Here we are at another Hump Day, or “Húfudagur”, as they say in Iceland) : Wednesday, July 27, 2022, and National Scotch Day (the drink, not the people nor the tape). Here’s a list of “the 13 best Scotch Whiskies to Drink in 2022.” I’ll have the GlenDronach, as it’s aged in Pedro Ximenez barrels. For a normal tipple I’d have a Springbank: the oldest I could afford. The one below is $2,500!
It’s also National Crème Brûlée Day (a tasty but insubstantial dessert), National Chicken Finger Day, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, Bagpipe Appreciation Day, and, in North Korea, Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War , celebrating the Armistice in 1953 that ended hostilities in Korea.
Stuff that happened on July 27 includes:
- 1299 – According to Edward Gibbon, Osman I invades the territory of Nicomedia for the first time, usually considered to be the founding day of the Ottoman state.
- 1794 – French Revolution: Maximilien Robespierre is arrested after encouraging the execution of more than 17,000 “enemies of the Revolution”.
Below: a portrait from life, labeled “Portrait of Robespierre (1792) by Jean-Baptist Fouquet. By using a physiognotrace a ‘grand trait’ was produced within a few minutes. This life-size drawing on pink paper was completed by Fouquet.”
Robespierre went the way he sent others: his head was lopped off. But before that he jumped out a window to evade capture, breaking his pelvis, and then shot himself in the mouth, shattering his jaw but not killing himself. Severely wounded, he was sent to the guillotine.
- 1866 – The first permanent transatlantic telegraph cable is successfully completed, stretching from Valentia Island, Ireland, to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland.
A cable had been laid a year earlier but had malfunctioned. The ship below, the Great Eastern, went to sea, found the break by a combination of grappling and electrical properties, and spliced it to a new cable that’s the one described above.
- 1890 – Vincent van Gogh shoots himself and dies two days later.
There is only one known authentic photo of Vincent van Gogh, and here it is, taken in 1873 when Vincent was 19. (Other photos purporting to be Vincent are likely to be of his brother Theo.)
- 1919 – The Chicago Race Riot erupts after a racial incident occurred on a South Side beach, leading to 38 fatalities and 537 injuries over a five-day period.
This was a bad one, and it started with a black swimmer inadvertently wandering into the “white” swimming area of a beach on 29th Street. When it was over, 23 blacks and 15 whites were dead. It was exacerbated by racism and xenophobia engendered by migration to the city by blacks and foreigners, combined with bad economic times. Here’s a photo from the Wikipedia page labeled an “African American man assaulted with stones during the Chicago Race Riot.“
- 1921 – Researchers at the University of Toronto, led by biochemist Frederick Banting, prove that the hormone insulin regulates blood sugar.
Here’s Banting (right) with his collaborator Charles Best, photographed in 1924. Although Banting won the Nobel Prize, he got it not with Best (who had made a huge contribution to the work), but with J. J. R. Macleod, whose contribution to the work was controversial. Banting gave half his prize money to Best. The prize was awarded in 1923 when Banting was only 32, and he remains the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology:
Here’s a short documentary about the first appearance of Bugs, who used his famous phrase, “What’s up, Doc?”
- 1974 – Watergate scandal: The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee votes 27 to 11 to recommend the first article of impeachment (for obstruction of justice) against President Richard Nixon.
- 1996 – In Atlanta, United States, a pipe bomb explodes at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Here’s a news report that contains footage of the explosion itself. 111 people were injured and one person killed, while a Turkish cameraman died of a heart attack while running to the scene. You may remember that security guard Richard Jewell, who found the bomb, was the suspect for a long time, but in 2003 they finally arrested the perp, Eric Rudolph, who was found after committing later bombings. Rudolph is now serving four life terms without possibility of parole at America’s toughest prison, ADX Florence Supermax in Colorado. Have a look at the link to see all the bad guys doing time there (in my view, the place is inhumane), including El Chapo.
*Two items about the Russia/Ukraine war. First, Russia is taking its ball and going home: they’ve just announced that as of 2024, they’re not participating in the ISS:
“The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made,” said Yuri Borisov, who was appointed this month to run Roscosmos, a state-controlled corporation in charge of the country’s space program.
The pronouncement came during a meeting between Mr. Borisov and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Borisov told Mr. Putin that Russia would fulfill its commitments through 2024 and turn its focus to an unbuilt independent space station. “I think that, by this time, we will begin to form the Russian orbital station,” he said.
Mr. Putin’s response: “Good.”
On the Good Guys side, the EU, in a show of solidarity, announced that they’re cutting natural gas usage by 15%, a pushback after Russia announced a cut in their natural gas supply to Germany. Adherence is voluntary, and there are some exceptions, but it still avoids a patchwork of nations in Europe, each out to find a different solution:
The compromise, though softer than the original proposal, signified an important step in managing the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy and the vulnerabilities it breeds as the Kremlin tries to punish Europe for its support of Ukraine. It also highlighted the continued ability of the European Union to forge agreement and overcome divisions in the face of continued threats from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“Today, the E.U. has taken a decisive step to face down the threat of a full gas disruption by Putin,” the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a statement soon after the agreement was reached.
* A new paper in Science, with the link in the tweet below, makes a pretty strong case, based on geographical proximity of human cases and the genetics of strains, as well as viruses found in samples of animals on sale, that Covid19 did originate from animals sold in the Wuhan wet market. (h/t Matthew).
Where did the pandemic begin?
Was it from nature or a lab?
Since the start, this fundamental question has gone unanswered.
— Dr. Angela Rasmussen (@angie_rasmussen) July 26, 2022
The Science paper is easily readable by the layperson, so have a look at it. I know that every time I say I favor the “wet-market hypothesis” (as opposed to other hypotheses, some involving leakage form a lab), I get comments and emails that I’m dead wrong. So I do get a bit of satisfaction from this paper, even if it concerns a very serious subject, and provides information useful in combating future pandemics. The tweet above is a bit strong, though, implying that there’s no doubt at all. (There isn’t much.)
*Everwhere in academia (and many other places), the idea of “meritocracy” is waning, as it is said to discriminate against minorities. The same idea is used in the new movement to get rid of homework. The anti-homework position, and a single defense of it, is discussed in a NYT op-ed by writer (and former teacher) Jay Caspian Kang, “The movement to end homework is wrong.”
In fact, most of the editorial is devoted to showing that the movement seem right. Kang cites some data arguing that homework quality reflects socioeconomic status more than student merit:
The quality of students’ homework production is linked to their socioeconomic status. This alone doesn’t seem particularly controversial. As I’ve discussed in this newsletter, many measures of academic achievement wind up being linked to wealth. The authors go on to argue that since this is the case, teachers should “interpret differences in students’ homework production through a structural inequalities frame.” What they have found, however, is that teachers don’t think of homework this way. Instead, they tend to rely on the “myth of meritocracy” to explain “homework inequalities.”
Kang mentions and approves to some extent of the conclusions of a new paper by Ilana Horn and Grace Chen, “You Need to Be More Responsible: The Myth of Meritocracy and Teachers’ Accounts of Homework Inequalities.”
In regards to homework, what they are saying, in effect, is that the idea of responsibility itself — requiring students to be accountable for completing assignments — exacerbates inequality. And that rather than trying to run all students through a hierarchical educational system in the hopes that they will end up in the same place, it appears that the authors would rather de-emphasize anything that reinforces the idea that one student is better than another.
Well, I won’t argue for meritocracy here, as I and other have done it elsewhere (submitted). Nor does Kang. But he finds one big benefit to homework, one that he thinks apparently makes his case: it provides practice.
Kids need to learn how to practice things. Homework, in many cases, is the only ritualized thing they have to do every day. Even if we could perfectly equalize opportunity in school and empower all students not to be encumbered by the weight of their socioeconomic status or ethnicity, I’m not sure what good it would do if the kids didn’t know how to do something relentlessly, over and over again, until they perfected it.
A defense of rote practice through homework might seem revanchist at this moment, but if we truly believe that schools should teach children lessons that fall outside the meritocracy, I can’t think of one that matters more than the simple satisfaction of mastering something that you were once bad at. That takes homework and the acknowledgment that sometimes a student can get a question wrong and, with proper instruction, eventually get it right.
But that’s what all of homework is about: reinforcing what you learn in the classroom. There’s nothing like going over something several times until you truly master or even understand it. I think the anti-homework movement is deeply misguided.
*Here’s an article in Newsweek by Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of the familiar organization FIRE: “No, canceling Dave Chapelle is not a ‘win for free speech.‘” As you may know, a venue in Minneapolis canceled Chappelle’s comedy act after receiving criticism on social media for the “transphobis” jokes he made in his Netflix show “The Closer.”
Lukianoff makes the point that true freedom of speech must go beyond the specifications of the First Amendment. As I’ve argued, private universities, for example, aren’t required to meet the speech standards of public ones, but they should.
Nobody is denying that the employees have the First Amendment right to demand the show be canceled. But do we really think a publisher dropping Salman Rushdie, a comedy club dumping Lenny Bruce, or a concert venue dumping Prince in the face of demands from critics would not be a net loss for free expression?
We are lucky enough to live in a country where people can confuse the democratic right to free speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment and the older, philosophical principle of freedom of speech. Indeed, a private venue has its own free speech and associational rights to not have a comedian perform there. But simply because the First Amendment—rightly!—doesn’t require clubs to host comedians doesn’t mean that canceling a show in the face of social pressure is an equally good outcome for free expression.
The standards we need are those outlined by Mill in “On Liberty,” not just the Constitution. And this is what Lukianoff argues at the end:
Just as people have the right to demand that Dave Chappelle be canceled, we have the right—and arguably, the moral responsibility—to push back against those who would attempt to decide for everyone what is fit to be heard. If we don’t push back against this trend, our society may soon find itself with fewer artists willing to push boundaries and fewer outlets for authentic artistic expression.
If you don’t like what someone says, don’t try to get them canceled or deplatformed. Either don’t go, or provide your own counterspeech.
*Is this headline from The Chronicle of Higher Education a surprise?: “Americans’ confidence in higher ed drops sharply.” (h/t Bill):
Public confidence in higher education’s ability to lead America in a positive direction has sunk steeply in recent years, falling 14 percentage points just since 2020.
Two years ago, more than two-thirds of Americans said colleges were having a positive effect on the country, according to a survey conducted by New America. In the most recent version of the survey, released Tuesday, barely half agreed.
As with other recent public-opinion polling, New America’s findings reveal a yawning partisan gap. While nearly three-quarters of Democrats saw higher education’s contributions in a positive light, just 37 percent of Republicans did.
Here’s the silver lining, but it don’t impress me much:
Yet the think tank’s annual Varying Degrees survey found that a strong majority, more than 75 percent, thought that some education beyond high school offered a good return on investment for students. And public perception of online education improved markedly in the latest poll, with nearly half of Americans saying it was comparable in quality to in-person education, up from just a third in 2021.
I would have thought that the liberal ideological bent and wokenss would have contributed to this erosion of confidence, but the article mentions to other causes: the high cost of college and the failure of colleges to be accountable: that “that colleges should lose some access to government funding if they have low graduation rates, low rates of graduates earning a living wage, or graduates with high rates of student-loan debt relative to their earnings.”
“Identity” peeks over the parapet only once:
For the first time, the six-year-old Varying Degrees survey asked respondents about test-optional admissions, as many colleges dropped standardized-test requirements for applicants amid the pandemic. While responses were mixed, there were clear divides by race and age: Higher proportions of Black and Latina/o respondents favored test-optional policies than those who were white or Asian. The youngest respondents were significantly more likely to favor doing away with requirements for applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Sixty percent of those in Gen Z supported test-optional policies. About 45 percent of Gen X and millennial respondents were in favor of test-optional admissions, while only a third of baby boomers agreed.
It’s those damn old white men again, holding back progress!
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is proud of her scratches:
Hili: Look how much bark I scraped away.A: I see.
Hili: Patrz ile już tej kory zdrapałam.Ja: Widzę.
And Szaron and baby Kulka:
From Things with Faces. This is one steak I don’t want to eat!
From Steve: a van recently seen in Santa Cruz, CA. The owner must be influenced by Dr. Bronner!
A tweet from Titania. There’s a long video of Brooke talking about wokeness here.
This black writer claims that she’s not oppressed.
Critics have rightly pointed out that she is therefore “not truly black”.
In order to defeat white supremacy, it’s important to rebuke black people who won’t do what they’re told. https://t.co/dWO82fxf7w
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) July 26, 2022
The Tweet of God:
My fans. https://t.co/bz1KAOaI1I
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) July 25, 2022
From Barry, a chimp who’s living the dream:
He knows how to enjoy life! 💕🤣🤣pic.twitter.com/JUpv2sb8gC
— Figen (@TheFigen) July 25, 2022
From SImon. If this doesn’t deter you from pulling out into the street without looking, there’s no hope for you.
I know I shouldn't laugh! 🤣🤣pic.twitter.com/nwWlNfCobU
— Figen (@TheFigen) July 25, 2022
From Jez, who notes, “This baby/toddler displays remarkable intelligence! The celebration at the end is great!”
Very smart baby! ❤️🤣🤣pic.twitter.com/wuD5RGgLwT
— Figen (@TheFigen) July 23, 2022
From Luana. Don’t gay white men have “the power”?
Perfectly normal instruction, spotted in Southwark London. Anybody else spot a backlash coming…? pic.twitter.com/LY6uMMkgHk
— Douglas Murray (@DouglasKMurray) July 25, 2022
From the Auschwitz Memorial:
27 July 1941 | A Dutch Jewish boy, Louis Van De Kar, was born in Amsterdam.
In October 1942 he was deported to #Auschwitz. He was murdered in a gas chamber together with his sister Anna and Benvenida, and his mother Flora. The father – Daniel – survived the war. pic.twitter.com/MfutF7iXJ5
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) July 27, 2022
Tweets from Matthew. It’s almost too hard to imagine that natural selection for camouflage in a moth would give it a pattern that looks like “two flies on bird poo.”
Macrocilix is a genus of moths with incredible markings. Look at this one. Two flies on bird poo? Looks like it to me. pic.twitter.com/nKzqeRNn6K
— KaiTheFishGuy (@FishGuyKai) July 25, 2022
A lovely video of a school of fish forming a ball:
— Hannah Polaczek (@hjpolaczek) July 24, 2022