Discussion thread

January 2, 2023 • 9:45 am

I’m not feeling very well today, so I’ll let readers contribute instead of me.  I suppose the most obvious question is this: What are your predictions for 2023?

And there are many subquestions:

Where will the war in Ukraine be at the end of the year?

Will Uncle Joe announce he’s running for reelection? (This seems a clear “yes”.)

Will Honey the duck drop by after October?

Alternatively, did you have a good year or a crappy one? I’d rate this among the lower half of years I’ve had, but I did get to travel some (in a month I’ll be heading to the Galapagos, Machu Picchu, and Cuzco, lecturing on an alumni trip).

What do you hope to accomplish in 2023? (Me: more travel, and get my damn children’s book published.)

Best book you’ve read this year? Best movie you’ve seen? Best meal?

Or talk about anything you want. If there aren’t at least fifty comments, I’ll feel worse.

Discussion thread

September 21, 2022 • 1:15 pm

I am now officially debilitated after three nights of getting but 2-3 hours of sleep. The result is that I have no ability to concentrate, and stagger to work in the morning like a drunken man. (Writing the morning post damn near killed me.) But that’s my problem, and you needn’t try to solve it. Your problem is to see if you can cobble together a discussion. I am loath to subject subjects, but here are a few ideas:

The midterm elections are only six weeks away. Which party will take the Senate and/or the House? What about the state races?

On what issues do you think that both parties should be campaigning on? DId the Republicans hurt themselves by flying/busing immigrants to ritzy areas?

Russia went to increased militarization today, calling up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine. Will that help Putin? If not, will he go to full militarization, or even tactical nuclear weapons?

Will Elizabeth Holmes get a new trial? If not, what will her sentence be?

What is the best book ever written? (“My favorite book” will suffice.)]

UPDATE: I’ve put my 2 choices answering the last question in the comments.

CFI Video: Dawkins and I discuss his latest book

September 3, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Two days ago I interviewed Richard Dawkins about his latest book: Flights of Fancy: Defying Gravity by Design and Evolution. The Center for Inquiry’s video is already up, and if you missed the live version you can watch it below. The discussion is about 45 minutes long with another 15 minutes for questions.  At the end of the discussion, Richard describes the book he’s writing now.

I haven’t watched this one; like many, I can’t bear to see myself on video.

Discussion thread

July 18, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I was preparing a post on the topic “Are races purely social constructs without biological meaning?” (my answer is “no”, but it’s nuanced), when I heard that a friend of mine is in a very bad way and that made me too sad to post.

So, if you will, please comment below about what you want until tomorrow. There are lots of things to discuss, here are three in increasing order of importance.

  1.  I usually don’t eat potato chips as they’re not good for you. I do love them, though, and when my grocery store had a special half-price sale for registered customers (like me), I decided to look into it. It turned out that the half price was for a “family sized” bag of chips (if you have a family of two), and the regular price was $6.50!! For chips! That’s unconscionable. If you want to beef (so to speak) about food prices, or anything else, go ahead. (I didn’t buy the chips.)
  2. People keep telling me that wokeness is on the wane now; that in ten years the crazy excesses of the “progressive” Left will be gone. I don’t think so, if for no other reason than DEI initiatives are in place in many universities, companies, and organizations, and many of people who work in those organizations make their living by constantly emitting the narrative of oppression, division, intersectionality, and so on. These people are not going to put themselves out of a job, so they keep the narrative going.  Don’t get me wrong: we need to have some way to ensure that bigotry is frowned upon (but also a way to teach students about what freedom of speech is). Still, the enormous progress in racial relationships and equality of the sexes that has been achieved are ignored. (Yes, of course we still have racism and sexism.) But to listen to some, it’s as if we’ve been stuck in the 1950s for 70 years. That’s just not true. So, Will Wokeness Wane?
  3. And of course, let’s have your opinions about whether race is just a “social construct” (it’s best if you define “race” and “social construct” in your answer). I’d like to hear what readers have to say before I write what I was going to write.

Or talk about anything else you want.

Discussion post: 2024 and other things

July 10, 2022 • 9:20 am

I’ll be downtown most of the day, although I’ll definitely be avoiding Millennium Park, for the whole area is teeming with tourists here for the Big Food Ripoff, otherwise known as “The Taste of Chicago“. That’s a three-day capitalistic festival in which credulous visitors pay large amounts of money to secure small portions of “classic” Chicago food. Meh. I can go to the places directly and eat much better.

I spent much of yesterday with my oldest friends, who live in Cambridge, MA and who I visit about twice a year and talk to weekly. They are a married couple (I was in their wedding in 1972), and I’ve known the male half since 1967 when we lived on the same dorm hall at William and Mary. The woman half (womb-bearer?) arrived at W&M two years later. I was in their wedding at Bruton Parish Church in colonial Williamsburg. Dressed in an ill-fitting suit borrowed from the groom’s father, and having hair down to my shoulders, I was asked to escort the guests to their places at the proper side of the aisle. The bride, from the South, had invited a lot of proper Southern friends and family, and when a southern guest took a look at me as I offered her my arm, she remarked to a friend, “Do you mean that I have to be walked down the aisle by RASPUTIN?”

We’ve had many adventures since the late Sixties, and that was one of the tamer ones. We talked about those old times, about getting old, and about our mutual friends who were gone. But we swore that if we ever started discussing the condition of our bowels, we’d shoot each other!

But I digress, that’s just a story to introduce a discussion thread. I’ll be gone again most of the day spending time with my friends downtown, and so proffer you the chance to spout off in the comments.

There are many topics you can discuss, and the floor is open, but here are a couple on everybody’s mind: who can the Democrats run for President in 2024, and who will run for the GOP? And who would you like to represent the Democrats, and fear will represent the GOP? (I’m assuming you’re center-Left or Left here, but Republicans are welcome to join in).

My own view is that Biden should not run again. His approval ratings are in the dumpster, his age is showing, he’s incapable making-off-the cuff remarks without a gaffe (this isn’t new), and all his remarks are written down on a piece of paper. His record is mixed; the economy, while not in recession, is squeezing nearly everyone; gas prices are through the roof, and of course the elections are “about the economy, stupid.” Voters won”t care as much about the Ukraine as about their weekly grocery bill, and as for domestic policy, Biden hasn’t particularly done anything about immigration (that was Kamala Harris’s job), while the Build Back Better plan didn’t get off the ground. (Granted, that’s the fault of two “Democrats”, but Biden takes the ultimate responsibility for getting stuff through Congress. Further, even my friends, who are more woke than I, agree that Biden has gone too far towards “progressive” Leftism—in a way that will hurt Democrats. Believe me, Republicans will do everything they can to capitalize on every bit of Wokeism they can find in the Left, including the email recently sent out by Oregon health officials postponing a meeting because “urgency is a white supremacy value”. When Biden was elected, I was relieved that he wasn’t a Woke Democrat, but he’s turned out plenty malleable to Wokeism, including his administration’s proposed and damaging revisions of Title IX.

Biden, then, is a no go  for me, though I’d certainly vote for him as President over any Republican opponent. Although next in the traditional manner of succession, Kamala Harris won’t run, or, if she does, she’ll be buried. She simply hasn’t shown that she has the stuff to run the country, having failed at the one big task assigned her.

Who, then, do the Democrats have as a viable candidate for President? Weigh in below. As for me, I’d like to see Cory Booker run.  He’s got the experience, the smarts, the rhetoric, and he’s also black, which will help pull minority voters back to the Democratic party. If not him, Pete Buttigieg, though he’s a second choice. But Mayor Pete is also really smart, rhetorically skillful, quick on his feet, and has done a good job in a difficult position: Secretary of Transportation. When he’s asked a question by reporters, he answers with refreshing honesty.

Both Buttigieg and Booker are on the right Ii.e, Left) side of issues I like, and neither is a “progressive” of the “Squad” stripe.  Of course if both houses of Congress turn Republican this fall, and stay that way, we’re screwed seven ways from Sunday.

So those are the Dems I’d like to see run, though there may be dark horses out there, and if you know of any, name them.

I’ve been thinking that the GOP has only two viable candidates at this time: Ron DeSantis and, of course, The Donald. I cannot believe that Americans would elect Trump again, and yet I think that his candidacy is the most likely outcome—if he’s not indicted. (I hope he will be, which will both knock him out and perhaps put him in a uniform that matches his hair.) DeSantis will run, I believe, if Trump doesn’t: right now DeSantis has a national profile and seems hungry for bigger things.  Ideally, Liz Cheney would be the Republican candidate, but she doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell given her (admirable) behavior on the January 6 committee and Trump’s hatred of her. And remember, she’s still a Republican with a Republican view on many issues. I’ve heard some people say she should run as a Democrat, but even if she were elected as such it would be a disaster.

So, who do you think will run, and who do you want to run? Who would you vote for gladly, and who while holding your nose. I’m off and will see you anon.


A “discussion”between Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins is really a monologue by Peterson

May 31, 2022 • 10:45 am

Here we have a 1.5-hour discussion between Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins recorded in audio (but not video) in November 2021. I wanted to listen to all of it as I still don’t have much of a sense of Peterson, who sometimes says sensible things and sometimes goes way off the rails. Well, I have a better sense now.

The discussion (it’s more of a monologue) is seriously weakened by Peterson’s totally dominating the conversation as well as—Richard points this out—going from point to disparate point in a seemingly random manner.

The object of the talk was supposed to be a paper Richard sent Peterson called “The organism as a model”, which has as its thesis a view that the organism embodies in its genome information about the environment. (For example, a stick insect gives information, via the body for which it codes, about what sticks look like in nature.) This paper is apparently a precis of Dawkins’s next book, The Genetic Book of the Dead. And that is an interesting idea worth exploring. But apparently not to Peterson!

Richard is polite, but his impatience and frustration with Peterson’s circumlocution and inability to stay on topic are obvious. By the end of the first 40 minutes, with Peterson taking up about 95% of the the conversation time, I gave up. Perhaps Dawkins gets to talk later on, but I couldn’t wade through the swamp of Peterson’s verbiage any longer, and I pressed the “stop” button when he began blathering about the drug ayahuasca.

Perhaps readers can tolerate thislonger, but I’d prefer to read Dawkins’s book than hear Peterson riff on it.  Clearly, the Canadian has such a high opinion of himself that he has no interest in what his co-discussant has to say. I find this brand of self-centeredness odious, and tend to avoid people who monologue. They have no idea how human communication is supposed to work, and in some sense are diminishing the worth of the person who gets talked at.

Debate: Francis Collins vs. Richard Dawkins on God

May 22, 2022 • 10:30 am

Here’s a new episode from “The Big Conversation” (sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation!) in which Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, debates—or rather discusses—a variety of issues with evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins.  The moderator is Justin Brierly.

The argument centers on religion, especially on what constitutes “evidence” for God.  You might ask, “Why on earth would Dawkins debate Collins, since there’s no chance that either will change their minds?” But I think Dawkins took the time to do this to show the intellectually depauperate nature of Collins’s “evidence” for God. That evidence includes the laws of physics, our appreciation of beauty, the moral behavior of humans, and so on. Collins is not a “sophisticated” theologian, but remember that he’s not a theologian but a scientist who came to believe in Jesus through observing a waterfall frozen in three spouts (“the Trinity”). Collins seems to have picked up most of his arguments for God from a combination of C. S. Lewis and more modern “apologetics”, like the “fine-tuning” argument for God based on physical constants.

Reader Rick, who sent me this link, says “I’ve watched most of this and Collins is irritating.  When Richard points out a contradiction in his God hypothesis, he simply shrugs it off and says God can be anything He wants.  What a copout!”

But more about that contradiction below. In the meantime, if you want to hear a discussion between two smart guys, one of whom is subject to delusions, have a listen to this 1½ hour video. Let me add that Collins is an amiable and likable fellow, and was friends with Hitchens, helping Hitch with his cancer treatment.  What puzzles me is how such an apparently nice guy can buy into a passel of religious nonsense for which there’s no evidence.

But click to listen. It’s a better discussion than you might think.

They begin by discussing covid: Richard thinks that the lockdowns were premature, but Collins extolls scientific community’s rapid response in creating the mRNA vaccines.

With that out of the way, it’s onto the Big Questions of religion.  Collins recounts his conversion from atheism to religion, saying that he found that “faith was more rational than atheism” given the nature of the world. As for why Collins became a Christian rather than a Hindu or Jew, he says that he “needed an anchor for his faith”, and found one in “Jesus Christ, a historical figure about which we know a great deal”. Of course that “great deal” is solely from the Bible, and many of us aren’t even convinced that the anchor for Collins’s faith even existed. It would have been better for Collins to admit that “the great deal” is found entirely in the Bible, and different accounts of Jesus say different things.

The bit where I think Collins’s argument for God starts going awry is in his discussion with Richard about evolution.  Richard asks Collins the penetrating question, “If God could do anything, why did he choose to produce humans via the tortuous process of evolution?” Couldn’t He have just poofed all life into existence, as Genesis describes? And given—and Collins seems to agree—that a perfectly naturalistic process of evolution via natural selection could explain the appearance of organic design, why did God choose a mechanism that made Him superfluous?” (The question doesn’t arise about whether Collins thinks that with the appearance of H. sapiens the purpose of evolution has now been fulfilled: we have a product that evolved into God’s image.)

Collins’s answer smacks of a posteriori-ism, making the necessity of evolution into a virtue. As Collins says, “Evolution makes me even more in awe of the Creator than if God had just poofed things into existence.” In other words, God had a Big Plan for creating humans, and that Big Plan was evolution. Isn’t that mah-velous?  But he doesn’t explain why going through this Big Plan is more admirable and elegant than poofing things into existence. After all, several lineages of Homo, as well as of hominins, went extinct.

Collins has a further response:  God is all about order, and wanted a Universe that follows elegant mathematical laws. (Collins notes that the existence of those laws themselves constitutes evidence for God.) Ergo, we had evolution, which followed physical laws.  But this conflicts with Collins’s later assertion that it would be foolish to presume anything about the mind of God. After all, until 1859, all theologians thought that God cared more for creating humans instantly than for “following mathematical laws”.

The fine-tuning argument—the notion that the laws of physics were set up by God to allow the appearance of life and God’s Chosen Species—is especially appealing to Collins, even though there are naturalistic explanations for it. But Richard notes that if there were any argument that would convince him of God, it would be one related to fine-tuning. However, he adds that, as Hitch would say, “Collins has all his work before him.” Even if “fine-tuning” were to constitutes some sort of evidence for a Creator who made physical law, it gives no credence to Christianity and Jesus, who are smuggled in by Collins as an afterthought.

Richard adds the usual argument about how a a creator could come into being who ws so complex that he could bring into being the laws of physics. Collins responds that God could do it because he resides “outside of space and time.” Richard rightfully dismisses that notion as another a posteriori argument brought in without evidence to save God, noting that Collins’s “beyond space and time” argument “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation.”

Finally there’s Collins’s “contradiction,” which begins about 47:45 in the discussion. It is of course about theodicy. Why is there physical evil in a world created by an omnipotent and benevolent God? But Collins has a response, which I’ll call the “Let Her Roll Hypothesis”. It is this: God created the world so that it would obey his physical laws. And those physical laws simply allow for the existence of evil. Tectonic plates create earthquakes and tsunamis that kill innocents, cancers arise from mutations that obey physical laws, viruses evolve. In other words, God is more concerned with maintaining a Natural Order instead of mitigating suffering by interceding.

In response to Richard’s query that, if God can do miracles, couldn’t He have mitigated natural evil?, Collins says that miracles are a special case, to be used only in very special circumstances when convincing the world of God’s existence and power are overwhelmingly important. (One of these miracles, avers Collins, was the Resurrection.) Otherwise, it’s Let Her Roll, and if a kid gets leukemia, or a tsunami kills several hundred thousand people,  or a virus kills several million people, well, that’s just the byproduct of how God has chosen to run the Universe. It’s a remarkably sneaky but clever argument. (It could also be called “The Argument for the Rarity of Miracles.”) Evil, in other words, is simply a byproduct of God’s penchant for natural order and natural law, even if he could flout natural law if He wanted.

On to the query, “Where did the laws of physics come from?” (Dawkins says that if anybody would convince him of God, it would be that point.)  But he adds, why smuggle in Christianity and Jesus? Collins says that God was in a position to create the laws of physics because “God exists outside of into space and time.” (This doesn’t sound like a real argument to me.)

Richard responds that saying God is “outside time and space” is another a posteriori explanation, something that “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation”

The last part of the discussion is about human altruism, an altruism that Collins sees as evidence for God. In contrast, Dawkins sees it a carryover from the millions of years over which our ancestors lived in small bands in which reciprocal altruism (and kin selection) would have been adaptive. The “rule of thumb” to be nice and helpful to others, argues Dawkins, shows that “altruism” could have been a product of adaptive evolution.  The same goes for beauty, with Collins seeing human appreciation for music, art, and landscapes as evidence for God, while Richard notes that if birds can show a preference for beauty (this is Richard Prum’s argument for sexual selection), then so could humans.

My take? It’s an interesting discussion, but of course was doomed from the outset by both men holding incompatible worldviews. I have to say though—and call me biased if you will—that the ability of naturalism to solve scientific problems gives me a preference for Richard’s naturalism over Collins’s supernaturalism. In fact, Collins appears to believe in a lot of things for which there’s no evidence, like the Resurrection, and this detracts from his scientific worldview in other areas. Further, Collins appears to make stuff up as he goes along to buttress the weaknesses in his evangelical Christianity. But of course that’s the way theologians and regular believers have always operated.

In the end, the debate is a very clear demonstration of the philosophy of naturalism versus that of supernaturalism. To me, the ability of naturalism to explain the world (“we have no need of the God hypothesis”), plus the absence of miracles at a time when, one would think, Collins would find them especially useful (the world’s becoming more secular!)—all of this puts much heavier weight on the naturalistic side.

It’s hard to dislike Collins, but I am repelled at his uncritical approach to his religious beliefs.

Discussion thread

April 19, 2022 • 8:15 am

Once again, because I’m low on both energy and topics to write about, I’ll turn a post over to the readers, and hope I get get some discussion going. I’ll start by suggesting two topics, both of which involve speculations, but why not? And, as usual, you can discuss whatever you want.

1.) What do you think will be the ultimate fate of Ukraine. Will they kick Russia out completely? (I think this unlikely). Or will Russia simply take over eastern Ukraine and just lay the rest to waste before abandoning it? Alternatively, will they take over the whole country, either making it part of Russia or turning it into a puppet state?

2.)  Will the Democrats lose big this November, lose small, or not lose at all?

I will, of course, be checking the comments, so I’m not ignoring you!

Re #2, here’s an excerpt (not paywalled) from a new blog post by Freddie deBoer, who favors a Leftist Democratic win):

Let me lay out two worldviews that are fervently believed by large groups of people who share the same party. Here’s worldview A:

Left-wing Democrats have pushed the party to the edge of an electoral cliff. They have hijacked the party’s debates and make extravagant policy demands, demands that cut against the preferences of huge swaths of the electorate. They refuse to compromise or meet the voters where they are. They engage in purity politics and seem to have no interest in the kind of horse-trading that is required to get what you want in Washington. Their inflammatory rhetoric and extremist ideas hamper the efforts of candidates in red and purple states, and slogans like “defund the police” are an albatross hanging around the neck of the party that will surely bring doom in November.

And here’s worldview B:

Centrist Democrats have a stranglehold on the party. They’re stodgy, uncompromising, and risk-averse. The party bends over backward to suit their needs, and yet they still constantly complain about a leftist takeover. Voters demand a bold agenda, but centrists are so afraid of risk and change that the Democrats effectively stand for nothing. The left brings a tremendous amount of energy and attention to the party and dominates among the youth, yet the party never delivers policy progress in return. By ignoring the left and the passionate young people within it in favor of obstructionist centrists, the Democrats have become a directionless, unprincipled party that can’t express to the American people what they stand for.

As you might have guessed, the gimmick here is that I think both perspectives are more or less correct.

. . . For now, we have a centrist party that appears to too many voters to scream radical slogans, and the near future seems bleak.


Some readings/discussion

February 26, 2022 • 1:30 pm

Here are three readings to occupy you in lieu of my usual posts. Remember, until about April 5 please don’t contact me very much as email on the ship is slow and I’m likely to lose stuff. On the other hand, if you have a particularly juicy item, send it along.

Some readings:

From Andrew Sullivan. The headline may be familiar, but his analysis of the situation in Ukraine is a bit hard to follow.

But as several people are now doing, Sullivan partly indicts the West and Europe for allow NATO to expand ever eastward, to the borders of Russia (the Baltic countries, thus scaring the hell out of Putin, who, they say, envisions a Russian empire the equivalent of the former Soviet Union:

And so when NATO, in the wake of our Cold War victory, decided to expand membership all the way to Russia’s borders, many Russian specialists feared triggering the worst kind of response. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake,” George Kennan told Tom Friedman in 1998. “There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else … We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way.” (We still don’t, as we have just witnessed.)

Kennan went on: “I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.” Then he went even further: “Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.” Similar misgivings over NATO expansion came from figures such as Kissinger, Gorbachev, YeltsinBrzezinski, Moynihan, Gaddis, and Burns.

This debate, of course, is unresolvable. We will never know what might have happened if NATO had displayed more magnanimity after our victory in the Cold War, and allowed Russia more dignity and space in the wake of its defeat and collapse. At the same time, it may be that a Putin-style tyrant was always bound to emerge in Russia and bully his neighbors once again — given the long sweep of Russian authoritarianism — and so my friend was also correct. Or it could just be dumb luck or fate that a KGB nationalist who witnessed up close the end of the Soviet Union in East Germany came to dominate the Russian kleptocracy. This debate will go on for a very long time, but it is increasingly academic. Because here we are. Kennan’s and the neocons’ fear have both been borne out. They could both have been right (and wrong) in some measure. And where we are now makes many of these debates moot.

From Heterodox STEM, we have the second part (first part here) of Ilya Reviakine recounting his defense of two papers by Krylov et al:, “Scientists Must Resist Cancel Culture” and Krylov’s article “The Peril of Politicizing Science”. Both of these articles were aimed at keeping STEM from adopting “woke” or ideological viewpoints, and the fact that they were published as op-ed pieces in regular scientific venues is remarkable. Unfortunately, the editors weren’t ready for the social-media opprobrium they received for publishing perfectly defensible viewpoints, and kept going back to the authors, asking them to support views that they already published.

One critical article that appeared just a single day after Krylov’s paper had the temerity to suggest that the German Chemical Society (who published those pieces) simply expel these woke-resisting members. Here’s a quote from Mathias Micheel who objects to Krylov et al.’s paper and maintains that there’s no cancel culture in STEM:

Micheel goes on to propose that the German Chemical Society should be purified from unsuitable members: “… it would be in the best interest of the organization to tell these members: We do not care about you. If we cannot even agree on the very basics of how to do science, then we have no basis for future cooperation” – except it’s not their way of doing science that he is concerned with, but their views and their age: “The Nachrichten tries to not alienate these old members”; “how often do active members have to … make themselves targetable to attacks from the right”. This is an ad hominem attack and a call for cancellation—quite the ironic thing to write in a piece whose thesis is “Cancel Culture in science is just a myth”.

Here’s Micheel’s original quote:

I know that this is probably not gonna happen, but how often do active members have to come out, make themselves targetable to attacks from the right? In particular, this is an inter-generation conflict, with conservative views mostly shared by older, retired members, whereas young scientists at an early career stage share more progressive views. However, their professional future often relies on the goodwill of the old members, e.g., in grant review or appointment committees.

The Nachrichten tries to not alienate these old members, but I’d wish it’d be taking a stronger stance against them. Such insultingly regressive views cannot be arranged with the open community which chemistry so desperately needs.

And yes, this is from an authoritarian who denies that cancel culture exists in science. Well, if he had his way, it certainly would!

A bipartite op-ed in the Chicago Tribune (click below, though it may be paywalled) not only describes the fate of Jason Kilborn, a University of Chicago at Illinois law professor who got into trouble for using the n-word (redacted) in a hypothetical court case on an exam (see post here), but also shows the slimy way the NYT has taken a stab at J. K. Rowling in a video advertisement, presumably dissing Rowling because of her “transphobic” comments. I’ll just quote the bit on Rowling

First, here’s the NYT as which it the Tribune’s Editorial Board op-ed criticizes, discussed in detail by ABC News; I also give the YouTube caption:

We believe that independent journalism has the power to make each reader’s life richer and more fulfilling. It can illuminate, uplift and entertain. Learn more about how our journalism inspires the lives of our subscribers at nytimes.com/life.

From the Tribune:

No less an institution than The New York Times might also do well to remember that, apropos of the rights of J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, to speak her own mind.

The Times invited potential subscribers to ponder how “independent journalism” could be a part of their “independent life.” In one slide, a presumably fictional woman named Lianna is happily “imagining Harry Potter without J.K. Rowling.”

“Lianna” can do whatever she wants in her own head, but The New York Times should be apologizing for this pandering, ad hominem attack, seemingly canceling Rowling as a human being

The Orwellian text dangles the word “without” in the most sinister and threatening fashion. The subway rider is left wondering whether the Times intends to disappear Rowling in the physical sense or merely through the mental doublethink of its subscribers. The paper has always railed against dangerous hate speech: How is this not a subtle example of precisely that?

In fact, how is this different from a Michigan basketball coach throwing a punch at a member of the coaching staff of an opposing team? It’s just a subtler kind of blow.

Moreover, how does a paper so crucial to the literary world justify divorcing one of the most successful female writers in history from her own hugely successful copyrighted works? Does it advocate that for authors with whom it disagrees?

As one Rowling supporter noted on Twitter, the paper surely wouldn’t suggest imagining “Sunday in the Park With George” without Stephen Sondheim. (We’d add: Or one of its own columns without the columnist).

This is all absurd, of course. Works don’t exist without their creator, whatever your powers of imagination. You can use your critical thinking skills and decide that the egregious opinions of the author mean you will no longer consume the work. Fine. Or you can put the author’s freely expressed words in context, decide you disagree with them, respect her right to say what she thinks and still read her fiction.

That is your choice in a country that values free speech, understands the importance of intent and tolerates dissent.

This may be a bit long of a rant against one sentence in a NYT video, but believe me, the NYT knows what it’s doing and to whom it’s pandering.

I’m off for today after a final duck feeding, but feel free to discuss everything in the above, or anything you want.

Discussion thread: War in Europe

February 24, 2022 • 7:00 am

I’m off to do trip preparations, and so am putting up a discussion thread—a thread about what’s going on on in Europe, as summarized in the terse NYT headline below (click on screenshot for details).

A short video of what’s happening:

Nobody knows what will happen; the only certainty is that thousands of Ukrainian refugees will flee to surrounding countries and thousands of civilians and Ukrainian soldiers will die. If you’re like me, you’re completely discombobulated now. Who thought that we’d have war in Europe in our lifetime? Will the war stop here? Will Putin seek other regions as well? Parts of eastern Poland have substantial populations of Ukrainian descent, and many people speak Ukrainian.

World leaders are uniformly condemning the invasion, with the exception of China, which is ambivalent. You can read here about the world reaction. The U.S. is poised to unleash a stiff package of sanctions. Will they be of any use?

There are many questions, and it would be foolish to try to answer them now. But feel free to give your questions and prognostications below, mourn if you wish, vent about Russia and Putin, and so on.  In other words, feel free to react however you want.