Readers’ wildlife photos

December 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

Do send in your photos if you have good ones. Today’s batch contains recent owl-related photos taken just recently by Paul Matthews in Canada. Paul’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge his pictures by clicking on them.

These photos were taken in the Ottawa area in Canada. The first series is from November 20, 2021, and the second (boreal owls) from December 5, 2021.

With winter on the doorstep, my first encounter of the season of a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) was a memorable one. The presence of an owl usually greatly upsets the other birds in the vicinity, who will surround the owl in an aggrieved, even hysterical group, calling insistently (a behaviour known as mobbing). I don’t think mobbing is well understood. It often seems rather ineffectual, as the wise owl (see what I did there?) will simply wait out the harassment till its tormentors lose interest and go back to their normal activities. That said, a small to medium-sized owl being mobbed by little rather powerless passerines is one thing, and a medium to large owl being mobbed by ferocious corvids (crows and ravens) quite another. While I’ve never seen a corvid actually strike an owl during mobbing, the dive-bombing and other mock attacks within centimetres of an owl’s head must be very unsettling.

This snowy owl was also mobbed by Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis), American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and one Common Raven (Corvus corax). The raven really got in the owl’s face. Ravens are large birds with quite an imposing bill (compare with the smaller-billed crow in the background of one of the photos), but snowy owls are the heaviest North American species of owl and have rather fearsome weaponry. I really wondered whether the raven knew what it was doing but, as I returned to my car, I noticed it flying away, apparently unscathed. The owl, by the way, is likely a young female given the extensive barring. As with all owls, female snowies are larger than males. By the way, there is a mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in one of the photos. Can you spot it?

As lagniappe (a word I learned from WEIT), I offer another winter owl, much smaller than the snowy: a Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus). This is the least frequently encountered of our regular owls, much sought, and I hadn’t seen one in several years. It tends to be very well hidden. If you’ve been paying attention you can probably guess how it was discovered: yes, it was being mobbed (by chickadees).

Did you spot the raven?

Monday: Hili dialogue

December 6, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Monday, December 6, 2021; it’s National Cook for Christmas Day but it’s way too early to do that. Note: posting may be light today as I have several errands to take care of around town.

It’s also National Gazpacho Day, National Microwave Oven Day, St. Nicholas Day, Walt Disney Day (it’s celebrated on the first Monday in December though he was born on December 5, 1901) and, in Canada, National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Here’s Disney’s business envelope from 1921, when he was only twenty:

The Google Doodle for today (click on screenshot) is “an interactive pizza puzzle game, as C|Net describes how to play it (I haven’t). The occasion:

The Doodle celebrates this day in 2007 when the culinary art of Neapolitan “Pizzaiuolo” was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The southwestern Italian city of Naples is widely credited with inventing the pizza known today in the late 1700s.

News of the Day:

*It does seem that politicians tend to live a long time, don’t they? Or maybe we just remember the ones who do, like Jimmy Carter, who’s still hammering Habitats for Humanity at 97.  Yesterday another politician left us: Bob Dole died at 98. He passed away in his sleep, and the NBC Evening News last night revealed that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I’m not sure whether he smoked, but if he hadn’t he might have lived to over 100!

Even though Dole was a Republican, and endorsed Trump for President in 2016, he was actually among the more bipartisan of Republicans: a dead breed. As the NYT says:

As the Republican leader, he helped broker compromises that shaped much of the nation’s domestic and foreign policies.

He was most proud of helping to rescue Social Security in 1983, of pushing the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and of mustering a majority of reluctant Republicans to support Mr. Clinton’s unpopular plan to send American troops to Bosnia in 1995. (Mr. Dole was not wild about the deployment either, but he long believed that a president, of either party, should be supported once he decided something as important as committing troops abroad.)

skilled legislative mechanic, Mr. Dole understood what every senator wanted and what each could live with, and he enjoyed the art of political bartering.

In that way he was like LBJ.

Dole was also severely wounded in the right arm during WWII, being shot just weeks before the war ended. He had seven operations, but the arm became unusable, so he couldn’t shake hands (an impediment for both a Vice-Presidential and Presidential candidate). He often held a pen in his hand to conceal the disability. But he made one very moving gesture:

In one of his last public appearances, in December 2018, he joined the line at the Capitol Rotunda where the body of former President George H.W. Bush, an erstwhile political rival and fellow veteran, lay in state. As an aide helped him up from his wheelchair, Mr. Dole, using his left hand because his right had been rendered useless by the war, saluted the flag-draped coffin of the last president to have served in World War II.

Have a look at the video and don’t tell me you’re not moved:

The Washington Post has three laudatory op-eds on Dole’s life, one by George Will, another by Tom Daschle (a Democrat), and a third by the Post’s entire editorial board. A quote from the last one:

Mr. Dole was a sometimes controversial figure occasionally given, especially early in his career, to irritated outbursts. None of that should obscure the substance and significance of his accomplishments. He led — as minority and majority leader — with a sense of the need to get things done. We didn’t always agree with him, but on big matters such as the vital civil rights bills of the 1960s and later on expanding food stamp coverage, he took strong and principled stands in favor. And he worked with members of both parties.

“The Senate does not reward extremes,” said a colleague, Bill Bradley of New Jersey, when Mr. Dole left that body in June 1996. Mr. Dole, he continued, “knew how to use power because he understood how to make things happen in the center of this institution. And that is ultimately built on a couple of personal facts. I mean, he always kept his word. He listened very carefully. He never held a grudge.”

*One of the “Satanic Seven” professors at the University of Auckland—all of whom have been demonized for signing a letter saying that Maori mythology should not be taught alongside and coequal with modern science—is himself a Maori.  As New Zealand’s Free Speech Union reports, Garth Cooper, a professor of biochemistry and medicine, signed the letter in part to help the Maori:

[Cooper] said that although he didn’t speak te reo — because his Maori grandmother “thought my brother and I should learn English” — he nevertheless knew “quite a lot” of words in the language. He went on to explain that the main reason he signed the Listener letter was because he was “concerned [that teaching] Māori kids about the colonising effects of science [would] lead to loss of opportunity”.

The article gives a ton of information about Cooper’s accomplishments and the ways he’s helped Maori (and non-Maori), but it was of no use. Along with the renowned philosopher of science  Robert Nola, who happens to be a friend), Cooper is one of the two members of New Zealand’s Royal Society who may get booted out for simply signing the letter. More on this tomorrow. (h/t: Nik)

*The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has now been found in at least 15 states, and surely there are more.  We are still waiting to see how severe an illness it causes, which will take about two weeks. CNBC tries to reassure us:

Still, the vast majority of cases in the U.S. are still caused by the delta variant. [JAC: note that they used “still” twice in the same sentence.]

“We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9% of them are the delta variant,” Walensky [head of the CDC] said.

Is that so reassuring given that Omicron just got here?

*The New York Times has a two separated lists by A. O. Scott and Manohla Dargis of “the best movies of 2021“.  I haven’t seen any of them, but if you have, weigh in below.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 786,964, an increase of 1,178 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,273,301, an increase of about 6,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 6 includes:

  • 1492 – After exploring island of Cuba for gold, surmising it for Japan, Columbus lands on island similar to Castile, naming it Hispaniola.
  • 1534 – The city of Quito in Ecuador is founded by Spanish settlers led by Sebastián de Belalcázar.
  • 1884 – The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., is completed.

Here it is halfway up:

The Washington Monument is under construction in 1899 in Washington, D.C. National Archives/Getty Images
  • 1897 – London becomes the world’s first city to host licensed taxicabs.
  • 1912 – The Nefertiti Bust is discovered.

Wikipedia has the skinny on this beautiful bust (pictured below); it’s in remarkable condition for being three thousand years old.

The work is believed to have been crafted in 1345 B.C.E. by Thutmose because it was found in his workshop in Amarna, Egypt. It is one of the most-copied works of ancient Egypt. Nefertiti has become one of the most famous women of the ancient world and an icon of feminine beauty.

A German archaeological team led by Ludwig Borchardt discovered the bust in 1912 in Thutmose’s workshop. It has been kept at various locations in Germany since its discovery, including the cellar of a bank, a salt-mine in Merkers-Kieselbach, the Dahlem museum, the Egyptian Museum in Charlottenburg and the Altes Museum. It is currently on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin, where it was originally displayed before World War II.

The Nefertiti bust has become a cultural symbol of Berlin as well as ancient Egypt. It has also been the subject of an intense argument between Egypt and Germany over Egyptian demands for its repatriation, which began in 1924, once the bust was first displayed to the public. Egyptian inspectors said their predecessors were mislead about the actual bust before they let it out of the country, and the Berlin museum refers to an official protocol, signed by the German excavator and the Egyptian Antiquities Service of the time, about “a painted plaster bust of a princess”.

Here’s a photo (Wikipedia caption) of the devastation of the city:

A view across the devastation of Halifax two days after the explosion, looking toward the Dartmouth side of the harbour. Imo is visible aground on the far side of the harbour.
  • 1922 – One year to the day after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Irish Free State comes into existence.
  • 1933 – U.S. federal judge John M. Woolsey rules that James Joyce‘s novel Ulysses is not obscene.

A copy of the first printing of the first edition, printed by bookseller Sylvia Beach, will run you about $79,000. It was published on Joyce’s 40th birthday.

Here’s a short video of the match:

The recipient was a 19-day-old infant with heart defects, who lived only six hours after the operation, which Kantrowitz considered a failure.

There was video of the melee that resulted in the death of Hunter. It’s not gory, as you can’t really see the stabbing, but you can see the melee:

  • 1998 – in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez is victorious in presidential elections.
  • 2006 – NASA reveals photographs taken by Mars Global Surveyor suggesting the presence of liquid water on Mars.

You can read about the evidence for Martian water here, though it isn’t clear that this wasn’t ancient water that has disappeared.

Notables born on this day include:

Eisenstadt’s portraits of Sophia Loren were famous; here’s one captioned “Actress Sophia Loren laughing while exchanging jokes during lunch break on a movie set.” (1966).

And here’s a photo of my father with Sophia Loren in Greece, ca. 1955. I’ve shown this before (he’s at the extreme right):

  • 1898 – Gunnar Myrdal, Swedish sociologist and economist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1987)
  • 1908 – Baby Face Nelson, American gangster (d. 1934)
  • 1920 – Dave Brubeck, American pianist and composer (d. 2012)
  • 1941 – Richard Speck, American murderer (d. 1991)

Speck killed eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966, but one survived by hiding under the bed. Convicted of multiple murders, speck died in prison of a heart attack in 1991. Here’s his mugshot (Wikipedia caption):

18 Jul 1966, Dallas, Texas, USA — The Dallas County Sheriff Department released two different mug shots of Richard B. Speck, 25,
  • 1948 – JoBeth Williams, American actress

Those who conked on December 6 include:

Here’s St. Nick in a full-length icon of Saint Nicholas by Jaroslav Čermák.  His Santa outfit isn’t shown, but the real St. Nicholas did have a reputation for giving gifts.

  • 1889 – Jefferson Davis, American general and politician, President of the Confederate States of America (b. 1808)
  • 1955 – Honus Wagner, American baseball player and manager (b. 1874)

Wagner, below (1910), is one of the greatest players of all time. Coyne family legend relates that my great grandmother caught him practicing throwing by hurling baseballs at the side of her outhouse. I have no idea whether this is true.  A note from Wikipedia: “In 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Wagner as one of the first five members. He received the second-highest vote total, behind Ty Cobb‘s 222 and tied with Babe Ruth at 215. Most baseball historians consider Wagner to be the greatest shortstop ever and one of the greatest players ever. Ty Cobb himself called Wagner “maybe the greatest star ever to take the diamond”.[2] Honus Wagner is also the featured player of one of the rarest and the most valuable baseball cards in existence.”

Here’s the card, worth over six million dollars!

  • 2002 – Philip Berrigan, American priest and activist (b. 1923)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili shows off her literary knowledge:

A: Why are you so sad?
Hili: I’m waiting for Godot.
In Polish:
Ja: Czemu jesteś taka smutna?
Hili: Czekam na Godota.

And a picture of Kulka by Andrzej:

A multireligious greeting for the holidays from reader Pliny the in Between’s Far Corner Cafe: II don’t see atheism in there, but it’s not a religion. But you can spot The Noodly Deity:

Keiko posted this on Facebook. Cats will be cats. . .

From Bruce, a weather report (I hope this isn’t perceived as derogatory, but my dad used to tell me jokes at bedtime, and one was “Weather report in Mexico: chili today and hot tamale.”)

Where did Titania go? She hasn’t tweeted anything for weeks!

From God:

I’m a bit dubious about this one, but there’s enough consensus reporting to make it plausible.

Reader Barry says this:

What you see in the tweet below is a transcript from something he allegedly said in Birmingham in 1976 (Rolling Stone wrote about this but I can’t access the article). According to an accompanying podcast, the remarks were collated by some note takers at the time. So is this an exact quote? It is not. But it apparently coheres with what many people remembering hearing at the time.

Yes, he’s an antivaxer and seemingly a racist as well, but I can still enjoy his music. If you didn’t listen to the Clapton/J. J. Cale duet yesterday, do so now.

From Luana. What does it mean?

From Ken, who also explains the tweet he contributed:

From the far-right fringe of the Republican Party.

The metaphor by Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Gilead) works only if a woman is being forced to have an abortion — which, if the US constitution provides no right to reproductive freedom, the states will be as just as free to mandate as they are free to prevent women from obtaining abortions. (Pace Cawthorn, last I checked, Americans are free to develop or not develop — delete or not delete — their own photographs as they alone see fit.):

A tweet from Ginger K.:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb.  First, a lovely Christmas carol that teaches grammar at the same time!

The first wasp is all decked out in racing colors, and the second is also lovely.

25,005 posts!

November 27, 2021 • 2:15 pm

I just glanced at the dashboard, and saw that this post is number 25,005. That means that this morning’s Hili Dialogue was post #25,000! That is a buttload of posts, and had somebody told me in January, 2009 that a website aiming to give a bit of new evidence for evolution once every two weeks or so would turn into a hydra that never stopped growing heads—and not just heads dealing with evolution—I would have laughed. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

The post before this one:

The University of California eliminates all standardized tests for admission

November 20, 2021 • 11:30 am

As I wrote in January, the whole University of California system was planning to abandon the usual standardized tests used to assess applicants from high school (SATs and ACTs). They did this despite a committee convened earlier to study the problem, which recommended that these standardized tests be retained as they were better predictors of college performance than were grade-point averages. The University ignored the advice of its own committee. As I wrote then,

Recently, the University of California decided to eliminate tests like SATs as requirements for in-state applicants, making them optional for the next two years. Then, in 2023, students will not be allowed to even submit those scores. This happened despite the recommendation of both its own Chancellor and a panel convened by the University system itself, both of which recommended that SAT-like tests be retained as mandatory for applicants. The only reason that the University could possibly have for overriding its own panel’s recommendation is that test scores highlight racial disparities and could exacerbate at the U of C if considered in a largely meritocratic admissions system.

For reasons I can’t fathom, the University of California, after ditching the SATs and ACTs, recommended that the system devise its own standardized test, to be implemented in 2025.  But. . . [now] they’ve decided they can’t do that in a timely fashion, and so the U of C is likely to ditch all standardized tests—for good.  This has already happened in over 1,000 other colleges and universities (roughly a quarter of higher-education institutions in the U.S.), a wholesale dismantling of the meritocracy. (n.b.: I don’t think that test-scores or grades should be the sole criterion for college admissions, as there are other criteria of achievement that aren’t measured by these statistics.)

The number of colleges that don’t require test scores for admissions has now risen to 1,815, approaching half of all colleges and universities.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (below), another committee convened to study what alternative tests might work came up with the answer “no go.” And this is the result (click on screenshot to read, or make a judicious inquiry if you’re paywalled):

UC Provost Michael Brown declared the end of testing for admissions decisions at a Board of Regents meeting, putting a conclusive end to more than three years of research and debate in the nation’s premier public university system on whether standardized testing does more harm than good when assessing applicants for admission.

“UC will continue to practice test-free admissions now and into the future,” Brown said to the regents, during a discussion about a possible alternative to the SAT and ACT tests.

Testing supporters argue that standardized assessments provide a uniform measure to predict the college performance of students from varied schools and backgrounds. But UC ultimately embraced opposing arguments that high school grades are a better tool without the biases based on race, income and parent education levels found in tests.

I’m not sure what they mean by “biases based on race, income, and parent education levels”. Of course those factors affect scores, but scores are partly there to try to determine which factors affect performance. And SAT scores are also a way to identify minority students whose grades might not be great but have high performance on standardized test. As for bias, as far as I know the SAT has indeed vetted its questions for racial bias and eliminated any that could be construed as reflecting on racial “culture.”

Everybody knows, but nobody admits, that the tests were nixed because minorities scored worse than whites or Asians. Thus, if you used the tests as criteria for admission, Hispanics and blacks would have lower chances of getting in.  Here are total SAT scores from 2018 broken down by sex and ethnicity. As you see, Asians are the highest by far, followed by whites, mixed-race students and then Pacific Islanders and Hispanics (about a tie) and then blacks, who are about tied with Native Americans.

In California a recent referendum failed to overturn a state law stipulating that race cannot be considered in admission to state colleges.

This puts administrators in a conundrum, for if you use SATs as a major criterion, you wouldn’t even come close to “equity” in the class (i.e., students represented in about the same proportions as ethnic groups occur in the population). That’s why they ditched the SATs and are going to a more “holistic” system where you can use assessments based on less stringent criteria as well as subjective measures.  The school won’t admit all this, but it’s a wink-wink nod-nod action. Instead, they make noises about the use of SATs leading to a “test-prep industry” which could “further exacerbate social inequities among low-income students unable to pay for such training.”  But you can get training for free, and even the paid training has been shown to have at best a minimal effect on average SAT scores.

Here’s what they propose to “step up other ways to achieve equity in admissions” since the standardized tests are considered “biased”. Note the greater scope for subjectivity in some areas:

Without testing requirements, Drake added, UC attracted a record-breaking number of freshman applications for fall 2021 — more than 200,000 — and admitted the most diverse class ever. UC admissions officers have said they were able to thoroughly evaluate the flood of applications without test scores, using 13 other factors in the system’s review process, such as a student’s high school grade-point average, the rigor of courses taken, special talents, essays and extracurricular activities.

The faculty committee said UC should step up other ways to advance equity in admissions. Recommendations included a closer partnership between UC and the K-12 system with greater access to college-preparatory courses required for admission; more state funding for academic preparation programs, and enhanced monitoring to make sure UC is reaching underserved high schools.

The report also called for more funding to help UC thoroughly assess applications, provide anti-bias training for application readers and strengthen supports to help students complete their degrees.

While they don’t admit the purpose of ditching SATs and ACTs, they do say the tests should go bye-bye because they are tainted with racism:

Board Chair Cecilia Estolano called her vote to eliminate SAT and ACT testing requirements one of her proudest moments as a regent. She said the next pressing task is to double down on ways to prepare more students for UC admission and support them once enrolled.

“We know we’re dealing with generations of educational inequity baked in discrimination, baked in structural impediments to our students,” she said. “If we’re going to continue to try to expand educational access in an equitable way … we have to provide the supports to enable our students to succeed.”

One note: not all high schools are doing away with standardized tests:

And UC’s decision does not spell the end of SAT and ACT testing in California. Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest school district, still administers the test to its high school students and counselors advise them to take it to maximize opportunities to apply to other colleges.

Now Berkeley isn’t doing all that badly with racial inequities in graduation rates:

UC reports its overall six-year graduation rate to be about 84 percent by last year. The UC rate was 75 percent for black students, about 77 percent for Latinos, 89 percent for Asian and Pacific Islanders and 86 percent for whites.

But there are still racial disparities of about 10%. And in terms of the student population itself, with data taken only from Berkeley,  we find substantial inequities in racial proportions:

The enrolled student population at University of California-Berkeley, both undergraduate and graduate, is 30.2% Asian, 26.8% White, 14.1% Hispanic or Latino, 5.36% Two or More Races, 2.13% Black or African American, 0.153% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.148% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders.

The population of the U.S. is about 18% Hispanic, 62% white, 12% black, 1% Native Americans, and 6% Asian.  At Berkeley, then, Hispanics are a bit underrepresented, Whites way underrepresented, blacks substantially underrepresented, Native Americans underrepresented by about sixfold, and the biggest disparity seen is among Asians, constituting 6% of the population but over 30% of Berkeley students. That, of course mirrors the performance of these groups on standardized tests, with the exception of whites.

So what to do? Berkeley doesn’t want an all-Asian-and-white student population, and neither do I.  The question is whether you should aim at pure equity, which means considerable lowering of the bar for admissions standards. It’s the usual tradeoff between merit and affirmative action, though California is forbidden to use the latter measure in any explicit way.

This is a tough problem, but it doesn’t help to throw out one measure of merit, and a good one: the standardized tests. My own view is that schools should set a bar above which all students are considered “qualified”. Then you have a pool of students who will survive and thrive at Berkeley. What to do with the pool? I believe that Steve Pinker suggests just having a lottery for admission within the pool, so that, if you’re above the bar. any extra merit won’t gain you a higher chance of admission.

I don’t favor the lottery. I favor affirmative action in the pool above the bar: not just giving minority students higher weight than others, but also other underrepresented students who could enrich the classes, like older students, veterans, and so on.  Sadly, that kind of affirmative action for race is, as I said, outlawed in California.

The Supreme Court ruled in the Bakke case that race can be considered as a criterion for admission because diversity was seen as an innate good. I favor it as a form of reparations for the terrible way we treated minorities in the past, as well as ensuring that students have role models for success. The latter presumes that Berkeley students, for example, will get visible and good positions in society, and some will become professors. That’s why I also favor affirmative action in hiring. But again we have the problem of trading off credentials versus equity.

But the point of all this is that one way to assess quality—standardized tests—is being removed from not just California schools, but many American colleges, medical schools, and so on. I see that as unjustified if the tests are not themselves racist, and I don’t think they are. (Kendi, however, would assert that unequal outcomes is prima facie evidence that the test are racist.).

It’s better to have more rather than less information on students, though it seems some people prefer less. Then adjustment for racial balance can take place in the way I see it. Yet one thing we cannot do is lie to ourselves about why we’re deep-sixing these tests. What is the downside, really, of requiring SATs and ACTs?

h/t: Luana

A woke person opposed to diversity statements

November 17, 2021 • 11:00 am

Clearly a lot of people feel that there’s good reason for academics applying for their first job to include “diversity statements” in their application package, for this is becoming de rigueur for nearly every place except the University of Chicago. And even here we “encourage” applicants to discuss how they’d address the issue of teaching diverse students, though we don’t encourage them to discuss other aspects of their teaching.

I’ve already discussed why I think “diversity statements” are a bad idea, but I’ll mention just the most important: I see them, in today’s political climate, as a form of compelled speech that violates the First Amendment, even though the Constitution doesn’t apply in this sense to private schools. They force many applicants to make up stuff that they think fits with the “approved” narrative about fostering racial diversity (no other form of diversity is of interest in these statements).  That is different from making candidates write about their academic achievements and research plans, as there are no generally approved narratives about what kind of research a candidate is supposed to do, and achievements can be checked.

Further, some schools, like the University of California, often screen applicants based solely on their diversity statements, so if you don’t have a good background in promoting diversity as well as a good plan for promoting diversity at the University and a philosophy of diversity, your application gets tossed without further consideration. That is unconscionable, and puts considerable pressure on the candidates to confect a statement that they think will pass muster.

I just received this tweet and its followups within the last half hour—UCSC is doing such a thing (Berkeley and Davis already do); there is more evidence in the thread:

The thread goes on, but you can read it for yourself.

The article below from the Chronicle of Higher Education (click on screenshot) is in general against the issues I usually write about here.  While you might think from the title that the author, a professor of philosophy at York University in Toronto, might be anti-woke, but she is in fact pro-woke, and her beef is that she’s tired of antiwoke people complaining about wokeness. Do read it, as it offers many views opposed to my own. Rini thinks that the whole “woke crisis” is overblown, and is mainly (but not exclusively) a cherry-picked set of anecdotes without major implications and no ability to solve problems. Move along, nothing to see here. (But she apparently doesn’t worry that Wokeism itself offers no ability to solve problems, either, and that’s one reason to criticize it!)

Click to read:

While Rini doesn’t like anti-Woke rhetoric, there’s one exception—diversity statements:

Perhaps the worst effect of the anti-Wokeist rhetoric invading academe is that it drowns out more careful critiques of so-called “Woke” policies. Take, for example, the diversity statements that some colleges and universities now require from faculty job candidates. I think these are a bad idea for at least two reasons having nothing to do with scary stories about Wokeism.

First, requiring diversity statements in job materials places responsibility for correcting entrenched historical injustice in exactly the wrong place: on disempowered applicants (often themselves members of marginalized groups), rather than on the top-of-the-hierarchy administrators who can actually make systemic change. Second, requiring these statements as part of the hiring process encourages candidates to think about diversity as just another marketable skill, something to puff up and cynically stage like everything else in one’s portfolio.

Agree with these criticisms or not — but notice they don’t involve ascribing a devious agenda to diversity-statement proponents. I think administrators who impose diversity-statement requirements are doing their best to address a difficult problem, even as I believe they’ve made a mistake. This should be a collegial disagreement over a somewhat technical problem, a careful survey of all those air-conditioner components spread out on the desk.

But we can’t have that collegial disagreement while others keep pulling the Wokeism alarm.

I’m not sure how much I agree with her here. You’re not placing responsibility on the candidates to correct inequality; you are hiring diverse candidates (who may largely confect their statements of plans and commitments) as a way of correcting injustice. The very presence of minority professors is a corrective. But yes, the top administrators bear substantial responsibility for creating the programs to increase diversity.

But I do agree that such statements encourage candidates to see diversity-promotion as a “marketable skill”, and there are even people whom you can pay to write a statement for you! The pressure to make up stuff, though, is much higher for diversity statements than it is for writing about your research plans and goals. Further, once you’re hired, few colleges seriously consider how much you’ve promoted diversity as an assistant professor when you’re later up for promotion. (However, granting agencies like the NIH do give out grants, whose acquisition is important in advancing a scientific career, based on diversity and inclusion aspects of one’s research).

To quote Rini again:

Frank McCormick, a history teacher and author of many impassioned tweets about critical race theory, says diversity statements are “what ideological screening in education looks like. This is how the Woke uses gatekeeping to maintain institutional capture.”

That sounds terrible. But is it happening? Isn’t it more likely that job candidates will tackle diversity statements the same way they do other application materials: look up examples on the internet, change a few details, and render the entire thing in bland inoffensive prose that no one on the hiring committee will want to read?

. . . Correcting historical injustice in academe is too serious to treat as just another PDF upload or entry on a search-committee spreadsheet. That conversation shouldn’t be conducted through job-market materials — but that’s because it is too important, not because it is a stalking horse for angry mob ideology.

Rini, however, is in favor of diversity training, though she doesn’t mention that such training has repeatedly been shown to be ineffectual because it doesn’t dispel bias and may increase it:

The political scientists Elizabeth Corey and Jeffrey Polet say:

Trainings now aim at ends that are not only tendentious but even contrary to one of the chief ends of the university itself, which is the pursuit of truth. The problem is that “training” tends to assume that the truth is already known. It claims expert knowledge of truths about such complex and abstract things as “justice” and “race” and “gender.” But when these “truths” are, in fact, a matter of reasonable disagreement and current political contestation, the trainings become indoctrinations.

That certainly does sound terrible! But isn’t the problem here with trainings as such, not specifically about diversity training? As Corey and Polet go on to say: “Training stipulates the truth of its goal, and thus operates outside the proper authority and function of academic life itself. Educators take nothing to be self evident; trainers take everything to be so.” Understood literally, this view of academe — that its practitioners should take nothing for granted — implies educators should never be trained on anything, not even a payroll interface or PowerPoint. But, of course, that’s unworkable in practice. There is an inevitable tension in requiring academics — people prized for their independent thinking — to sometimes suspend their autonomy for the sake of keeping a large institution manageable. Yet we do it anyway for things like accounting rules and hiring practices. The answer isn’t as simple as that iconoclastic slogan “take nothing to be self evident.”

Yes, but there’s a big difference between diversity training and the kind of mandatory training I’ve taken here: training in sexual harassment, fire prevention, what to do if there’s a shooter on campus, how to deal with a kidnapping, and so on.

Diversity training isn’t required here and would never fly as a requirement—it’s optional. When the Provost once suggested that the faculty might have diversity training, the howl of protest was so loud that the matter wasn’t brought up again. The reason we require other types of training but will never require diversity training is that there are arguable and factually dubious contentions often made in diversity training, and we don’t propagandize our professors with things that can be contested. On the other hand, how to prevent fires or deal with shootings or illegal sexual harassment can’t be seen as contestable issues—at least to most reasonable people.

Note that I’ve just “engaged in collegial disagreement while still pulling the Wokeism alarm”, something that Rini thinks isn’t possible. But it is.

And I disagree with her that the excesses of the progressive left are relatively harmless. I can think of few greater harms than Trump getting re-elected in 2024.

Finally, below is a recent ad for a physical chemist at San Diego State University. It is overwhelmingly about the candidate’s ability to address diversity, with very little about their academic qualifications. Click on the screenshot to read the whole thing.

Do read the whole ad. It’s 764 words long. Of these, 251 words are about diversity statements and 85 about the diversity-promoting nature of the college, for a total of 336 words (44.7%). Only 86 words are used to describe the academic requirements of the job (research, teaching, funding, etc.); that’s 11.2%. The rest of the words deal with various policies of the university.

I submit that something has gone wrong in a job ad—and perhaps in academia— when discussion of diversity requirements is four times as important as academic requirements.

h/t: Luana, Anna

A NYT op-ed: Liberal Michelle Goldberg decries the “social justice industry”

November 16, 2021 • 12:30 pm

What is happening to the New York Times? Are they really walking back their “progressive” philosophy by criticizing—or rather, allowing one of their liberal columnists, Michelle Goldberg to criticize—the “Social Justice Industry.” (She says that the SJI is “often derided as ‘wokeness'”; and note that she said it, not me!)

This column by Goldberg stunned me, as she is not only a Leftist, but a “progressive” one.  Still, according to Wikipedia, she has criticized progressive Leftists before (though she’s nearly always criticizing the Right):

Goldberg, a progressive, has sometimes criticized strains of intolerance within the left’s discourse. In 2013 in “The Nation,” Goldberg criticized the public and media reactions to a racist tweet by Justine Sacco, who was fired for tweeting “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She wrote, “Almost any of us could be vulnerable to a crowd-sourced inquisition.” In a July 17, 2020, column in the “New York Times,” headlined, “Do Progressives Have a Free Speech Problem?” Goldberg wrote, “The mass uprising following the killing of George Floyd has led to a necessary expansion of the boundaries of mainstream speech…. At the same time, a climate of punitive heretic-hunting, a recurrent feature of left-wing politics, has set in, enforced, in some cases, through workplace discipline, including firings.”

In 2014, Goldberg wrote a piece for The New Yorker, titled, “What is a Woman?,” about the conflict between transgender women and some radical feminists. It was criticized by Jos Truitt in the Columbia Journalism Review on the basis of Goldberg’s support for trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs).

Now she’s writing a column that could have been taken from this website, criticizing the excesses of the progressive Left because they play into the hands of conservatives at a time when the Democratic grip on governance is in peril, and because some of these excesses do nothing to further real social justice. Click to read.

Goldberg’s bête noire here is the American Medical Association’s pamphlet and website “Advancing Health Equity: a Guide to Language“, which I wrote about previously, highlighting Jesse Singal’s criticisms of this ultrawoke document, which does nothing beyond suggested Wokeifying of medical lingo. Here are several examples of how whole phrases are supposed to change. Bad conventional phrases on the left, new “progressive” alternatives on the right:

Goldberg is quite critical of this (as any rational person would be), and says it’s not really been widely adopted.  For example, the CDC, when talking about Covid, uses the term “vulnerable populations” (the new version is “oppressed populations”, which isn’t even the same thing), and still uses forbidden violent language like “combatting the virus” or “an army against the virus.” (I presume such language is considered “triggering”.)  And Goldberg then indicts the Social Justice Industry as injurious to the Left (my emphasis)

Like most other reports written by bureaucratic working groups, “Advancing Health Equity” would probably be read by almost no one if it did not inadvertently advance the right-wing narrative that progressive newspeak is colonizing every aspect of American life. Still, the existence of this document is evidence of a social problem, though not, as the guide instructs us to say instead of “social problem,” a “social injustice.” The problem is this: Parts of the “diversity, equity and inclusion” industry are heavy-handed and feckless, and the left keeps having to answer for them.

I’m gobsmacked by this paragraph, especially the last sentence, which is of course true. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe had to answer for another heavy handed issue: Critical Race Theory. Now it’s true that the formal CRT isn’t taught in secondary schools, but there’s no doubt that ideas taken from it—harmful and divisive ideas—have seeped into school curricula throughout America.  In this case, though, Goldberg doesn’t see even that:

Consider the endless debate over critical race theory in public schools. In certain circles, it’s become conventional wisdom that even if public schools are not teaching graduate-school critical race theory, they’re permeated by something adjacent to it.

“The idea that critical race theory is an academic concept that is taught only at colleges or law schools might be technically accurate, but the reality on the ground is a good deal more complicated,” wrote Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic. Across the nation, he wrote, “many teachers” have started adopting “a pedagogical program that owes its inspiration to ideas that are very fashionable on the academic left, and that go well beyond telling students about America’s copious historical sins.”

In truth it’s hard to say what “many teachers” are doing; school curriculums are decentralized, and most of the data we have is anecdotal. But there was just a gubernatorial election in Virginia in which critical race theory played a major role. If the right had evidence of Virginia teachers indoctrinating children, you’d think we’d have heard about it. After all, school there was almost entirely online last year, offering parents an unprecedented window into what their kids were learning.

Well, Ms. Goldberg, I was with you until that last paragraph. We have enough documentation (the California state proposed ethnic studies program, for one), that we now have enough data (i.e., a flurry of disturbing anecdotes) to worry about schools being marinated in ideas derived from CRT.  Do I need to mention the many examples of race-shaming in public schools, or the sudden Wokification of elite private schools in New York City? You can find enough anecdotes, letters from irate parents, and newspaper reports to show that yes, Yascha Mounk is right.

But even if we agree with Goldberg that CRT and its offspring aren’t really a problem, she does note that the indoctrination of teachers, as documented in training slides, is a problem. She’s not that bothered, though, by antiracist training or teaching—she simply thinks (and she’s right) that it doesn’t work:

Such training would be worth fighting for if it had a record of success in changing discriminatory behavior, but it doesn’t. As the scholars Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev wrote in The Economist, hundreds “of studies of anti-bias training show that even the best programs have short-lived effects on stereotypes and no discernible effect on discriminatory behavior.” Instead of training sessions, they suggest that employers should focus their diversity efforts on concrete efforts like recruitment.

And with that I agree. For a while we were told by the Provost here that faculty might have to undergo equity training, but the pushback from our faculty was so hard that this idea has vanished. Despite repeated studies showing that anti-bias training doesn’t alter bias, people keep on paying consultants to deliver that training.  As they say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Goldberg finishes on a high note, arguing that all this posturing and policing is just hot air. No substantive work is done, no minds changed. And that is what “wokeness” is: the set of words and performative assertions that have no effect on the problems they’re supposed to remedy:

But substantive change is hard; telling people to use different words is easy. One phrase you won’t find in “Advancing Health Equity” is “universal health care”: The American Medical Association has been a consistent opponent of Medicare for All. The word “abortion” isn’t in there either, though it would advance health equity if more doctors were willing to perform one.

Excellent points and good writing!

Finally, Goldberg dismisses the argument that documents like the AMA’s “medspeak” report are Orwellian, for she says that truly Orwellian efforts would compel doctors to use them instead of allowing people to laugh at them. Her response:

But it does irritate me, because [the AMA’s language policing] is so counterproductive. “It’s not scary, it’s just ridiculous,” is not a winning political argument.

Note that she doesn’t say, as many do (even here) that we should ignore this stuff and keep bashing the Republicans. After all, they’re a bigger danger. But I tell you what: the biggest danger is that they’ll regain power in a year or three, and we can’t do anything to let that happen. What occurred in the Virginia gubernatorial elections is a shot across our bow.

As for Goldberg, she seems to be an open-minded and rational Leftist, and I admire her more after reading this piece. I’m surprised they let her run it, but then again they’re publishing McWhorter as well as articles on Leftist infighting that wouldn’t have appeared two years ago.

Your own NYT column

November 15, 2021 • 9:15 am

Again there is little news to dissect, analyze, or critique today, and I haven’t seen anything comment-worthy for a few days.  But after I read a few lame columns in The New York Times and Washington Post, I thought, “It would be great to do a column for them.”  Of course that will never happen, but I realized that everyone must have a column in them (yes, Hitchens said that about books: “everyone has a book in them, and that’s where it should stay”).

So here is a question for you:

The New York Times has given you 1000 words to write an op-ed column on a topic of your choice. You get one shot. What would you like to tell the readers?

We’re assuming it will be accepted pretty much as is, and will be lightly edited for style but not substantively altered.

This is a tough one. You could write on a current event or stuff happening lately, or you could write a more general column, like Charles Blow’s column today on “colorism.”  Remember, you are trying to change people’s minds.

My first thought was to write about atheism—or rather, the proposition that “faith is not a virtue”. The topic would be the advantage to you and to society of adopting an empirical attitude, so that your opinions, insofar as they purport to be based on facts, are indeed based on empirically verifiable facts.

I wrote a piece for Slate along these lines some time ago, but that was intended to distinguish religious faith from the colloquial way people say they have “faith in science” or “faith in my doctor”, which are really “confidence based on experience.”  This time I’d like to describe why faith, construed as belief without evidence, is not a virtue but a vice.  As I say in the last sentence of Faith Versus Fact, “Above all, I’ll have achieved my aim if, when you hear someone described as a ‘person of faith’, you see it as criticism rather than praise.

I suppose this was inspired by Tish Harrison Warren’s repeated osculations of the rump of Anglicanism in her weekly NYT column, in which she makes assertions with no facts behind them.  There is never a column calling out this kind of palaver.  I make no pretense that I’d say something that others haven’t said before, but my view is that the more people decry faith and religion publicly, the faster it will disappear. The problem would be that I’d have to defuse counterarguments (e.g., “religion isn’t based on facts but is a big metaphor”), with not much space to do so.

But I digress. What would you write on, and why?

Send in your teddy bear photos!

November 15, 2021 • 7:15 am

After I posted a photo of my teddy bear Toasty the other day, some pictures of readers’ teddies have come in.  I decided to solicit more, so if you have an old teddy bear that you owned as a child, do send me a photo and some words about the bear (don’t forget its name!), and I’ll put together a “Readers Teddys” feature.

Four years ago I had a “Readers’ plushes” post, including many stuffed animals and quite a few bears. If you contributed to that, you needn’t send in your bear now.  I’ll collect new submissions until Friday.


Below is a replica of the original Teddy bear, named after Theodore Roosevelt and sold as “Teddy Bear” with Roosevelt’s permission. The story of its origin is sad, involving a bear cub that was trapped and put out of its misery (i.e., shot) on Roosevelt’s orders. A cartoon of the incident, drawn by Clifford Berryman, was published in the Washington Post in 1902, and inspired a toymaker to create the plush toy. It was a great success.

The cartoon:

A replica of the original Teddy:

Sleepless in Chicago

November 14, 2021 • 9:15 am

Posting may be lighter during the next several weeks as I struggle to overcome a case of chronic insomnia (or “semi-chronic insomnia”) that started a couple of months ago but has been exacerbated (as is intended) by therapy.  I’m not looking for sympathy here—insomnia isn’t nearly as bad as many maladies—but I’m trying to explain why posting may decline in frequency and in quality for a while. (It’s hard to think and write on four hours of sleep per night.)

Backstory: I’ve had bouts of insomnia twice in my life, both associated with stress. One was at the University of Maryland when I began my first job and was anxious to make good.  The stress took the form of me being unable to get to sleep. I went to a doctor who prescribed a change in behavior. “If you can’t get to sleep,” he told me, “Get out of bed and do pushups until you’re worn out with them. Then get back into bed. Repeat every 20 minutes until you sleep.”

I suppose the idea was that I would get so revolted by having to do pushups that my body would force me to sleep.

It didn’t work: I was still an insomniac, but with an impressive set of triceps. Eventually the insomnia went away.  It turns out, though, that getting out of bed if you can’t sleep is the basis for the kind of therapy I’m trying now, called CBT-I, or “cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.” Everyone says that it has a high success rate (about 70%), and it doesn’t involve drugs, which I don’t like to take. (My doc and I have tried to find a good sleep doctor who knows about medication for sleep, but so far without success. And I don’t know if those drugs would be efficacious—some of them have the side effect of making you get fatter!)

My current sleep issues began about two or three months ago.  The issue this time was not getting to sleep, as I always dozed off within ten minutes of turning off the lights, but waking up early in the morning and trying, unsuccessfully, to get back to sleep. Sometimes I’d wake up at 1:00 a.m. and and struggle for hours to get back to sleep. (I’m told that many people had sleep disruption during the pandemic.)

I pushed my bedtime back farther and farther, until 8:30 p.m. (which of course puts a crimp in your social life), but all that meant is that I’d wake up even earlier.  I was getting about 5-6 hours of sleep per night, and I know from experience that I need at least 6.5 hours to function decently and 7-8 to be in top form. (And you supposedly need more sleep as you get older.)

As for the cause of this bout of insomnia, I have no idea. I’m not particularly stressed over anything, though when I (and many people) wake up in the middle of the night, worries and dark thoughts sometimes run through the head.  Eventually I trained myself to dispel this midnight anxiety by simply pushing the thoughts out of my head. But that didn’t help my sleep, either. I’d lie in bed awake thinking of nothing in particular, the hours would turtle by, and eventually I’d give up and get up for the day.

Finally, my doctor referred me to a psychologist who specialized in CBT-I, a method you can read about here. I’m told that the regimen will take 5-7 weeks, though it could be longer or shorter, and the rate of
“clinically significant improvement” in sleep (I’m not sure what that means) is about 70%.  Right now I’m starting with “sleep restriction”, which is BRUTAL. Here’s what the link says about it:

This method sets strict limits on the time you spend in bed. The initial limit used is the same as the amount of sleep you tend to get on a nightly basis. For example, you may only get five hours of sleep even though you spend seven hours in bed at night. Two hours in bed are spent trying to fall asleep or go back to sleep after waking up. In this case, your initial limit would be set so that you spend only five hours in bed at night. This means that you are likely to get less than five hours of sleep.

This sleep loss will make you even more tired at first. However, it will also help you fall asleep faster and wake up fewer times in the night. This will allow a solid period of sleep and a more stable sleep pattern. As your sleep improves, the limit on your time in bed is slowly increased. The goal is to reach the point where you get the amount of sleep you need without reducing the quality of your sleep.

For two weeks I kept a sleep log, recording bedtimes, waking-up times in the night (you can’t look at a clock, so you have to estimate), and what time I finally get out of bed, as well as how I feel the next day and whether I napped the previous day. Under the regimen above, NO NAPS ARE ALLOWED! That’s the toughest part—aside from feeling half-dead. Oh, and I need to exercise regularly as part of “sleep hygiene.” I’m taking very fast walks for several hours each week, but it’s not easy when you’re dopey.

From the sleep log, the psychologist determined that I was getting about six hours of sleep per night, including naps. Ergo, the prescription: go to bed at 8:30 and get up for the day at, yes, 2:30 a.m.  If you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep in 20 minutes, go into another room and read a book for five minutes. Then go back to bed. Lather, rinse, and repeat.  If you don’t get to sleep doing this, you still have to get up at 2:30 a.m.

Oh, and you aren’t supposed to be in bed for any purpose other than sleeping. That’s tough for me, as I always read in bed, write a lot of this site in bed, and am often horizontal when I’m home, even when awake. Now I don’t go near the bedroom until it’s time to sack out for the night.

You may have wondered how I know when it’s 2:30 if I’m not allowed to look at a watch or clock. I set my phone with an alarm. I’ve always hated alarms, and never used them since I always woke up at the same time. They’re intrusive!

They weren’t kidding when they used the phrase above: “this sleep loss will make you even more tired at first”.  The first day I got about 4 hours of sleep. And getting up at 2:30 a.m. is no picnic, let me tell you. There’s nothing on t.v., so I read or simply go to work. The second night I was so tired that I almost passed out, and slept the entire 6 hours without awakening. That was very encouraging, but last night was another 4-hour rest again. I’m not sure how long I can keep this up, but I’m determined to follow the regimen because it’s been shown to have a high success rate.

Well, all that is by way of explanation, but I also find the experience interesting though debilitating. But I know that lack of sleep can injure your health, so I’m worried about that, too.  The upshot is that trying to work or think or write often seem like insuperable tasks when you’re this tired, but I’m soldiering on.

Again, I’m not writing this to solicit pity (or prayers!), but to explain what’s going on.  I’ve found that just writing this down made me feel better—though not less tired.

Readers may wish to weigh in with their own tales of insomnia. (Please don’t prescribe things for me to do or swallow, though, as I want to stick with the plan we’ve settled on.) The disorder is said to be quite common.


Why the pastel hair?

November 9, 2021 • 2:15 pm

All of a sudden on campus I’ve noticed two fashion changes, both mainly but not exclusively among women. The first are huge clunky boots like combat boots, black and with very thick soles. I think they’re unsightly, as they’re often worn with a nice outfit that isn’t at all complemented by these clunkers.

The other is pastel-colored hair. Now that’s been a “thing” for several years, but now a lot more students of both sexes are sporting purple, green, or blue hair. Like the clunker boots, I don’t find the look appealing, but then none of these fashions are meant to appeal to me.

The question is: what does this mean? Fashion, after all, often says something about what image you want to project. My theory, which is mine, is that the pastel colored hair is associated with being woke, and projects that image. The reason I suspect this is that I’ve never met anybody with this kind of dye job who wasn’t woke. It may be a form of the “green beard” syndrome, enabling you to recognize others in your tribe.

As for the boots, my first thought was Antifa garb. So my working hypothesis is that people who sport both of these items are saying they are woke and tough, while the colored hair alone denotes wokeness.

Now I could be completely wrong here, and these are just the kind of fashions that appeal simply because everybody else is wearing them. But I suspect there’s some grain of truth in my speculations.