Insulting the hamantasch: the insane cultural policing of recipes

February 24, 2021 • 10:30 am

Every day I find or am sent quite a few examples of wokeness gone mad, and every day I post only one or two of them. But the accumulation of craziness is making me think that the world has gone bonkers, and I’m not sure why. Is it the pandemic? Is it social media? Who knows? If I could figure that out, I’d be a psychologist or sociologist, not a biologist. So I proffer these examples for your amusement, but also to show you that there’s a behavior afoot with the potential to turn America into Orwell’s Oceania.

In his new column in the New York Times, appropriately titled below, Bret Stephens describes a new campaign at Bon Appétit food magazine that truly underlines the humorlessness of the Woke. (A variant of an old joke: A man walks into a Woke bookstore, asks about a book, and is told by a clerk, “Sorry, sir, this is a social-justice bookstore. We don’t have a humor section.”)

Click on the screenshot to read:

The fracas at Bon Appétit is about a Jewish pastry: hamantaschen. They’re triangular cookies, usually filled with prune or apricot preserves, and served at the holiday of Purim (the shape is modeled on the three-corned hat of the Purim bad guy Haman).  I happen to love them, particularly the traditional prune-filled version. Here’s an apricot one that I ate in Brookline, Massachusetts in January of last year.

A good hamantasch has a cookie that is soft and not too dry, and they vary in quality. And there’s the rub, for in 2015 food writer Dawn Perry (not a Jew!) wrote the following article (click on screenshot):

The name has been changed, though: it was originally “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen”. Why the change? Because of a Pecksniff who apparently took the title as a denigration of Jews via the implication that Hamantaschen aren’t “actually good.” But Perry doesn’t say that; she says this:

Hamantaschen are shaped to resemble Haman’s 3-cornered hat and traditionally stuffed with sweet fillings made of poppy seeds, dried fruits, or fruit preserves (among others). Sounds tasty, right? But achieving the right balance is not always easy to pull off.

So I set out to create a cookie that hit all the right notes: The cookie itself would be a pleasure to eat, whether or not you encountered filling in each bite. And the fillings themselves would be were after baking, but not too sweet.

If you read the article, you’ll see that Perry tweaked traditional hamantasch recipes a bit, suggesting using butter instead of oil or shortening (an improvement!), using jam instead of preserves, putting an egg wash on the cookie, and so on. None of the changes fundamentally altered the pastry. But she does suggest other changes, like a cinnamon-date filling, that, while they may really offend the Pecksniffs, sound fantastic.

Stephens reports on said Pecksniff:

Six years later, a woman named Abigail Koffler found the article while researching hamantaschen fillings. She was not amused.

Perry, Koffler wrote on Twitter, isn’t Jewish. Perry’s husband, Koffler added, had been forced out of his job at Condé Nast last year based on accusations of racial bias. Above all, Koffler objected, “Traditional foods do not automatically need to be updated, especially by someone who does not come from that tradition.”

Most Jews would probably be grateful for an “actually good” hamantasch. Yet within hours of Koffler’s tweets, Bon Appétit responded with an editor’s note atop the article, now renamed “5 Steps to Really Good Hamantaschen.” It’s a note that defies summary, parody and belief.

And here’s that editor’s note: (I am not making this up; click on the screenshot):

Yes, that’s right: the magazine has instituted an “Archive Repair Project” to go back and sanitize any ideologically dubious recipes. So far they’ve sniffed out and bowdlerized over 200 recipes.  Shoot me now!

Stephens draws from this incident three conclusions about Wokeness:

Behold in this little story, dear reader, the apotheosis of Woke.

No transgression of sensitivities is so trivial that it will not invite a moralizing rebuke on social media.

No cultural tradition is so innocuous that it needn’t be protected from the slightest criticism, at least if the critic has the wrong ethnic pedigree.

No writer is so innocent that she should be spared from having her spouse’s alleged failings trotted out to suggest discrimination-by-association.

And no charge of cultural insensitivity is so far-fetched that it won’t force a magazine into self-abasing self-expurgation. What Bon Appétit blithely calls its “Archive Repair Project” is, according to HuffPost, an effort to scour “55 years’ worth of recipes from a variety of Condé Nast magazines in search of objectionable titles, ingredient lists and stories told through a white American lens.”

Stephens goes into other examples that are more egregious but never got redacted, like an offensive cover of The New Yorker. He also describes the demonization of Professor Jason Kilborn at the University of Illinois at Chicago Law School, an example we’ve already seen.

Let this serve as one more example, loonier than ever, of the policing of culture. I am a secular Jew, have eaten hamantaschen whenever I can get them, and love them. Am I offended if someone wants to put butter in them, or give them an egg wash? Not on your life—it would probably make them even better!

So what if the person is a shicksa? Can only Jews tweak Jewish food? Not in my view. “Cultural appropriation” of this type is not only a form of flattery, but a way to appreciate other cultures and create “hybrid” foods, like buttery hamantaschen, that might be better than the original. Not every ethnic food is immune to improvement, you know.

Stephens is a conservative, so this wokeness plays into his court. But it offends me as well, and should offend you. These Leisure Fascists are running amok, telling us what we can and cannot do with our culture and those of other people. So long as the “appropriation” isn’t exploitative or denigrating—and this isn’t—I’m all in favor.

Stephens ends his piece this way:

A friend of mine, a lifelong liberal whose patience is running thin with the new ethos of moral bullying, likes to joke, “Woke me when it’s over.” To which I say: Get comfortable.

After publishing this, I wonder how long Stephens has at the New Woke Times.

As for Bon Appétit‘s other redacted recipes, I don’t know from them. But I do know hamantaschen, and I approve of Perry’s article. The calling out of her husband by Pecksniff Koffler is beyond belief.

Chicago begins identifying potentially offensive and removable monuments, including those honoring Lincoln, McKinley, Ben Franklin, Washington, and Ulysses S. Grant

February 19, 2021 • 10:00 am

Good god! It’s not enough that San Francisco embarrassed itself by renaming 44 schools, including those bearing the monickers of Dianne Feinstein, Abe Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Paul Revere. Now the city of Chicago, under the leadership of the increasingly embarrassing mayor Lori Lightfoot, is undertaking the same venture, singling out 41 monuments to be “investigated” for possible removal or renaming. The bowdlerization of my city is detailed in these two article from the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Times (click on screenshots below):

Sun-Times:

NYT:

You can see photos and descriptions of the scrutinized monuments on this page, and I have to say that there are almost none of them that I find worthy of removal, for they mark history, with all its flaws, and offense of some people is not sufficient to immediately mandate erasing a statue. (There are FIVE monuments to Abe Lincoln to be vetted!) And there are alternatives to removal, as I mention below.

Here are a few photos of statues being scrutinized, along with possible reason why they’re “problematic” (indented). Here are the criteria that the committee is considering:

Reasons for making the list include promoting narratives of white supremacy; presenting an inaccurate or demeaning portrayal of Native Americans; celebrating people with connections to slavery, genocide or racist acts; or “presenting selective, over-simplified, one-sided views of history.”

The project website does not note which criteria might apply to any specific monument or statue.

That’s not exactly true, as I show below.

There’s also an advisory committee vetting the monuments, with its members shown here (I’m not optimistic!), and, unlike San Francisco, Chicago is soliciting public feedback on the monuments. (But it would help to know why they’re on the list!). I will give them feedback.

The first one, “A Signal of Peace” seems to be problematic only because it displays a native American. It was intended by the sculptor (and his patron) to be a sign of respect for Native Americans as well as a lament for their oppression by whites:

Before the fair was even over, arrangements were made by wealthy Chicago lawyer and art patron Lambert Tree to purchase the sculpture for $3,000 cash. Offering it for permanent placement in Lincoln Park, Tree was clear in his intent that the monument was intended as a permanent symbol of respect for native peoples who were: “…..oppressed and robbed by government agents, deprived of their lands… shot down by soldiery in wars fomented for the purpose of plundering and destroying their race, and finally drowned by the ever westward tide of population.”

Are we not, then, to depict any Native Americans, even in this respectful and mournful (for their oppression) manner?

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Here’s another Native American sculpture, (“Indians; the Bowman and the Spearman”) in Grant Park; I often look at and admire this when I drive downtown. And here’s why it’s to be scrutinized:

Impressive for their heroic scale and bristling energy, the sculptures have been criticized for their romanticized and reductive images of American Indians.

Reductive? Romanticized? It’s an admirable, admiring, and truly lovely piece of art. For crying out loud, most public statues are “romanticized,” not to mention “reductive”. What are we supposed to show: a Native American skinning a buffalo?

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Here’s “Standing Lincoln,” a well known statue. Why is it bad? The site doesn’t say, but apparently Lincoln’s allowing a few Native Americans to be hanged (and pardoned many more)—as well as his early (but later changed) bigotry towards blacks—outweighs his emancipation of the slaves. It’s by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and comes with this note on the site (there’s no “reason” given to scrutinize this):

Many people who personally knew Lincoln and were alive at the time of the monument’s dedication commented on the imagery being a moving and accurate representation. As a guide, Augustus Saint-Gaudens used life casts of Lincoln’s face and hands made by Chicago sculptor Leonard Volk.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Benjamin Franklin gets scrutinized, too, for he owned two slaves but later freed them and became an abolitionist. So what’s the problem?

Franklin’s achievements in helping shape United States democracy as well as his role in other disciplines are well-documented historical facts. Historical archives reflect some negative personal views on people and groups not unusual for the time, but historians have noted that he was open-minded and would often shift in his positions. Franklin owned two slaves who served in household responsibilities, but he later freed both and became an outspoken abolitionist.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

George Washington, by Daniel Chester French (a replica).  No reason given, but of course Washington owned slaves. The site says this:

The monument is one of the finest examples of equestrian sculpture in Chicago, and is considered a major work by Daniel Chester French, whose later work included the marble sculpture of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Why Leif Ericson is scrutinized baffles me, and no information is given. Yes, he may have made it to North America, but he didn’t “colonize it”.  In fact, we know little about his exploits.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

And woe to Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. He had one slave but set him free. The caption says this:

Grant pursued a number of unsuccessful ventures, including farming on his father-in-law’s Missouri plantation, where he purchased and quickly manumitted a slave, and working for his father, a fervent abolitionist, at the family’s Galena, Illinois leather goods business. Grant quickly proved himself a brilliant tactician and leader, rising to lead the Union forces by 1865.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Another statue, “The Alarm”, seems to be a dignified and respectful depiction of Native Americans.  No reason is given why it’s on the list.  Here are a few words:

Sculptor John J. Boyle grew up in Philadelphia and was trained at the Franklin Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris. In preparation for Ryerson’s commission, Boyle spent two months observing Native American subjects and making numerous sketches and studies.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Are there any monuments that I think need to go? Given alternatives of explanatory plaques or counter-monuments, I found only one. But it’s already been taken down! I think the one below is invidious and divisive, and doesn’t honor anything except a massacre of settlers by Indians, not noting that most of the killing went the other way. Here’s the “Fort Dearborn Massacre”. A note from the site:

Industrialist George Pullman (1831-1897) commissioned this monumental bronze figural group to be placed near his Prairie Avenue mansion — which was believed to be the site of the attack on the garrison evacuating Fort Dearborn during the War of 1812. The work shows Potawatomie chieftain Black Partridge intervening on behalf of Margaret Helm, wife of the fort’s commander and the step-daughter of fur trader, John Kinzie. Danish sculptor Carl Rohl-Smith (in Chicago to create sculpture for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893), based his figures on sketches he made of Indian models who were held captive at Fort Sheridan in the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Conceived in a sensationalist, luridly violent mode, the sculpture was long criticized by American Indian activists and was removed from public view in 1997.

It’s already gone! None of these should be destroyed; they should be preserved somewhere as examples of public art, no matter how misguided or lurid.

 

The New York Times details some pushback, but also gives one view of why Lincoln should be erased:

The committee’s list almost immediately drew criticism from some state leaders. “Never thought that statues of Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant would be considered ‘controversial’ in the Land of Lincoln,” Representative Darin LaHood, a Republican who represents parts of Peoria and Springfield, wrote on Twitter. “This is detached from reason.”

Daniel Fountain, a professor of history at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., said that Lincoln’s legacy has come under scrutiny in the 21st century in part because, as a younger politician, his views reflected the white supremacist attitudes of most 19th-century politicians.

Professor Fountain noted that during his famous debate with Stephen Douglas, his rival in Illinois, Lincoln stated his opposition to letting Black people serve as jurors, marry white people or “attain any semblance of social equality.”

Lincoln’s views evolved during the Civil War, but those early statements remained “abysmal,” he said.

“For many, his flaws undermine his very real, significant achievements,” Professor Fountain said.

Well, Professor Fountain, for more people Lincoln’s achievements outweigh his flaws. How many people have to be offended before a statue is removed? And can’t we just add a plaque that he once held bigoted views but changed them? Why is that not enough? Woe to America if we have to pull down statues of Abe Lincoln!

In general I object to the erasure of history, for if we remove all monuments to people who, when morality changes over time, are found wanting, then almost all history will be gone.

The Atlantic just published what I see as the definitive way to regard monuments, and which of them really deserve to be removed. Click on the screenshot, and I do recommend that you read this thoughtful and reasonable take:

One excerpt:

The issue of what to do with monuments and school names can be more complex than the cartoonish excesses of the woke left might indicate. Art’s impact on the public weal should not be the sole or leading measure of its worth—that way Stalinist “socialist realism” lies—but in certain cases it cannot be ignored.

Few would want a statue of Hitler or Mussolini or Tojo to stand in a town square, even if it was erected in the 1930s and thus could be said to be a historical artifact. Many of the Confederate statues in the South were commissioned in the dark days after the end of Reconstruction, when the Ku Klux Klan ran riot, Black people were terrorized and lynched, and the mythology of the “Lost Cause” was born. To treat such objects as if they were simply neutral cultural artifacts is to willfully misread history. Some public art is arguably so detrimental to social cohesion that a civic conversation about what to do with it is desirable.

In any case, the answer does not have to be to remove the “bad” public artworks. They can be curated, with explanatory material placing them in historical context. (Early Days was curated, but inadequately.) They can be balanced with other works: A German friend told me that in Hamburg, city officials dealt with a Nazi-built memorial glorifying war by commissioning a counter-memorial that criticized it. These works can be moved to a historic monument site, or to a museum—making explicit their status as aesthetic or historical objects, not exemplars of city values.

. . . In the end, self-righteous symbolic crusades like the school-renaming campaign must not be immune from criticism simply because they purport to fight racial injustice—that noble cause is debased by empty gestures that achieve nothing. Indeed, by creating conflict over trivial objectives—just turn on Fox News—they are more likely to harm the cause of societal progress and racial harmony than to advance it.

Yes, I shall be giving my input to the monument-inspection Pecksniffs, and perhaps to the mayor and my alderman.

h/t: Ben

Fatah: London’s Big Ben was stolen from Palestine!

January 25, 2021 • 9:00 am

How about a little levity to start the week? Inadvertent levity, that is, for the perpetrator of this “fake news”, Fatah, is the ruling party in the West Bank, and the levity is meant to be propaganda. Fatah is the biggest of the organizations/political parties under the aegis of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Mahmoud Abbas is the head of both Fatah, the PLO and, of course, president of Palestinian Authority.

If you pay attention to the “news” put out by various Palestinian state media, of which Fatah is one, you’ll find all kinds of amusement amidst the lies. For example, Fatah regularly asserts that Mossad, the main organ of Israeli intelligence, trains animals to attack Palestinians and others. These include rats trained to bite Arabs in Jerusalem, wild pigs trained to destroy Palestinian fields, and sharks trained to attack European tourists in Egypt to damage the Egyptian tourist industry. There’s even a Wikipedia page on this issue called “Israel-related animal conspiracy theories.” It’s hilarious (check out the references).

Fatah also argued that Jews poison their wells, used the disaster in Haiti to harvest human organs for transplantation into rich Jews, and that Jewish archaeologists plant fake “proof” of ancient Jewish presence in the Holy Land.

The thing is (is) that many Palestinians and Arabs believe this stuff. The latest and perhaps biggest whopper is the one below, again promulgated by Fatah: the British stole Big Ben from the British Mandate of Palestine (the area where Jews and Arabs lived after the Ottoman Empire collapsed), and took Big Ben to London, where it now chimes daily.

If you ask how people can believe this guff, well, ask yourself why so many Americans believe in QAnon.? The power of confirmation bias is strong.

Here’s a Palestinian woman who firmly believes the Purloined Big Ben Theory. If you speak Arabic, feel free to translate some of it.

Inshallah!

And here’s the article from the official Fatah news showing the supposedly stolen clock in situ in the 1920s (click on the screenshots to go to the site):

And the entirety of their article. Note the claim that Big Ben was taken to the British Museum!

Well, it takes about ten seconds of Googling to dispel this fiction. According to Wikipedia, the clock tower in England (it’s the bell itself that’s formally known as “Big Ben,” not the whole clock or the tower) was completed in 1859, well before the supposed theft.  And the clock’s movement was finished in 1854, five years before it was put into the tower.

Of course, I suppose you could always claim that Wikipedia was a Jewish conspiracy. . .

We can be thankful that the New York Times hasn’t gone this far—yet.

 

h/t: Malgorzata

Interview with Horned Fur Hat Viking Guy (Jake Angeli)

January 13, 2021 • 2:15 pm

Somebody found an old interview (actually a monologue) with Jake Angeli, aka Jacob Chansley, aka QAnon Shaman, aka Hornéd Fur Hat Viking Guy. Angeli now has his very own Wikipedia page (it took me years to get one, but all he had to do is don a stupid hat, paint his face, and run into the Capitol!), and he’s been arrested for “knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds”.

The Shaman wouldn’t eat when he was in jail because the food wasn’t organic, but Wikipedia reports that now he’s getting his organic food. That’s because he’s very special. We love him, though he can’t spell “pedophile” (7:41).

I listened to the whole thing, but I doubt you’ll make it past one minute. He probably has a tinfoil hat under the fur one.

Also, watch out for pizza signs with devil horns on them.

My heart is broken: Eric Clapton and Van Morrison release an anti-mask and anti-lockdown song

December 21, 2020 • 8:45 am

Shoot me now! According to the Vanity Fair article below (click on screenshot) Van Morrison wrote a song, “Stand and Deliver”, clearly meant to denigrate Britain’s public-health restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Worse—the song was performed by Eric Clapton (below).  Both of these guys were musical heroes of mine, but now I’m not so sure. And I wasn’t aware that this is Morrison’s fourth anti-lockdown song. Well, nobody ever claimed the guy was fully on the rails, but—et tu, Clapton?

You know, a lot of rock stars were loons or nasty s.o.b.s, but so long as they produced good songs, I didn’t much care. But this time they’ve released an odious song!

A few words from the Vanity Fair article:

Eric Clapton and Van Morrison, both age 75 and therefore at 220 times the risk of death from COVID-19 compared to people 18 to 29, have released a blues-rock track raging against public health codes.

“Stand and Deliver,” written by Morrison and sung by Clapton, includes couplets like “Do you wanna be a free man / Or do you wanna be a slave? / Do you wanna wear these chains / Until you’re lying in the grave?”

It continues “Magna Carta, Bill of Rights/The constitution, what’s it worth?/You know they’re gonna grind us down/Until it really hurts/Is this a sovereign nation/Or just a police state?/You better look out, people/Before it gets too late.”

The phrase “stand and deliver” is associated with highwaymen, suggesting that Morrison and Clapton feel that governments scrambling to keep their populations alive are somehow stealing from them. The track concludes with the line “Dick Turpin wore a mask too.” Turpin was an 18th century British criminal known for highway robbery.

The song was released just as a new and faster-spreading COVID strain was identified in the United Kingdom, with a 40 percent increase in cases from just one week ago. British Heath Secretary Matt Hancock called the new strain of COVID “out of control.”

Earlier this year, Morrison referred to preventive measures as pseudoscience, and “Stand and Deliver” marks his fourth anti-lockdown track after “Born to Be Free“, “As I Walked Out,” and “No More Lockdown.” This latest, though, is the first to infect another Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

Snopes adds this:

In late 2020, music legends Van Morrison and Eric Clapton announced they had collaborated on a new a single, to be released on Dec. 4. They announced the profits were going to Morrison’s Lockdown Financial Hardship Fund, a philanthropic project to support musicians whose livelihoods have been harmed by a series of lockdowns in the U.K., designed to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s the song, with the lyrics below. There’s no doubt it’s about opposing pandemic restrictions. If you don’t believe that, read the lyrics—especially the last line. I have to say, though, that this is a pretty crappy song. I doubt you’ll be hearing it on the oldies stations in the future.

Lyrics: (my emphasis in last line; Dick Turpin was a highwayman).

Stand and Deliver

Stand and deliver
You let them put the fear on you
Stand and deliver
But not a word you heard was true
But if there’s nothing you can say
There may be nothing you can do

Do you wanna be a free man
Or do you wanna be a slave?
Do you wanna be a free man
Or do you wanna be a slave?
Do you wanna wear these chains
Until you’re lying in the grave?

I don’t wanna be a pauper
And I don’t wanna be a prince
I don’t wanna be a pauper
And I don’t wanna be a prince
I just wanna do my job
Playing the blues for friends

Magna Carta, Bill of Rights
The constitution, what’s it worth?
You know they’re gonna grind us down, ah
Until it really hurts
Is this a sovereign nation
Or just a police state?
You better look out, people
Before it gets too late

You wanna be your own driver
Or keep on flogging a dead horse?
You wanna be your own driver
Or keep on flogging a dead horse?
Do you wanna make it better
Or do you wanna make it worse?

Stand and deliver
You let them put the fear on you
Slow down the river
But not a word of it was true
If there’s nothing you can say
There may be nothing you can do

Stand and deliver
Stand and deliver
Dick Turpin wore a mask too

h/t: Barry

Social-justice turbulence at Haverford, self-abasing administrators, and some lessons

December 5, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I see that Quillette is now being demonized by many Leftists as some sort of “alt-right” or conservative website. And although some of their articles are indeed too Right-wing for me, most of the articles seem to be doing what I do—calling out the excesses of the Left, the same excesses that, I suspect, held back the predicted Blue Wave in November’s election. Further, it’s not a good idea to denigrate an entire website as a way of avoiding—or urging others to avoid—reading anything published there. Regardless of what you see as Quillette‘s overall ideology, you will benefit from reading some of its pieces, if for no other reason than some of the follies of the Left, which threaten a liberal government, simply can’t be found in mainstream media.

Here is one piece that will repay reading, although it’s long (my printout, in 9-point type, occupies 14 pages). This should keep you occupied on a cold December Saturday:

In some ways it’s nothing really new: the piece describes a meltdown at Haverford College, a posh and expensive school near Philadelphia. What’s unusual about this is that the students went on strike for several weeks, refusing to go to classes or, indeed, do anything college-related. What’s not new is that they issued a set of demands to the administration: the usual mix of the ridiculous to the tame. And the administration, to placate the outraged students, accepted nearly every one of those demands.

To me it’s a scary harbinger of my own school which, despite holding the line on some aspects of free speech, is showing worrying signs of encroaching wokeness. I’m worried that the University of Chicago will go the way of Yale, Middlebury College, Harvard, and now Haverford. But more on that in weeks to come.

The author of the piece, Jonathan Kay, is the Canadian editor of Quillette, and has cobbled together a thorough and engrossing summary of Haverford’s meltdown.  I’ll try to be brief, as I want to discuss his views on the future of fulminating college wokeness.

Earlier this year, before the death of George Floyd on May 25, Haverford was pretty much a school of comity. While there was discussion about various issues, there was not much about race, and a college committee in 2019 noted that there was, as Kay says, “little indication of mass discontent or ideological conflict.” This contrasts markedly with the many statements in the next few months, including some by administrators admitting that Haverford had long been a bastion of systemic racism.

All that changed with the death of Floyd and then the police shooting in Philadelphia on October 26 of another black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., who was bipolar and carrying a knife.  Because it wasn’t clear that the cops had a good reason to fire on Wallace, this predictably led to rioting in Philadelphia. Earlier, the racial unrest of the summer had led the College’s President, Wendy Raymond, to issue a statement of support for the black protestors, and the students began protesting the alleged racism of Haverford and issuing lists of demands.

After Wallace’s death, President Raymond and Interim Dean Joyce Bylander (the latter a black woman) issued a joint letter of anti-racism, but made the mistake of saying that students shouldn’t go to Philadelphia to protest because they could get infected with Covid-19 or “play into the hands of those who might seek to sow division and conflict especially in vulnerable communities.” (It’s not clear whom they meant.)

This statement (like others, reproduced in the article), urging students not to put themselves in “harm’s way”, enraged those students, who saw in it a line drawn between the poor black residents of Philadelphia and the entitled bubble of Haverford students.  A Zoom call ensued on November 5 in which the President, the black Interim Dean, and the black Provost, Linda Strong-Lee, talked to many of Haverford’s 1350 students. The students proceeded to revile the administrators in the call, as usual, but did so anonymously.

And the administrators proceeded to abase themselves:

The President:

Raymond presented herself as solemnly apologetic for a litany of offenses. She also effusively praised and thanked the striking students for educating her about their pain, while “recognizing that I will never understand what it means to be a person of color or be black or indigenous in the United States. I am a white woman with considerable unearned privilege.”

Not only did Raymond announce that she would be acceding to many of the students’ previously listed demands, she also reacted positively to the new requests that students put forward during the call. “All of the recommendations you’ve made here sound spot on and are excellent,” she said. “We can do those—and go beyond them.”

The Provost:

“I’ll just share that I hear your pain, and I know that this is something that rings hollow for you, but I am a black woman who has lived in a black body for 56 years,” responded Strong-Leek, in carefully measured tones that, among all the responses from administrators, seemed closest to escalating into something approaching candor. “My husband is black. My children are black. Every day, I worry about them and myself. Every day, I confront racism. [I’m] Looking forward to working with you and looking forward to making Haverford a better place.” She seemed to be fighting back her own emotions, but ultimately kept her composure.

The Interim Dean:

“I continue to listen and learn, and try to understand the ways in which the college has failed you and how I have failed you,” Dean Bylander calmly responds, ticking off seemingly well-rehearsed talking points. “[I] continue to be committed to trying to work to change and improve the experience of BIPOC students at Haverford.” Her face is a mask of deadpan professionalism. Or maybe she’d simply gone numb.

Eventually, the College acceded to virtually all the students’ demands. But by then the students had gone on strike, refusing to attend classes or extracurricular activities, with the intent being to disrupt the college, make them see how valuable people of color were in running the College, and to spend their time doing teach-ins and reading anti-racist literature. The strike lasted three weeks.

It wasn’t enough that there was a strike, for the striking students tried to punish those “scab” professors who insisted on holding classes during the strike as well as those students who opposed the strike, the latter keeping quiet lest they be forever demonized. Alumni banded together threatening to withhold donations to Haverford unless the students’ demands were met (this is a particularly effective way to effect college change: smack them in the pocketbook).

Social-media statements like this circulated (“Peanuts” is President Raymond’s dog, for crying out loud, and the poor mutt was threatened multiple times with death):

They threatened the President’s dog, for chrissake!

All of a sudden, where comity had reigned, the students, administration, and alumni discovered that all along the school had been a bastion of racism and bigotry:

The students appeared on Zoom under pseudonyms plucked from a list of past Haverford presidents and benefactors. The idea, a strike organizer self-identifying as “Henry Drinker” is heard to say at the 12:20 mark, was to co-opt the names “of the old white men who have made Haverford the racist institution that it is today.”

. . . These details help contextualize the mass email that Dean Bylander and President Raymond sent to the school community on October 28th, a six-paragraph message that student strikers would cite in the days that followed as proof of the “long tradition of anti-Blackness and the erasure of marginalized voices that have come to characterize the experiences of students of color at Haverford.”

From an article in the college newspaper by a student named Soha Saghir:

This campus has failed its Black students (especially Black women and Black nonbinary people), its students of color, and its FGLI [first-generation low-income] students—the very people whose labor is the backbone of this campus. These emails [from the administration] were just one more way in which you and this institution neither feel nor understand how tired, angry, and ready for change we are… In this pandemic, that labor has intensified in unimaginable ways… We are no longer asking for inclusion or diversity since that gives more power to the institution. Instead, we will disrupt that order. We will be going on a strike from our classes, our jobs (which we need), and any extracurricular activities. This campus can’t run without BIPOC. This is not just a reminder that we are valuable to you on campus, but that our lives, minds, and bodies matter.

There’s more, but what’s clear is that all of a sudden students discovered that the school, once peaceful and inclusive, was really a hotbed of racism. Did the school change in such a short period of time, or did outraged students confect a “structural racism” that didn’t exist.

I opt for the latter, having long lived on a liberal campus where such recent accusations fly in the face of the facts.

What bothers me about Kay’s piece is what looks like a correct diagnosis of why the administration caved completely to the students, abasing themselves, losing their dignity, and admitting to an institutional bigotry which didn’t exist. It’s because the administration has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by standing up to the students. If true, that doesn’t give me much hope:

When campus meltdowns of this type occur, you often see conservative culture warriors demand that administrators take a hard line, demonstrate backbone, “grow a spine,” and so forth. But what is their incentive for doing so? It was once the case that a university president was able to balance different constituencies against one another as a means to achieve some kind of policy equilibrium—liberal students versus more conservative professors, administrators against alumni, this department versus that. But that doesn’t happen anymore: Thanks to the homogenizing effects of social media, all of these constituencies tend to be drinking the same bathwater from the same troughs, and so get caught up in the same social panics at the same time.

And Kay’s solution seems lame: “eventually the trend will reverse itself, and that will be prompted by the students themselves.”  Dream on, Mr. Kay: I don’t see this happening:

The process of sifting through these events at Haverford has convinced me that the ideological crisis on American campuses can’t be solved by administrators—not because they are beholden to critical race theory, intersectionality, gender ideology, postmodernism, or any of the other bugbears of conservative culture critics, but because they simply have no practical inducements for doing so. Ultimately, this is a crisis that is going to have to be addressed, if at all, by students themselves. And in this regard, I do see some green shoots of hope. Nick Lasinsky, a white undergraduate student at Haverford, wrote a beautiful and thoughtful piece called Why I’ve Chosen Not to Strike. And a black student named Khalil Walker wrote an amazing series of comments in which he demolishes the idea that Haverford is a hive of systematic racism. Our culture moves in cycles, and I predict that you will see more of these brave voices in months to come.

I predict otherwise. These woke and outraged students will, since they come from elite colleges, get positions of leadership in the media as well as in other colleges, for many of them will go on to become academics and administrators. And that will make colleges even more woke, and so on. There’s nothing on the horizon to break that cycle.

As I worry about this fate for my own university (our hard-line President, Bob Zimmer, will resign at the end of this academic year), I spend too much time—especially for an emeritus professor—fretting about the University of Chicago. For decades, we were the beacon of freedom of speech and academic freedom among American colleges. This uniqueness was in fact a selling point of the University, who advertised it to potential students and their parents. But it’s crumbling.

Now we stand on an equipoise that could easily turn us into Haverford, especially because many of our students are just as woke as theirs. While I still fight for freedom of speech here, it’s getting harder and harder, and the opposition gets louder and louder. What’s freedom of speech compared to the “harm” you cause by speaking your mind?

Before too long, we may see the time when the University of Chicago is no longer the model for colleges that want to encourage all sorts of discussion and discourage none. And I find that prospect discouraging.

A philosopher infected with confirmation bias explains why evolution proves God

November 15, 2020 • 9:15 am

Religious affirmations like those in this video make me angry, wanting to call philosopher Holmes Rolston III a chowderhead who’s taking money under false pretenses. But I will refrain from such name-calling. Nevertheless, what you hear coming out of Rolston’s mouth in this short Closer to Truth interview is pure garbage: not even passable philosophy. It should dismay all rational people that such a man is not only expressing laughable confirmation biases, but is getting paid for it.

And yet here are Rolston’s bona fides from Wikipedia:

Holmes Rolston III (born November 19, 1932) is a philosopher who is University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University. He is best known for his contributions to environmental ethics and the relationship between science and religion. Among other honors, Rolston won the 2003 Templeton Prize, awarded by Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace. He gave the Gifford Lectures, University of Edinburgh, 1997–1998.
And remember that the Templeton Prize, was worth over a million bucks, even back in 2003. What did he get it for? This is from Templeton’s press release when they gave him the Prize:

The world’s best known religion prize, [The Templeton Prize] is given each year to a living person to encourage and honor those who advance spiritual matters.  When he created the prize, Templeton stipulated that its value always exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore his belief that advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than those honored by the Nobels.

. . . .Rolston has lectured on seven continents including throughout Europe, Australia, South America, China, India, and Japan.

Seven continents? They left out Antarctica, and I doubt that Rolston has lectured there.  His prize-winning thoughts:

. . . science and religion have usually joined to keep humans in central focus, an anthropocentric perspective when valuing the creation of the universe and evolution on Earth.  Rolston, by contrast, has argued an almost opposite approach, one that looks beyond humans to include the fundamental value and goodness of plants, animals, species, and ecosystems as core issues of theological and scientific concern.  His 1986 book, Science and Religion — A Critical Study and his 1987 Environmental Ethics have been widely hailed for re-opening the question of a theology of nature by rejecting anthropocentrism in ethical and philosophical analysis valuing natural history.

Do I denigrate him unfairly? Shouldn’t I read his many books to give him a fairer assessment? Not on your life: I’m through with the Courtier’s Reply gambit.  Just let me add that Rolston is a believer, with a degree from Union Presbyterian Seminary, the same year he was ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  

Have a listen, and don’t be drinking liquids when you do. The good part is that this is only a bit less than seven minutes long.

Rolston gets a sense of “divine creativity” from the gradual and incremental changes wrought by neo-Darwinian evolution. But in this video he dwells more on serendipity, the “surprises” that punctuate the history of evolution. These include these “adventures that turned out right”:

a.) Swim bladders evolving into lungs (most people think it’s the other way around, but Rolston is right). This is a simple case of an “exaptation“, as Gould called it: the adaptation of an evolved feature into something with a new function.

b.) The capture of a photosynthetic bacterium by another cell to form photosynthetic eukaryotes: plants. (The same happened with mitochondria.) Yes, this is unpredictable, as is all of evolution, and was a major innovation, but it’s not evidence for God.

c.) The evolution of hearing began with a pressure-sensitive cell in a fish. This is another exaptation, though the function didn’t change, but altered a bit. Hearing still depends on pressure change, but we use it for apprehending and interpreting language and other sounds in air. Animals use it for intraspecies communication and detection of predators (which fish also use it for).

I could give a gazillion examples of such “surprises” in evolution, like the evolution of the ovipositor of insects into the stinging apparatus of bees and wasps, the doubling of an entire ancestral genome—twice—during the evolution of the vertebrates, and so on. Nobody can predict where evolution will go, for, as Jacques Monod famously noted in 1977, evolution is a tinkerer. And what about the “adventures that turned out wrong“, like the evolution of large dinosaurian reptiles? God killed ’em off by sending a big asteroid plummeting towards Earth.

The fact is that nothing we see in evolution contradicts the claim that it’s a purely naturalistic process, proceeding via unpredictable events—mutations and environmental change. This is the most parsimonious hypothesis given that we have not an iota of convincing evidence for God.

Then, in response to a softball question by the host, Rolston avers that he sees a theological underpinning of surprise, co-option, and serendipity. But since he also sees the hand of god in gradual Darwinian evolution, he sees the hand of God in all of evolution. In other words, there is nothing Rolston could observe about evolution that wouldn’t, for him, constitute evidence for God. As he says:

“It leaves open a place for surprising creativity . . . that I think exceeds any Darwinian capacity for explanation. Now I said when I began that I can find the presence of God in incremental evolutionary genesis. But maybe if the world is surprising as well as predictable that might further invite places where you might think if I should say, ‘God might sneak into the evolutionary process.’. . . .God may like serendipity as well as law-like prediction and determinism.”

So, If evolution is gradual and smooth, it’s evidence for God. But if there are “surprises”, as there have been, well, that’s also evidence for God. In other words, EVERYTHING is evidence for God. It is an academic crime that someone not only gets paid—and wins a huge prize—for spouting this kind of pabulum, but also is respected for it, for, after all, Rolston is a minister and a believer.

My contempt for this kind of reasoning knows no bounds. It could be filed in the Philosophical Dictionary under “confirmation bias; religion”. (Is that heading a redundancy?) Everything that happens is evidence for God because it’s “what God likes.” But of course if you argue that “whatever happens must be what God likes,” then you have yourself a million-dollar airtight, circular argument.  Some philosophy!

I guess the host, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, sees his brief as drawing out the guest rather than challenging him, and that’s okay. But I would have been pleased had Kuhn asked him this: “Is there anything about evolution that doesn’t give you evidence for God?”  I would think, for instance, that the evolution of predators and parasites that inflict horrible suffering on animals might make one question the existence of God, as it did for Darwin, but I’m sure Rolston has his explanation. Maybe it’s “God likes a little drama in his creation.”

 

h/t: Mark

The crazy covid/geomagneticism/serpentinization paper is finally retracted

November 10, 2020 • 1:45 pm

Remember that crazy paper by Bility et al. that I highlighted on October 30? He and his coauthors proposed that the symptoms of COVID weren’t really caused by the virus, but by some kind of interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and iron oxides in the body? Their “evidence” was simply that a colony of rats that got sick in their lab showed some changes in their lungs that looked like “silicate/glasslike structures in the lungs and kidneys”. (The connection of the virus itself to these anomalies is unclear.)

The last straw, besides the lack of any experimental evidence beyond observation of changes in sick rats that were, to the authors, suggestive, was the proposal that further study might involve putting jade amulets on rats and seeing if they had preventive effects.

The scientific community reacted with predictable skepticism, and, indeed, outrage. Not all hypotheses are worthy of being entertained, and this was one of them. Elsevier, the publisher of the journal, at first dug in its heels, refusing to retract the paper from Science of the Total Environment. But now, according to New Scientist, the pushback has gotten so strong, and the scientific objections so numerous, that they’ve finally retracted the paper. Click on the first screenshot below, which also has a link to the second one, where the paper has disappeared to be replaced by a retraction notice:

Here are a few of the scientific objections:

“A paper like this gets out there, it’s published in some supposedly peer-reviewed journal—it makes the rest of the field look stupid,” says Joe Kirschvink, a Caltech geobiologist whose research areas include sensing of magnetic fields by humans and other animals. “And that’s a harmful thing.”

Kirschvink says the paper contains multiple basic errors. For example, while very strong magnetic fields can indeed influence chemical reactions, the long-wavelength anomalies that are central to the study’s thesis are “three or four orders of magnitude off” from what would be required for such effects, he says. “This results section is a salad of different ideas taken out of context.”

The study also suggests, without experimental evidence, that jade amulets might protect wearers by countering the effects of the long-wavelength anomalies, an idea Bility says he based on records of practices by ancient people in China and elsewhere during a period when geomagnetic conditions were similar to what they are now. Kirschvink says the study’s description of jade’s magnetic properties is incorrect, and that in jade, “the paramagnetic minerals are so weakly magnetized, they’re not going to do anything in these fields.”

Kirschvink says he’s heard from fellow geomagnetics researchers who “are upset that their data is being used in a nonsensical way” in the paper.

The study has also attracted derision on Twitter and PubPeer. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine extracellular vesicle researcher Kenneth Witwer was among those who criticized the paper on PubPeer, writing in part, “Almost all symptoms were restricted to Room Number 1 of two adjacent rooms in Pittsburgh, suggesting that some agent such as an undetected pathogen was responsible for symptoms. Effects of the earth’s magnetic field would presumably be similar in side-by-side rooms at the same facility.”

The retraction notice:

 

But this isn’t over yet. Bility, who can’t seem to let go of this hypothesis, plans to resubmit a revised paper:

Bility says that in light of the blowback his work has received, he regrets including his coauthors on the paper, and he takes full responsibility for its ideas. His intention, he says, was not to undermine public health officials, but to propose a hypothesis for further discussion and investigation, and he plans to resubmit the paper as a sole author and without mentions of jade amulets or traditional Chinese medicine.

Both Witwer and Kirschvink say the paper’s publication represents a failure of peer review. According to Damià Barceló, the editor at Science of the Total Environment who handled the submission, it had two reviewers, a hydrogeologist and an epidemiologist-toxicologist. In an email to The Scientist yesterday, he wrote that he expects the retraction will take hours or days to appear in Elsevier’s system, and that the resubmitted paper will need to be sent for peer review again before a final decision is made about its acceptance.

Anybody betting that a. there will be a revised paper? Or b. that if there is one, it’ll be accepted? My bet is that Bility will never live this down: he’ll always be the “jade amulets on rats” guy, and shame on the reviewers and editor for publishing this travesty in the first place. It had absolutely no earmarks of serious science.

Finally, although initially people said this paper was just a quirk in the career of a serious scientist, a glance at Bility’s Academia.edu list of publications and manuscripts shows some other dubious work, including this one:

There are also some physics-like papers, including one proposing a “theory of everything.”

h/t: Ginger K

A really funny Trump tweet

November 7, 2020 • 10:00 am

I never put up posts highlighting a single tweet, but this one, by Tr*mp, is so unhinged and rich that it made me laugh out loud. I rarely laugh out loud at anything, much less the words of this loon, but when Matthew sent this to me I audibly chuckled.

Good god! Nobody has called the election for Trump, and few have called the election at all (except for me, and remember that!).

This is the tweet of a nine-year-old having a public tantrum. Somebody give him is blankie!

It’s gonna be a fun ten weeks. I’m not the only one to find the tweet funny:

“BAD THINGS HAPPENED!”: Your President tweets

November 7, 2020 • 8:30 am

Aren’t you glad this loon is on the way out? Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades: this is the man preferred as President by nearly half of America.

BAD THINGS HAPPENED INSIDE. BIG CHANGES TOOK PLACE!

There are two lies in the three sentences above.

He takes down Philly:

I could go on, but you get the drift, as you’ve gotten it for the past four years. This is all very amusing—until you remember the havoc this guy can still wreak until Biden is sworn in. Pardons given, ultraconservative judges appointed, wonky executive orders issued, White House china broken. . . .