandstand. So since the famous Garth Brooks performed at the Grandstand, I named him Garth,” Sheri fondly recalls.

From that moment, a beautiful connection was forged that would withstand the test of time. Sheri had him neutered and vaccinated. For two decades, Sheri made it her mission to care for Garth.

“I had a sense of dedication to him. I felt like he was special and I loved him and I wanted to take care of him,” Sheri explains.

Through snow and rain, Sheri would faithfully visit the fairgrounds every single day, ensuring Garth had food and fresh water. The routine became her anchor, a source of purpose even on the most challenging days.

“It’s been a huge part of my life, and there were days when I didn’t want to get up, but I knew I had to go take care of Garth. So he’s always been there for me, so I was always there for him,” Sheri tearfully expresses.

Then Garth disappeared for four months, and, mirabile dictu, returned, but in bad condition. He was taken to the vet:

But the passage of time had taken its toll on Garth. Sheri recognized that it was time for him to retire from his state fair cat duties.

“He was skinny and scrawny and he barely had a voice. And I don’t know what happened to him, but that was the point where I realized I needed to do something with him,” Sheri shares.

Sheri took Garth to the SOCO Spay and Neuter Association. There, they conducted tests to ensure his health, and Garth’s bloodwork astounded everyone.

“It was a little bit of a shock to hear of this 20-year-old feral cat that his blood test was clear. So it was a real testament to Sheri for taking such good care of him over the years,” Lisa Buccambuso, the Executive Director of SOCO Spay and Neuter Association, affirms.

Nowadays, Sheri visits Garth every week, ensuring he continues to receive the love and care he deserves. And amidst the routine, there’s a moment that brings a smile to everyone’s face –

The big questions, which aren’t answered in this piece, are twofold:

1.) Why didn’t she just adopt the cat, or put it up for adoption, if she took the trouble to go to the fairgrounds every day. Garth would surely be better off in someone’s home than under the bleachers?

2.) WHERE IS GARTH NOW? Sheri is said to visit Garth every week, but where does she visit him? Has he been adopted? Is he still at the fairgrounds? (The article says he’s “retired from his state fair cat duties.

Perhaps readers can answer these pressing questions, but the news people sure fell down on the job here.


Lagniappe: Peter sent a reddit video of a nice man feeding one of Istanbul’s street cats (this one has a collar).  The Turks love their kitties! Sound up, please.

Street cats in Istanbul be like
byu/ledim35 inaww

h/t: Jon, Nicole, Matthew

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 30, 2023 • 8:15 am

Ecologist Susan Harrison has some photos from her home town of Davis, California. Her narrative is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them,

Mink, Otters, Birds (and a Cat)

It’s Fall again, a rewarding time to wander along the creek in Davis, California.   My most exciting sighting was an American Mink (Neogale vison) who emerged from the water and briefly struck a pose that showed off his hunting equipment.  American Minks, in the Mustelid (weasel) family, are native to Northern California but seldom seen.  Like River Otters (Lontra canadensis, another mustelid) and North American Beavers (Castor canadensis, a rodent), they are recovering after being nearly wiped out by water pollution and persecution. Two or three years ago I was astonished to see one.  Now they’re getting a bit more common, jostling with otters, egrets and herons in pursuit of fish and frogs.  This mink and a Great Egret (Ardea alba) were hunting in the same pool, and otters cruised nearby.

American Mink:

River Otter family:

Great Egret:

My main quarry were the colorful and elusive warblers passing through headed south, like this Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi) and Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla).

Townsend’s Warbler:

Wilson’s Warbler:

Some of these migrants will become meals for the Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperi) lurking by streamsides.

Cooper’s Hawk:

Many non-migratory songbirds like this Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus) are caching seeds for the winter.

Oak Titmouse:

My strangest sighting was a pair of Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) acting like it was April.  Local experts told me these two could either be making a bizarrely late breeding attempt, or more likely, hanging around their nest box as a warm place to sleep.  Either way, it’s unusual behavior, since nests are normally deserted by fall.

Western Bluebirds:

Returning home from the creek, sitting down at the computer, it was all too easy to be distracted by more birds.  Our water feature and its overhanging Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) bush are popular in fall.

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus):

Red-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis):

Black-Throated Gray Warbler (Setophaga nigrescens):

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus):

Boris and Natasha, my amiable home birdwatching companions, perfectly fit Jonathan Losos’ description of Ragdoll cats as “snuggly layabouts.”

Boris at the birdwatching station:

Saturday: Hili dialogue

September 30, 2023 • 6:45 am

This is post number 28,001: lots of writing in the last 14 years!

Welcome to CaturSaturday, September 30, 2023—the last day of the month. It’s National Mulled Cider Day, an appropriate harbinger of nippy weather to come.

It’s also Chewing Gum Day, the Time for Yoga, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Day, National Love People Day, International Blasphemy DayNational Day for Truth and Reconciliation or Orange Shirt Day (in Canada), and International Translation Day

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 30 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Guess what? The odds are that we’re gonna have a government shutdown starting Sunday. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy threw a legislative Hail Mary today, in the form of a rescue bill, and conservative members of his own party, rejected it. Things look grim, as the shutdown begins when the bell tolls midnight on Saturday night.

Hard-line conservatives on Friday tanked Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s long-shot bid to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown, in an extraordinary display of defiance that made it clear that Congress would almost certainly miss a midnight deadline on Saturday to keep federal funding flowing.

It appeared evident even before the vote that the stopgap bill was bound to fail, as several hard-right Republicans had declared that they would not back a temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, under any circumstances. And the measure — which would slash spending and impose severe immigration restrictions — never had a chance of preventing a shutdown, since it was regarded as a nonstarter in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Not everyone would be damaged or salary deprived, for example, me:

A government shutdown would disrupt operations for many federal agencies and leave thousands of workers furloughed, but that does not mean all programs would stop providing benefits.

Funding for Social Security, for instance, is considered mandatory and financed through a payroll tax, meaning a shutdown would not interrupt payments. Recipients of other programs, such as those providing food assistance to women and young children, would see a more immediate reduction of benefits.

Several federal programs would still provide benefits:

  • Social Security checks would continue to be sent out. The Social Security Administration could also issue new and replacement Social Security cards.

  • Medicare and Medicaid benefits would mostly be unaffected, although the Social Security Administration would not be able to issue replacement Medicare cards. There is sufficient funding for Medicaid through the end of December, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

  • Veterans would still be provided medical care, pension benefits and housing services. The Department of Veterans Affairs has said, however, that some activities, such as benefit adjustments and insurance, have been delayed during previous shutdowns.

But a lot of programs that help people, like food stamps, would be curtailed. And, distressingly, Fat Bear Week could be curtailed! (See below.)

Given the divisions within the House GOP as well as the fact that the Senate is Democratic and the House is Republican, this might well take a long time to resolve. Remember, any resolution has to be bipartisan. And the Democratic Senate won’t vote for immigration reform.

*Nellie Bowles’s weekly news summary at The Free Press yesterday is called “TGIF: The Book of Revelations“, and I’ll steal three items from it.

→ Philly Gone Wild: The city of Philadelphia saw a rampage of shoplifting this week. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez [JAC: it looks like we’re going to be stuck with this ambitious doofus forever] famously said that shoplifting is done by people who need to feed their families, but it’s really hard to reconcile that with the clips of folks having what looks like a really, really fun time tearing through department stores grabbing shoes and bags. Zaid has the best take on this:

That last line is hilarious, and oh so true!

→ Dept. of academic absurdia: At the big annual U.S.–Canada academic anthropology conference, there was a planned panel called “Let’s Talk About Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology.” It was, of course, deemed too controversial. The American Anthropological Association and Canadian Anthropology Society cancelled the talk, writing: “The reason the session deserved further scrutiny was that the ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI of the anthropological community as well as the community at large.” It was about “safety,” the academic groups said. The deplatformed professors, all women, wrote an open letter you can read here. The message is clear over and over: you cannot talk about gender-based violence or explore specific issues women face in other countries. Which is totally fine because the world treats women beautifully everywhere and the only existing oppression happens to be in Berkeley and New Haven, specifically of PhD students, who live in constant danger. Honestly, those anthropologists don’t need to travel anymore. The greatest victims and also the most interesting people in the world are right there, sitting around that very conference room table.

In London, the big Comic Con festival cancelled a random Harry Potter panel, set to be hosted by the team behind a new Harry Potter play in town. Activists said they would protest anything that had any reference to J.K. Rowling’s IP, and event organizers cited the need to keep everyone “safe.” As much as I hate that safe has become a byword for just the thing you personally want to happen, I think it’s time I embrace it. Why do I need a glass of wine at noon? For safety reasons. In-home massage on Friday mornings? Safety, heard of it?

. . . and a new book by Abigail Shrier, surely worth reading (remember how she was demonized for her last one).

→ Shameless plugs corner: Preorder Abigail Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up. It’s going to be amazing. I have mixed feelings about this one because, you see, we share a book editor. But Abigail is much faster and more productive, so in the small classroom that is the two of us, I’m the bad one. Also on my preorder list is a new futurism book by James Pethokoukis.

*Andrew Sullivan’s latest weekly column, a good one, is called “Could MLK give a TED talk today?” It is, of course, largely about the shameful way TED treated Coleman Hughes (see my piece here), an incident that’s become far bigger news than I imagined. (I’m on Hughes’s side, which is also Sully’s side, and you should also read Jesse Singal’s excoriation of TED if you can. But I have nothing to add to what I’ve said, or what Singal and Sullivan say. I want to highlight one bit of Sullivan’s column:

 Why has the left focused on shifting educational curricula away from liberal concepts toward critical, neo-Marxist ones in general? Paolo Freire: “The solution is not to ‘integrate’ [students] into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become ‘beings for themselves’.” Revolution starts with indoctrination of the young.

. . .And it couldn’t have achieved this mastery of American society without other contingent factors: the astonishing weakness of the leaders of liberal institutions and foundations, more terrified of being called a racist or a transphobe by a teenager than committed to liberal values. And Donald Trump empowered the fanatics more than anyone else in our polity, by further tribalizing and polarizing our culture. And the dominant therapeutic paradigm has supplemented all of it — enforcing ideological orthodoxy via personal emotional blackmail.

There is also an end-of-history boredom to it all. Now that full civil rights are well established, what is a progressive gonna do? They seem less interested in the economic policies that could win multi-racial majorities than in zero-sum narratives of racial and sexual oppression. They need to invent new vistas of discrimination — even unconscious ones — to sustain themselves. Look at the rump of the gay rights movement, now pushing so far into leftist insanity it has abolished the whole concept of homosexuality as same-sex attraction, and targeted mostly gay children for irreversible bodily mutilation. Anything to keep the pulse racing and the donations coming in.

Sullivan is pretty hard on Biden, but I have to say that his criticisms below ring pretty true:

The re-election of Trump — which is at least 50-50 proposition at this point — would further crazy up the left and reduce what tiny amount of oxygen is left for the liberal project to stay alive. But the re-election of Biden would, alas, do much the same. His administration is committed to this neo-Marxism all the way down. It practices race and sex discrimination in all its employment practices; it endorses critical race, gender and queer theory in every area of life; it has adopted wholesale the lingo of the new orthodoxy — “white supremacy”; “equity”;  “LGBTQI+ people”; “systemic racism”; “antiracism”; “LatinX”; and on and on. The vice president — openly picked by Biden, like his Supreme Court nominee, because she has the right sex and skin color — is in the vanguard of this revolution, and is Biden’s promise that the regime change will be permanent. There are no liberals left who resist it. They privately bemoan it and publicly mouth its pomo verbiage. In some ways, they are more contemptible than the extremists.

I resist it, Andrew!  And the ending:

For those who tell me to chill out, I have to repeat: ideas really do matter. You cannot graft deeply illiberal practices and neo-Marxist ideology onto a liberal polity for very long, before the contradictions force a resolution. A House divided so profoundly cannot stand. But the surrender of the Democratic liberals and the insane radicalization of the GOP almost certainly means that peaceful, liberal politics may well not be capable of resolving this contradiction. Which means that something much darker and more violent will.

I wonder what “resolution” he’s envisioning her. Surely he doesn’t mean civil war!?

*Matthew reports, via The Guardian, that an 82-year-old tortoise in Cornwall has had successful surgery, but OY! what a problem!:

Joey, an 82-year-old tortoise in Cornwall, is recovering from surgery after the removal of a bladder stone the size of a cricket ball.

Two veterinary surgeons had to cut through Joey’s shell to remove the growth, which at 150g was almost three times the weight of a tennis ball.

One of the vets, Viliam Hoferica, said the bladder stone was the largest he had ever seen. “Given the size of the stone, it was very unique. If Joey was a human, it would be like having a bladder stone the size of a basketball,” he said.

Hoferica said it may take up to a year for Joey’s shell to heal. Explaining the procedure, he said the vets had to create a fibreglass and resin glue to hold together her shell after the surgery.

Hoferica, a surgeon at the Rosevean veterinary practice in Penzance, said Joey’s condition was only discovered by accident. He speculated that the bladder stone may have been growing for months or even years.

He said: “Tortoises are a very tough species. They don’t let you know what is wrong until it’s really bad. Joey had only been acting unusually in the last few weeks before the surgery, and even then she was just eating less and moving less.

Here’s the photo of the poor beast and the stone they removed (caption from the Guardian).  What nice vets, even gluing the shell together! Matthew told me that when he was a kid he also had a tortoise named Joey, and loved to watch it eat lettuce.

*Now you want bad news about the impending government shutdown? Here’s some REALLY bad news (you can click on the headline, too)

Fat Bear Week is in jeopardy.

If Washington gridlock pushes the country into a government shutdown on Saturday night, the people who run the popular online contest celebrating the burly Alaskan brown bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve will be among the federal employees furloughed.

In a call with reporters Thursday night, the Department of Interior said the workers who monitor the contest are not exempt from a lapse in appropriations. The majority of national parks will close to the public in the event of a shutdown.

In a call with reporters Thursday night, the Department of Interior said the workers who monitor the contest are not exempt from a lapse in appropriations. The majority of national parks will close to the public in the event of a shutdown.

. . .According to a news release from the National Park Service, rangers are responsible for creating the bracket-style tournament.

Rangers begin work on Fat Bear Week long before the competition begins. As soon as employees arrive at Katmai National Park at the beginning of the season, they are tasked with capturing photos of the bears at their lowest weight. They keep track of the bears throughout the summer, then come September must capture the bears at their fattest.

“The pictures we use for Fat Bear Week are not the kind of pictures that as a photographer, you normally want to take,” said Naomi Boak, the park’s media ranger.

Unlike the visitors hoping to get photos of the bears in action, Boak says rangers look for “boring profile shots” that give the online voters an idea of the bear’s size.

The job is easier said than done. With bears constantly submerged in the water fishing and appearing in the Brooks Corridor at inconsistent times, “the picture taking gets intense,” Boak said.

For me, Fat Bear Week is a highlight of the year. I love to see those overstuffed grizzlies, nearly as wide as they are long, laden with fat from salmon. The fatter they are, the better their chance of doing well during hibernation. If we don’t have Fat Bear Week this year, I’m going to stuff marbles up my nose and scream.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili seems to be meditating:

A: Are you asleep?
Hili: No, I’m trying to regain my mental balance.
In Polish:
Ja: Śpisz?
Hili: Nie, próbuję odzyskać równowagę ducha.

And a picture of Szaron, the world’s most affectionate cat. He loves everyone!


From Mark (is this real?):

From Merilee:

From Stash Krod; the wonders of AI, which turns the Beatles into four Mr. Naturals:

Mr. Natural drawn by R. Crumb. If you remember him, you’re old:

From Masih, the Iranian regime wounds a child while shooting at protestors:

From Simon, who calls it “direct and to the point.” Sure ’nuff!

From Barry; I’m not sure whether the original claim is real:

From Jez: Trump interviews for a job:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a 48-year-old woman gassed upon arrival:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, a salmon saves itself (sound up):

. . . and it didn’t even have to pay!:

A lovely bird! Sound up:

A deceptive oasis—and how birds deal with it

September 29, 2023 • 1:15 pm

We’ll finish off the “work” week with another Attenborough video, featuring a remarkable oasis in the Sahara that isn’t what it seems. Fortunately, the swallows have evolved an adaptation to the oasis’s trick.  I wonder if the birds’ ingestion of flies is an evolved rather than a learned trait (I suspect it’s the former given the mortality produced by drinking the saline water).

USA Fencing will allow males who self-identify as females to fence against biological women; ACLU defends “affirmative” surgery and drugs on minors

September 29, 2023 • 11:45 am

It amazes me that, in light of the science showing that trans women who have gone through male puberty retain significant athletic advantages over biological females, even when taking therapy to reduce testosterone, people still insist that trans females should be able to compete in women’s sports against natal females. And many people maintain this even if the trans females are simply males who claim that they’re females, without having had any surgery or hormone therapy.

Various sports organizations are starting to cotton on to this brand of unfairness, banning trans women from competing in women’s sports. That’s not a perfect solution, of course, because trans women who want to do sports should have the opportunity to compete. The only two solutions that seem feasible are to allow all trans people to compete in the “male” category (which of course will disadvantage trans women and probably trans men), or to create an “other” category for people who aren’t either natal males or females.  But the previous system of using hormone titers or, in some areas, allowing self-identified or medically treated trans females to compete with biological women, is not a fair solution.

In view of this, the Olympics have bailed, throwing up their hands and saying that each sport can decide using its own criteria. (This is an impossible requirement.) But other groups, including World Rugby. FINA (the international body governing women’s swimming), and World Athletics (the body governing running and track and field) have banned transgender women from competing in elite women’s sports.

There are a few holdouts, though, and this report, from Reduxx (click to read), notes that USA Fencing, the body governing fencing with foil and saber, will continue to allow transgender women to compete against biological women—regardless of whether the former have had medical treatment. If you’re a man who self identifies as a woman, you can fence with women. And this despite the reports, documented amply in the article, that men who were mediocre fencers against members of their own sex have after identifying as women, suddenly started winning lots of medals. Fencing is not exempt from the fact that men have physical and physiological advantages (probably not effaced by hormone treatment, though we don’t know) that give them athletic advantages over biological women.

Click to read:

An excerpt:

A number of trans-identified males have been dominating women’s fencing championships despite the fact that many of them floundered in the men’s category. A source has now revealed that many women in the sport fear losing opportunities if they speak out against the inclusion of men in women’s fencing.

In November of 2022, USA Fencing adopted a Transgender and Nonbinary Athlete Policy which stated that division placement would be determined based on self-declared “gender identity” or “gender expression” rather than on biological sex.

“USA Fencing will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity, regardless of sex assigned at birth, or any other form of gender expression for participation in any division,” read the policy. “As such, athletes will be permitted to participate in USA Fencing sanctioned events in a manner consistent with their gender identity/ expression, regardless of the gender associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.”

The policy also stipulated that an individual’s classification will remain unaltered when transferring over to the sporting category of the opposite sex. “Transgender athletes will be permitted to keep the fencing classification that was held prior to transitioning. For example, a transgender woman who held an A classification in the men’s division will keep her A classification in the women’s division.”

But Reduxx has now learned that USA Fencing had permitted males to self-identify into the women’s category for nearly a decade prior to the adoption of the new policy, resulting in a small number of trans-identified players dominating the sport. Of the five that have been identified, most of them had performed poorly while competing in the men’s category.

Thus if you are in a high fencing subclass when you fenced as a male, you keep that subclass when you start fencing against biological women. That’s doubly unfair.

I don’t have much to say about this beyond what I’ve said before and above; the article gives examples of the unfairness.

But one thing did catch my eye: this paragraph from the article:

A vocal trans activist, Wilson has expressed disapproval over a bill in his home state that would prevent the medical transitioning of minors. Kentucky’s Senate Bill 150, which was blocked by a federal judge at the end of June at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), would prohibit health care providers in the state from administering puberty-halting drugs and performing “gender-affirming” surgeries on children.

Now this is one of those bills passed in the South that is a bit dicey because it could be construed as anti-trans; for one thing, it involves issues like pronoun usage. But the part of the law that actually was blocked by the judge was the part that prohibited “gender surgeries on children,”.  But it turns out that the ACLU was fighting for the “right” of minors to have not just gender-affirming care, but care that included drugs and surgery. On minors.

From WLKY, a CBS station in Louisville, published on June 29. Emphasis is mine:

A federal judge has blocked parts of a law that bans gender-affirming care for trans youth in Kentucky the day before it is set to take effect.

U.S. District Judge David Hale granted the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky a temporary injunction blocking parts of Senate Bill 150 from going into effect on Thursday.

SB 150 was passed by the Kentucky general assembly during this year’s legislative session.

It includes many things, like blocking teachers from using a student’s preferred pronouns and requiring certain bathroom policies.

It also would ban health care providers in the state from performing gender-affirming care for transgender children. This is the part of the bill that is being blocked.

Gov. Any Beshear vetoed the bill, but it was later overridden by the general assembly.

The ACLU filed for an injunction in May, saying that lawmakers are violating the rights and freedoms of parents and their children in Kentucky.

That “gender-affirming care”, as you can see from the bill, includes drugs like puberty blockers and surgery, done on minors (defined as someone under 18). That’s what the ACLU is favoring.  Now we can quibble whether a 17-year-old has the right to get surgery or hormone treatment, but the bill says minors in general, so the ACLU is, I think, favoring kids of any age getting drugs and surgery.  And that’s bad.

But the ACLU says it’s okay because it’s the right of minors to have drugs and surgery. From the WLKY article:

The ACLU filed for an injunction in May, saying that lawmakers are violating the rights and freedoms of parents and their children in Kentucky.

“We are grateful to the Court for enjoining this egregious ban on medically necessary care, which would have caused harm for countless young Kentuckians,” said ACLU Kentucky legal director Corey Shapiro in a news release. “This is a win, but it is only the first step. We’re prepared to fight for families’ right to make their own private medical decisions in court, and to continue doing everything in our power to ensure access to medical care is permanently secured in Kentucky.”

The problem, of course, is that the safety of some gender-affirming care, like the long-term effects of puberty blockers, or even the long-term effect of genital surgery, hasn’t yet been sufficiently studied. That’s why an increasing number of countries are treating puberty-blocker administration as “clinical experimentation” instead of standard care. People are starting to realize that those drugs may have long-term harms that we don’t know about.

But this doesn’t bother the ACLU, which, under the guidance of its gender expert, the unhinged Chase Strangio, believes that it’s the “right” of any minor to get possibly risky medical treatment.  I’d say we should wait until the clinical studies are completed.

Like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU has changed from a civil rights organization into a Social Justice organization.  It now preferentially defends the civil rights of “progressive” groups and people rather than all people, and we should keep an eye on it.

A remarkable case of pollinator/orchid coevolution and specificity

September 29, 2023 • 9:45 am

A science paper at last! Truth be told, I don’t come across many science papers that are both of general interest and that I can explain easily. But I do have several more in the queue.

A colleague sent me an old paper (from 2006), but its age does not diminish how spectacular the results are. And in short, the results are these: a group of 15 phenotypically similar (but probably not closely related) orchids in SW South Africa are pollinated by females of a single species of bee, which collects oil produced by the flowers and feeds it to their offspring.

This poses a problem, because orchids are pollinated by affixing sticky pollinia (sacs of pollen) collected from a flower of one species to the next flower of the same species. (The orchids in this group do not self-fertilize). With pollen sacs from 15 different orchid species sticking to a bee, how can a plant be sure that its own pollen gets transferred to another individual of the same species, rather than to another individual of a different species, in which case cross-species pollination would produce either inviable or maladapted hybrids?

The bees and orchids have solved this in a very clever way.

But let’s back up: the paper, from the American Journal of Botany, can be seen for free by clicking on the screenshot below, and the pdf is here.

The reason the author, Anton Pauw, gives for his 8-year investigation is that, he says, the “conventional wisdom” in botany is that it’s not adaptive for a bunch of flowers to depend on a single species of pollinator. That’s because if some environmental fluctuation or other contingency makes the pollinator rare (or even drives it extinct), the flowers wouldn’t get pollinated. This would imply that flowers should evolve to attract several species of pollinator, for those flowers that are generalists in this way are less likely to become rare or extinct themselves.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case in this group of 15 orchids, which, according to Pauw’s observation, come from three different genera (molecular phylogeny also suggests that they’re not each other’s closest relatives, though they look remarkably similar). Yet all are pollinated by a single bee, Rediviva peringueyi. This is in a genus called “long-legged oil bees.”

The flowers, as I said, look like each other, all produce oil that the bee collects, and all live in the same area, as well as flowering at the same time. As the author says,

Subgroups of similar plant species can be recognized within the extensive oil-bee pollination system. The one examined here includes 15 oil-secreting orchids that share the following syndrome of floral features: pale yellow-green flowers without extensive black markings; secretion of floral oil as a pollinator reward; characteristic pungent scent; flowering period 15 August to 25 October peaking in September; flower depth 5–8 mm (Fig. 1a–n). The species occur in close association with one another in the lowlands of the Cape Floral Region and include members of three genera (PterygodiumCorycium, and Disperis). According to the pollination syndrome concept, the similar floral features of this group indicate a shared pollinator. My aim was to test this prediction through extensive field work.

Figure 1 below (click to enlarge; caption from paper) shows how similar the flowers are. The pollinating bee (R. poeringueyi, which I’ll henceforth call “the bee”) is shown in the middle. The arrows show where the pollinia of each orchid species gets attached:

Figure 1. The Rediviva peringueyi pollination guild. Center, the oil-collecting bee R. peringueyi, arrows indicate pollinarium attachment sites of orchid species. (a) Pterygodium catholicum. (b) P. alatum. (c) P. caffrum. (d) P. volucris. (e) Corycium orobanchoides. (f) Disperis bolusiana subsp. bolusiana. (g) D. villosa. (h) D. cucullata. (i) D. circumflexa subsp. circumflexa. (j) P. inversum. (k) P. hallii. (l) P. platypetalum. (m) D. ×duckittiae. (n) P. cruciferum. (o) D. capensis var. capensis. Attachment sites f–i after Steiner. Pollinarium attachment sites are confirmed in a–g. Pollination and/or pollinarium attachment are predicted in h–o on the basis of floral features. R. peringueyi 5× life size, orchids 2× life size. Images e, h, k by Bill Liltved.

The bees also collect pollen and nectar, too, but not from these orchids.  From these 15 orchids they take only flower oil (I had no idea it even existed), and do so by, as you can see in the photo below, gripping the plant with the bee’s middle and hindlegs and collecting the oil with modified forelegs. In the process (and of course this is why the flower produces oil and scent to attract the bee). During oil collection, the pollinia of the orchid, which is sticky, attaches to the bee’s body. That’s also shown in the photo below.

This, of course, raises the problem noted above. If a pollen sac from one of the 15 orchid species is stuck to the bee’s body, how can it be guaranteed to pollinate the same species of orchid, for there’s no guarantee that the next flower the bee visits will be from the same species. (All the orchids are, after all, flowering at the same time.)

The answer is the cool part of the story. Each orchid has evolved to stick its pollen to a different part of the bee’s body. And each orchid has its female parts placed so that the pollinia from its own species, stuck to a specific place on the bee’s body, will contact it’s own species-specific style (the female bit that gets the pollen for fertilization). Thus cross-pollination is prevented by the specificity of where the pollinia stick to the bee and bu the specific position of the female part of each orchid, which has evolved so, that when the bee collects oil, the right pollen will land on the right stigma.

Paux found this out by identifying the different pollina of the flowers (they have different shapes), and trapping wild bees to see where the pollinia of each species was stuck to the body. That’s what’s shown in the figure above: each letter corresponds to the orchids depicted around the edges, and the arrows show where on the bee’s body the pollinia from each species are stuck. Notice that they’re all different. Except for two, that is: the pollinia from orchids b and c, which both stick to the foretarsi of the bee’s middle legs.

Does this mean there’s cross-pollination between orchids b and c, which would be bad? No, because the pollinia of these two species are of different length, and the stigmas of the two orchids are placed so that each will get the pollen from the right species.

This is a remarkable example of specificity in pollen placement; I know of nothing similar! You can see below, in “b” and “c” of Fig. 3, that the pollen are stuck to very specific parts of the body. In “b”, the pollen of the flower Pterogodium cathlocium get attached to the bee’s “basistarsi” on the middle legs (the most distal part of the large leg tarsi), while the pollinia of the orchid Pterygodium volucris get attached to the ventral surface of the bee’s abdomen. The pollen sacs on the flowers have to be in very different places to accomplish this, and the bee has to collect oil in a specific position to get the pollinia stuck to the right spot.

(From paper): Fig. 3. Rediviva peringueyi pollination mechanism. (a) Female R. peringueyi collecting floral oil from the apex of the lip appendage of Pterygodium alatum with a rapid rubbing motion of the front tarsi. The bee hangs onto the lip appendage with the middle tarsi, onto which the pollinaria (visible) become attached. Bar: 3 mm. (b) Several pollinaria of P. catholicum attached precisely to the basitarsi of the middle legs of R. peringueyivia the sticky viscidia. Bar: 1 mm. (c) Pollinaria of Pterygodium volucris attached to the ventral surface of the last abdominal segment of R. peringueyi. Bar: 3 mm.

Note that several types of evolution appear to be involved in this phenomenon:

a.) Convergent evolution of the different, unrelated orchids so that they develop a common scent, appearance, and “lip” that allows the bees to hang on while collecting oil.

b.) Divergent evolution of the orchids so that each evolves a lip and pollinia position that will stick its pollen to a previously uncolonized part of the bee’s body

c.) Possible evolution of the bee’s behavior so that it “knows” how to hold onto each species of flower to collect oil (this might not involve genetic evolution, but simply be due to learning).

So this is the cool way that fifteen different species of orchids can pollinate members of their own species, even if they’re all serviced by the same species of pollinator.  According to Pauw, though, this doesn’t solve the problem raised at the beginning: such specificity makes the whole system precarious—liable to collapse if anything happens to the pollinator. And indeed, he says that the degree of pollination of the orchid species vary strongly from year to year. So it goes.

Another aspect of this system is the possible extinction of the bee. In a sad ending, Pauw notes that the habitat for both orchid and bee is disappearing:

The biggest challenge in this study was the scarcity of suitable study sites. About 80% of lowland vegetation has already been transformed by urbanization and agriculture (Heijnis et al., 1999). What remains are scattered fragments of natural habitat, mostly less than 1 ha in size. In many of these fragments, the absence of R. peringueyi and repeated pollination failure in the entire guild was recorded. We have probably already lost the chance to understand the intriguing flowers of species such as P. cruciferum, which persists in fewer than five remnants of natural vegetation where they seldom, if ever, receive pollinator visits. In contrast with the pollination systems of the north temperate regions, which almost invariably involve several ecologically equivalent pollinator species (Waser et al., 1996Fenster et al., 2004), the pollination system described here is dependent on a single insect species. This presents a challenge for conservation because of the low level of ecological redundancy means that the loss of R. peringueyi may trigger linked extinctions amongst the plants in the R. peringueyi pollination guild. It seems unlikely that the R. peringueyi pollination guild will persist in a modern, cultural landscape without unique conservation planning.

If the bee goes extinct, so will every one of these orchid species, for their reproduction depends on the insects. There’s a lot more to study here, and I’m hoping that they’re trying to save some habitat for both plant and insect.  Since pollination itself has been observed in only about five of these orchids, there’s a lot more observational work to be done. Further, the DNA analysis of the orchids, indicating that they are not a “monophyletic group” (i.e., not each other’s closest relatives) was rather crude, and that needs to be done using more modern methods. If they are not each other’s closest relatives, then we have a new and solid case of “convergent evolution” (unrelated species developing very similar traits).

h/t: Martim

Dianne Feinstein is dead

September 29, 2023 • 8:36 am

After hanging on as a sitting Senator while being very ill, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein just passed away, and her death was confirmed this morning.  From the WaPo:

Mrs. Feinstein’s death was confirmed Friday by the Associated Press, which cited three people “familiar with the situation.” She was the oldest sitting member of the Senate and the subject of increasing scrutiny over her fitness to serve. Mrs. Feinstein was hospitalized in February with shingles, an illness later reported to have been complicated by encephalitis.

She returned to the Senate in May after a nearly three-month absence. Her inability during that time to vote on Biden administration judicial nominees, along with gathering evidence of her cognitive decline, led even some admirers to urge the senator to resign to avoid tarnishing what was by all accounts a remarkable legacy as a stateswoman. In August she was briefly hospitalized after a fall at her home in San Francisco.

At 90, she was the oldest member of the Senate and the longest-serving Senator from California (she had served six terms since 1992). She had also been mayor of San Francisco for a decade before going to Congress. Feinstein was a reliable Democratic centrist, and although criticized for not paying enough attention to women’s issues, and lately for not resigning in view of her age, she’s still an icon to Democrats.  Her most well known achievement was getting the Federal Assault Weapons Ban passed in 1994. Sadly, it expired in 2004, and it’s not clear that it was efficacious.

Feinstein was in the last year of her current term, and had announced she would not run for re-election in the fall of 2024. What will happen now is that Californa governor Gavin Newsom, with the assent of the California legislature, will appoint a one-year replacement. He’s a Democrat, so we don’t have to worry.

RIP, Senator.

Friday: Hili dialogue

September 29, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Friday, September 29, 2023, and It’s also National Coffee Day. What if coffee had never evolved? We’d be walking around every morning like zombies, not knowing that there was a hypothetical plant that could restore us! We wouldn’t even be able to imagine coffee!

Here’s my Joe this morning: a large latte with three shots of espresso, as I’m tired. I made it on my office espresso machine: There’s a sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

It’s also Goose Day, Save the Koala Day, National Biscotti Day, German Butterbrot Day (celebrating bread and butter, but also sandwiches made with butter), National Mocha Day, World Heart Day. and yes, the start of another Jewish holiday, the weeklong Sukkot. Lots of noms, as all Jewish holidays, as I said, can be characterized this way: “They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.”
Today’s Google Doodle (below; click to go to sites) celebrates the 89th birthday (he died in 2021) of “Dr. Flow,” Mihaly Robert Csikszentmihalyi.  He worked here as head of the Department of Psychology.  The Doodle, for once, is actually attractive. 

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 29 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Trump’s efforts to delay his civil fraud trial for inflating the value of his real estate has failed (the judge has already found him guilty; only the fine is at stake. The trial for damages could start next week.

Donald J. Trump’s civil fraud trial over accusations that he inflated the value of his properties by billions of dollars could begin as soon as Monday after a New York appeals court rejected the former president’s attempt to delay it.

The appeals court, in a terse two-page order Thursday, effectively turned aside for now a lawsuit Mr. Trump filed against the trial judge, Arthur F. Engoron. The lawsuit had sought to delay the trial, and ultimately throw out many of the accusations against the former president.

Thursday’s ruling came two days after Justice Engoron issued an order that struck a major blow to Mr. Trump, finding him liable for having committed fraud by persistently overvaluing his assets and stripping him of control over his New York properties.

Justice Engoron sided with the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who last year sued Mr. Trump, accusing him of inflating his net worth to obtain favorable loan terms from banks.

Mr. Trump is not entirely out of options in blocking the trial from moving forward. He can still appeal Justice Engoron’s Tuesday order, but it is unclear whether the appeals court would consider that.

Again, the most Trump would have to pay in this trial (which is before the judge) is $250 million—chump change (or Trump change). And it’s a civil trial, so he’ll suffer virtually no reputational damage among his supporters no matter how much he’s fined. After all, he’s already been found culpable, and his ratings haven’t plummeted.

*If you don’t think that the immigration problem needs fixing, read this WSJ article (not an op-ed) about thousands of migrants being simply let loose on the streets of San Diego.

SAN DIEGO—An unmarked white bus pulled up to a park here Monday morning, where it dropped off about 50 recently arrived migrants with little idea where they were and no place to sleep that night.

It wasn’t part of a nefarious operation. The bus was driven by the U.S. government, which is dropping off thousands of migrants in communities along the border as a new wave of illegal immigration strains the resources of the Border Patrol.

Local shelters are hitting capacity, including the roughly 950 beds in San Diego that are typically adequate for recently arrived migrants who need a place to sleep for a night or two. As a result, immigration agents are dropping people off on the streets, at bus stops and in train stations, angering local officials and worrying aid groups.

In San Diego, an estimated 7,800 migrants have been released in the past two weeks, according to county officials, who on Tuesday declared the situation to be a humanitarian crisis.

. . . “We see people being released to the streets with in some cases a little more than the clothes on their back,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director for the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. Her organization set up a makeshift aid center for migrants at the park, and the Border Patrol has been dropping off people there.

. . . Federal border agents have released migrants onto the streets of communities during past surges in illegal immigration, but San Diego officials say the numbers now are among the highest ever. Record numbers of people are fleeing poverty, corruption and crime in countries such as Venezuela to seek asylum in the U.S. Many are traveling as families, which makes it harder for authorities to detain and deport them because of legal limits on how long children can be held.

Most of these migrants are not only entering illegally, but are doing so not because of fear of persecution, but to seek economic benefits in America, which is not a legal rationale for immigration.  Biden could stop this if he wanted to (or so I think), but he doesn’t seem to want to. And it’s going to count against him in next year’s election.

*As I said earlier today, I bailed on the GOP Presidential debate, but Frank Bruni of the NYT didn’t, and wrote a column called “The only shot those seven Republicans have to stop Trump.”  Now what shot could that be? This one, which is only a “shot” if you’re talking about a cap gun:

The point is that Trump has zero respect for democracy and has aspirations for autocracy. The point is that he keeps scaling new pinnacles of unhinged. The point is that he needs to win the presidency so that he doesn’t have to worry about living out his days where he belongs: behind bars.

And perhaps the only shot that any of those seven candidates have to stop him and prevent the irreversible damage he’d do to the United States with four more years is to call a tyrant a tyrant, a liar a liar, an arsonist an arsonist. None of them did.

They’re too frightened of his and his followers’ wrath. So forgive me if I chortled every time they talked about leadership, which they talked about often on Wednesday night. They’re not leaders. They’re opportunists who are letting an opportunity slip away from them.

. . .Instead of taking Trump sufficiently to task, instead of explaining in full why just about any one of them would be preferable to the madman of Mar-a-Loco, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott quarreled about drapes. Yes, drapes. He said she squandered $50,000 of federal money on them when she was the United Nations ambassador, she said she didn’t, and they both grew very exercised about it. Where was that passion on the subject of Trump?

Instead of savaging him, the seven candidates tore into one another, seemingly vying not to catch up to Trump but to be declared the No. 1 alternative, like a beauty pageant runner-up poised to fulfill the winner’s duties and wear the winner’s tiara should the need arise.

Well, I suppose Bruni has a point, but his advice isn’t going to make a dent in Trump’s lead. You can call him a criminal, an insurrectionist, a rapist, or all the other things he might be convicted of, but all it will do is hurt the standing of the critic. That’s why they didn’t do it. Let’s face it: none of them can make the slight dent in Trump’s chance of being the GOP nominee.

*The “books” section of the WaPo has a piece by Tyler Austin Harper (not a book review) called “Ibram X. Kendi’s fall is a cautionary tale—so was his rise.”  I knew Kendi’s antiracism institute at Boston University had lost employees and was plagued by allegations of mismanagement, but I wasn’t aware he’d “fallen.” So I read on.

Perhaps the leading figure of the contemporary “anti-racism” movement, Kendi has faced new scrutiny after he recently laid off more than half of the staff at his Center for Antiracist Research. Boston University, where the center is housed, has now opened an inquiry into how it was run. Allegations include poor pay, employee exploitation, the failure to produce any significant research and the mismanagement of $43 million in donations.

As one of a number of left-wing commentators who have been critical of mainstream anti-racism — and who believe the movement is little more than self-help for White people that runs interference for corporations and wealthy universities — I’ve watched the Kendi crisis unfold with a touch of schadenfreude. Yet though this public reckoning feels long overdue, I can’t help but also have a smidgen of empathy for the embattled anti-racism guru. Kendi was transformed from a respected historian — winner of the National Book Award for his 2016 tome, “Stamped From the Beginning,” but hardly a household name — to the head sage of a global progressive movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. No longer a mere ambassador for academic anti-racism, Kendi became a brand.

The prospect of Kendi’s unraveling is not — or at least, is not only — the story of a huckster who was happy to cash in on America’s racial trauma, slapping his name on strange children’s books, including “Antiracist Baby” and “Goodnight Racism,” while raking in hundreds of dollars a minute to give short talks at American universities. Instead, the Kendi affair is yet another example of an age-old truism: White American elites on both sides of the political spectrum — academics, publishers, members of the media, corporate leaders — are always waiting in the wings to turn a shiny new Black intellectual into a mouthpiece for their political agenda.

Kendi’s work has always courted acclaim and controversy in equal measure. “Stamped,” a more-than-500-page doorstop that charts a conceptual history of American racism, published during the halcyon final year of the Obama presidency, has a provocative and even ingenious thesis: Racist ideas don’t generate racist policies; instead, racist policies — defined as policies that produce disparities — give birth to racist ideas that serve to explain those inequalities after the fact. “Time and again, racist ideas have not been cooked up from the boiling pot of ignorance and hate,” Kendi declares. “Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto Black people.”

By reversing the causal flow of racial inequality — insisting that the bad laws come first, the bigoted ideas later — Kendi mounted a frontal assault on the anemic liberal moralizing at the heart of mainstream American race discourse. He set out to dismantle the comforting assumption that racism is a problem of individual mental attitudes — the thoughtcrimes of mustache-twirling scoundrels who live in red states and rural places — and instead emphasized that racism is a systemic problem baked into our public and private institutions.

Harper then criticizes Kendi’s huge bestseller, the flawed and curiously incoherent How to be an Antiracist, but here’s his money accusation:

Once reserved for the gravest of racial trespasses, thanks to the influence of Kendi and other charlatans like Robin DiAngelo, “racism” is now routinely employed to describe anything from workplace microaggressions to terrorist attacks. The march on Charlottesville was white supremacy, but so too is asking Black people to show up to Zoom meetings on time. The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called such terms “floating signifiers”: bits of phraseology that are “void of meaning and thus apt to receive any meaning.” The mainstreaming of Kendi’s brand of anti-racism has made “racism” into a word so plastic as to have lost all descriptive power — and with it all moral magnitude. At a moment when actual white supremacy is on the rise, the loss of “racist” as a condemnation with real ethical and political power is of grave consequence and may ironically be Kendi’s most significant contribution to American politics.

And this, says the author, is Kendi’s grift (yes, he calls him a “grifter”). I do have a feeling that Kendi’s best days are behind him, but I can’t say for sure.




*Reader David tells us that, according to the Guardian, the world’s most valuable wine collection is on sale, and its estimate is (wait for it) £41 million!

These are no ordinary tipples. When the largest and most valuable collection of rare wines ever sold comes to market, aficionados are going to need deep pockets: some could go for almost $200,000 (£165,000) apiece.

The 25,000 bottles of wine, including many mythical vintages and names, are just part of the collection of Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen. They are expected to be fetch up to $50m (£41m) at separate auctions in Paris, London, New York, Hong Kong and Beaune, considered the Burgundy region’s wine capital.

“This is the ultimate wine collection, which comes to the market at a time when global interest in fine wine has arguably never been greater,” said Nick Pegna, the global head of wine and spirits at Sotheby’s, which is organising the sale. “This is a cellar in which every bottle has a story, and in which every wine is the best you could wish to own and enjoy.”

The auction house said Chen’s collection, acquired over 40 years, was “the most broad-ranging, valuable cellar ever formed”.

Here are some of the highlights, and my mouth is watering as I post this!

Among the highlights are two six-litre Methuselahs of Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti La Tâche 1985 estimated at up to $190,000 (£156,000) each, one from 1999 ($130,000), and a three-litre 1971 Jeroboam of the same “iconic” red burgundy ($140,000).

Two magnums of 1985 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin are expected to go for up to $32,000 each, and six magnums of 2001 Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1er Cru produced by Henri Jayer, known as the “Godfather of burgundy”, for up to $70,000 each.

Among the white burgundies, 12 bottles of 2014 Bâtard-Montrachet are estimated at up to $22,000 each, while the red Bordeaux on offer include a 1959 Château Lafite Rothschild, a 1961 Château Latour and the “seminal” 1947 Château Cheval Blanc.

But this is the one I’d want:

A single, exceptionally rare six-litre imperial of 1982 Pétrus, widely considered one of the greatest of all Bordeaux wines, is set to go for up to $65,000 . . .

1982 was a great year for Bordeaux in general and Petrus in particular. And I could have afforded at least a few 750-ml bottles on future had I dug deep back then.  As David said, “I’d have to sell my house to afford just a single bottle!”

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron have taken over the staff’s workspace during an absence:

Szaron: They will be back soon.
Hili: They will not move me.
In Polish:
Szaron: Oni zaraz tu wrócą.
Hili: Mnie nie ruszą.
And here are the stairs that Paulina and Mariusz and had built so Kulka and the other cats (Hili is getting too old to climb vines to the veranda) could get to the second floor (Hili is getting too old and plump to climb vines to the veranda) :


From Divy:

From Seth Andrews, who says, “Guess the country.”  Them’s bullets, Jed!

From The Absurd Sign Project 2.0:

From Masih; protestors mutilating pages showing Khomeini.  This would have been a capital crime in Russia if the picture was Stalin, and is likely a serious crime in Iran:

From gravelinspector, who calls this “The luckiest (and stupidest) pigeon in the world.”  Indeed! And I guess it did survive!

This cat was obviously pissed off that its kitten had strayed:

David Bowie writes a song about a depressed Ricky Gervais:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a girl gassed upon arrival. She was 12.

Tweets from Professor Cobb. First, a lovely woman saving a stuck skunk! And she didn’t even get squirted.

I can’t get my head around this one:

Puppy and ducks:

More on the canceled anthropology panel on sex: an anthropology society defends deplatforming the panel as transphobic

September 28, 2023 • 11:15 am

Yesterday I wrote a post about how two anthropological societies decided to cancel a panel on the biology of sex and gender because they considered it “harmful” to the listeners. As I wrote:

I’m probably late to the party, but the latest gossip about the Authoritarian Left involves the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) deciding to deplatform an entire symposium on sex and gender in anthropology—all because of the claim that it could cause mental “harm”to some people.

There are three letters involved, all of which you can see at a site set up by Elizabeth Weiss, a physical anthropologist at San Jose State (I’ve written about her before, as she’s been professionally demonized for wanting to scientifically study Native American remains).

As I noted, the proposed symposium was a dog’s breakfast of diverse topics, centered on sex and gender, but I also suspected that it was mainly the proposal of Elizabeth Weiss that was the cause of the cancelation.  Weiss’s talk, which seems to be the most scientific, focused, and coherent of the group, was about the binary nature of human skeletons, how we can judge sex from human remains, and what kind of accuracy we have (it’s nearly 100% for whole skeletons of recently deceased humans, as well as for those of Native Americans dating from 500 to 2,500 years ago—the ones studied by Weiss). Even when you have incomplete remains, DNA analysis is often possible, and with that Y chromosome analysis can tell you whether the skeleton was male or female. Here’s Elizabeth’s summary of her proposed talk again:

No bones about it: skeletons are binary; people may not be. Sex identification – whether an individual was male or female – using the skeleton is one of the most fundamental components in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology. Anthropologists have improved their ability to determine sex since their initial studies on skeletal remains, which depended on subjective assessment of skeletal robusticity to say whether someone was male or female. An understanding of physical differences in the pelvis related to childbirth, hormonal impacts on bones, and extensive comparative studies have provided anthropologists with an array of traits, such as those in the Phenice Method, to determine sex using just bones. The use of DNA to identify sex in skeletons by their 23rd chromosomes enables anthropologists to say whether infants are male or female for use in both criminal abuse cases and archaeological cases, such as in recognizing infanticide practices. Anthropologists’ ability to determine whether a skeleton is male or female is not dependent on time or culture; the same traits can be used to make a sex estimate in a forensic case in Canada, or to estimate sex in a Paleoindian dated around 11,500 years ago in Brazil. As anthropologists study more remains from more cultures and time periods, sex identification has improved, because sex differences are biologically-determined. In forensics, however, anthropologists should be (and are) working on ways to ensure that skeletal finds are identified by both biological sex and their gender identity, which is essential due to the current rise in transitioning individuals and their overrepresentation as crime victims. —Elizabeth Weiss

She even talks about whether a skeleton shows signs of alteration due to gender identity!  But it’s clear that the first sentence, that skeletons are binary and have been for ages, will offend those who assert, mistakenly, that human sex is not binary. As Luana Maroja and I wrote in our paper “The Ideological Subversion of Biology” for the Skeptical Inquirer, objections to the fact that sex is effectively binary (99.982% of humans are either male or female using the standard gametic definition of sex) comes purely from a misguided ideology: because some people say that sex or gender is a spectrum in people’s minds, it must also be true in nature. As we wrote:

Why do so many people resist the sex binary? Because it’s in their ideological interest to conflate biological sex with gender—one’s social identity or sex role. Unlike biological sex, gender does form more of a continuum (online lists give dozens of genders). Still, gender distributions are camel’s-hump bimodal: most people conform to male and female gender roles, but there are many more intermediates than we see for biological sex.

And why do people distort the truth? We suspect that some of those whose gender doesn’t correspond to one of the two biological sexes, and their allies, want to redefine sex so that, like gender, it forms more of a continuum. While jettisoning the sex binary is meant well, it also severely distorts scientific fact—and all the evolutionary consequences that flow from that fact.

Note as well the statements of gender-critical feminist Kathleen Lowery, who organized the whole symposium. They include this:

With the return of grand narratives, what are anthropologists still not saying about sex? David Graeber and David Wengrow’s 2021 book The Dawn of Everything has been acknowledged by enthusiasts and critics alike as marking the salutary return of “grand narrative” to anthropology after a long absence. Hierarchy, inequality, property, the state, power itself…. All are expounded upon in a sweeping epic involving a cast of billions, arrayed in dazzling setings ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to present-day Chiapas. And yet this ambition, rather like that of bewhiskered imperialist gentlemen of the nineteenth century, quails at the merest mention of sex. One mustn’t make any strong claims there, but instead consider the delicate complexities of gender

I suspect, then, that the insistence on the biological existence of sex—as well as Weiss’s claim that it’s binary—is apparently why the two anthropological associations deep-sixed the symposium, for such claims were deemed “transphobic” (see below).

How do we know that this is the reason they canceled the symposium? Well, the site Retraction Watch published an item about the canceled symposium. The piece, which you can find here, is a news piece called “Anthropology groups cancel conference panel on why biological sex is ‘necessary’ for research.” And this piece also links to a new statement from at least one of the two anthropological societies, a statement that takes an even harder line against the symposium than did the letter to the participants that canceled it. I’ve put the relevant part of the first Retraction Watch piece in bold:

In a letter informing the panelists of the decision, Ramona Pérez and Monica Heller, presidents of the AAA and CASCA, respectively, wrote that the executive boards of the two groups had reviewed the submission “at the request of numerous members” and decided to remove it from the conference program. They wrote:

This decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, the safety and dignity of our members, and the scientific integrity of the program(me). The reason the session deserved further scrutiny was that the ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI of the anthropological community as well as the community at large.

While there were those who disagree with this decision, we would hope they know their voice was heard and was very much a part of the conversation. It is our hope that we continue to work together so that we become stronger and more unified within each of our associations. Going forward, we will undertake a major review of the processes associated with vetting sessions at our annual meetings and will include our leadership in that discussion.

Pérez and Heller did not respond directly to our request for comment, but forwarded our message to an association spokesperson, who sent us a statement titled “No Place For Transphobia in Anthropology.”

Now this is very weird, because when I looked ten minutes ago at the link just above, that statement was there and the link ( worked, taking you to a Word document.  Now, however, the link doesn’t work and the Word document has disappeared.  (This statement was apparently sent to a reporter who asked the AAA to respond to his/her request for details about complaints. Reporters who are all over this story like white on rice.)

UPDATE: Retraction Watch has restored the link after I pointed out it was broken, but now the statement appears on the AAA website here.

Fortunately, I’ve saved it, and have posted it below (I’ll be glad to send it to anyone who wants.) Based on what the first link said, we can provisionally take this to be the official response of at least one of the two anthropology societies (the AAA). If it proves to be bogus I’ll retract it, but given that the AAA sent it to a reporter who inquired is strong evidence that what you read below is not only real, but the position of at least the AAA. (I’m not sure whether CASCA would or did sign on to the statement below.)

(Bolding, except for in the titles, is mine.)

No Place For Transphobia in Anthropology

Session pulled from Annual Meeting program

The AAA and CASCA boards reached a decision to remove the session “Let’s Talk about Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology” from the AAA/CASCA 2023 conference program. This decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, in order to ensure the safety and dignity of all of our members, as well as the scientific integrity of the program.

The first ethical principle in AAA’s Principles of Professional Responsibility is to “Do no harm.” The session was rejected because it relied on assumptions that run contrary to the settled science in our discipline, framed in ways that do harm to vulnerable members of our community. It commits one of the cardinal sins of scholarship—it assumes the truth of the proposition that it sets out to prove, namely, that sex and gender are simplistically binary, and that this is a fact with meaningful implications for the discipline.

Such efforts contradict scientific evidence, including the wealth of anthropological scholarship on gender and sex. Forensic anthropologists talk about using bones for “sex estimation,” not “sex identification,” a process that is probabilistic rather than clearly determinative, and that is easily influenced by cognitive bias on the part of the researcher. Around the world and throughout human history, there have always been people whose gender roles do not align neatly with their reproductive anatomy. There is no single biological standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification. On the contrary, anthropologists and others have long shown sex and gender to be historically and geographically contextual, deeply entangled, and dynamically mutable categories.

The function of the “gender critical” scholarship advocated in this session, like the function of the “race science” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is to advance a “scientific” reason to question the humanity of already marginalized groups of people, in this case, those who exist outside a strict and narrow sex / gender binary.

Transgender and gender diverse identities have long existed, and we are committed to upholding the value and dignity of transgender people. We believe that a more just future is possible—one where gender diversity is welcomed and supported rather than marginalized and policed.

Note that in the second and third paragraph the binary nature of sex is assumed to be untrue.  Yes, there are 0.018% exceptions to the sex binary, but for all practical purposes that’s a binary. Gender, of course, is not binary but bimodal: most people identify as male or female in gender, but there are more intermediates than with biological sex. But I don’t know any of the participants who claimed that gender rather than sex is binary!  Once again, we see that the assertion of a biological fact—the binary nature of biological sex—has been censored because it’s deemed harmful.

As for “sex estimation” rather than “sex identification”, this implicitly assumes that the inability of anthropologists to absolutely identify sex of some bones means that sex is not binary. All I can say, and I’m being charitable here, is that this is illogical. (In fact, it’s insane.) Some remains are sufficiently incomplete, and lack usable DNA, so that we can’t tell whether they’re male or female. But they are, unless for some reason sex is binary now but wasn’t so in earlier societies. And that’s not a good assumption.

As for this statement:

There is no single biological standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification.

That’s also untrue. The standard is whether a person has the biological equipment to make either small and mobile gametes, in which case they’re male, or large and immobile gametes, in which case they’re female. As for “reliability”, this works, as I said, 99.982% of the time. I’d call that “reliable.

The last two paragraphs of this apparent AAA statement tell you that they canceled the symposium because biological truth (or biological discussion) somehow erodes the dignity of transgender people, and “questions the humanity of already marginalized groups of people.”  If you can get that out of reading the symposium abstracts, you’re a better reader than I am.

Once again we see that certain topics, including the binary nature of sex (and of all animals) have been deemed taboo because even though they may contain scientific truth, we can’t let that truth be known because it harms the marginalized. But it does it NOT harm the marginalized, an assertion that is just performative offense. Further, the idea that we have to suppress truth because of claimed but not real “harm” is the attitude that is eroding not just biology, but all the sciences.