About half a dozen readers have reported that since yesterday they haven’t received their emails of posts on this site. (I think they’re all Gmail users.) I have no idea what’s going on, and have called the problem to the attention of my web tech person. I’m not sure if anything can be done about this, but I’m trying.
To judge the nature of the problem, simply put a comment below if you’ve stopped getting emails rather than emailing me about it.
In the meantime, if you have another email account I would suggest using that one, or, as in the good old days, just look at the site itself online once a day (there are rarely any posts after 2 pm Chicago time, and each day begins with a Hili Dialogue post).
I hope this is a temporary inconvenience, and I’m doing my best to get it fixed. Thanks.
Here’s a dilemma I face constantly. A lot of material on this site is devoted to opposing “progressive liberal” (i.e., “woke”) initiatives, particularly in science. And I’m pretty much of an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech on campus, which isn’t exactly an attitude that’s au courant or ubiquitous among progressives.
Whenever another site links to a post on WEIT, which is fairly often, I get a “pingback” that lets me know that someplace has put up a link. Very often I go to see how my posts are being used, and very often—in fact at least 90% of the time—it’s a right-wing site like The College Fix, or The American Conservative, or someone like that, all of them decrying wokeness. Likewise, you’ll never see my criticisms of the incursion of wokeness into science appear in science journals—or in any left-wing media. In other words, my words are being uses to attack the Left, which happens to be the end of the political spectrum I’m on.
Now I could look at this situation in two ways.
1.) Since I go after what I see as irrational or harmful behaviors of “progressives”—and I do that to try to show that even liberals can call out their own, as well as to help purge the authoritarian and reflexively irrational elements on my own side of the aisle—I could regard these pingbacks as helping me in those efforts.
2.) The audience for these right-wing websites isn’t just interested in getting rid of “progressivism” or authoritarianism in the Left: they want to get rid of the entire Left. To the extent that my words are being construed as tarring the entire Left, I could be seen as hurting my own cause. Or even as helping the most dire Republicans around—the people like Trump who call out wokeness to go after Democrats in general.
Each time I see a pingback from one of these conservative sites, then, I am ambivalent. Am I helping or hurting my own cause? Like all people who take my point of view, I have of course been called “alt-right,” “racist”, and even a white supremacist. I brush off those names because they’re just slurs that progressives who lack arguments use to tar their opponents.
Now I’ve already my decision: I’m going to keep doing what I do (alternative 1) for several reasons. My motivations in calling out woke craziness is not to go after the Left as a whole, and thus I may, as someone with Leftist beliefs and a fairly activist track record, have more credibility than the right-wing sites who call out the same stuff. Further, I cannot bear it when the Left is associated with performative nonsense and general insanity. It’s like when someone in your family is acting badly: you call them out before others do, because, after all, they’re family. Finally, I still think that purging progressives from the Democratic side, or at least letting others know that we recognize the Follies of the Woke, will keep centrists from moving toward the Right. So long as people think all Leftists are “progressive”, they will shy away from the Left, and that would not be good.
I just wanted to air these thoughts. Readers are welcome to react, and you can tell me to dial down my criticisms of “progressivism,” but I’m not going to do it. Oh, and please don’t lecture me about using the word “woke”. I have not found a good substitute and I’ve gotten plenty of blowback about that, which I’ve also rejected.
It’s time for the end-of-the-year summing up. As of January, this website will have been going 14 years. In that period I’ve put up 26,803 posts (including this one), and there have been 1,252,059 comments. That was 46.7 comments per post, and a few years ago I vowed to discontinue the site if comments dropped below 50 per post. Well, as you see, I’ve violated my vow, but am not sure why. Maybe, like the Twitter addicts I just denigrated, I need the love.
Below is what my dashboard tells me are the top posts in terms of views (I’m not sure whether this is just for the year or for all time; I suspect it’s the latter, simply because the audience has grown). I can’t take a lot of pride in this because the two top posts had very little intellectual input from me. #1, which was posted recently, just points to a good website harboring informative videos about sex and gender. The second one I saw as a “throwaway post”—one of those pieces where I rant in Andy Rooney style—this time about the shrinkage of ice-cream quantities with no corresponding reduction in price. How did I know that so many people shared the anger against Big Food?
Looking them all over, I can see no real pattern in them. It may be that when a Big Fish like Dawkins or Pinker tweets about one of my posts, it gets a lot more views. But I can’t be arsed to look.
At any rate, if you missed any of these, here’s your chance to see what got the clicks.
Once again I’m debilitated from lack of sleep, having slept for a handful of hours last night. I have no idea why my insomnia recurred, as I’m following my sleep hygiene rules pretty carefully. But the upshot is that my brain isn’t working well, and posting is a huge effort. It will be light today, and I’ll divert my minimal energy into preparing talks for my upcoming lecture cruise to the Galápagos.
But I thought I’d pose ten questions to the readers of this site to see how attentive they are. (Yes, this is a bit solipsistic.) To answer them all, you’d have to have been a reader for a while. Some are easy, others aren’t, but no Googling or searching the site allowed.
1.) What does PCC(E) stand for?
2.) Give two reasons why canids are usually spelled “d*g” on this site
3.) Why don’t I like WEIT to be called a “blog”? What’s the preferred term for the site?
4.) What is the name of my favorite duck, and how many years in succession have I taken care of her?
5.) How did this website get started?
6.) What was the name of my last cat, and what kin of cat was it?
7.) From what region does my favorite red wine come?
8.) What must all readers do before they put up their first comment?
9.) What is the name of Steve Pinker’s teddy bear? (This was the subject of a contest a long time ago.)
10.) What was the great insight I had on an acid trip when I was in college?
Here’s an old video from Vox that shows morphological evidence for evolution in the human body based on vestigial organs and traits. Most of these can be found in Why Evolution is True, but it’s good to see them in video like this.
This takes the website back to its original aim: giving the readers evidence for why evolution is true.
I can’t remember why I opened the natural-selection chapter in Why Evolution is True (chapter 5: “The Engine of Evolution”) with the story of the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarina) and of the counterdefense of its prey of native honeybees. (The European honeybee, more recently introduced into Asia, has not evolved such a bizarre and amazing defense.) The giant hornet is much to be feared by both honeybees and humans: it’s as big as your thumb, and several humans (and millions of bees) die from its attacks every year.
Since you all should have a copy of WEIT (as Hitch would say, “Available at fine bookstores everywhere”), I won’t recount the story of the native honeybees’ defense, but it involve luring the voracious hornet scout into the bee nest and the cooking it to death: surrounding it with a ball of vibrating bee bodies that raises the ball’s internal temperature to 117 degrees F (47°C): a temperature that kills the wasp but not the bees.
I suppose I put that story in because it’s a stunning example of the power of natural selection to shape behavior (in both wasp and bee), and not many people knew about it. Now I hear that a lot of readers especially liked that story. It is a true one, and in this segment from BBC Earth, you can see the nefarious hornet scout discovering a hive of native honeybees.
The scout marks the hive with pheromones and usually flies back to recruit a swarm of fellow hornets to return to the nest to destroy it: a process that can take only a short while as the wasps nest in minutes, decapitate adult bees and steal their honey and and bee grubs. But, as I relate in the book, sometimes, as here, the hornet scout never gets back to its own nest because of the counterdefense. The native bees lure it inside and cover it with vibrating bees that kill it.
This video is, of course, far more vivid that what I could say in words, so I want to show it here. But imagine the sequence of evolutionary steps that produced this defense!
If you want to see how these hornets slaughter the non-native European honeybees, watch this gruesome attack (each wasp can kill 40 bees per minute!). I’m sure I’ve shown this video somewhere in the distant past.
Today’s photos are of the Galápagos Islands and its wildlife, taken by reader Joe Baldassano. His commentary and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.
Attached are some photos of my November 27 thru Dec 6, 2021 trip to the Galapagos Islands.
First, you will recognize the Island below (not named in the attachment) as Daphne Major. I want to mention to your readers that this was the site of Peter and Rosemary Grant’s studies of finches which led to the book The Beak of the Finch, a work I highly recommend. This island is off limits to visitors without special permission from the government.
During this trip, I visited the islands of Genovesa, Balta, St. Cruz, Santiago, and Isabella. Most of the wildlife has no fear of humans and I believe credit for that rests with the government of Ecuador. All excursions into the islands are closely regulated and visitors are accompanied by a well-trained naturalist. You can get very close to the animals, but no contact is permitted.
Each island offered an opportunity for snorkeling, and I was able to swim with sea lions, fur seals, sea turtles, manta rays, white tip sharks, and penguins. On one particular snorkeling excursion, a large sea gull did not welcome our presence and swam over to me and began pecking at my goggles; he/she was not happy and began pecking at my arm. I just swam backwards and the gull focused attention on my snorkeling buddy by ripping one of the filters off of his underwater camera. It was very exciting provided and comic relief for all of us.
Seeing the giant tortoises and all of the wildlife found nowhere else was a gift,and I would encourage any follower of your WEIT site to put the Galapagos Islands on their bucket list.
I’m getting fed up with the unresponsiveness of WordPress, which changes formats without warning, causing problems for this site and others. Yesterday I was informed, after several glitches over the past few days, that my “theme” is no longer supported, though I was told the day before that that everything would be fixed.
As a result of these problems, I’m informing readers about the changes that have occurred, how to deal with them, and then I’ll advertise for someone to redesign this site.
First, the left and right sidebars, with the search boxes, number of subscribers, and place to subscribe yourself, have somehow combined and migrated to the bottom of the screen, so if you want to find them, don’t look top right and left, but scroll all the way down. As for making comments, you may have to fill in your information when you do. (I have to do this as well, and never had to before.) Chrome autofill might make this easier. There’s also a new “like” button for comments, which appeared briefly during the last glitch about a year ago (it mysteriously disappeared). Use it or ignore it if you wish.
My own posting has become quite a bit harder. The site runs much more slowly, embedding photos is extremely slow, and I can no longer insert, say, New York Times URLs and have the article appear as a click-on shot. Instead, I must take a screenshot and then link it to the article. Saving drafts and resurrecting up past drafts takes a lot of time. I’m bearing with it, though life is short.
For me, the obvious remedy is to find someone to redesign the site, using a theme that is supported. (I’m sufficiently conservative to not want to migrate to a new host.) My wish is to keep the appearance of the site as unchanged as possible given the use of a new theme. In that way I’m also a conservative, though open to suggestions. Thus, I’m looking around for someone who can redesign a site to make it work well, but also to keep it much the same. If you have extensive experience designing WordPress sites, and are willing to play around with this one, please get in touch with me (email is best). I am of course willing to remunerate designers for their time and work.
My other alternative is to say screw it and stop writing here, but I’m not ready to do that. I know this because I felt pretty bad yesterday having to deal with these issues, which meant to me that I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel. But damn, WordPress is an unresponsive organization, despite the dosh I give them under the expensive “business plan.”
All of us, including me, are now subject to a new glitch on the site. When you want to leave a comment, you have to do so at the bottom of all the comments, which will show your sign-in requisites. Further, if you want to reply to a comment already on the thread, PLEASE hit “reply” below the comment to which you’re replying. The same sign-in box will appear, but your comment will be properly placed as a reply.
I don’t like this any more than you do, and I am fighting with WordPress, who says it’s an unavoidable “occurrence” with an outdated site design. I don’t believe that, as surely something can be reversed to fix it. At any rate, I ask you not to be deterred by this new glitch. I’ll try to get it fixed, but please bear with it until it is fixed (or not).