Two religions collide: Cambridge student preacher causes row by suggesting that Jesus was a transsexual male

November 27, 2022 • 12:00 pm

You can thank reader Pyers for the links to two—count them, two—articles about how a student at Cambridge claims that Jesus was a transsexual male, which of course caused a huge fracas. Pyers added this to his links:

And this one must be for the 5* treatment as being idiotic on just so so many levels.  When I read it I just, to use a piece of internet shorthand, PML. [JAC: inquiry reveals that this stands for “pissed myself laughing”]. It is the craziest of the crazy, looniest of loons …Just do what I was tempted to do and bash your head against a wall. It is at moments like this that you thank God you are an atheist! (Big grin for that one.)

It’s widely reported in the UK media:

The first article’s from the Torygraph:

A quote and picture (bolding is mine):

Jesus could have been transgender, according to a University of Cambridge dean.

Dr Michael Banner, the dean of Trinity College, said such a view was “legitimate” after a row over a sermon by a Cambridge research student that claimed Christ had a “trans body”, The Telegraph can disclose.

The “truly shocking” address at last Sunday’s evensong at Trinity College chapel, saw Joshua Heath, a junior research fellow, display Renaissance and Medieval paintings of the crucifixion that depicted a side wound that the guest preacher likened to a vagina.

Worshippers told The Telegraph they were left “in tears” and felt excluded from the church, with one shouting “heresy” at the Dean upon leaving.

The sermon displayed three paintings, including Jean Malouel’s 1400 work Pietà, with Mr Heath pointing out Jesus’s side wound and blood flowing to the groin. The order of service also showed French artist Henri Maccheroni’s 1990 work “Christs”.

Heath, whose PhD was supervised by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, also told worshippers that in the Prayer Book of Bonne of Luxembourg, from the 14th century, this side wound was isolated and “takes on a decidedly vaginal appearance”.

Heath also drew on non-erotic depictions of Christ’s penis in historical art, which “urge a welcoming rather than hostile response towards the raised voices of trans people”.

“In Christ’s simultaneously masculine and feminine body in these works, if the body of Christ as these works suggest the body of all bodies, then his body is also the trans body,” the sermon concluded.

A congregation member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Dr Banner in a complaint letter: “I left the service in tears. You offered to speak with me afterwards, but I was too distressed. I am contemptuous of the idea that by cutting a hole in a man, through which he can be penetrated, he can become a woman.

“I am especially contemptuous of such imagery when it is applied to our Lord, from the pulpit, at Evensong. I am contemptuous of the notion that we should be invited to contemplate the martyrdom of a ‘trans Christ’, a new heresy for our age.”

Here is PROOF—one of the pictures shown during Heath’s sermon. You have to do a really logical stretch to see that as a vagina. It’s not even in the right place!

And here’s how Dean Banner defended the claim. Note that he often gives BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”, which is usually a religious homily. Dawkins did it once, and that was the last time they used an atheist!

Dr Banner’s response to the complaint, seen by The Telegraph, defended how the sermon “suggested that we might think about these images of Christ’s male/female body as providing us with ways of thinking about issues around transgender questions today”.

“For myself, I think that speculation was legitimate, whether or not you or I or anyone else disagrees with the interpretation, says something else about that artistic tradition, or resists its application to contemporary questions around transsexualism,” Dr Banner added.

Dr Banner, who frequents BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, said that while the views were the speaker’s own, he “would not issue an invitation to someone who I thought would deliberately seek to shock or offend a congregation or who could be expected to speak against the Christian faith”.

Click to read the more heated piece from the Daily Fail:

The Fail doesn’t add much to the above, but does give an official quote form the Uni:

A spokesperson for Trinity College said: The College would like to make clear the following:

‘Neither the Dean of Trinity College nor the researcher giving the sermon suggested Jesus was transgender.

‘The sermon addressed the image of Christ depicted in art and various interpretations of those artistic portrayals.

‘The sermon’s exploration of the nature of religious art, in the spirit of thought-provoking academic inquiry, was in keeping with open debate and dialogue at the University of Cambridge.’

Now it’s barely possible that some randy medieval artist deliberately painted Jesus’s wound to resemble a vagina. But since I’m not convinced that Jesus really existed as any real person, much less as a divine human/son of God/part of God, I can’t be bothered worrying about his gender. The whole fracas is simply hilarious, instantiating what happens when one religion, Christianity, collides with another—wokeness.

The ideologues: why we can’t use statistics any more

November 27, 2022 • 10:00 am

I could go on and on about the errors and misconceptions of the paper from Nautilus below, whose aims are threefold. First, to convince us that several of the founders of modern statistics, including Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, and Ronald Fisher, were racists. Second, to argue that the statistical tests they made famous, and are used widely in research (including biomedical research), were developed as tools to promote racism and eugenics. Third, that we should stop using statistical analyses like chi-squared tests, Fisher exact tests, analyses of variance, t-tests, or even fitting data to normal distributions, because these exercises are tainted by racism.  I and others have argued that the first claim is overblown, and I’ll argue here that the second is wrong and the third is insane, not even following from the first two claims if they were true.

Click on the screenshot to read the Nautilus paper. The author, Aubrey Clayton, is identified in the piece as “a mathematician living in Boston and the author of the forthcoming book Bernoulli’s Fallacy.”

The first thing to realize is that yes, people like Pearson, Fisher, and Galton made racist and classist statements that would be deemed unacceptable today. The second is that they conceived of “eugenics” as not a form of racial slaughter, like Hitler, but by encouraging the white “upper classes” (whom they assumed had “better genes”) to have more kids and discourage the breeding of the white “lower classes.” But none of their writing on eugenics (which was not the dominant interest of any of the three named) had any influence on eugenic practice, since Britain never practiced eugenics. Clayton desperately tries to forge a connection between the Brits and Hitler via an American (the racist Madison Grant) who, he says, was influenced by the Brits and who himself influenced Hitler, but the connection is tenuous. Nevertheless, this photo appears in the article. (Isn’t there some law about dragging Hitler into every discussion as a way to make your strongest point?)

My friend Luana suggested that I use this children’s book to illustrate Clayton’s  point:

As the email and paper I cite below show, Clayton is also wrong in arguing that the statical methods devised by Pearson, Galton, and especially Fisher, were created to further their eugenic aspirations. In fact, Clayton admits this for several tests (bolding is mine).

One of the first theoretical problems Pearson attempted to solve concerned the bimodal distributions that Quetelet and Galton had worried about, leading to the original examples of significance testing. Toward the end of the 19th century, as scientists began collecting more data to better understand the process of evolution, such distributions began to crop up more often. Some particularly unusual measurements of crab shells collected by Weldon inspired Pearson to wonder, exactly how could one decide whether observations were normally distributed?

Before Pearson, the best anyone could do was to assemble the results in a histogram and see whether it looked approximately like a bell curve. Pearson’s analysis led him to his now-famous chi-squared test, using a measure called Χ2 to represent a “distance” between the empirical results and the theoretical distribution. High values, meaning a lot of deviation, were unlikely to occur by chance if the theory were correct, with probabilities Pearson computed. This formed the basic three-part template of a significance test as we now understand it. . .

If the chi-squared test was developed to foster eugenics, it was the eugenics of crabs! But Clayton manages to connect the crab study to eugenics:

Applying his tests led Pearson to conclude that several datasets like Weldon’s crab measurements were not truly normal. Racial differences, however, were his main interest from the beginning. Pearson’s statistical work was inseparable from his advocacy for eugenics. One of his first example calculations concerned a set of skull measurements taken from graves of the Reihengräber culture of Southern Germany in the fifth to seventh centuries. Pearson argued that an asymmetry in the distribution of the skulls signified the presence of two races of people. That skull measurements could indicate differences between races, and by extension differences in intelligence or character, was axiomatic to eugenicist thinking. Establishing the differences in a way that appeared scientific was a powerful step toward arguing for racial superiority.

How many dubious inferential leaps does that paragraph make? I count at least four. But I must pass on to other assertions.

Ronald Fisher gets the brunt of Clayton’s ire because, says Clayton, Fisher developed his many famous statistical tests (including analysis of variance, the Fisher exact test, and so on) to answer eugenic questions. This is not true. Fisher espoused the British classist view of eugenics, but he also developed his statistical tests for other reasons, even if he ever applied them to eugenic questions. In fact, the Society of the Study of Evolution (SSE), when deciding to rename its Fisher Prize for graduate-student accomplishment, says that the order of eugenics —> statistical tests is reversed:

Alongside his work integrating principles of Mendelian inheritance with processes of evolutionary change in populations and applying these advances in agriculture, Fisher established key aspects of theory and practice of statistics.

Fisher, along with other geneticists of the time, extended these ideas to human populations and strongly promoted eugenic policies—selectively favoring reproduction of people of accomplishment and societal stature, with the objective of genetically “improving” human societies.

In this temporal ordering, which happens to be correct (see below), the statistics are not tainted by eugenics and thus don’t have to be thrown overboard. As I reported in a post last year, several of us wrote a letter to the SSE trying to correct its misconceptions (see here for the letter, which also corrects misconceptions about Fisher’s racism), but the SSE politely rejected it.

Towards the end of his article, Clayton calls for eliminating the use of these “racist” statistics, though they’ve saved many lives since they’re used in medical trials, and have also been instrumental in helping scientists in many other areas understand the universe. Clayton manages to dig up a few extremists who also call for eliminating the use of statistics and “significance levels” (the latter issue could, in truth, be debated), but there is nothing that can replace the statistics developed by Galton, Pearson, and Fisher. I’ll give two quotes showing that, in the end, Clayton is a social-justice crank who thinks that objectivity is overrated. Bolding is mine:

Nathaniel Joselson is a data scientist in healthcare technology, whose experiences studying statistics in Cape Town, South Africa, during protests over a statue of colonial figure Cecil John Rhodes led him to build the website “Meditations on Inclusive Statistics.” He argues that statistics is overdue for a “decolonization,” to address the eugenicist legacy of Galton, Pearson, and Fisher that he says is still causing damage, most conspicuously in criminal justice and education. “Objectivity is extremely overrated,” he told me. “What the future of science needs is a democratization of the analysis process and generation of analysis,” and that what scientists need to do most is “hear what people that know about this stuff have been saying for a long time. Just because you haven’t measured something doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Often, you can see it with your eyes, and that’s good enough.”

Statistics, my dear Joselson, was developed precisely because what “we see with our eyes” may be deceptive, for what we often see with our eyes is what we want to see with our eyes. It’s called “ascertainment bias.”  How do Joselson and Clayton propose to judge the likelihood that a drug really does cure a disease? Through “lived experience”?

It goes on. Read and weep (or laugh):

To get rid of the stain of eugenics, in addition to repairing the logic of its methods, statistics needs to free itself from the ideal of being perfectly objective. It can start with issues like dismantling its eugenicist monuments and addressing its own diversity problems. Surveys have consistently shown that among U.S. resident students at every level, Black/African-American and Hispanic/Latinx people are severely underrepresented in statistics.

. . . Addressing the legacy of eugenics in statistics will require asking many such difficult questions. Pretending to answer them under a veil of objectivity serves to dehumanize our colleagues, in the same way the dehumanizing rhetoric of eugenics facilitated discriminatory practices like forced sterilization and marriage prohibitions. Both rely on distancing oneself from the people affected and thinking of them as “other,” to rob them of agency and silence their protests.

How an academic community views itself is a useful test case for how it will view the world. Statistics, steeped as it is in esoteric mathematical terminology, may sometimes appear purely theoretical. But the truth is that statistics is closer to the humanities than it would like to admit. The struggles in the humanities over whose voices are heard and the power dynamics inherent in academic discourse have often been destructive, and progress hard-won. Now that fight may have been brought to the doorstep of statistics.

In the 1972 book Social Sciences as Sorcery, Stanislav Andreski argued that, in their search for objectivity, researchers had settled for a cheap version of it, hiding behind statistical methods as “quantitative camouflage.” Instead, we should strive for the moral objectivity we need to simultaneously live in the world and study it. “The ideal of objectivity,” Andreski wrote, “requires much more than an adherence to the technical rules of verification, or recourse to recondite unemotive terminology: namely, a moral commitment to justice—the will to be fair to people and institutions, to avoid the temptations of wishful and venomous thinking, and the courage to resist threats and enticements.”

The last paragraph is really telling, for it says one cannot be “objective” without adhering to the same “moral commitment to justice” as does the author. That is nonsense. Objectivity is the refusal to take an a priori viewpoint based on your political, moral, or ideological commitments, not an explicit adherence to those commitments.

But enough; I could go on forever, and my patience, and yours, is limited. I will quote two other scientists.

The first is A. W. F. Edwards, a well known British geneticist, statistician, and evolutionary biologist. He was also a student of Fisher’s, and has defended him against calumny like Clayton’s. But read the following article for yourself (it isn’t published, for it was written for his College at Cambrige, which was itself contemplating removing memorials to Fisher). I’ll be glad to send the pdf to any reader who wants it:

Here’s the abstract, but do read the paper, available on request:

In June 2020 Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge issued a press announcement that its College Council had decided to ‘take down’ the stained-glass window which had been placed in its Hall in 1989 ready for the centenary of Sir Ronald Fisher the following year. The window depicted the colourful Latin-Square pattern from the jacket of Fisher’s 1935 book The Design of Experiments. The window was one of a matching pair, the other commemorating John Venn with the famous three-set ‘Venn diagram’, each window requiring seven colours which were the same in both (Edwards, 2002; 2014a). One of the arguments advanced for this action was Fisher’s interest in eugenics which ‘stimulated his interest in both statistics and genetics’*.

In this paper I challenge the claim by examining the actual sequence of events beginning with 1909, the year in which Fisher entered Gonville and Caius College. I show that the historians of science who promoted the claim paid inadequate attention to Fisher’s actual studies in statistics as part of his mathematical education which were quite sufficient to launch him on his path-breaking statistical career; they showed a limited understanding of the magnitude of Fisher’s early achievements in theoretical statistics and experimental design, which themselves had no connection with eugenics. Secondly, I show that Fisher’s knowledge of natural selection and Mendelism antedated his involvement in eugenics; and finally I stress that the portmanteau word ‘eugenics’ originally included early human genetics and was the subject from which modern human and medical genetics grew.

Finally, I sent the article to another colleague with statistical and historical expertise, and he/she wrote the following, quoted with permission:

There is an authoritative history of statistics by Stephen Stigler of the UoC. There’s also an excellent biography of Galton by Michael Bulmer. Daniel Kevles’s book is still the best account of the history of eugenics, and he gives a very good account of how it developed into human genetics, largely due to Weinberg, Fisher and Haldane. Genetic counselling is in fact a form of eugenics, and only religious bigots are against it. Eugenics has become a dirty word, associated with Nazism and other forms of racism.

According to Stigler, many early developments, like the normal distribution and least squares estimation, were developed by astronomers and physicists such as Gauss and Laplace in order to deal with measurement error. Galton invented the term ‘regression’ when investigating the relations between parent and offspring, but did not use the commonly used least squares method of estimation, although this had been introduced much earlier by Legendre. Galton consistently advocated research into heredity rather than applied eugenics, undoubtedly because he felt a firm scientific base was needed as a foundation for eugenics.

Like Fisher, Galton and Pearson were interested in ‘improving the stock’, which had nothing to do with racial differences;  even Marxists like Muller and Haldane were advocates of positive eugenics of this kind. I think there are many arguments against positive eugenics, but it is misguided to make out that it is inherently evil in the same way as Nazism and white supremacism.

No doubt Galton and Pearson held racist views, but these were widespread at the time, and had nothing to do with the eugenics movement in the UK; in fact, the Eugenics Society published a denunciation of Nazi eugenics laws in 1933  and explicitly dissociated eugenics from racism (see People are confused about this, because the word ‘race’ was then widely used in a very loose sense to refer to what we would now refer to as a population (Churchill used to refer to the ‘English race’: he was himself half American).

Fisher’s work in statistics was very broadly based and not primarily motivated by genetics; he discovered the distribution of t as a result of correspondence with the statistician W.S. Gossett at Guinness’s brewery in Dublin, and his major contributions to experimental design and ANOVA were made in connection with agricultural research at the Rothamstead experimental station (who have renamed their ‘Fisher Court’ as ‘ANOVA Court’). Maybe everyone should give up drinking Guinness and eating cereal products, since they are allegedly contaminated in this way.


Readers’ wildlife photos

November 27, 2022 • 8:15 am

It’s the Lord’s day, but also John Avise‘s day, for on Sunday we get a themed collections of bird photos from John. His narrative and captions are below, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Don’t forget to send in your photos—we’re running low! Thanks.

Turkey Day:

I hope all WEIT readers are having a very happy Thanksgiving weekend. In slightly belated honor of Turkey Day, today’s theme is native birds with the word “turkey” in the common name.  In North America, there are two such species:  the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), from which domestic turkeys are descended; and the unrelated Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).  The Turkey Vulture probably got its name from its featherless head, like that of a Wild Turkey gobbler.  Wild Turkeys can be found across most of the United States and Mexico, whereas Turkey Vultures range throughout the Americas.  I won’t include photos of domestic turkeys, because most of you already know what they look and taste like.

Wild Turkey hen:

Wild Turkey adult male (gobbler or tom):

Wild Turkey young male:

Wild Turkey adults with juvenile (chick or poult):

Wild Turkey adult with 8 poults:

Turkey Vulture body portrait:

Turkey Vulture head portrait:

Turkey Vulture perched:

Another Turkey Vulture perched:

Turkey Vulture sunbathing:

Turkey Vulture flight profile:

Turkey Vulture soaring:

Sunday: Hili dialogue

November 27, 2022 • 6:45 am

Greetings on Sunday, November 27, 2022. In exactly one month I’ll be greeting my surrogate parents and Hili in Poland, and I’ll meet Szaron and Kulka for the first time!  Don’t forget the approach of Xmas as well as Coynezaa, the holiday that begins on Christmas Day and ends on my birthday, December 30,

It’s National Bavarian Cream Pie Day, a pie filled with an eggy-custard mixed with gelatin and whipped cream. I’ve never had one, and am not sure I’d seek one out. Have a slice:

A stent on a plate.

It’s also National Craft Jerky Day, Small Brewery Sunday (avoid IPAs), National Electric Guitar Day, Turtle Adoption Day, International Day of the Bible, and, in the UK, Lancashire Day.

I was going to post a live Hendrix video in honor of Electric Guitar Day, but I couldn’t find a live performance of “Sweet Angel,” my favorite. Here instead is Mark Knopfler playing “Sultans of Swing,” another virtuoso piece. He explains his style before he starts the song at 1:57.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the November 27 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Over at the WaPo, Andrew Delbanco takes up the thorny question of reparations for the oppression suffered by minority Americans, mostly black, in his op-ed “Reparations for Black Americans can work. Here’s how.” He goes through the history of the reparations argument in the U.S. (yes, interred Japanese-Americans got them in WWII, and Martin Luther King favored some kind of payback), and then comes up with a solution that sounds good to me:

Today, a great many White Americans feel as demeaned and discarded as Black Americans, and just as forgotten. In the grim metrics of poverty rates, infant mortality and maternal deaths in childbirth, Black Americans and Native Americans continue to hold the lead. But in the distribution of suffering, as measured by other markers such as opioid addiction, alcoholism and suicide, the racial gap is closing.

This multiracial reality can be addressed only with a multiracial response of the sort envisioned by King. Beginning with a robust defense of the right to vote, such a response must include subsidized housing for low-income Americans; improved access to health care; investments in public transportation; expanded child tax credits; preschool and wraparound services for all children of the sort that affluent families take for granted. It must include renewed investment in community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, tribal and regional public colleges, where low-income White students as well as Black, Hispanic and Native American students are likely to enroll. At elite private colleges, it should mean less dependence on the blunt instrument of standardized testing, and more bridge programs for recruiting and preparing children from low-asset families, White as well as non-White. All this might sound like a fanciful wish list, and a partial one at that — but it is no departure from the American creed of equal opportunity, in which both parties profess to believe. I have no doubt that a racially inclusive approach to repairing our society stands a better chance than any effort that is racially exclusive.

The fact that some of the benefits go to other ethnic groups should lessen the resentment that many people (though not I) feel about the issue of reparations for slavery.

*Yesterday’s World Cup results are pretty much what one expects (click to enlarge). In Argentina’s victory over Mexico, Messi scored one goal and assisted with the other, and apparently broke the game wide open with his vigorous passes and dribbles—old man that he is. This was critical for Argentina, for had they lost to Mexico (remember, they’d already lost to Saudi Arabia in the Cup’s biggest upset), they’d have very little chance to reach the finals.

Here are five minutes of highlights from the Argentina/Mexico game:

As for the other games:

Kylian Mbappé scored two second-half goals to grab a share of the World Cup scoring lead, and an in-control France finished Denmark, 2-1, to secure its place in the knockout stages with a game to go.

. . .Saudi Arabia again tried to summon the magic that helped it produce the greatest moment in the country’s soccer history, but Poland’s goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, and its star striker Robert Lewandowski made sure their team didn’t suffer the same fate as Lionel Messi and Argentina.

With 10 minutes remaining, and Saudi Arabia fresh off two good chances to score, Lewandowski doused the Saudis’ hopes, pouncing on an errant pass from Abdulelah al-Malki and then easily rolling the ball into the back of the net for his first World Cup goal.

. . .Australia grabbed hold a World Cup lifeline on Saturday, beating Tunisia, 1-0, on a first-half goal by Mitchell Duke at Al Janoub.

The victory, Australia’s first at the World Cup since 2010, temporarily scrambled the standings in Group D. And it briefly tied the Socceroos with France in first place with three points. (France restablished sole position of first, and clinched a spot in the knockout round, but beating Denmark, 2-1, later Saturday.

*The Guardian has an interview with physicist Sabine Hossenfelder with the provocative title, “Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder: ‘There are quite a few areas where physics blurs into religion.”  This is guaranteed to piss off her colleagues who think the multiverse might be real, but Hossenfelder doesn’t care! A few Q&As with the Biner. As the article notes, “Her second book, Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions, came out in August.” (h/t Barry)

You write that a lot of research in physics, such as hypotheses for the early universe, is “religion masquerading as science under the guise of mathematics”. Could you elaborate on that?
There are quite a few areas where the foundations of physics blur into religion, but physicists don’t notice because they’re not paying attention. It’s a lack of education in the philosophy of science in general. For example, the most commonly accepted story about the beginning of the universe is the big bang, and to some extent this is really just the simplest way you can extrapolate the equations into the past – and then you can add inflation, which is an exponential phase of expansion; or, like Roger Penrose, you can make it a cyclic universe. But maybe it was a big bounce, or it started with the collision of membranes. These ideas are all possible – they’re all compatible with the observations that we have. But I would call them ascientific – the kind of idea that evidence says nothing for nor against.

You don’t have much time for the multiverse either. Why not?
It’s another one of those ideas that I’d call ascientific. If you want to believe that there are infinite copies of you with small alterations – one of them maybe won the Nobel prize, another became a rock star – you can believe this if you want to, it’s not in conflict with anything we know. But from a scientific perspective, if you want to make progress in our understanding of natural law, I’d say it’s a waste of time exactly for that reason, because you can’t test it.

Can you understand why some giants of physics, such as Stephen Hawking, came to believe we are living in a multiverse?
I have guesses, but I can’t ask him. It’s not just Stephen Hawking, there’s quite a number of people in the foundations of physics, though if you read the popular science press, it overstates the number, because they’re very prominent. It’s very niche, actually, this whole multiverse thing. Those people are really confused about what science can actually do. How they come to this conclusion that the multiverse must exist is that they have some theory that predicts some things that agree with observations – that’s all well and fine. And then they jump to the conclusion that therefore all the mathematics that appears in this theory also has to exist in some sense. But this is not how it works. You’ve just assigned reality to some mathematical expressions. You can’t support it with a scientific argument.

You’re very exacting when assessing other scientists’ work, so I’m interested to know: which physicists working today do you hold in the highest regard?
Oh Jesus. Then you’ll print this and everyone else will hate me. Well, I very much admire Roger Penrose, who has a really sharp mind and has done so many amazing things. He has also been outspoken in his criticism of some of the trends in the foundations of physics, including string theory. And he’s courageous, putting forward some ideas that are fairly out-there – like the stuff with the gravitationally induced collapse, or how consciousness plays a role in the human brain, or the cyclic universe. It’s all very original.

*Caity Weaver’s piece at the NYT: “Could I survive the ‘Quietest place on Earth?‘” describes just three hours she spent in a sound-eliminating room in Orfield Laboratories, located in Minneapolis The “quiet room” was crated

The room of containment, technically an “anechoic chamber,” is the quietest place on the planet — according to some. According to others, it’s more like the second-quietest. It is quieter than any place most people will ever go, unless they make a point of going to multiple anechoic chambers over the course of a lifetime.

. . . Earlier this year, members of the public began, apparently spontaneously, and via TikTok and YouTube, convincing one another that the room was created as an invitation to compete; that spending a few hours alone inside it entitled a person to a cash prize; that the value of this cash prize was up to $7 million; and that anyone could attempt to win it. Orfield Labs was bombarded with phone calls and emails from people demanding a shot at winning the money. There was no contest. But the mystique of the too-quiet room, if construed by outsiders, has perhaps been bolstered by the company’s website, which advertises an experience called “The Orfield Challenge,” whereby, for $600 an hour, a person can attempt to set a new “record” for time spent in the chamber.

A person inside an anechoic chamber will not hear nothing. The human body is in constant motion — inhaling and expelling air, settling limbs into new positions, pumping blood — and so, constantly creating sounds (although usually we cannot hear them). Environments we think of as ultraquiet are typically quite a bit louder than the floor of the human hearing threshold, which is around zero decibels; a library reading room, for instance, might clock in at 40 decibels. An anechoic chamber does not sharpen hearing; it removes the noise that otherwise drowns out the soft, ceaseless sounds of a body, enabling them to be perceived with novel clarity. The body is only totally still — totally silent — in death.

. . . In 2004, Guinness World Records certified the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories as the quietest place on Earth, with an ambient sound level of –9.4 decibels A-weighted. (“A-weighting” measures frequencies according to audibility for humans; negative decibels correspond to sound levels below typical human hearing.) Eight years later, after the chamber was further sealed up to prevent sound leakage, new tests gave a reading of –13 decibels A-weighted. Guinness reaffirmed its status as Earth’s quietest place.

. . . The chamber was outfitted with an office chair for my three-hour stay. Orfield Laboratories’ gray-ponytailed manager, Michael Role, outlined the complicated terms I would need to adhere to in order to set a new record: I would need to stay in the room for three hours. It was my choice to have the lights on or off. Faced with the prospect of staring at a 12-by-10-foot room for three hours with no adornments except a chair and hundreds of hanging fiberglass pyramids, I opted for total darkness. “Sometimes people like to lay down or sit on the floor, so I leave a nice padded blanket in here,” Role said, handing me a blue blanket — which I spread across the floor — before shutting the door (unlocked, he assured me), leaving me in lightless silence.

The room was designed by the Army to test out enemy loudspeakers designed to broadcast deceptive noises.  Did Weaver survive her three hours in the room, setting a record? You’ll have to read the article to find out.

*I’m sure you’re going to want to read this (not!): “How to know if you have a genetic risk of Alzheimer’s?” The answer depends on whether or not you have a specific allele of the APOE gene (“APOE-4”), a gene whose product helps transport cholesterol through the blood.

There are three variants of the gene, each conferring a different risk. People with the APOE2 variant appear to have a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s; the APOE3 variant — the most common type — is “neutral,” meaning it does not increase or decrease risk; and the APOE4 variant raises a person’s risk. Everyone has two versions of the gene, one inherited from their mother and one from their father.

About 25 percent of people carry one APOE4, increasing their chance of developing Alzheimer’s by two or three times. Another 2 to 3 percent of people have two copies of APOE4, as [actor Chris]. Hemsworth does. This is associated with a roughly 10-fold higher risk. Having APOE4 is also linked to earlier onset of the disease.

. . .Scientists aren’t exactly sure why a gene involved in capturing cholesterol plays such a large role in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s possible that changes in cholesterol can damage brain cells or cause inflammation in the brain, which could lead to dementia.

Having the APOE4 gene variant, either one or two copies, does not mean you will definitely get Alzheimer’s disease. Some conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, are directly caused by a specific gene mutation. Alzheimer’s disease and APOE4 don’t work like that. The gene is just one factor that contributes to people’s risk. Some people with the gene variant are never diagnosed with the disease, and many people without APOE4 develop Alzheimer’s.

How do you know if you have the bad allele, and whether it’s homozygous or heterozygous? Well, you can get genetically tested at your local hospital, or you can send in our DNA to a company like 23andMe, who, for an extra fee, can tell you all the diseases you’re likely to get. This is why, me being a worrier, I just got the basic ancestry information and abjured the health data. It’s your own choice, using “choice” as shorthand for “what the laws of physics determine you do”, of course.

Now, how do you stave off the disease? The same way you stave off almost everything:

All the experts interviewed for this article agreed that regardless of your genetic status, it is possible to reduce your overall risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Studies show that tried and true healthy habits — exercise, eating well, limiting your alcohol intake, getting enough sleep, not smoking and being socially engaged — are key to fending off neurodegenerative disease.

Well, I’m screwed, especially about the sleep part. But there’s good news, too!

Finally, higher education has consistently been shown to be one of the best ways to lower a person’s risk for dementia. The hypothesis is that education helps people’s brains become more resilient, a concept known as cognitive reserve. Even if there are visible changes to a person’s brain, the more education they have, the less likely they are to display dementia symptoms.

This isn’t natural selection for genetic variants associated with higher education. Such alleles do exist, but many people are already past reproductive age when they get Alzheimer’s, reducing their reproductive deficit compared to people without dementia.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Hili dialogue with Andrzej is very strange. Malgorzata explains:

In case you do not understand: Hili doesn’t really know what postmodernism is. Andrzej knows that she doesn’t know and assures her that she will not encounter it here. But Hili thinks that if postmodernism is strange and there is something strange in the hedge, maybe, the two strange things have something in common. This is my interpretation of this strange dialogue. Andrzej, when asked, refused to elaborate, leaving me to guess.

Here you go:

Hili: I think postmodernism is strange.
A: It’s not here.
Hili: Over there in the hedge, there is something strange.
In Polish:
Hili: Dziwi mnie postmodernizm.
Ja: Tu go nie ma.
Hili: Tam w żywopłocie jest coś dziwnego.


From Malcolm: Sheepdogs herd a balloon:

From Merilee:

From David:

From Masih:


From Frits, taken from Mastodon (I’m not a member but welcome screenshots of good “bellows”, or whatever they call emissions from Mastodon):

From Luana: a tweet from Andrew Doyle, creator of Titania McGrath. Be sure to see the ACLU’s bit in the tweet, which I’ve put below it.

The ACLU is circling the drain, but won’t go down without screams of authoritarianism. As Lewis Carroll wrote in The Hunting of the Snark, “What I tell you three times is true.”

From Simon: a Hummingbear!

From the Auschwitz Memorial: A mass deportation of Norwegian Jews took place eighty years ago today. Nearly all of them died in Auschwitz.

Tweets from Matthew. Here’s Chicago photographed from the ISS. Sadly, neither the Unversity nor my crib is in this picture. They can’t see Jerry from their house! UPDATE: See below:

Reader Phil actually found the University and several other landmarks in the photo. Here’s his guide to the photo, which included a note:

The Point [a nearby small peninsula sticking into the Lake] is barely resolvable, I was able to follow 55th east from Midway to Washington Park. The Plaisance [the strip of grass that bisects the University] is only two pixels wide.  No ducks were harmed in the creation of this image.

Below: the statement may also be vice versa:

How lovely!

A low-level murmuration:

MIT tells prospective faculty how to write a successful diversity statement

November 26, 2022 • 11:45 am

It was inevitable that when universities began requiring diversity statements for prospective faculty, postdocs, and grad students, sites would pop up telling you how to write a good statement.  (Some places will even charge to help you!) This site, from the MIT Communication Lab (click on screenshot below) is fairly extensive, covering not only the format of your 1-2 page statement, but also the content.

Although I was a political activist in college (I’m not going to go through that again), it turns out that there’s no way I could write a statement the way MIT suggests. This means that had this been a critical criterion when I was applying for jobs, I’d be flipping burgers now. Several of my colleagues who have read these requirements have said the same. People would have more burgers, but who would have written a book on speciation?

These DEI statements are often critical. Although the MIT site says this:

A diversity statement alone is unlikely to get you an interview or a job offer, but a well-written diversity statement may enable you to stand out among a large pool of qualified candidates.

. . . in reality, in some places like Berkeley, if your diversity statement isn’t up to muster you have no chance of getting a job, no matter how good your academic qualifications are (see here and here). And since you have to talk about efforts you have made in the past to increase diversity, as well as your philosophy of diversity, you have to start doing social-justice work well before you intend to apply for jobs. Woe to those students who have immersed themselves wholly in quantum mechanics or classical literature out of the love of the field and of knowledge. Without a track record in promoting diversity, as well as a philosophy of diversity, those people are doomed.

I don’t of course object to universities encouraging diversity efforts as a way to “broaden” a candidate, but there are many ways to be broad besides fighting for equity of races and genders. These include doing general outreach to high schools, writing popular books and articles on your field, doing an internship at a newspaper or other organization,, and so on. But those don’t count nearly as much as showing your history of fighting for equity.  And is this attempt to turn universities from places of learning into instruments of specific types of social justice that bothers me. As Stanley Fish said (it’s a book title): “Save the world on your own time.”

And, in the end, DEI statements may be illegal. As my colleague Brian Leiter (a law school prof) pointed out, such required statements, if used to cull candidates, may constitute illegal “viewpoint discrimination”. As he notes:

I recommend that those applying for jobs in the University of California system say only this in the diversity statement:  “I decline to supply this statement which constitutes illegal viewpoint discrimination in violation of my constitutional rights.”   There are already lawyers gearing up to bring legal challenges; I hope they act soon.   If you have been rejected from a University of California search, and suspect it was on grounds of insufficient ideological purity about “diversity,” please get in touch with me.  I can connect you with one public interest legal organization looking for plaintiffs.

But back to the MIT recommendations from this site:


Here’s the recommended breakdown of how you should divide your diversity activities and knowledge:

This means you have to have studied DEI extensively, and have a good track record of “advancing DEI”. I’m surprised they don’t recommend a reading list.

Here’s what you need to do (all quotes are indented):

Identify your purpose:

A faculty application diversity statement is NOT a document explaining how you as a candidate are diverse. While it is fine to include personal stories if they have informed how you think about diversity, this should not be the main focus of the statement. Rather, a diversity statement is an opportunity to show that you care about the inclusion of many forms of identity in academia and in your field, including but not limited to gender, race/ethnicity, age, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and ability status.

Note: you have to show how much you care, not about the field itself, but about mentoring and gathering in people diverse not in viewpoint but in disability status, race, gender, age, and so on.

And you better know your onions:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community.

Oy! Where’s the reading list?

Demonstrate knowledge of DEI:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community. . .

Demonstrate experience with DEI:

It is not sufficient to demonstrate knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion; your statement should also show experience with them. While this need not be a separate section, your statement should make it clear that you have not only thought about DEI in the abstract but have applied that knowledge and are prepared to continue doing so in the future.

There’s other stuff like “be concrete in your future plans” (you’ll have to do more than say you’ll treat all students with equal effort and respect: that’s a statement that will get your application binned). Rather, you have to be absolutely specific in what you will do to promote equity and inclusivity. This is where MIT is more or less writing the application for you:

Note that specific actions are required; you can’t just say “I’ll treat my students equally, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, age, and so on.” You have to go to orientation and recruitment events, and act somewhat as a psychologist to your students. Nor do I don’t understand the difference between having a lab that’s “inclusive of women” and “striving for gender parity,” but that’s how it works, so you’d better be on board.

Now the advice to be specific in what you’ll do is not so bad, it’s just that they’re prescribing what you should say. This—along with the site’s other advice—is the compelled speech (and belief) that Leiter thinks may be illegal.  Some day we shall see, but to test the legality of DEI statements you need someone to sue who didn’t get a position (presumably because of a faulty statement). And finding someone with that “standing” may be hard. But come it will, and we shall see.

By the way, you can even see a successful example of a diversity statement published on MIT Communications’ web page, with the useful parts highlighted.  It was submitted by an MIT postdoc who got a faculty position at Brown.  Here’s part of it with the good bits coded in different colors: Pink indicates the recommended subheadings.

h/t: Luana

Caturday extra: Spot the cat!

November 26, 2022 • 10:00 am

I may have posted this before but I don’t remember it. At any rate, hidden among these owls is a cat. Can you spot it? It took me a LONG time, but some of you may see it right off the bat.

Don’t reveal the location in the comments; I’ll post a reveal at 1 pm Chicago time showing the cat.  Enlarging the picture may help:

h/t: Nicole

Caturday felid trifecta: Campus cares for its feral moggies; Hemingway’s polydactylous cats survive Hurricane Ian; a refugee girl from Romania gets her cat back after an arduous rescue; and lagniappe

November 26, 2022 • 9:30 am

All the contributions today come from reader Ginger K. First, a story from I Heart Cats about how the University of Nebraska at Lincoln takes care of its feral moggies. Click to read:

An excerpt:

Like many college campuses across the country, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln had a feral cat problem.

In 2008, a band of faculty and staff created the volunteer group, Husker Cats – named for UNL’s mascot, the Cornhusker. The project has managed to reduce the on campus feral population from over 100 cats down to less than 70 through humane Trap/Neuter/Release and foster/adoption programs.

Instead of rounding up the cats and attempting to make them someone else’s problem, UNL embraced the population by creating feeding stations and cat houses for shelter across campus.

Image Source: Facebook/Rebecca Cahoon
Image Source: Facebook/Nancy Becker

The administration recognized that the cats offered more than just an opportunity to do some good; they offered a wonderful chance for students to learn about compassion and civic responsibility.

Staff volunteer Rebecca Cahoon posted the following photo with the lovely caption:

This is how many cats show us they love us. They watch for us and wait for us, every day. We look for them and they look for us. No head butts, no belly rubs— just faith. That’s love too.


The original goals of the program were to stabilize the population through trap and release, place kittens into foster care and permanent homes, provide food, shelter and veterinary care to the colony cats, and reduce the feral numbers to a healthy, non-reproductive state within 5 years. All this while maintaining the beauty of the campus.

It was a very ambitious plan, but the Husker Cats volunteers made it happen. Today the kitties are as much a part of campus life as dorm rooms and cafeteria food – embraced by faculty, staff and students alike.

Ginger said this about these other I Heart Cats articles: “Good news about kittehs in dangerous places.” (Click screenshots to read).  You probably know that Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida, is populated by many polydactylous cats (“Super Scratchers”). These are descendants of a cat that Hem staffed. The Hemingway Museum site notes:

Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat, named Snow White. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related. The polydactyl cats are not a particular breed. The trait can appear in any breed, Calicos, Tabbies, Tortoise Shell, White, Black, etc. They vary in shapes, sizes, colors and personalities.

And a photo of Hemingway’s son Gregory with Snow White:

The following article gives the good news that the Super Scratchers at the Hemingway Home survived Hurricane Ian in late September of this year. Click to read:

Whenever a hurricane approaches the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, fans worry about the 60 polydactyl (six-toed) cats living on the property. Luckily, there are lots of dedicated staff members who do what they can to keep the felines safe.

When Hurricane Ian approached Key West, Florida, many people worried about the safety of the six-toed cats. Like during Hurricane Irma, some staff members chose to stay behind with the cats and protect them from the storm. Now that the storm has passed, the attraction has shared an update on the beloved felines.

From Instagram

All the cats at the Hemingway House are descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s first six-toed cat named Snow White. As a tradition, every cat has been named after someone famous.

There are about 60 cats currently at the attraction, and all of them carry the polydactyl gene. Yet, only about half of the cats physically have extra toes. Most cats have five toes on their front feet and four on their back feet, but cats with this gene can have extra toes and give birth to cats with extra toes.

From Instagram

As Hurricane Ian approached Key West as a Category 4 hurricane, the famous author’s granddaughter, Mariel Hemingway, was worried the building would be destroyed. She said if any of his houses were damaged, it would be heartbreaking.

Mariel normally advises the staff members to evacuate with the cats, but once again, a few people stayed behind with the cats instead. The building’s strong structure protected the humans and cats from Irma, so everyone was hopeful that the same would be true during Ian.

From Instagram

According to Alexa Morgan, a representative of the Hemingway Museum, the building faced minimal damage during Hurricane Ian. All the cats are doing well after being kept in a safe shelter space with the humans.

The staff members are currently cleaning up the debris left behind by the hurricane. However, they didn’t let the storm hold back their business. The attraction closed on Wednesday while the hurricane hit, but it resumed operations the following day.

The six-toed cats are in great shape because many people cared about their safety. All the felines have returned to their regular routines. They will continue to roam the Hemingway Home and Museum, so if you’re visiting Key West, consider stopping by to see them.

From Instagram


 Finally, a heartwarmer (click to read):

When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, people had to quickly find ways to escape and keep their families safe. Sadly, many had to evacuate without their pets due to travel restrictions. One 10-year-old girl was especially devastated when her family traveled to the U.S. from Ukraine without her feline by her side.

The girl had trouble sleeping every night as she wondered whether she’d see her cat again. When her mom saw how devastated she was, she began to ask others for help. Soon, a group of volunteers stepped up to reunite the cat with his family, but it was a long and tedious journey.

10-year-old Agnessa had to part ways with her cat named Arsenii when the war in Ukraine began. Her mom, Maria, left the cat with her brother-in-law in Ukraine as she traveled to the United States with her family, including her three daughters, their father, and their grandmother. Agnessa is the youngest child.

The family, known as the Bezhenars, made it to safety because of a kind man named Geoffrey Peters. Peters wanted to travel to Ukraine to help people evacuate, but when that didn’t work out, he realized he could help people from his home. His son had been planning to rent out a house in California, but instead, he agreed to donate it to the Ukraine family for two years.

The Bezhenars are planning to stay in America and begin their new lives. But without Arsenii, Agnessa was having a difficult time adjusting. She was losing sleep and couldn’t stop worrying about her furry friend.

During the flight to America, Maria bonded with their flight attendant, Dee Harnish. After the family got settled, Harnish checked in on them and found out how heartbroken Agnessa was without her cat.

So, Harnish got in touch with another flight attendant, Caroline Viola, who rescues animals. Soon, many volunteers stepped up to help Maria’s brother-in-law get the cat from Ukraine to the United States. He needed to ensure Arsenii was vaccinated and had the proper paperwork to fly.

Arsenii went through several rides to get to a temporary family in Romania. Once he had all his documents, volunteers sent Arsenii to Greece, where he was able to fly home with a kind volunteer who was on vacation. When the volunteer landed at her home in Washington, the Bezhenars traveled there to reunite with their beloved feline.

Arsenii on the way home. What a wonderful pair of flight attendants, and kudos to them and the other recuers. Here’s one of them, Mimi Kate, who cut her Greek vacation short to help Arsenii:

After a 7,000-mile adventure, Agnessa finally got to hold Arsenii in her arms again. Agnessa cried tears of joy as her furry friend cuddled with her. Adjusting to their new home has been easier for the family now that Arsenii is back.

“When Arsenii is with us, it’s like home is with us. Like part of our home is with us,” Maria said.

The family is slowly adjusting to their new lives. They’re working on improving their English and starting a business to support themselves. Yet, getting where they need to be will be a slow process, so the community continues to support them. If you’d like to help this family get back on their feet, you can donate to their GoFundMe.

And a video of the news story. You can see how incredibly complicated it was to get the cat to the U.S. via Moldavia, Romania, Greece, and Canada. The reunion between Agnessa and Arsenii at the end will bring tears to your eyes.  Don’t miss the video!

Lagniappe:  A pool-playing cat:

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 26, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have photos from several readers. Their captions and IDs are indented; click to enlarge the photos.

First a few photos from reader Ken Phelps:

Attached photos of a fungus growing on a dead Arbutus tree, and backlit bark peeling from a live Arbutus. I believe the fungus is Laetiporus gilbertsonii, although I would take that with a grain of salt – literally, perhaps, as L. gilbertsonii is edible.

And from last year, a Roswell pear. As Ken says, “We are not eating alone!”:

Foggy morning dog walk in the yard:

From Rachel Sperling:

I was saving this photo for when I had more to share, but I saw your request this morning. I’m pretty sure this is a dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). I encountered it on the New York section of the Appalachian Trail earlier this month. In addition to insects (not sure what type of beetle this one has caught) larger ones are able to catch fish. According to Wikipedia, their bodies are covered with hydrophobic hairs that allow them to run on water (suck it, Jesus). When they submerge, the air trapped in these hairs becomes a thin film, allowing them to breathe underwater. The air makes them quite buoyant, so they have to hold onto a twig or a rock in order to stay submerged. I think they’re really cool.

Also sharing a photo I took last night [June 23, 2022] of the ALMOST full strawberry moon. This is from a park in Meriden, Connecticut, which has a lovely ridge that offers views to the east and west. This was taken around 8:30.

Two photos from Divy:

Ivan and I love to relax in our backyard each evening with a cold beer, and just watch the birds and the insects frolic in our garden.

I think this is a Red-tailed Hawk [Buteo jamaicensis].

A Red-bellied woodpecker [Melanerpes carolinus]:

A male Northern Cardinal and two females [Cardinalis cardinalis]:


Saturday: Hili dialogue

November 26, 2022 • 6:45 am

We’re at Thanksgiving CatSaturday: November 26, 2022: National Cake Day. My favorites in the genre are carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting and pineapple upside-down cake.

Recipe here. Decorative carrots on icing not necessary.

It’s also Good Grief Day, celebrating the creator of “Peanuts”, Charles Schulz, born on this day in 1922, and Small Business Saturday. And that’s it: a thin day for celebrations.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the November 26 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The BBC reports that a letter by Charles Darwin, signed with his full signature, is going on auction at Sotheby’s, and is projected to go for at least a million British pounds (the previous record for a Darwin letter was £400,000). The high value is because the letter (a bit shown below) is in pristine condition, because it’s signed with Darwin’s full name, which is rare, and because it defends his theory of evolution. (h/t: Christopher)

Here it is, signed by “Charles Darwin” (he usually used “C. Darwin” or “Ch Darwin”):

From the BBC:

. . . The item is likely to fetch more than £1m – a world-record price for a Darwin manuscript.

He’d produced the document so it could be copied in what, in 1865, was a celebrity magazine.

Darwin didn’t make a habit of archiving his paperwork and so little original material survives.

. . .Prof John van Wyhe, who curates the scholarly collection known as Darwin Online, says it’s extra special because of what the great man had chosen to put on the page along with his signature.

“He includes a passage that appears in the third edition of On the Origin of Species,” the senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore explained.

“It’s a really favourite passage, because he’s trying to make the point that people might find his theory unbelievable and outlandish, but they said the same about Newton and gravity, and nobody doubted the existence of gravity anymore.

“The same, he says, would be true eventually with evolution and natural selection,” the prof told BBC News.

The document was produced for The Autographic Mirror.

Its publisher, Hermann Kindt, printed facsimiles of the handwriting or the autographs of famous people along with their biographies.

When he asked Darwin if he’d contribute, the scientist jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity to hit back at his doubters.

At the time, six years after the first-edition release of On the Origin of Species, it was a common criticism that he couldn’t explain the origin of life itself.

Darwin conceded this was the case but that it was irrelevant to his observations of how life on Earth evolved and diversified. As with gravity, its “essence” might not be understood but Newton’s equations certainly worked.

And here’s Darwin’s text, which dates from 1865 (The Origin was published in 1859):

I have now recapitulated the chief facts and considerations, which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified, during a long course of descent, by the preservation or the natural selection of many successive slight favourable variations. I cannot believe that a false theory would explain, as it seems to me that the theory of natural selection does explain, the several large classes of facts above specified. It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life. Who can explain what is the essence of attraction of gravity? No one now objects to following out the results consequent on this unknown element of attraction; notwithstanding that Leibnitz formerly accused Newton of introducing “occult qualities & miracles into philosophy”. – Charles Darwin.

Compare this to the last paragraph of the origin of species, where Darwin makes an analogy to the laws of physics (gravity) with his ‘law” of evolution by natural selection:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object of which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

*Yesterday was Nellie Bowles’s news summary on Bari Weiss’s Substack: “TGIF: Thanksgiving Edition“.  Here are a few items showing her patented snarky humor:

→ If you hate fun, go to Mastodon: Speaking of tsk-tskers, a wonderful thing has happened. Furious about Elon Musk’s acquisition of their favorite platform, a group of major pro-censorship Twitter personalities have decided they need to leave the place altogether. They’ve gone en masse to a new platform called Mastodon. And there they are (what else) yelling at each other. As the pollster Nate Silver put it: “Mastodon seems like a honeytrap for hall-monitor personality types. Honestly if Elon gets all the hall monitors to migrate to Mastodon that might be his greatest contribution toward the betterment of humanity.” Unfortunately it’s hard to imagine they’ll stay away for long. CBS got big applause after saying they’d be getting off Twitter, only to quickly return: “After pausing for much of the weekend to assess the security concerns, CBS News and Stations is resuming its activity on Twitter as we continue to monitor the situation.”

I’m not a big fan of Elon Musk, but I’m staying on Twitter for the time being. That’s where all the fun is—and cat pictures!

→ Black Hebrew Israelites hold a huge rally that goes ignored: Hundreds of black supremacists marched through Brooklyn this week chanting: “It’s time to wake up. I’ve got good news for you, we are the real Jews.” Videos here and here. They were marching to support basketball player Kyrie Irving who was briefly suspended after promoting a movie that argues the Holocaust is fake. Kanye West, meanwhile, was spotted in Miami with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, a proud antisemite. I hate to say it, but you should watch a Fuentes video to understand how extreme his beliefs are and how alarming this moment is. Here’s one. Here’s another.

→ The brave Iranian soccer team: At the World Cup, as their nation’s anthem played, the Iranian soccer team did not sing it. It’s another sign of how deep the rebellion is going in Iran. And it’s unbelievably brave, since there’s a good chance those young men join the tens of thousands imprisoned (or far worse) when they get home. Remember their courage next time the Biden administration insists we need to make a deal with their oppressors.

You go, Nellie! Biden is an invertebrate with respect to Iran.

*World Cup results:  England tied the U.S. 0-0, an achievement:

The United States and England played to a scoreless tie at the World Cup on Friday, a result that the Americans could be proud of but which has left them with a simple and high-stakes task: They must beat Iran on Monday to avoid elimination from the tournament.

England heard boos from its fans after the final whistle but walked off with a valuable point: With four now, it leads the group, ahead of Iran (three), the United States (two) and Wales (one). The English are in the driver’s seat, needing only a tie in their final game against Wales, but after a performance that had them on their heels for long stretches they will see work ahead if they are to live up to their pretournament billing as a title contender.

Other scores: Iran beat Wales 2-0, Senegal beat the home team Qatar 3-1, and Ecuador outscored the Netherlands 3-1.  What with several upsets, this is going to be an interesting World Cup. Would readers care to venture any guesses who the winner will be?  That leads to. . .

A CONTEST! Pick the final two teams and the final score giving the winner of the World Cup. If you get the teams and the winner right but not the score, I’ll randomly pick a winner who will get an autographed copy of any of my books (except Speciation!) with the animal of your choice drawn in it

*The Washington Post published a paean to both the World Cup and soccer, which has become my favorite sport (pity I don’t have a way to watch the good games). The piece, by Henry Olsen, is called “Watch the World Cup—and experience something infinitely enthralling.” An excerpt:

The World Cup is not soccer at its best, but it might be soccer at its finest. With 32 national teams converging in one place, the sheer spectacle is unmatched by anything except the Olympics. It has the quality of an all-star game, as each team has its country’s finest players, who are brought together only for brief interludes each year. And the short-term competition makes for stunning upsets, just as college basketball’s March Madness does. Japan’s 2-1 upset over perennial power Germany this week is the global equivalent of a 16 seed knocking off a No. 1.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, consider the winner plays, loser stays element. All 32 teams are currently in the group stage, where four teams play one another once each to determine which two advance. After that, it’s like the NFL playoffs. It doesn’t matter where you’re seeded in the FIFA rankings: You either win or go home. Each game has the intensity that makes college bowl games so exciting.

The final itself is an event that easily dwarfs the Super Bowl. It won’t have a halftime show, but it doesn’t need one. More than 1.1 billion people worldwide tuned in to part of the 2018 final — roughly 1 in 7 on the planet. The Super Bowl dominates American viewership but attracts little attention elsewhere, with a total global viewership of less than 200 million. Outside the United States, the exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappé, not Tom Brady, are on everyone’s lips.

And this paragraph links to three good videos:

This alone is reason to join the fun now. It takes time to pick up the game’s intricacies, but even novices can appreciate the sheer individual brilliance that can make or break a game. You might see something akin to Gareth Bale’s famous bicycle kick or Son Heung-min dribble the length of the pitch to score. Or perhaps you’ll watch a historically controversial play, such as Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal against England in 1986. It’s like watching the NBA’s greats put on a show — once you see jazz in sporting form, you’re hooked.

*Finally, Iran’s victory over Wales brought out rancor between protestors of the Iranian government’s actions and supporters of the regime. And the team actually sang the Iranian national anthem this time; they were probably given the word: “Sing like a canary of you’ll wind up in Evin.”

From the AP:

Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.

Some fans were stopped by security guards from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.

The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked [sic] Iran for weeks.

Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”

Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.

Here’s an AP photo of a protestor holding up the name of the woman beaten to death by Iranian authorities simply because she didn’t wear her hijab in the proper way. Amini’s death was the fuse that ignited the present explosion of protest against the theocratic regime.

(From the AP) An Iran team supporter cries as she holds a shirt that reads ‘Mahsa Amini’ prior to the start of the World Cup group B soccer match between Wales and Iran, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Here’s Shappi Khorsandi, Vice-President of the Humanists UK and a stand-up comedian, on the situation in Iran. (To see Shappi in full comedy action, go here. I’m a big fan.)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, it’s bedtime:

A: Enough of playing, we are going to sleep.
Hili: I’m sleeping already.
In Polish:
Ja: Koniec zabawy, idziemy spać.
Hili: Ja już śpię.


From Nicole, a useful hint for the holidays. (You’ll have to go inside to put and get the presents):

From Merilee, a Dave Coverly cartoon:

From Simon, who found this on Twitter:

God’s still writing bad poetry at Mastodon, so let’s have two tweets from Masih. The regime’s Men in Black are beating up civilian dissidents:

A tweet from Luana. Note that baby emus are striped, just like baby tapirs!

A smart cat, and one that likes its comforts, from Malcolm:

A salacious but sarcastic tweet from Ken, who notes, “Looks like there’s no doubt about what Twitter has become under the SpaceX Oddity (apologies to David Bowie); there is only haggling over the price.”

I don’t think Trump is gonna give in here. . . .

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a dapper Dutch lad, killed at age 16 in Auschwitz:

Tweets from Matthew. This one was so good that I retweeted it with my own caption. Watch the whole thing: it’s 2 minutes and 20 seconds of mesmerizing group flight. (Matthew and I share a love of murmurations, and we’re still not sure why birds do this: here they swoop about for more than two minutes.

There’s music if you want to turn the sound up. I wonder if people walk around this section of the floor:

Even adults like to play in the snow. I’m sure your Spanish is good enough to understand the caption.