Two songs about Velcro relationships

June 2, 2023 • 1:15 pm

When I heard this old (and excellent) Dusty Springfield song the other day, the Fleetwood Mac equivalent immediately came to mind, though they’re 24 years apart (Dusty released hers in 1963 and Fleetwood Mac in 1987).  Both songs are about a woman who so smitten with a guy that she can’t bear to be apart from him.

Here’s Dusty supposedly singing “live’, though she may be lip-synching. (As a pedant, I have to note that the title really should be “I want to be with only you,” though that wouldn’t fit the tune.) Dusty is now almost forgotten, but was regarded as perhaps the best white “soul singer” of her time, and I’m a big fan. (And of course there’s also this great song.)

This is my second favorite Fleetwood Mac song written by Christine McVie (“Say You Love Me” is my fave). Both women died too young, and both of cancer.  These songs, however, live on.

Now Israel is censoring and demonizing Abigail Shrier’s book

June 2, 2023 • 12:00 pm

The Federalist is of course a right-wing site, but this situation must have given it a dilemma. The censorship described below reflects badly on Israel, a country that the Right tends to support, but it also comes down on Left-wing censoriousness, in this case demonization of the notorious (but good) book by Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our DaughtersAs you probably know, the book’s thesis is that a subset of female adolescents who want to become trans men do so at the urging of not only therapists, but also peers on social media. It also raises the possibility of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), which is controversial. In fact, all of it is controversial, including the nearly incontrovertible claim that at least some adolescents are pushed to change gender by others on social media.

Given the social climate, it is surely important that this book be published, read, and discussed. Yet those on the Left have often resisted this, the most notable being the LGBTQ lawyer Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union, a trans man. Below are two of his tweets, one of which advocates banning the book (this from the ACLU!). The Wikipedia link describes the polarized reaction to the book, which makes it all the more important that the author be heard.

Israel has an active LGBTAQ+ community, and when Shrier’s book went on sale in Israel last week, it met with censorship as well as deplatforming of the author. Click below to read the Federalist article:

An excerpt with tweets:

Abigail Shrier’s bestseller went on sale in Israel this week. The book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, peels back the curtain on the Western outbreak of transgenderism as a social contagion. On Twitter, Shrier documented how the rollout went in Israel.

“Bowing to LGBTQ+ activist pressure, the two largest book chains refused to carry the book, which made it hard to buy in Israel,” Shrier wrote. After hundreds of people registered for a paid event, “PRIDE bullied two large venues in Tel Aviv to cancel my talk, threatening to boycott those venues for all of PRIDE month if they allowed me to speak.”

Some descriptions by Shrier; the article she mentions in the first tweet was published in Haaretz (paywalled but archived here). And remember, Shrier identifies as being on the Left.

The article goes on to criticize the Left for going after Florida’s attempt to ban pornographic and offensive books from schools, but we won’t get into that. Suffice it to say that both Left and Right are censorious in different ways, and that the Israelis need a lesson in freedom of speech. Yes, even speech you abhor should not only be tolerated, but heard, and speakers should not be deplatformed or bullied into moving their talks for fear of violence.

One more link to an essay:

No one knows more about modern book banning, however, than Shrier, who documented her book’s debut with an essay in The Free Press two years ago titled, “The Books Are Already Burning.”

The essay discusses, among other things, the kerfuffle that ensued at Science-Based Medicine when reviewer Harriet Hall praised the book, but then her review was repudiated and retracted by her colleagues Gorski and Novella.

The fight for freedom of speech, it seems, is a never-ending battle.

h/t: Wayne

The most extreme incursion of ideology into ecology and evolution I’ve ever seen

June 2, 2023 • 10:45 am

The paper below, which is likely paywalled if you click on the screenshot (but a pdf is still accessible here) shows how deeply my own field, organismal biology, has been infected by ideologues—deeply authoritarian ones. It’s from a once-respectable journal (Trends in Ecology & Evolution), which apparently has now drunk the Kool-Aid of “political correctness” (“wokeness,” if you will), producing an article that is so bizarre and so  off-putting, that none of the several colleagues I sent it to could finish it.

But I did, saving you the trouble. (It’s short, though, so you should read it from the pdf link if you’re an ecologist or evolutionist.) If Ibram Kendi were a biologist of this type, this is the paper he would have written, for, as you’ll see, it’s right out of the CRT playbook. It is full of distorted, overblown, or purely speculative assertions, and here are its major points:

a.) Ecology and evolution are thoroughly permeated by racism—structural racism that is deeply embedded in the way we still do science.

b.) We (here I mean “people not of color”) are all complicit in this racism, and we must constantly ponder our bigotry and persistently try to rid ourselves of it.

c.) Our curriculum is thoroughly “Eurocentric” and has to be “decolonized” for the good of all.

d.)  Ecology and evolution cannot be taught properly without continually emphasizing the racism of the fields, racism said to be a big source of inequity in STEM. We must infuse all of our courses with a strong emphasis on the history and reality of racism, showing our students how the field was and is complicit in the creation of present inequities.

I don’t know whether to critique the whole thing point by point, or let you see the problems yourself. I think I’ll try a hybrid approach.

The abstract:

Racism permeates ecology, evolution, and conservation biology (EECB). Meaningfully advancing equity, inclusion, and belonging requires an interdisciplinary antiracist pedagogical approach to educate our community in how racism shaped our field. Here, we apply this framework, highlight disparities and interdisciplinary practices across institutions globally, and emphasize that self-reflection is paramount before implementing anti-racist interventions.

The short answer to the first sentence is, “No it doesn’t.” Yes, you can find instances of bigotry in the field, as you can everywhere, but no rational biologist I know would make such an extreme and unsupported statement unless they have an ideological agenda that requires this claim.

The article starts, as do all of its ilk in science journals, by invoking George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. It then proceeds onto boilerplate Critical Race Theory:

Anti-racist pedagogies ‘teach about race and racism [to foster] critical analytical skills [and reveal] power relations behind racism and how race has been institutionalized’ [5]. Unlike inclusive pedagogy, anti-racist strategies not only involve acknowledging students’ backgrounds and perspectives but also require combating oppressive systems favoring Whiteness at the expense of minoritized students. Traditional science history teachings provide one example of how EECB perpetuates racism systemically. When EECB instructors focus primarily on foundational accomplishments of White European men (e.g., Darwin, Mendel) while ignoring why women and people of color were excluded from science and education for centuries, they reinforce that EECB, and STEM broadly, is advanced only by White European men and that women and people of color do not belong.

This pernicious form of oppression and ethnocentrism reinforces systemic racism in higher education globally, which contributes to (i) academic disparities of minoritized STEM students in the USA, UK, and Australia [6,7]; (ii) mistreatment of international postdoctoral scholars of color in Canada, Australia, and European countries [8]; and (iii) underrepresentation of Black, Latinx, Native American, and [6,7]; (ii) mistreatment of international postdoctoral scholars of color in Canada, Australia, and European countries [8]; and (iii) underrepresentation of Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian persons broadly in EECB in the USA [2,9]. This has downstream impacts, including stereotyping international postdoctoral scholars during faculty hiring processes in the USA and UK [8] and a 1.8-fold and 1.9-fold advantage for White faculty receiving federal funding compared with Black faculty in the USA and UK, respectively [10]. Breaking these cycles requires departments and institutions to identify and counter the racism that has shaped EECB.

What do you do about this? Well, you could try teaching straight ecology and evolution, as we do at the University of Chicago, but that wouldn’t contain enough ideology to satisfy the authors, and wouldn’t make people of whiteness feel guilty enough. Plus it would, the authors claim, perpetrate racism, and fail to make us feel sufficiently guilty for being complicit in a system that, according to the authors, seems mainly constructed to oppress people.  The solution? Deeply imbue your courses with modern “progressive” antiracism, pointing out both past and present bigotry whenever possible, and also always keep in mind our own bigotry:

To promote racial awareness, EECB must be anti-racist and interdisciplinary. This means discussing racism in courses, even in those in which race is not the subject matter. . . .

We implore instructors to first reflect on their positionality with racism and identify how multiple disciplines inform the course content through anti-racism (see ‘Step one’ section). Although self-reflection is imperative, we do not imply that this is ‘one and done’ to become anti-racist. Critical self-reflection about racism requires continuous effort [5] and while there are many recommended interventions [1,2], it is a myth to be ‘fully racially aware’ before implementation. Having the vulnerability to apply interventions and learn through failure while reacting openly to feedback rather than defensively is how we move toward antiracism, and continued self-reflection helps identify defensive behaviors. This is necessary to truly couple interdisciplinary and anti-racist strategies to create a more authentic and inclusive learning experience for students and instructors.

This of course sets up race and racism as not only the major social problem to be (and presumably that can be) ameliorated through teaching college courses in ecology and evolution, but also browbeats the instructor to adopt that point of view. In this sense the article is divisive, because it trains us to ALWAYS look at and ponder race, even when teaching our courses.  I can’t help but think that scientists hectored to adopt this kind of ideology will resist it, since what most of us really want to do is teach and do research in ecology and evolution, reserving our efforts to save the world for personal time outside the classroom. Most of us don’t envision ecology and evolution as an form of ideological indoctrination: that’s not why we went into the field.  While of us are on the Left, we try to keep that out of our classes.

The authors give several examples of how traditional education is filled with racism. The most invidious, to me, is their take on Darwin:

One topic discussed the traditional history of Charles Darwin followed by the untold histories of John Edmonstone, the Black former slave who taught Darwin taxidermy, and Syms Covington, a servant who organized Darwin’s collection during the HMS Beagle expedition. Darwin’s historic accomplishments would have been impossible without Edmonstone and Covington. This offers many avenues for discussion: (i) Darwin’s development of ecological and evolutionary theories (e.g., ethnocentrism); (ii) Darwin’s privilege in traveling on the HMS Beagle; (iii) the racism, erasure, and classism behind the histories of Edmonstone and Covington; and (iv) the social constructs behind restricting dissemination of Darwin’s discoveries (i.e., those with access to education) and shaping the public’s common knowledge about Darwin but not Edmonstone and Covington (e.g., exclusion, oppression). Similar histories exist across other biology disciplines (Table 1).

While it is an interesting historical sidelight that Darwin was taught to preserve specimens in Edinburgh by a former slave, and that he took on a cabin boy as his personal assistant—Covington, who replaced a sailor appointed by Captain FitzRoy to assist Darwin—to say that Darwin’s “historic accomplishments would have been impossible without these two men” is arrant nonsense.  For one thing, had Darwin not learned taxidermy from Edmonstone, he would have learned it from someone else. Yes, Edmonstone was black, and his contribution to Darwin’s education should be pointed out, but it’s crazy to pretend that Darwin could not have written the Origin (or his many other works) without Edmonstone. (Steve Gould, for one, though that Darwin’s other work, including on barnacles, played a key role in formulating Darwin’s ideas.) As my former student Joe Cain (who helped dig out out the forgotten association between Darwin and John Edmonstone) wrote:

Accounts in the 21st century tend to exaggerate John’s importance to Darwin as distinct from the many other people in his orbit. He’s presented as “the man who taught Darwin” and the person who inspired him to look towards South America for its amazing natural history. In comparison, we must balance this with reflections on what Darwin said about other people, such as Robert Edmond Grant for inspiration while in Edinburgh (Desmond 1984); Alexander Humboldt for imagining the “entangled bank” of the South American rainforest (Wulf 2016); and Syms Covington for teaching specific technical skills in taxidermy (MacDonald 1998). The amplification of John’s role in Darwin’s work surely is an example of heritage’s impact on historical study. Likewise, seeing John only through the lens of Darwin’s seeming eminence does him a disservice. He has his own story to tell, such as in the history of taxidermists and taxidermy as a skilled trade. Likewise, Desmond and Moore (2009) point to Edinburgh in the 1820s as an important location for once-enslaved, now-emancipated men. There is much to learn.

Accounts in the 21st century also exaggerate the supposed “hidden” nature of the association between John and Darwin. To me, John’s story seems an exemplar for the “invisible technician” role so well known and long studied in history of science, technology, and medicine. In 2009 a commemorative plaque to John Edmonstone was installed near the site of his home in Edinburgh, though it was later stolen and has not been replaced. (I would like to see a replacement installed, and I’ll help raise the money to do it. I’ve asked Historic Scotland.)

Many, many people contributed to both the physical efforts and mental lucubrations that went into Darwin’s theories. For example, Edmonstone learned crucial methods of preserving skins from his former slave-holder, Charles Waterton, who could be said to have made a contribution to Darwin’s taxonomy coequal to that of Edmonstone. Waterton, whose contribution was essential, is not mentioned above. And it’s likely that had Edmonstone not set up shop to teach taxidermy in Edinburgh, Darwin would have learned it himself. After all, even after leaving Edinburgh, Darwin continued to follow the literature on taxidermy to improve his skills.

As for Covington, he was a replacement for another sailor appointed to be Darwin’s helper, but Darwin didn’t think it fair to take a regular sailor, as opposed to a cabin boy, away from the ship. Darwin would have had an assistant no matter what. Remember, he had money (his voyage was funded by his father).

This is not to denigrate the contributions of Edmonstone and Covington, for they should surely be mentioned in Darwin’s biography, and it is remarkable that a black man had a taxidermy business in 19th-century Edinburgh. The problem with this argument is that we know so little about Edmonstone’s interactions with Darwin (see Cain’s article) that we can’t even judge how much of the taxidermy Darwin used on the Beagle came from the former slave. We know more about Covington, who, is amply discussed in Darwin’s biographies.

The point is that many, many people made crucial contributions to the nexus of circumstances that evntually led to Darwin’s ideas. Another was the British ornithologist John Gould, who analyzed Darwin’s collection of birds and showed him that what Darwin thought was a sundry mixture of wrens, finches, mockingbirds, and other species really included a large group of finches. That got Darwin thinking about relatedness, island endemism, speciation, and common descent, absolutely critical for Darwin’s ideas.  Finally, even Fitzroy himself collected birds on the voyage, and donated the collection to the British Museum. I’m not sure if he did the taxidermy himself.

The point is that there were others who made contributions to Darwin’s labors at least as significant as Edmonstone’s and Covington’s, and to say that Darwin’s ideas would have been impossible without those two men is not only the height of hyperbole, but also bizarre. It is only in the service of ideology that authors can make a statement like that.

Unlike the technical contributions of Edmonstone and Covington, Darwin’s achievements, and his fame today, was due to how he worked out ideas from them: evolution and natural selection. This was largely sui generis, stemming from Darwin’s genius on top of his synthesis of data from people around the world.  I strongly suspect that he would have had those ideas without taxonomy, as the bird collections in the Galapagos played no clear role in Darwin’s thinking: they aren’t mentioned in The Origin, and he drew on many other lines of evidence in his big book.

There is also a big two-column table, with “traditional” teaching given in the first column, and the authors’ recommended “anti-racist” examples in the second. I’ll just give a couple of examples (click them to enlarge):

Henrietta Lacks (a black woman who died of cervical cancer) did not have her cells “stolen”. At the time, it was not going procedure to ask any patient if their cells could be used, and in fact the cells of several people, including Dr. Gey himself, were cultured. It turned out that Lacks’s cells were robust to tissue culture, and have been widely used (given away, not sold, though some companies made money from them). In her wonderful book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, all of this is recounted by author Rebecca Skloot (I reviewed that book very positively in 2010.)  Now we have become more enlightened and ask patients if we can use material from their bodies for research, but it’s simply impossible to claim that Lack’s cells were “stolen”, any more than any other cells were stolen. There is a lawsuit that’s been going for several years against a company that profited from using her cells (called “HeLa” cells).

Darwin is in the table, but we’ve already discussed him.

And here’s how we should revise our teaching of “environmental science”:

What is added to teaching the toxic effects of Agent Orange by saying that black soldiers were most at risk (black GIs were overrepresented among combat troops), or that the military was integrated in wartime? Only as a way to find a racial hook to environmental science, which normally wouldn’t include discussions of Agent Orange, anyway.

There is, I claim, no way that you can’t find a way work race into any topic in ecology and evolution, no matter how convoluted your investigations have to be. Here’s a convoluted one:

What this has to do with ecology and evolution baffles me.  Does it mean that every time you mention a college, you have to try to find some hook, however tenuous, to race? In this case it’s doubly removed from Harvard: Harvard trained ministers, and some of those ministers preached to indigenous people. Seriously? Do you need to say this in a course on ecology and evolution?  Does it reduce racial tension?

Finally, there is the pervasive assumption that inequities reflect ongoing and system racism, something that, when you deal with minorities, cannot automatically be assumed. Different groups can submit more grants per capita (thus getting a lower per capita funding rate, since if you get one grant it’s less likely you’ll get more), submit propsals to areas which are less likely to give grants (we know this is true for some groups), and so on. I invite you, if you wish, to scrutinize the claim below and then examine reference supporting it, as it’s part of the author’s claim that there is ongoing racism in science:

. . . . [there is] a 1.8-fold and 1.9-fold advantage for White faculty receiving federal funding compared with Black faculty in the USA and UK, respectively [10].

In general, I think that the authors have played fast and loose with the historical facts and scientific data in order to indict ecology and evolution, and I’m surprised that TREE, historically a good journal, would publish a paper in which the claims are not closely scrutinized and the data not examined to see if they actually support the authors’ claims. All I know is that TREE would never publish a critique of that paper like the one you’re reading now.

Some of  authors actually taught a seminar on this topic, and if you read the paper, you’ll see that the seminar is about ideology, not ecology and evolution, and its goal is to propagandize students with the tenets of Critical Race Theory: pervasive oppression by whites, continuing structural racism, a never-ending struggle for power, and so on. Here’s part of the “pedagogy”:

Anti-racist pedagogy: Reflecting on how our identities and privileges relate to racism: By the second seminar, students read articles about racism in STEM (see Table S1) and completed a journal reflection on how their identities and privileges relate to racism. Then we had small- and large-group discussions (instructor facilitated large-group discussion) about the readings and assignment.

And that is the problem with articles like this: they try to turn science into a vehicle for ideology and politics. The purpose of ecology and evolution courses is turned sharply away from actually teaching the subject to using it to propagandize students with a particular view of society and social justice. And, as the authors say, you can (and should) do this in every course.

This is a diversion from the purpose of science education and, what’s more, this kind of breathlessly hectoring instruction is likely to be divisive. We can see this in the way that the authors struggle to find some lesson about race in everything about ecology and evolution. People who actually want to learn the subject may be turned off by such a program, and certainly it’s not going to accomplish its purpose of bringing people together. With the relentless focus on racism, guilt, and the need for white people to constantly scrutinize their persona for bigotry and indict the field, it can lead only perpetual divisions between ethnic groups.

Our Wall Street Journal op-ed: free at last!

June 2, 2023 • 9:00 am

On April 28,  Anna Krylov and I published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which I described (but didn’t reproduce) in this post. We, along with several dozen others, had just written a paper, “In Defense of Merit in Science”  (free access), which ultimately found a home at The Journal of Controversial Ideas created by Peter Singer and other philosophers. We found it ironic that the uncontroversial idea that science and scientists should be judged by scientific merit rather than ideology was swatted away by other journals who, as they told us, found the idea of merit “hollow”and even “downright hurtful”. We wanted to point out the irony of seeing the idea of judgement using merit as “controversial.”

The usual suspects disagreed, many of them giving anecdotes in which scientific merit was not rewarded. And yes, there are such cases, but that was not our point, as you can see by reading below.

The Wall Street Journal has a strict embargo policy, but allows authors to reprint their article 30 days after publication.  That time has passed, and so I’ve put a transcript of the article below the headline (clicking on the headlines will most likely get you paywalled). Read the text below the headline:

Until a few months ago, we’d never heard of the Journal of Controversial Ideas, a peer-reviewed publication whose aim is to promote “free inquiry on controversial topics.” Our research typically didn’t fit that description. We finally learned of the journal’s existence, however, when we tried to publish a commentary about how modern science is being compromised by a de-emphasis on merit. Apparently, what was once anodyne and unobjectionable is now contentious and outré, even in the hard sciences.

Merit isn’t much in vogue anywhere these days. We’ve seen this in the trend among scientists to judge scientific research by its adherence to dominant progressive orthodoxies and in the growing reluctance of our institutions to hire and fund scientists based on their ability to propose and conduct exciting projects. Our intent was to defend established and effective practices of judging science based on its merit alone.

Yet as we shopped our work to various scientific publications, we found no takers—except one. Evidently our ideas were politically unpalatable. It turns out the only place you can publish once-standard conclusions these days is in a journal committed to heterodoxy.

The crux of our argument is simple: Science that doesn’t prioritize merit doesn’t work, and substituting ideological dogma for quality is a shortcut to disaster. A prime example is Lysenkoism—the incursion of Marxist ideology into Soviet and Chinese agriculture in the mid-20th century. Beginning in the 1930s, the U.S.S.R. started to enforce the untenable theories of Trofim Lysenko, a charlatan Russian agronomist who rejected, among other things, the existence of standard genetic inheritance. As scientists dissented—rejecting Lysenko’s claims for lack of evidence—they were fired or sent to the gulag. Implementation of his theories in Soviet and, later, Chinese agriculture led to famines and the starvation of millions. Russian biology still hasn’t recovered.

Yet a wholesale and unhealthy incursion of ideology into science is occurring again—this time in the West. We see it in progressives’ claim that scientific truths are malleable and subjective, similar to Lysenko’s insistence that genetics was Western “pseudoscience” with no place in progressive Soviet agriculture. We see it when scientific truths—say, the binary nature of sex—are either denied or distorted because they’re politically repugnant.

We see it as well in activists’ calls to “decolonize” scientific fields, to reduce the influence of what’s called “Western science” and adopt indigenous “ways of knowing.” No doubt different cultures have different ways of interpreting natural processes—sometimes invoking myth and legend—and this variation should be valued as an important aspect of sociology and anthropology. But these “ways of knowing” aren’t coequal to modern science, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise.

In some ways this new species of Lysenkoism is more pernicious than the old, because it affects all science—chemistry, physics, life sciences, medicine and math—not merely biology and agriculture. The government isn’t the only entity pushing it, either. “Progressive” scientists promote it, too, along with professional societies, funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health and Energy Department, scientific journals and university administrators. When applying for openings as a university scientist today, job candidates may well be evaluated more by their record of supporting “social justice” than by their scientific achievements.

But scientific research can’t and shouldn’t be conducted via a process that gives a low priority to science itself. This is why we wrote our paper, which was co-authored by 27 others, making for a group as diverse as you can imagine. We had men and women of various ages, ethnicities, countries of origin, political affiliations and career stages, including faculty from community colleges and top research universities, as well as two Nobel laureates. We provided an in-depth analysis of the clash between liberal epistemology and postmodernist philosophies. We documented the continuing efforts to elevate social justice over scientific rigor, and warned of the consequences of taking an ideological approach to research. Finally, we suggested an alternative humanistic approach to alleviating social inequalities and injustices.

But this was too much, even “downright hurtful,” as one editor wrote to us. Another informed us that “the concept of merit . . . has been widely and legitimately attacked as hollow.” Legitimately?

In the end, we’re grateful that our paper will be published. But how sad it is that the simple and fundamental principle undergirding all of science—that the best ideas and technologies should be the ones we adopt—is seen these days as “controversial.”

Mr. Coyne is a professor emeritus of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. Ms. Krylov is a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 2, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have the second batch of photos taken by ecologist Susan Harrison on a recent trip to Finland (part 1 of her trip is here). Her IDs and narratives are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Finnish Forest Fauna

While visiting the University of Oulu in May 2023, after enjoying the common migratory birds flooding into the city’s parks, I took two guided day tours to see elusive forest-dwellers such as owls and grouse.  On these trips I met British “twitchers” and German “Vogelbeobachters” who’d come to Finland just for this purpose, since it’s one of the best places in Europe to see forest wildlife.

Large old trees with nest cavities are scarce, so nesting boxes are frequently set out by bird-lovers.  The nature tour company in Oulu takes it a step further: they put up owl boxes, and take customers to view the inhabitants, but you must sign an agreement not to record the location.  I guess on balance this is a good arrangement for the owls and us.

Female Ural Owls (Strix uralensis) sometimes maim people who approach their nests, so we were cautious:

Her three owlets seen from a respectful distance:

Female Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) tending her owlet in the former nest of a Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis):

My grouse-oriented tour took place around Kuusamo, a small resort town on the Russian border. Finnish bird tours begin at 3 am, so please forgive some grainy photos taken in dim light.

Male Willow Grouse or Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta):

Male Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), the size of a turkey, strutting and fanning his tail:

Female Capercaillie stuffing her gizzard with roadside gravel:

Male Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) running, leaping and tail-fanning in front of females:

Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) stalking the forest:

Domestic Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) wandering around in radio collars:

On both trips we also saw many interesting songbirds and water birds; here are some of the latter.

Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica), a.k.a. Black-Throated Loon or Diver:

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus), known as Horned Grebe in North America, and also picturesquely called Devil-Diver, Hell-Diver, Pink-eyed Diver, and Water Witch:

Male Ruff (Calidris pugnax). This shorebird has three types of males, determined by a chromosomal inversion. The common type (85-90%) is colorful and puts on aggressive group displays. A second type is paler and less aggressive, and a third type mimics females and sneaks copulations.  The genetics and evolution of this complex mating system are just beginning to be understood.  This male is of the common type:

JAC: I’ve added a figure from a paper in BMC Genomic Data showing the various types of males. “L. L. F.” is Lindsay L. Farrell, and “S. B. M.” is Susan B. MacRae; click to read the caption.


We watched their displays at a distance:

Friday: Hili dialogue

June 2, 2023 • 6:45 am

It’s Friday, June 2, 2023, and National Rocky Road Day. If you’re not an American, that’s usually a genre of chocolate ice cream that contains nuts, chocolate chips, and marshmallows, and it can be good:


It’s also It’s also American Indian Citizenship Day, Hug an Atheist Day, I Love My Dentist Day, National Doughnut Day, National Gun Violence Awareness Day, National Rotisserie Chicken Day, and International Sex Workers Day. Here’s a statue to sex workers in Amsterdam:

(from Wikipedia) Bronze statue Belle in front of the Oude Kerk in the De Wallen red-light district in Amsterdam. It was unveiled in March 2007 with the inscription “Respect sex workers all over the world.”

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the June 2 Wikipedia page.

Wine of the Day: Are you in the mood for a white Burgundy that doesn’t break the bank. This is your baby: a recent (2021) vintage of Mâcon-Villages from the southern region of Burgundy, well priced at $17.00. Although it lacks the “dung” aroma of great Burgundy (“great Burgundy smells of shit,” one critic said), it’s redolent of pears, apples, and orange blossoms. The color is pale straw, and it’s ready to drink.

I had it with Indian sag paneer (spinach and cheese) and rice, a somewhat spicy dish that was a good complement to this wine.  This is a good all-purpose white, relatively cheap for what is, in effect, a Pouilly-Fuissé, grown right next door to that region but cheaper without the name.

Da Nooz:

*Halleluljah! Yesterday the bipartisan bill dealing with the debt limit passed to the Senate. It was late last night, and they had to stave off a number of amendments that would have delayed the bill by forcing it back to the House.

The approval by the Senate on a 63-to-36 vote brought to a close a political showdown that began brewing as soon as Republicans narrowly won the House in November, promising to use their new majority and the threat of a default to try to extract spending and policy concessions from Mr. Biden.

. . . .On Thursday night, Mr. Biden cheered its passage, promising to sign it as soon as possible and address the nation from the Oval Office on Friday evening.

“Tonight, senators from both parties voted to protect the hard-earned economic progress we have made and prevent a first-ever default by the United States,” he said. “No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: This bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people.”

The agreement suspends the $31.4 trillion debt limit until January 2025, allowing the government to borrow unlimited sums to pay its debts and ensuring that another fight will not occur before the next presidential election. It sets new spending levels that will be tested as Congress begins to write its annual spending bills. Other policy changes on energy project permitting and work requirements on social benefits were also included.

“We saved the country from the scourge of default,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, exulted after the bill cleared Congress.The Senate vote came after an afternoon of closed-door talks to resolve a last-minute flare-up over Pentagon funding, ignited by Republicans who said the debt-limit package severely underfunded the military. Senate leaders resolved the dispute with a formal statement that the debt-limit deal “does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities.”

The vote was 63-36, and you can see how the Senators voted at this site.

*Foreign ministers of NATO countries are meeting in Norway this week to decide whether Ukraine should join. The thing is, NATO unwisely promised a while back that Ukraine would eventually be in the club, and that was premature.

A day earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to add weight to calls for Ukraine’s membership, telling a conference in Slovakia that Kyiv deserved “something concrete” in terms of a path forward.

“Our focus today was how can we bring Ukraine closer to NATO, where it belongs,” said Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after foreign ministers from the alliance’s 31 members and applicant Sweden concluded.

NATO must “have in place frameworks to provide guarantees for Ukrainian security after the end of the war,” Stoltenberg said before opening the meeting, which was arranged as an opportunity to talk more casually than at regularly scheduled ministerial gatherings, and at which no formal decisions will be taken.

The U.S. has until now largely sidestepped discussions of how or when Ukraine might join NATO, instead focusing on Kyiv’s security and military strength. Asked about whether a pathway to NATO would be approved at a coming summit of alliance leaders in Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters, “I fully anticipate that will be part of the conversation in Vilnius.”

“Ultimately these are decisions that the leaders have to make and finalize,” Blinken said.

I believe every NATO country has to sign on before an applicant nation can be approved.

The heads of the parliamentary foreign-affairs committees of 19 NATO members released a joint statement on Thursday calling for Ukraine to be given a clear road map to joining at the NATO summit in July. Signatories included the heads of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and its counterpart committees in the U.K., Germany and France.

Finally, here’s the mistake that NATO made before. Premature guarantees lead to invasions by Russia!

NATO said in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join, but gave no details or timeline. Germany and France led opposition to a concrete path to Ukrainian membership. The 2008 statement has been widely criticized for angering Russia without giving greater security to Ukraine or Georgia. Russia invaded Georgia soon after the summit, and continued to seek political sway in Ukraine.

*The Sensuous Curmudgeon and the National Center for Science Education report on a Texas bill requiring secondary schools that teach evolution present it not as a “fact”, but as a theory with strengths and weaknesses. Well, that bill is an ex-bill; it sings with the choir invisible.   (h/t Steve) From the NCSE:

When the Texas state legislature adjourned sine die on May 29, 2023, a pair of identical bills that would have harmed science education, House Bill 1804 and Senate Bill 2089, died in committee. If enacted, the bills would have amended the state education code to require that instructional material adopted by the state board of education “present a scientific theory in an objective educational manner that: (i) clearly distinguishes the theory from fact; and (ii) includes evidence for both the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory.”

Clause (i) appears to reflect a common misconception about facts and theories. “In scientific terms, ‘theory’ does not mean ‘guess’ or ‘hunch’ as it does in everyday usage,” as the National Academy of Science explained in its publication Science and Creationism, second edition (1999). “Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses. Biological evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for the enormous range of observations about the living world. … [S]cientists can also use [“fact”] to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. The occurrence of evolution in this sense is a fact.”

Clause (ii) betrays the intention of the bills. As The New York Times editorialized of the phrase “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” in 2008, “This is code for teaching creationism.” Employed by proponents of “creation science” and “intelligent design” alike, the phrase appears in antievolution laws enacted in Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012. In 2017, Texas’s House Bill 1485 would ostensibly have provided Texas science teachers with the academic freedom to teach “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of scientific theories discussed in the state science standards; after receiving a public hearing, during which a member of the state board of education testified that the bill would allow the teaching of creationism, the bill died in committee, as NCSE previously reported.

Both bills were, of course, sponsored by Republicans.

*Writing on Substack, Clyde Rathbone explains why “Modern intellectuals are writing their best ideas on Substack.” And, by and large, yes, you get better ideas (though not necessarily news) on Substack than on the MSM. One problem is that there are too may people to follow, and of course those subscriptions mount up. But there are two new authors that you might want to follow. One is Jon Haidt:

Much of my work is focused on helping academics establish a sustainable publishing strategy on Substack, and I had suggested Jon might consider using Substack as a platform to explore the themes of his book, inviting criticism that could help him refine his manuscript. I am thrilled to say he found merit in the proposal. On his new Substack’s About page, he explains part of his rationale for launching  on Substack:

“I could make this Substack an adjunct to my writing, where I could share findings, theories, and questions while inviting the kind of criticism that I’d rather get before I submit the manuscripts than after each book is published.”

Through his Substack, Jon is modeling a new and exciting way for academics to communicate directly with readers. He’s creating an avenue for collaborative feedback, akin to crowdsourced peer review but with the added advantage of early engagement. He’s also expanding the audience for his upcoming books and raising significant funds for his nonprofit organizations. Jon is not alone.

. . . and:

This week, Richard Dawkins  is launching on Substack.

An esteemed evolutionary biologist, prolific writer, and passionate advocate for science and reason, Richard has captivated audiences with his thought-provoking ideas and unwavering dedication to the pursuit of knowledge.

One thing that will differ from the Twitter account is that, as far as I know, there are no comments on Twitter, so there won’t be the rancor you often see when Richard speaks his mind. On the other hand, ten to one people will still spew stuff on his Twitter feed. I, for one, am looking forward to see what he says.

*In Connecticut, a bear with a sweet tooth gorged itself on 60 cupcakes when nobody was looking. From the AP:

A hungry black bear barged into the garage of a Connecticut bakery, scared several employees and helped itself to 60 cupcakes before ambling away.

Workers at Taste by Spellbound in the town of Avon were loading cakes into a van for delivery on Wednesday when the bear showed up. There are between 1,000 and 1,200 black bears living in Connecticut, the state environmental agency says, with sightings last year in 158 of the state’s 169 towns and cities.

Bakery owner Miriam Stephens wrote in an Instagram post that she heard employee Maureen Williams “screaming bloody murder” and yelling that there was a bear in the garage.

Williams told TV station WTNH that she shouted to scare the bear off but it retreated and came back three times.

Williams said the bear charged at her so she backed out of the garage and ran.

Surveillance video obtained by WTNH shows bakery workers walking around the side of the business to try to scare the bear, but then running away after it scares them.

And here’s that video, which I found on YouTube. The bear has a whole bloody BOX OF CUPCAKES! Let him eat in peace—this bear will never have it so good again!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili, a carnivore, bemoans carnivory:

Hili: We had a guest.
A: Who?
Hili: A caterpillar, but a starling ate it.
In Polish:
Hili: Mieliśmy gościa.
Ja: Kogo?
Hili: Gąsienicę, ale szpak ją zjadł.


From Merilee:

From America’s Cultural Decline Into Idiocy:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Masih: On trial for reporting in Iran; you can read about them here and here.

A Twitter conversation found by Barry:

I found this one, with a cockatoo hitting the jackpot:

From Malcom, a Bruce Lee cat!

From the Auschwitz Memorial, “she did not survive”:

Tweets from Professor Cobb. First, a snake on a plane!

This guy just added a bunch of cats to his collection:

A Woodstock romance:


The legality of diversity statements

June 1, 2023 • 12:00 pm

This piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses an issue we’ve taken up here before: is it legal to require applicants for university jobs to submit DEI statements? The piece gives both sides of the argument, although I’ve long thought that such statements should be always be illegal on two grounds: they are irrelevant for nearly all academic jobs, and they violate the First Amendment because they’re a form of compelled speech.

When I first wrote about this, I thought that someone with standing should bring a lawsuit against a public university (such schools must adhere to the First Amendment), as diversity statements are a form of compelled speech as well as viewpoint discrimination, forcing applicants to voice certain approved political beliefs.

Now that lawsuit has been brought. As the article notes:

John D. Haltigan, the plaintiff, is being represented pro bono by the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation. He is arguing that the University of California system’s use of diversity statements in hiring violates the First Amendment and represents unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. Haltigan wants to apply for a tenure-track position in the psychology department at the University of California at Santa Cruz and is asking the court, among other things, for an injunction that would allow him to apply without submitting a diversity statement. The university system has required diversity statements in applications for tenure-track positions and promotions since 2018.

As I wrote in a previous post, Haltigan didn’t actually apply for the job, because he realized that his own statement would never pass muster with the faculty. But he did write and publish the statement that he would have used had he applied. It wouldn’t have passed muster, though, because it included stuff like this:

I believe that the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements in evaluating candidates for positions in higher education and academia are anathema to the ideals and principles of rigorous scholarship, and the sound practice of science and teaching.

Haltigan’s own “colorblind” statement would of course have led to his being rejected for the UCSC job, but he published it on a blog, and it was on those grounds that the Pacific Legal Foundation is representing him in a lawsuit.  Whether this gives him “standing” is not clear, but what is clear is that it will be hard to find somebody who can convince a court that they didn’t get a job because their diversity statement didn’t pass muster. That is what’s required to win such a suit.

Click to read: it’s free:

The Chronicle is fair in giving the pros and cons of requiring diversity statements.  First-Amendment arguments can be used for jobs in government, which include academic jobs in public universities, but it’s not clear whether private universities can require DEI statements if they still take federal funds. And even if they can require those statements, in my view they shouldn’t, for every college, public or private, should have policies that adhere to the First Amendment.

Three professors make the argument that diversity statements aren’t legal; one (Leiter) is my colleague at the U of C law school:

Public universities have a First Amendment right to have their own values and mission statements, said Zach Greenberg, a senior program officer with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which has warned that diversity statements could be used as political litmus tests. But colleges may not force students or faculty members to adhere to values and mission statements, Greenberg said, “if they’re in political terms.”

“So, a university may say that we are antiracist, we believe in DEI, but we also welcome those with opposing views,” Greenberg said. A university can even encourage faculty to share those views, as long as it doesn’t cross the line into compelling them, he said.

While private employers are generally allowed to practice viewpoint discrimination, public universities, like other public employers, typically cannot discriminate based on political beliefs. “A public university can’t require its faculty to have certain beliefs,” said Brian Leiter, a professor of jurisprudence and director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago, who has been a vocal critic of diversity statements. “No matter how laudable one thinks the beliefs are, it’s not allowed. And that’s just true of any public employer. There are very narrow exceptions.” Courts have ruled that government can base hiring decisions on political viewpoints only in very limited cases, such as political appointments, Leiter added.

But do diversity statements require a particular political viewpoint? Keith E. Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University, said that diversity statements, as they are commonly used in academe, “definitely run afoul of these kinds of viewpoint discrimination concerns.” For example, Whittington pointed to evaluation rubrics from the University of California system that downgrade applicants who say they treat every student equally. The rubric used by the University of California at Santa Cruz, for example, gives applicants less credit if they describe “only activities that are already the expectation of our faculty such as mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc.”

But giving less credit to “color blind” applicants violates the First Amendment by privileging political statements that promise a form of affirmative action in academia. While schools can have policies for mentoring ill-prepared applicants, they cannot refuse to give jobs to professors who simply promise to afford everyone equal opportunities to learn.

There’s really only one one viewpoint given that touts the legality of diversity statements, and I don’t find this very convincing:

Brian Soucek, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis, has argued that diversity statements can be constitutional, if used correctly. He previously served as chair of a systemwide committee on academic freedom for the University of California that provided input for the university system’s latest recommendations on the use of DEI statements.

Soucek recommends that in order to avoid infringing on academic freedom, faculty members, rather than administrators, should determine how to judge applicants. In order to avoid comparisons to loyalty oaths, he recommends that colleges ask what applicants “have done or plan to do, not what they believe, when it comes to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their field.”

And regarding viewpoint discrimination, Soucek argues that the central question is not whether applicants are being judged on their viewpoints, but whether those perspectives are relevant to the position in question. An immigration-asylum clinic, for example, could legitimately ask about an applicant’s views on immigration, Soucek said, but it would appear to be constitutionally problematic if a law school asked an applicant for a bankruptcy professor position about immigration.

In Haltigan’s case, Soucek said, the University of California at Santa Cruz is hiring for an assistant professor of developmental psychology to enhance the program’s “long-established strengths in studying the lived experiences of children and youth from diverse backgrounds.” According to the job posting, the department seeks candidates whose research explores areas such as “cultural assets that promote healthy development in the contexts of inequities related to gender, ethnicity/race, social class, and/or sexuality” and “conditions and practices that leverage the psychological strengths of children from historically underserved backgrounds in the U.S. or other countries.”

For that particular position, Soucek said, “it would seem especially strange for somebody to come in and say, ‘I believe in colorblindness and refuse to see people’s race or ethnicity.’”

But I think Souchek is stretching it, for he’s giving an example that has been confected so that only those with a politically correct view of DEI could even apply for the job.  The immigration-asylum clinic isn’t as relevant simply because if the hired person does the job expected, there is no reason to deny him the job because he privately holds the “wrong” views about immigration.  There are plenty of people who can keep their political views out of their jobs.  The one requirement that holds for all job is simply is that people should be treated equally and fairly regardless of immutable characteristics like race, gender, disability status, and so on.   That’s simple adherence to civil rights law.  And even in the case of the “developmental psychology” job, what they should be looking for is people who can best deal with a variety of children. Do they really need to quiz applicants about their private views on race, gender, and sexuality?

But the worst part of this “pro-statement” argument is this. If people adopted Soucek’s rationale, it would result in job descriptions being tailored to those people holding the “proper” DEI views, or, indeed, views on any political or ideological issue that the school likes. I can imagine even biology jobs being tailored this way. But that would tilt all of academia towards the currently dominant ideology—exactly what we don’t want to do in a university, where free and open discussion is the order of the day.

Pamela Paul on the lack of humor of the woke

June 1, 2023 • 9:45 am

I’m wondering how long Pamela Paul will last as a NYT op-ed columnist if she keeps producing columns like this. (She used to be the Sunday Book Review editor.) The point of the column, a bit thin for her, is a good one: the woke (she calls them “politically correct”, and perhaps we should re-adopt that term) have no sense of humor about themselves. Is she right, given that there are indeed quite a few places where you can find humorous mockery of wokeness, e.g., The Babbling Beaver or The Babbling Bear. But yes, it’s not as easy to come across that humor as it used to be. As Paul says in her column:

A world without making fun is a world with a lot less fun in it. It also misses out on the relief humor provides. The whole point of comedy is to poke us where it’s most uncomfortable, to get us to laugh at our foibles and excesses, and the self-seriousness alone of contemporary political correctness practically begs for satire. Today we seem to mistake humorlessness for seriousness.

Read by clicking on the screenshot, and I found the column archived here.

The first thing to ask is whether Paul’s claim is correct: do the woke refrain from engaging in self-mockery and comedy? And the answer is “well, but not entirely”. The truly militant woke, like Ibram Kendi, aren’t expected to mock themselves, as they are deeply engaged in trying to reform society according to their program, but there are several sites, as I noted, that , but sites that mock wokeness.  And I’ve found that those sites don’t usually come from the Right (the Right lacks a sense of humor, though The Babylon Bee, said to be a conservative Christian Site, is an exception), but from the Center Left. Who’s the most famous person to satirize wokeness? Bill Maher, and he’s on the Center Left.  Paul even mentions him below. No, he’s not on ABC any more, but he’s as popular as ever.

But Paul’s correct in saying that things have changed. Mockery may be sparser, but what has really changed is that you are now automatically demonized as the enemy (i.e. someone on the Right) for mocking “politicial correctness”:

Yet there was a time, says Paul, when it was done, and taken in a good spirit. She recalls the 1992 book The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook (still available), which was a bestseller to everyone. Even I had a copy, for “political correctness” was neither as pervasive nor as serious as wokeness is now.  (“Political correctness”, unless “wokeness”, started out as a pejorative word, while “wokeness” has morphed into one, perhaps because its exponents are so dead serious. Paul notes the different atmosphere thirty years ago:

In 1992, two Harvard Lampoon alums, Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, published “The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook,” which mixed together actual terms of P.C. orthodoxy with fictional ones in a way that left you unsure which was which. Real or fake: assimilationism, carbocentricism, chemically inconvenienced, heterosexually celibate, humyn, chair?

Thirty years later, on Amazon, a customer gave the book a worried one-star review, noting, “You’ll get in more trouble using this book than you were before.” These sensitivities are no longer a laughing matter. They are the stuff of moralizing retribution.

But back in benighted 1993, the year I graduated from college, we couldn’t fathom such censoriousness. That was the year Comedy Central introduced the political talk show “Politically Incorrect,” hosted by Bill Maher. Four years later, the show crossed over to network television — network television! — where ABC aired it until advertisers balked over comments Maher made about Sept. 11. The concern? Insufficient patriotism.

Expressing the opposite sentiment today — when merely referring to yourself as “American” is enough to be deemed “imperialist” — is what might get you in trouble.

People have clearly lost their sense of humor.

I think she’s right here, for if you mock extreme forms of wokeness, such as the opposition to “Kimono Wednesdays” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts—a palpably ridiculous attempt to quash “cultural appropriation” (itself something ripe for mockery)—your are immediately placed in the opposition.

It’s an interesting question, and one Paul needs to ponder, why those on the Left used to mock political correctness so easily and get away with it, but can no longer do so with wokeness, even though the latter is just an updated version of the former.

Here’s my own twofold explanation, which is mine:

1.)  Wokeness is more intimately connected with race and gender than was “political correctness”, and these issues are touchy and often taken dead seriously. If you mock them, you become the enemy, as happened to Dave Chapelle when he dealt with transsexuality in one of his Neflix comedy shows. Things have become so bad that comedians like Jerry Seinfeld will no longer perform on college campuses, as all that brings is heartache. This, of course, creates self-censorship if you want to make fun of wokeness. For nobody on the Left ever wants to be called a racist or a sexist.

But that brings up the question of WHY, even if you’re a liberal or Leftist,  do you suffer more now than you used to? The answer, I think, may involve this:

2.) The extreme Left is more extreme than it used to be, and that’s led to more emotional fragility. Its members thus tend to strike out at those who oppose them, demonizing them even though they’re on the same half of the political spectrum. (It may not be irrelevant that surveys show that mental illness is more pervasive on the extreme Left than on the extreme Right). Emotional fragility leads to extreme behavior—remember how Nicholas Christakis was attacked by unhinged Yale students simply because his wife sent an email to the students in their “house” saying that adults could choose their own Halloween costumes? This is emotional fragility in action (on the part of some students, not Christakis):

I’m not the first to make the point: it is in fact a major aspect of Haidt and Lukianoff’s book The Coddling of the American Mind. And regardless of whether emotional fragility is a cause or a consequence of being on the extreme left, it has produced a polarization and animus that didn’t used to exist.

Let it not be said, though, that Paul lets the Right off the hook. Here’s what she says about them:

What weak laughter is left? Nowadays, critics of P.C.’s pedantic excesses can be even more strident than its advocates. Making fun of political correctness (efforts not to offend) is one thing; telling outright offensive jokes (efforts intended to offend) is quite another. On right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller, the tone is more rage and sneer than ridicule and smirk — they’re attacking the enemy rather than recognizing their own foolishness.

Yes, but the tone of all opponents of wokeness is at anger or criticism, and not often mockery. The Right sees themselves in a battle, and, while Rightists themselves seem to lack sense of humor, the Left, which in general does have more humor, has been cowed by the extreme wing from mocking its own excesses. But I’m not sure what Paul’s last sentence above means, especially the word “foolishness.”  All I can say is that the Right doesn’t go after the extreme right with nearly the vitriol that the Left goes after the extreme Left.  This may be connected with the reduced emotional fragility of the extreme right—if what the surveys show is correct.

So Paul is correct that it’s not as easy to satirize political correctness as it used to be, but incorrect in implying that there is hardly any mockery of wokeness from the Left. And I think she missed a valuable chance to analyze why this change in attitudes has occurred in the last few decades.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 1, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos are from Howard Feldman of Houston. His captions are indented and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

All these photos were taken with my old Iphone5 in our community garden near downtown Houston, TX, over about 1 year.

European honeybeeApis mellifera, on an arugula flower (Erica vesicaria):

Davis’s Cuckoo Sweat Bee, Sphecodes davisiiSphecodes bees are kleptoparasitic on other bees, stealing their food:

Bumblebee, Bombus sp.:

Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp.  There are approximately 500 species of carpenter bees, and several visit our garden:

Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus:

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly, Agraulis vanilla.  This butterfly loves parks and urban gardens:

Black-Bordered Lemon Moth, Marimatha nigrofimbria.  Houston is at the far southwestern edge of its range:

Thursday: Hili dialogue

June 1, 2023 • 6:45 am

June is here! Yes, it’s Thursday, June 1, 2023, and although Summer doesn’t officially start for three weeks, June really IS summer. It’s National Hazelnut Cake Day, which nobody has ever eaten, as well as these food-month designations for June:

National Candy Month
National Dairy Month
National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month
National Iced Tea Month
National Papaya Month

It’s also Dinosaur Day, Heimlich Maneuver Day (note that there are now two ways to do this: abdominal thrusts and back blows, and you should alternate between them), International Children’s Day, National Go Barefoot Day, National Nail Polish Day, National Olive Day, Say Something Nice Day (how about “you look maah-velous!”?), Wear a Dress Day, World Milk Day, and Global Day of Parents.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the June 1 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Yesterday the House passed a bill affirming the bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling, so the U.S. won’t go into default (the Senate is almost certain to pass it, too).  The support was bipartisan, but so was the opposition:

The bill would defer the federal debt limit for two years — allowing the government to borrow unlimited sums as necessary to pay its obligations — while imposing two years of spending caps and a string of policy changes that Republicans demanded in exchange for allowing the country to avoid a disastrous default. The 314-to-117 vote came days before the nation was set to exhaust its borrowing limit, and days after a marathon set of talks between White House negotiators and top House Republicans yielded a breakthrough agreement.

With both far-right and hard-left lawmakers in revolt over the deal, it fell to a bipartisan coalition powered by Democrats to push the bill over the finish line, throwing their support behind the compromise in an effort to break the fiscal stalemate that had gripped Washington for weeks. On the final vote, 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats backed the measure, while 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats opposed it.

That was a blow to the Republican speaker, whose hard-fought victory on the measure was dampened by the fact that more Democrats ultimately voted for the bill than members of his own party.

The measure nearly collapsed on its way to the House floor, when hard-right Republicans sought to block its consideration, and in a suspenseful scene, Democrats waited several minutes before swooping in to supply their votes for a procedural measure that allowed the plan to move ahead.

The “progressive” Democrats, including Jayapal and Ocasio-Cortez, voted against the bill because it didn’t give them what they wanted (same reason the Republicans voted against the bill), but do these people want to throw the country into a crisis? AOC:

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said she, too, would vote against the bill, in part because of changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Republicans need to own this vote,” she said. “This was their deal, this was their negotiations. They’re the ones trying to come in and cut SNAP, cut environmental protections, trying to ram through an oil pipeline through a community that does not want it.”

Sorry, but both Dems and Republicans own this vote, and it was negotiations and a deal from both parties. And a good thing, too.

*As reported in Forbes Magazine, a nationwide telephone poll of 1,680 adults conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago assayed Americans on a number of issues, the one reported in this piece being how much weight should be given to race in college admissions. According to Americans, “some, but not much.” We should find out shortly if the Supreme Court will allow any consideration of race in admissions, and it doesn’t look likely.

A new poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 63% of adults believe that the Supreme Court should not prohibit colleges from considering race or ethnicity as one factor in their admission decisions, but most also believe it should not be treated as a major factor.

. . . Support for the limited use of race as an admission factor was surprisingly consistent across political and racial lines. A majority of both Democrats (65%) and Republicans (60%) favored allowing applicants’ race to be considered. Likewise, there was no significant difference based on race or ethnicity. Sixty-two percent of white adults, along with 62% of Black adults and 65% of Hispanic adults said consideration of race and ethnicity should be permitted by colleges.

. . . There were, however, differences in how much consideration people thought race/ethnicity should be given in college admissions with Blacks, Hispanics and Democrats more likely to say they should be important.

When asked about the importance of several other admission factors, respondents assigned relatively low priority to race/ethnicity (only 13% said it should be extremely or very important), donations to the school (10% said the same), athletic ability (9%), gender (9%), and legacy status (9%). Overall, 68% of adults said race and ethnicity should not be a significant factor.

And although the Supreme Court will be the ultimate arbiter of this issue, Americans have lost confidence in the Court in a large measure: only 12% of those polled expressing great confidence in it—down more than 50% from 2020.

*Yesterday North Korea just tried to launch its first spy satellite, but it failed miserably, with the rocket falling into the sea.

North Korea’s attempt to put its first spy satellite into space failed Wednesday in a setback to leader Kim Jong Un’s push to boost his military capabilities as tensions with the United States and South Korea rise.

After an unusually quick admission of failure, North Korea vowed to conduct a second launch after it learns what went wrong. It suggests Kim remains determined to expand his weapons arsenal and apply more pressure on Washington and Seoul while diplomacy is stalled.

South Korea and Japan briefly urged residents in some areas to take shelter after the launch.

The South Korean military said it was salvaging an object presumed to be part of the crashed North Korean rocket in waters 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the southwestern island of Eocheongdo. Later, the Defense Ministry released photos of a white, metal cylinder it described as a suspected rocket part.

A satellite launch by North Korea is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the country from conducting any launch based on ballistic technology. Observers say North Korea’s previous satellite launches helped improve its long-range missile technology. North Korean long-range missile tests in recent years demonstrated a potential to reach all of the continental U.S., but outside experts say the North still has some work to do to develop functioning nuclear missiles.

They’ll eventually succeed, even as they’ll eventually succeed in producing workable ICBMs with nuclear warheads. This is one of the most difficult diplomatic problems to solve—if it even needs solving. Negotiating, of course, won’t work, and, the country not being suicidal, it’s not going to launch nukes without provocation. But all the money for this war material is coming out of the mouths of North Koreans, who are starving en masse. And there’s no hope of a regime change.

*The NYT has discovered that the James Beard Foundation, which gives prestigious award to various chefs, has gone full Pecksniff and is now grilling candidate chefs about their sociopolitical backgrounds and scrutinizing their past social media accounts. After all, our chefs must be politically correct!

[Chef Sam] Fore is a finalist in the James Beard awards, which for nearly three decades have been considered the most prestigious culinary honors in the United States, the so-called “Oscars of the food world.” As the #MeToo movement led to high-profile revelations of misbehavior and workplace abuse in the restaurant world in recent years, the Beard foundation overhauled its processes to make the awards more equitable and diverse, and to ensure that chefs with troubling histories are not honored.

Ms. Fore is among the first subjects of an investigatory process created in 2021 as part of that overhaul. But in many ways she is the kind of chef the retooled awards are meant to recognize more fully. Early indications suggest that the new process is vulnerable to failure in several ways.

While the awards have historically honored mostly white chefs serving European-derived food in expensive urban restaurants — in fact, the other four finalists in the Best Chef: Southeast category with Ms. Fore are white men — her business, Tuk Tuk, is a pop-up that serves cuisine inspired by what she grew up eating in Lexington, Ky., as the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants.

In what she called “an interrogation,” the investigators asked her about social media posts she had made on both private and public accounts. Someone had sent them to the foundation through an anonymous tip line on its website. The men told Ms. Fore that the posts potentially violated the organization’s code of ethics — specifically that they amounted to “targeted harassment” and “bullying.”

They included an Instagram post, she said, that was part of a domestic-violence awareness campaign, and others related to her advocacy for victims of sexual violence, including “vague tweets” about people the posts did not name.

Here’s the “problematic” post, which isn’t problematic at all:

The Foundation even has an anonymous “tip line”, where you can report a chef or restaurant for not practicing Social Justice correctly.  It’s a good thing that there is no Big Brother to record people’s words, for then all of us would have been guilty of at least one such offense in our lives.

*Talk about May-December romances, India Today reports that actor Al Pacino, who’s now 83, is expecting a baby with his 29-year-old wife Noor Alfallah. I found one photo of them on her Instagram page (below), but he’s not named (the guy on the right is artist James Bennett).

Veteran American actor and filmmaker Alfredo James “Al” Pacino is set to become a dad for the fourth time. He is 82 years old! As per TMZ, the actor’s 29-year-old girlfriend, Noor Alfallah is eight-months pregnant. Pacino’s representative also confirmed the news to PEOPLE

Al Pacino and Noor Alfallah have been linked since April 2022 when they were spotted grabbing dinner together. According to Page Six sources, it was revealed that the couple had actually been quietly dating since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Pacino and Noor started seeing each other during the pandemic. She mostly dates very rich older men. She has been with Al for some time and they get on very well. The age gap doesn’t seem to be a problem, even though he is older than her father. She moves with the wealthy jet-set crowd, and she comes from a family with money,” the source revealed.

Meanwhile, Al Pacino already shares daughter Julie Marie, 33, with his ex-girlfriend, Jan Tarrant. She is an acting coach. He also has 22-year-old twins Anton and Olivia with ex-partner Beverly D’Angelo. The duo dated from 1997 to 2003. Meanwhile, this appears to be Alfallah’s first child.

Previously, Alfallah was linked to Mick Jagger, who was 74 at the time, and she was just 22. She was also linked to billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, 60.

I’ve heard people criticize Pacino for this, presumably on the grounds that his child won’t have a father for very long, but this seems to be the business of Pacino and Alfallah alone. But as long as we’re gossiping, Robert DeNiro just had his seventh kid at 79.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili still despises molehills, but Andrzej likes them:

Hili: A tragedy.
A: How so?
Hili: Six molehills in my field of vision.
A: But I like moles and their molehills very much.
In Polish:
Hili: Rozpacz.
Ja: Z czym?
Hili: Sześć kretowisk w polu widzenia.
Ja: A ja bardzo lubię krety i ich kretowiska.

. . . and a photo of baby Kulka:

. . . and a photo of Baby Kulka:


From Nicole:

From Facebook:

This guy won the Grand Prize in the claw machine! (Click on screenshot to see the short video.)


From Masih. I never fail to be impressed by the bravery of Iranian women. She could certainly be imprisoned for going unveiled in public:

Here are a few “life tips” from “Strong Minded”, who self-identifies as “Investor, Learner, Out Of The Rat Race. Sharing Wealth, Wisdom, And Motivational Tips To Help You Perform At Your Highest Level.” They actually seem to make a lot of sense, so I’ll post them here (click on each tweet to see all the “wisdom”).

Of course nobody could adhere to all of these all of the time—if you did you’d be like Jesus was supposed to be, but much of this advice is good. And #20, the last tip, is the best.

From Barry: spa day for human and kitty!

From Malcolm, the beginning of a cat brawl:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a mother and child gassed upon arrival:

Tweets from Professor Cobb. First, a Dali Hamster:

Ah, those crafty Norwegians. What a way to change!

The headline is a bit confusing (it’s about Matthew’s book), but it sure impressed his daughter: