A creationist writes in: repent your acceptance of evolution lest ye burn in hell

May 30, 2023 • 12:15 pm

News is slow today, and I’m not feeling great, as my insomnia has returned. Let’s look at a new reader’s comment, which was meant to be put up after the post below but of course was trashed by moi.  If you reply, though, I’ll alert the religious Paul Polster to your comments.

Read and weep. It’s Pascal’s wager!

Details: From one “Paul A Polster” in reply to Carlos on the post “Odious Ray Comfort movie (watch it below) to be distributed in public schools“:

Think about this, and pass it along to all your fellow atheists: if you are right, you die, it is all over, no harm, but if God does exist, and the Bible is true, when you die, you will appear at the great white throne as a lost soul. You will hear a list of sins that you have committed since you were aware of right and wrong, you will bow a knee to Jesus Christ, however, it will be too late to repent and you will be cast into Hell for eternity. You evolutionists are thinkers, think that one through in your quiet time and add this to it: have I lied? stolen?looked at the opposite sex with lust? Cheated on a test? Give some thought as to why these things happen as well as why good and evil exist. Evolution has no answer to these questions. One final thought: are you willing to risk possibly going to hell in order to hold to your faith in evolution? (it requires faith to believe it). Or are you willing to give true science ( discovery of the truth) a chance with an open mind? I hope you can ,your eternity depends on it.

Well, we’re all going to hell, including Jimmy Carter, who has looked on women with lust.  He’s close to the end, and I bet he can feel the flames now. . .

A few comments:

  1. Why is “believing in evolution” a sin? Did God put the evidence for evolution everywhere to deceive us?  (And if you think it takes “faith” to believe in evolution, read my article dispelling that bit of stupidity.)
  2. Which moral dictates are we supposed to believe? If we’re Jews, we can’t mix meat and milk in one meal. If we’re Catholics, we have to go to confession. If we’re Muslims, we have to observe Ramadan. I presume that Mr. Polster somehow knows that the Christian god is the REAL god. But how does he know?
  3. What kind of God would send someone to hell who has lived a good life even if he didn’t accept the existence of God.’
  4. The absolute certainty of Polster—about the falsity of evolution, about God being the Christian god, and about liars and the lustful going to hell—is breathtaking.

The kind of God that Polster paints is the ruler, as Hitchens used to say, of a celestial North Korea. He’ll toss into the fire anybody who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ (even those who were faithful before the time of Jesus Christ), he burn anybody who accept the evidence for evolution that God supposedly put all around us, and he’s not in the least merciful.  Why did he design our bodies to lust after members of the opposite sex if you’re going to hell for it?


Can mātauranga Māori help us understand climate change?

May 30, 2023 • 9:30 am

Judging from this video lecture and Q&A session below by a Māori climate scientist, the answer to the title question is “no”.

A New Zealand biologist and teacher sent me the 46-minute video, angered at its intellectual vacuity, as you can detect from his/her email. (By the way, the scientists I quote are different people, not just one disaffected person.  Plenty of Kiwi scientists are fed up with the nation’s drive to indigenize science, as well as its handing over tons of grant money to Māori researchers for dubious projects. But they dare not reveal their names for fear of losing their jobs and reputations. This is a country where academia is deeply involved in self-censoring). Anyway, the email:

“Yesterday I came across a teachers’ newsletter referencing a webinar titled “What te aro Maori can teach us about climate change?” It’s 45 minutes long long and fellow bio teacher [NAME REDACTED] and I could only stomach the first 17 mins, with references to the “sky god”. Readers might be able to get further, but I can’t take this garbage.”

I had trouble getting through it, too, as it’s pretty much anodyne gobbledygook with the ultimate message “we need to talk to each other”. But I managed to listen to the whole thing, though it took me two sessions.

Although I had trouble deciphering some of the Māori language (the use of which is imperative to establish your credibility), I believe the words “te aro Māori” in the title simply mean “Māori-centered focus.” The question at hand is clearly what using that focus, or using mātauranga Māori (Māori “ways of knowing”, henceforth “MM”) can tell us about climate change, and how to ameliorate its effects.

Sadly, nowhere in the entire presentation and question session could I find a single contribution that a Māori perspective contributes to our understanding of and work on climate change. Listen for yourself and tell me if you find anything substantive.

That’s not surprising: after all, it was modern (not “Western”) science that discovered the issue of anthropogenic climate change and is now working on how to ameliorate it, though that will involve not just science but politics.  And if the Māori perspective can contribute to the political solution at least, or provide useful scientific viewpoints, we’d like to know. But the effort here comes up dry, with the climate scientist spouting bromides that you’ll see below. In the end, I felt as if I had given up 45 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.  All I can do with that lost time is show the readers what the Māori themselves present as their best case for contributing to science. And the case is pitiful.

Here are the YouTube notes:

In our first Climate Conversation, Akuhata Bailey-Winiata (University of Waikato) will speak specifically about his work on the relevance and application of mātauranga and te ao Māori in climate change. The session will be facilitated by Glen Cornelius (Chief Executive, Harrison Grierson and Deputy President, Te Ao Rangahau). Bailey-Winiata is a climate change scientist.

Click to watch.  The take-home lesson is in a series of slides, some of which I’ve put below, but there’s not much to take home:

In lieu of his inability to really nail down proposals and solutions that differ between Māori and “Western” viewpoints,  Bailey-Wineata simply discusses the differences in between Māori and “Western” worldviews, and then makes up reasons why they’re relevant. One of the differences is said to involve the “Western” concept of linear time and the Māori concept of “Indigenous time” (slide below).  This turns out to be irrelevant because of the false suggestion that while Westerners have linear time, and don’t really look back much, the Māori view of time sees it as “event based” and “nonlinear”, with the “past and future just as important as the present.” Since climate change is really a problem for the future, but is detected by comparing past with the present, and solved by extrapolating into the future, this is a distinction without a difference, and not a contribution of MM to science. The slide:

When asked how MM-based scientific methods differ form those of modern science, Māori tend to emphasize the “interconnectedness of everything”, as opposed to the supposedly “Western” view that things aren’t much interconnected. Here’s the slide that emphasizes that supposed difference, but I see nothing relevant between this Māori view and the way modern science tackles climate change, which of course involves thinking about both past and future generations (cf. Greta Thunberg):

Below a slide meant to emphasize how Māori “long term views” can contribute to the climate change problem. Note that the lecturer brings in storytelling and water spirits, but again, this leads at best to only a week and unenlightening analogy between the dangers of water spirits and the dangers of climate change. I won’t get into the tail-flicking of the water spirit, supposedly a metaphor for a river changing course and causing flood damage (see here).

The lesson from the above: don’t put houses where they can be affected by climate change. But that’s just common sense, not a unique Māori-centric conclusion. Every insurance company in the US knows this.

Here’s a slide that again relies on weak metaphor: just as rivers in NZ can be “braided,” so, says Bailey-Winiata, so we need both Māori and “Western” approaches to science. (The constant use of the words “Western science” to refer to “modern science” irks me, but I use the term because the lecturer does.) At any rate, he says over and over again that both approaches are needed, but never says one tangible thing about what the Māori approach can add to how science is presently addressing climate change.

The Māori answer to the question “what can you add to how science is currently done?” invariably involves simply emphasizing the difference between Māori and non-Māori world views, but never translates these into tangible actions, much less telling us how they add to science in general.

Finally, here are Bailey-Winiata’s “take home messages”.   Again, they emphasize the difference in world view, but never tell us how those differences promote fruitful cultural interaction when it comes to scientific problems that affect society.


If you think I’m deliberately distorting what the lecturer says, and leaving out valuable contributions that a Māori view can bring to climate change, then by all means watch the video for yourself.

Bailey-Winiata‘s presentation is finished in 25 minutes, and in the rest of the video he answers listeners’ questions fed to him by moderator Grierson. Here are a few questions and answers. I’ll paraphrase some of them, and give quotes (using quotation marks) when I had time to write them down.

Question: “Are there difficulties matching the timelines from the event-based sense of time [hundreds of years] to a Western sense of time?”?

Answer: Yes, for Māori culture gives us a long-term view, so this changes “how policies and industry has been done.”  The Māori view tells us that “building the capacity to do these things within that spaces of change and policy is going to be crucial heading into the future, but yeah. . . it’s a hard question to answer in terms of. . .yeah.”

In other words, it’s gobbledygook.

Question:  “What challenges could you give us as engineers and as climate-change practitioners to embrace teo Māori and empower the use of MM amd mauri in the work we do?”

Answer: “The challenge is just to be open to new ideas to new concepts and new ways of knowing, of being, of doing. . . . we need to open ourselves up to these different knowledge systems. . .have conversations with your Maori colleagues, have a cup of tea with them, and just talk.” Answer: “be openminded and understanding. .  see the other side.

There’s a strong smell of kumbaya in such answers.

At one point, when asked what kind of new Māori-centric institutions we need to promote indigenous world views, Bailey-Winiata says that the Māori need “safe spaces” for discussion.

“Be openminded, be aware of time, everything is interconnected. . . “:  this is what we hear over and over again. What we don’t hear is how MM adds to modern science.

Question: How can we use the past to inform how we deal with climate change (emphasis on the past is part of the Māori “nonlinear” view of time)?

Answer:  We can “use history to understand how we can look forward in the future.” Māori tradition tells us “what can we draw resilience and inspiration from.”

Of course using the past to inform the future is already an integral part of climate-change solutions.

Question:  Is there existing literature in Maori available on climate change for the general public?”

Answer:”It’s very sparse. . . . . there’s a lot about Māori natural hazards that you can draw parallels with, but not much historical work has been done.”

Short answer, “no.”  Bailey-Winiata then lists several Māori people who are “pushing the boundaries of this area of climate change in Maori, and the literature is bound to come out”. But where is that literature? I look forward to it.


Question: “Do you think that Pākehā [the Māori word for European descendants] need to get on board with accepting some of the Māori values when planning projects, especially when accepting climate change.”

Answer; Bailey Winiata mentions the famous Listener letter of 2021, in which seven University of Auckland academics argue that MM should not be taught as if it were equivalent to modern science, and then claims that this misguided viewpoint is spreading.  Instead, he says, we need to “be open to the idea of new ways of knowing and new ways of doing”. and “we need to move forward because climate change is happening.”   The moderator, of course agrees, as he has with everything that Bailey-Winiata says.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends: a presentation of the value of Māori ways of knowing in addressing anthropogenic climate change—and from a Māori climate-change scientist with a Ph.D.  Either he’s totally unable to express the values he sees in using MM to address the problem, or there is no value of using MM to address the problem. I tend toward the latter view, for MM was developed before “Western” scientists raised the problem of climate change, and MM is a worldview that contains a bit of practical knowledge but nothing that bears on climate change unless you think that the “long view,” supposedly contributed by Māori lore, has something to add. In fact, that could even be deleterious, for at one point Bailey-Winiata mentions even bigger climate change in the past—something that climate-change denialists often cite when arguing that today’s changes are simply part of the historical cycle of climate change on Earth.

Since this is a half-hour lecture by a credentialed Māori climate-change scientist, I take it to be the best case that can be made for infusing MM into modern science, at least in terms of climate change. And the case is not only weak, but nonexistent. There is no “there” there.

Let me emphasize that by criticizing MM as a valuable contribution to modern science, I am not criticizing the Māori people themselves, who had a rough time of it, but are now reaping reparations in the form of affirmative action, jobs, grants, and the like. But I will argue that their “way of knowing” is way overemphasized, and that the government and academic powers of New Zealand, in a desire to cater to “the sacred victim,” are being sold a bill of goods.

Readers wildlife photos

May 30, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s batch of plant photos comes from Rik Gern of Austin, Texas. His narration is indented, and you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Here is another collection of pictures of plants growing in my yard. These were prevalent in March and are either wildflowers or weeds, depending on your perspective.

The first plant, False Dayflower (Tinantia anomala) started making sporadic appearances in the back yard about ten years ago. It didn’t show up every year and when it did, it was only in small clusters, but this year it took over the back corner of the yard. I was surprised to learn that it is found only in parts of central and south Texas, and a few places in Mexico. The flowers look this striking and cartoonish only when they first bloom; after that they shrink up a bit and droop so that the purple specks in the field of green only become visible as you get closer. The young flowers are quite the attention grabbers though, as you can see from these pictures taken in mid-March. The first one looks like a frame from a Pixar animation and I half expect it to start gesturing and speaking!

The Tenpetal Thimbleweed (Anemone berlandieri) grows faster than the grass and stands above it with thick rubbery stems (third photo). Bees and butterflies seem to like it, so it’s a keeper. The petals can come in white, pink, purple, and maybe other colors.

Either this one (6) is a mutant, or they can also come with more than ten petals. I count 14 in this picture.

The prettiest flower in this series is the Purple Heart, or Wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida). I’m not sure if this is a wildflower or was planted by the house’s previous owner, but it’s been growing in an area by the front fence for the 17 years I’ve lived here and has survived droughts, freezes, trampling and just about any other indignity you can imagine. (As I was typing the last sentence a lightbulb went off in my head—So that’s why it’s called a Wandering Jew!) Most of the pictures I’ve seen online show deep purple leaves, but apparently that has to do with the amount of sunlight it receives. This one lives in a shaded area.

Going from beauty to the beast, here is the mighty and fearsome Prickly Sow-thistle (Sonchus asper). I sent you a whole batch of Prickly Sowthistle pictures a few years ago and have remained intrigued by this plant ever since. You wouldn’t want to have too many of them around, but their shape and structure is fascinating and elegant in its own menacing way.

It is an edible plant, but I just use it as food for my imagination, so here are two photoshopped variations. (9&10). The first variation (Grumpy Thistle) shows what might happen if it spread and took over the world. The second photo (Dragon’s Eye) shows it starting to take over the universe!!!

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

May 30, 2023 • 6:45 am

It’s Tuesday, the Cruelest Day: May 30, 2023, and National Mint Julep Day. It’s a good drink, especially when made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon. I like it served in a frosty metal cup, though you can’t see the booze:

The Spruce Eats/Madhumita Sathishkumar

It’s also National Creativity Day, World MS Day, Lod Massacre Remembrance Day, and Jail Day for Theranos Grifters: by 2 p.m. today, Elizabeth Holmes must report to Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas, to begin her 11 year+ 3 month sentence. Will she show up? If she does, you can check out what her life will be like here  and see her 75-page “Inmate Handbook” here.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the May 30 Wikipedia page.

Wine of the week:  There aren’t many reviews of this red Rhone wine on the web, and those you can find say it’s okay but not great. I disagree a bit: it’s very good, especially for the price: I recall I paid around ten bucks for it. It’s from the Ventoux region, the SE part of France’s Rhone valley.

One site describes this wine as “rich and intense” but adds (for the 2007), “This is not widely known among wines from Ventoux. Interest in this wine has fallen off relative to previous years.” Pity.  The 2012, below, is made from Grenache and Syrah, and has the characteristic black-olive nose that I always smell in a good Rhone, and a taste of blackcurrents with very little tannin. It isn’t thin, nor gutsy either: it is in excellent drinking condition.

Rhones are my favorite of all the world’s reds (n.b., I have little experience with good Burgundy), and although this bottle doesn’t come close to the heights of a good Cornas or Côte-Rôtie, neither does it run you the $150 per bottle that those would cost you (oh, for the days forty years ago before people had discovered Rhones!). This is a smooth, luscious wine that I had with bucatini pasta with tomato sauce, and it was a great accompaniment.

Now I have only one bottle of this vintage, and don’t know if you can find it from more recent years, or what newer vintages would cost. But if you find this 2012, try one, and if you like it buy a case. It would make a great house wine.

Da Nooz:

*We now know more about the details of the debt ceiling deal. I was wrong in my prediction and description yesterday: there is not a new debt ceiling that is frozen for two years; rather, there IS no debt ceiling for two years. But the Dems pay in spending cuts:

The centerpiece of the agreement remains a two-year suspension of the debt ceiling, which caps the total amount of money the government is allowed to borrow. Suspending that cap, which is now set at $31.4 trillion, would allow the government to keep borrowing money and pay its bills on time — as long as Congress passes the agreement before June 5, when Treasury has said the United States will run out of cash.

In exchange for suspending the limit, Republicans demanded a range of policy concessions from Mr. Biden. Chief among them are limits on the growth of federal discretionary spending over the next two years. Mr. Biden also agreed to some new work requirements for certain recipients of food stamps and the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program.

Both sides agreed to modest efforts meant to accelerate the permitting of some energy projects — and, in a surprise move, a fast track to construction for a new natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia that has been championed by Republican lawmakers and a key centrist Democrat.

The spending cut also takes away a substantial sum allocated to the Internal Revenue Service, a blow to Biden, who had said he’d hire additional agents to go after tax cheats. There’s also an official end to the moratorium on repaying student loans, and, in a boon to Biden, still allows his forgiveness of between $10,000 and $20,000 in student loan debt for some ex-students. And there’s one big question mark:

The agreement only sets parameters for the next two years of spending. Congress must fill them in by passing a raft of spending bills later this year. Large fights loom in the details of those bills, raising the possibility that lawmakers will not agree to spending plans in time and the government will shut down.

*New York City is sinking under the weight of its infrasctructure. It’s not Venice yet, but they better start doing something about the future. Dikes around Manhattan?

If rising oceans aren’t worry enough, add this to the risks New York City faces: The metropolis is slowly sinking under the weight of its skyscrapers, homes, asphalt and humanity itself.

New research estimates the city’s landmass is sinking at an average rate of 1 to 2 millimeters per year, something referred to as “subsidence.”

That natural process happens everywhere as ground is compressed, but the study published this month in the journal Earth’s Future sought to estimate how the massive weight of the city itself is hurrying things along.

More than 1 million buildings are spread across the city’s five boroughs. The research team calculated that all those structures add up to about 1.7 trillion tons (1.5 trillion metric tons) of concrete, metal and glass — about the mass of 4,700 Empire State buildings — pressing down on the Earth.

How fast, you’re asking?

While the process is slow, lead researcher Tom Parsons of the U.S. Geological Survey said parts of the city will eventually be under water.

“It’s inevitable. The ground is going down, and the water’s coming up. At some point, those two levels will meet,” said Parsons, whose job is to forecast hazardous events from earthquakes and tsunamis to incremental shifts of the ground below us.

But no need to invest in life preservers just yet, Parsons assured.

The study merely notes buildings themselves are contributing, albeit incrementally, to the shifting landscape, he said. Parsons and his team of researchers reached their conclusions using satellite imaging, data modeling and a lot of mathematical assumptions.

It will take hundreds of years — precisely when is unclear — before New York becomes America’s version of Venice, which is famously sinking into the Adriatic Sea.

I can imagine a dystopian movie set in the future in which just the tip of the Empire State Building is sticking out of the water.

*Uganda has must made homosexuality a capital crime. You can get life in prison for simple same-sex activity, and execution for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Uganda’s president signed into law a wide-ranging anti-LGBTQ bill on Monday that imposes life imprisonment for same-sex activity and the death penalty in some cases, signaling an intensification of the East African nation’s crackdown on LGBTQ+ people despite widespread international condemnation of the law.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 punishes those found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” with death, a category broadly defined by legislators to include offenses that range from having gay sex with a minor to seducing someone through “misrepresentation” or “undue influence.”

The new law also imposes life imprisonment as punishment for anyone found to have performed a sexual act with a person of the same gender, and up to seven years in prison for “an attempt to commit the offense of homosexuality.”

. . .Uganda’s parliament originally passed the bill in March but it was returned to legislators by a presidential veto. The final bill, approved by Museveni, remains largely the same but no longer includes a requirement for people to report homosexual activity or criminalizes merely identifying as LGBTQ+.

Its passage into law Monday sparked fear and confusion among LGBTQ+ Ugandans, many of whom have already fled the country.

This isn’t a Muslim initiative, as only 1/8 of the population of Uganda is Muslim. Nope, this comes from Christianity, as 80% of Ugandans are Christian.

*Eggs are finally coming down in price again, but bread is still way overpriced.  I’m sure that everyone’s noticed that food has gone way up in price during the pandemic, but the NYT lays out:  “The real reason your groceries are getting so expensive.”

To understand why grocery prices are way up, we need to look past the headlines about inflation and reconsider long-held ideas about the benefits of corporate bigness.

Like other independent grocers, Food Fresh buys through large national wholesalers that purchase goods by the truckload, achieving the same volume efficiencies the big chains do. What accounts for the difference in price is not efficiency but raw market power. Major grocery suppliers, including Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Clorox, rely on Walmart for more than 20 percent of their sales. So when Walmart demands special deals, suppliers can’t say no. And as suppliers cut special deals for Walmart and other large chains, they make up for the lost revenue by charging smaller retailers even more, something economists refer to as the water bed effect.

This isn’t competition. It’s big retailers exploiting their financial control over suppliers to hobble smaller competitors. Our failure to put a stop to it has warped our entire food system. It has driven independent grocers out of business and created food deserts. It has spurred consolidation among food processors, which has slashed the share of food dollars going to farmers and created dangerous bottlenecks in the production of meat and other essentials. And in a perverse twist, it has raised food prices for everyone, no matter where you shop.

It’s capitalism, Jake! The government used to enforce antitrust regulations on some foods, so that small grocers would pay the same wholesale prices as big chains, allowing small towns and poor people in “food deserts” to afford to eat. But they stopped enforcing the laws. Now stores like Walmart takes huge cuts of the food dollar, and farmers are getting less than ever. And independent grocers are going extinct. Further, as more customers flock to the giant chains like Walmart, it increases their market share and hence their ability to demand better deals from food suppliers. If anything should be subject to anti-trust legislation, it should be food.

*The Wall Street Journal offers readers’ tipping habits to help guide you in the post-pandemic food situation. Some of the respondents are servers, others just consumers, and there is of course a variation in responses. Here are some ones you might consider (15-20% tipping on expensive wine is really a no-no; one reason why I usually bring my own bottle, though the main one is that wine in restaurants often costs TRIPLE the retail price, or about six times what the restaurant paid for it).

As a former server, and someone very concerned about the plight of low-wage workers, I usually tip generously. Also, I usually tip in cash, to ensure the tip gets to the server and they get to keep all of it. It is not at all uncommon for owners/managers to steal tips, sad to say. Plus there are fees taken out of electronic transactions.

—Karen Peterson, Brooklyn, N.Y.

STEAL TIPS????  I don’t tip in cash, as I think the credit-card nick is only about 2%. Plus my regular tip for food is 20% unless the server is surly or incompetent.

As a former waitress who worked my way through college almost entirely on tips, I am a very generous tipper in a sit-down restaurant. However, if it’s counter service or self-serve, I hit no tip every time.

—Kathy McMichael, Beaver Dam, Wis.

If I’m just picking up something simple like a Subway sandwich (yes, like Jussie Smollett), I don’t usually tip, though every few times I’ll put a buck or so in the tip jar.  I used to tip 15% on that kind of stuff when I used a credit card, but I realized that I just did it out of guilt. I will tip on sit-down counter service or if it’s a small family joint.

Last week, I was at an expensive restaurant and saw the suggested tip amounts were 20%, 23% and 25%, as though these were the norms. To top it off, they showed the tip on the total bill, including tax, which is ridiculous. I never tip on tax. (Do you tip your IRS auditor or tax collector?)

Rochelle Flynn, Hoboken, N.J.

Do not tip on the tax! It’s easy in Chicago, as the tax on restaurant meals is about 10%. You can see that separately, and just double it on a credit card bill (or use 1.5X if you’re a 15% tipper.  Trying to wheedle 25% out of the customer is a rookie move, and greedy to boot.

If somebody orders a very expensive wine, let’s say $300 with a light lunch, why is the expected tip of 20% increasing pro rata with the bill? The amount of work done hasn’t changed vis-à-vis ordering a cheaper $50 bottle of wine.

—Baran Kayhan, Toronto

Wine in restaurants is way overpriced, and often the sommelier does very little, so tipping a lot on a pricey bottle of wine is just dumb! Finally, if you patronize a place often, tip on the high side: you don’t want to stiff people you know and like.

Everybody has their own customs; what are yours?

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Princess demands to be photographed

A: Hili: It’s not going to be a good picture.
Hili: But I want to have the photo.
In Polish:
Ja: Hili, to nie będzie dobre zdjęcie.
Hili: Ale ja chcę mieć taką fotografię.

. . . and a photo of baby Kulka:


From Anna:

From America’s Cultural Decline into Idiocy (yes, this is real: a group of churches):

From Jesus of the Day:

From Peter, a fox cub frolicking in the flowers:

View post on imgur.com

From Masih.  The religious Pecksniffs in Iran just can’t bear to see a woman doffing the hijab:

From Luana, a dog who loves wind chimes:

From Barry, remarkable mental momentum:

From Malcolm: a compendium of nosey cats:

Physics kitty!

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a man who lived but ten days in Auschwitz before dying (or being gassed).  I discovered a “Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database” (see Jucker at this link).

Tweets from Professor Cobb. First, a sneaky boat (at the end):

Sound up to hear the moth squeak!

Collecting fossils from the ocean floor:

Once again: should we rename animal species?

May 29, 2023 • 12:15 pm

I’ve written several times about the current drive to rename plant and animal species, usually on the grounds that their common or scientific names reflect somebody in the past who did something bad, like owning slaves. (Most of this drive has involved bird names.) In general I’m not a huge fan of changing common names, but I don’t care nearly as much about changing common names as I do about changing scientific names, also known as Latin binomials. For example, “Audubon’s oriole” is the common name of a bird species, but its scientific name is Icterus graduacauda. So if you want to change the common name because (as one scientist notes), Audubon was “a bit of a monster”, I don’t much care. But you can’t change the scientific name (which doesn’t contain Audubon’s name), because the official body that assigns scientific names won’t let you.

This becomes problematic in a case like Audubon’s warbler, whose scientific name is Setophaga auduboni, in which both the common and scientific names are eponyms.  You can change the common name, but you wouldn’t be allowed to change the scientific name, so you couldn’t completely expunge Audubon. (The common name has in fact already been changed, with the warbler now called the “yellow-rumped warbler.”) In many cases a person’s name will appear in both common and scientific names, but you can’t change the latter.

Ed Yong’s latest piece in The Atlantic describes the political, moral, and ideological fights brewing around changing animal (and plant) names. It’s a good descriptor of the kerfuffle about naming, but fails on several counts.

To read it, click on the screenshot below, or if it’s paywalled I found the piece it archived here.

This is a good overview of the fracas. But there are two problems with it, the first more worrisome:

1.) Yong seriously downplays the fact that every animal has at least two names, as I indicated above. The common name can vary from place to place, but the scientific name is constant throughout the world, as it’s used by scientists to identify animals.  Yong does mention the two-names issue in one place, only in passing:

Whether common ones such as giraffe or scientific ones such as Giraffa camelopardalis, names act first as labels, allowing people to identify and classify living things.

But there’s a huge difference between changing common names and changing scientific ones.  Doing the former, like changing the name “Audubon’s warbler”, in which the scientific name isn’t eponymous, doesn’t affect much except the labels that bird aficionados give to the species. But changing the scientific name of a species is a big deal, because those are the names used throughout the entire scientific literature to identify species and to link biological information about that species, like Panthera leo as the scientific name of the lion. If you change the scientific name, it affects the entire scientific literature around that species, potentially causing mass confusion from Linnaeus’s time until today.

This is why the body concerned with the scientific names of animals, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), has refused to change the scientific names of any animal except in a few special cases that involve biology and taxonomy—but not ideology or politics (see below). (As far as I know, the equivalent botanical body hasn’t weighed in yet.)  So if you want to change “bad” animal names, as Yong appears to favor, you have to make it clear whether you want both common and scientific names changed, or just the common ones. Yong appears to favor changing both names for eponymous animals like Audubon’s warbler, but also seems to think that’s just as easy as changing common names. It is not, and that’s why the ICZN won’t do it.

2.) Yong doesn’t present both sides of the controversy, especially when he floats the newest idea:  that the names of all eponymous animals should be changed.  I wouldn’t really agree with that, but as one of Yong’s interviewers says, “only birders over 40” oppose renaming every animal named after a person.  In general, Yong seems to favor the idea that not only birds named after bad people like Audubon and John Bachman should be renamed, but that all animals bearing people’s names should be changed.  Of all the many people he quotes who favor name-changing, only one, Thomas Pape (head of the ICZN), says that it’s not his “mandate” to change scientific names. But even Pape says, well, scientists do it all the time, so his position is really a bit waffle-y.

The reason I think Yong takes sides in this controversy is that he quotes only those who favor changing names, including scientific ones, even quoting someone as saying that only old people—geezers like me over 40—are conservative about changing names.  If you present only one side of a controversy—and yes, it is a controversy, even among the young—it can be assumed you are on that side.

Although there are several reasons to oppose the willy-nilly changing of common names, Yong gives none. Thus the article is one-sided, and even favors what nearly all biologists oppose: the changing of scientific names on ideological, political, or moral grounds. Yet from my private conversations with birders, I know that there are many who oppose this drive to change names. You won’t hear from them, because the drive is designed to be “inclusive”, and if you oppose it you could be called a racist.

Let me give the list of reasons why people are favoring renaming animals (I’m not going to distinguish between common and scientific names because Yong doesn’t), and then I’ll give a few reasons why we should be wary about changing even common names. (Again, I’m dead set against changing scientific names.) Quotes from Yong’s article are indented.

a.) Immorality: bad people like Audubon, who did bad things, should not have animals named after them. If they did some good stuff, like Darwin (even though Yong mentions his racism), this doesn’t necessarily hold. Any species with the name darwinii is presumably okay. Here’s the argument (“eponyms” are organisms named after people):

Many other eponyms present similar cases for change, although none have been altered yet. John Kirk Townsend, whose name still graces two birds and almost a dozen mammals, dug up the graves of Native Americans and sent their skulls to the physician Samuel George Morton, who wanted to prove that Caucasians had bigger brains than other people; those remains are still undergoing a lengthy process toward burial or repatriation. John Bachman was a practitioner and defender of slavery, reasoning that Black people, whom he compared to domesticated animals, were so intellectually inferior to Caucasians as to be “incapable of self-government”; Bachman’s sparrow was named by his friend, John James Audubon. And Audubon, the most renowned—and, more recently, notorious—figure in American ornithology and the namesake of an oriole, a warbler, and a shearwater, also robbed Native American graves for Morton’s skull studies, while casually buying and selling slaves. “People have been singing his praises for 150 years, but in the last 15 years, he has turned out to be quite a monster,” says Matthew Halley, an ornithologist and historian, who has also found evidence that Audubon committed scientific fraud by fabricating a fake species of eagle that helped launch his career. In light of Audubon’s actions, several local chapters of the National Audubon Society have renamed themselves, as has the society’s union. In March, though, the national society’s board of directors voted to keep the name, on the grounds that it would allow the organization to “direct key resources and focus towards enacting the organization’s mission.”

Would you call the Audubon society racist because it’s keeping his name?

At any rate, if you’re going to change an animal name because the person involved was “problematic,” I’d use Coyne’s Criteria for Renaming (also good for deciding when to take down statues, though I favor contextualizing them rather than removing them):

  1. Is the name given because of something good the person did?
  2. Was the person’s life a net good for the world’s well being?

If the answer to both of these is “yes,” you should keep the name. And if you’re giving a scientific name to a new species, the answers should both be “yes” as well.

b.) Most names were given by Europeans, who were both colonialists and also carried invasive species with them. 

For some scientists, the eponym problem is about more than the egregious misdeeds of a few individuals. As Europeans spread to other continents, they brought not only invasive species that displaced native ones but also invasive nomenclature that ousted long-standing native terms for plants and animals. In Africa, the scientific names of a quarter of local birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals are eponyms, mostly from Europe. On the biodiverse Pacific island of New Caledonia, more than 60 percent of plant eponyms honor French citizens. Countless species around the world have been named after European scientists whose travels were made possible by imperial ventures aimed at expanding territories or extracting natural resources. “We have romantic ideas of these explorers going around the world, seeing beautiful things, and naming them, and we forgot how they got there to begin with,” Natalia Piland, an ecologist at Florida International University, told me.

Such naming patterns still continue. Piland and her colleagues found that since 1950, 183 newly identified birds have been given eponyms, and although 96 percent of these species live in the global South, 68 percent of their names honor people from the global North. In 2018, the Rainforest Trust, an American conservation nonprofit, auctioned off the rights to name 12 newly discovered South American species, leading to a frog named after Greta Thunberg and a caecilian named after Donald Trump. (A similar auction in 2005 landed a Bolivian monkey with the name of the internet casino GoldenPalace.com.) The beloved British naturalist David Attenborough has more than 50 species named after him, most of which live in Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. That is not to begrudge Attenborough, Thunberg, or Trump; having a species named after you is widely considered a great honor, but globally, such honorees are still disproportionately people of European descent—a perpetuation of colonialism through taxonomy.

This of course doesn’t take into account that European name-giving may hold for scientific names but not for common ones, which often differ from culture to culture. As Ernst Mayr discovered when he tried to correlate bird names in New Guinea with scientific names, New Guinea birds are given names in New Guinea languages.

c.) Animal names ignore indigenous people who may live in the same area. 

Some scientists have proposed reinstating Indigenous names for animals wherever possible. But many species live across the territories of different Indigenous groups, or migrate across national or continental divides, making it hard to know whose names to prioritize. And if native names are applied without native consultation, the result can smack of cultural appropriation. Emma Carroll from the University of Auckland took on both challenges in naming a recently identified species of beaked whale. Carroll spent a year consulting Indigenous groups in countries where the new whale’s specimens had been found. In South Africa, the Khoisan Council suggested using the word //eu//’eu, which means “big fish” and is now immortalized in the scientific name Mesoplodon eueu. For the common name, Carroll asked a Māori cultural expert in New Zealand to draw up a shortlist, which she then ran past a local council. She eventually named the creature “Ramari’s beaked whale” after Ramari Stewart—a Māori whale expert whose work was pivotal in identifying the new species, and who has been “working to bridge Western science and mātauranga [Maori knowledge] for decades,” Carroll told me. Fittingly, ramari also means “a rare event” in the Māori language, and beaked whales are famously elusive.

But this raises the issue, as Yong says, of the re-namers engaging in cultural appropriation! And if you rename an animal after a local indigenous person, such as “Tamanend’s bottlenose dolphin” (named after a Native American), that raises another problem: that of “ownership, as if an individual could lay claim to an entire species—a fundamentally colonial way of thinking, no matter whether the honoree is an Indigenous woman or a European man.”  Yes, the woke can sniff out problems within problems within problems.

Yong then floats what I think is his own favored solution:

By that logic, the issue with eponyms isn’t that some of them honor people who did vile things. It’s that animals shouldn’t be named after people at all.  That is:

d.) Naming animals after people “dishonors the organism”.  I’m not kidding.

Others argue that, more importantly, the act of honoring a person through an organism’s name dishonors the organism itself. It treats animals and plants as inanimate objects like buildings or streets, constructed and owned by humans, instead of beings with their own lives and histories. “It doesn’t sit well with me to think of an individual human becoming the signifier of an entire species,” Piland said. A more descriptive name, meanwhile, is a chance to tell a creature’s story. Joseph Pitawanakwat, an Anishinaabe educator, notes that many of his people’s bird names are layered with meaning—onomatopoeias that mimic calls, and descriptions of habitat and behavior, all embedded in a single word that could have been coined only through a deep understanding of the animals. English names could be similarly descriptive: Thick-billed longspur tells you something about the bird that might help you recognize it in a way that McCown’s longspur does not.

Now I agree that if you’re going to change a common name, perhaps you should do something that describes the animal, though sometimes that’s hard. But changing names because it “dishonors the organism” is a claim that carries little weight with me. It’s a descriptor, and the organism doesn’t care what it’s called. Nor does this argument change anything substantive: renaming Audubon’s warbler will not lead to more intensive appreciation of the bird, more effort to conserve of the bird, nor draw more diverse people into birding. Renaming pretends to be “inclusive”, but it doesn’t clearly foster inclusion. This is one of the issues with the whole endeavor: it’s basically performative virtue signaling, and changing names, an easy job, is a way to signal your virtue without having to do very much. That’s why people are keener on changing animal names than doing the hard work of conserving the organism.

One more issue before I sum up. Pape, the ICZN head, is not allowed to change scientific names because of the reasons I gave, but his quote is still ambiguous:

But, though [Pape] argues that set names are important for allowing scientists to unambiguously communicate about the organisms they study, Pape also admits that “it’s strange that we keep talking about stability when we keep changing names.” Scientific names change frequently, when a species is reclassified or split into several new ones. They can also change because scientists uncover an alternative name that was assigned first and then forgotten, or because they violate Latin grammar. There are also routes for changing scientific names through societal force of will. Pape cites the case of Raymond Hoser, an Australian amateur herpetologist who has assigned hundreds of new names to questionably defined species and genera of reptiles—often on shaky scientific grounds, usually in his own self-published journal, and in many cases honoring his family members and pets. Other taxonomists are simply refusing to use his names; if that continues, “it might be possible for the ICZN to rule that those names should not be used,” Pape told me.

According to the ICZN, though, changes  in scientific names can occur only under those specific circumstances, which are not that common. Importantly, many of the names that get changed under these circumstances keep the eponym, which is usually the species name and not the genus name. If Audubon’s warbler were found, for example, to comprise several species, one of them would still be named after Audubon. Reclassification usually involves changing the genus name if it’s changed at all, not the species name. And if a species is found to have been described earlier under a different name, then the rules mandate that the older one be the valid name, regardless of whether it is named after a bad person.

As for cases like Hoser, these are very rare, and aren’t worth discussing here: zoologists and ultimately the ICZN decide if they’re kosher.  But note that the rules do not mandate that scientific names be changed for any of the four reasons given above. They are changed only to clear up taxonomic errors, misclassifications, or in light of further biological knowledge..

To sum up, Yong lays out the case for changing common names (without giving opponents a say, because we’re too old!), but fails to seriously tackle the huge issue of changing scientific names. In fact, under current rules of nomenclature, they cannot be changed for political or ideological reasons

Here are a few arguments for retaining common names, though, as I said, I’m not all that opposed to changing them, except that it’s laborious and also creates certain confusion in the literature.

a.) It is largely performative, doing little except to flaunt the virtue of the renamers. It’s an easy way to pretend to effect social change.

b.) It doesn’t effect much social change. This drive is largely done by privileged people who think they are doing something good for the world, but really, do you think the world would be a better place if every species named after a person (or only a “bad” person) were changed? Would bigotry be palpably eroded?

c.) Changing common names does cause confusion in communication, though not as much as changing the scientific name would.

d.) Who gets to decide which names are good and which are bad?  Is “auduboni” a bad species name but “washingtonii” not? After all, both men kept slaves!  At any rate, there’s no “official” list of common names, though the American Ornithological Society keeps a list of common names. And renamings are still ignored.  I know people, for example, who still use the term “gypsy moth” out of continuity in the literature, even though, because it was considered bigoted, the creature been renamed the “spongy moth.”

In the end, the renaming of birds and other animals is one of the more striking cases of performative wokeness that I know of. As I said repeatedly, I don’t much care if common names are changed, but you can’t monkey around with the name of the beetle Anophthalmus hitleri (yes, named after Adolf), for it’s a scientific name.  And really, is renaming a beetle now bearing Hitler’s name going to get rid of neo-Nazism or racism? Will it suddenly bring a flood of Jews into entomology—Jews who avoided the field because it contained a beetle named after Hitler? I doubt it.

Yong is an excellent science writer—one of my favorites—but I can’t let it go by when he slips up—as I think he did here. He should have given the article more balance and talked to the opponents of renaming (who might have chosen anonymity!). And, most important, he fails to recognize the reason why the ICZN will not bow to ideological pressure to change animal names. 

h/t: Susan, Phil

Two discussions of reparations

May 29, 2023 • 10:45 am

Here are two videos discussing whether African-Americans should be given reparations because many of their ancestors were slaves.  I haven’t written about this subject because I haven’t come down on what I think about it.  This is my inchoate thinking so far: there is a good case for reparations, but if they’re given, they should be in the form of investments in opportunities for minorities, not simply checks cut and handed out.  And if they are given by states or by the federal government, that should—as John McWhorter emphasizes in the discussion with Glen Loury below—bring an end to all forms of racial preference and affirmative action. It is a one-time “reckoning” that should eliminate for the future all other advantages given to minorities over non-minorities.

I of course realize the terrific problems involved with reparations, particularly those of who gets them, who decides who gets them, and how much they will be.

But don’t listen to me: watch Loury and McWhorter below. Loury is dead set against reparations, while McWhorter is on the fence but seems to favor them. (If you want to see the full-on case FOR reparations, the most famous is Ta-Nehishi Coates’s 2014 Atlantic article, “The case for reparations.”)

If you want to see the two guys chew the fat in general, you can listen to the full hour, but if you want to hear just their vigorous discussion of reparations, start at 37:40 with Loury’s tirade and listen to the end of the video.

A summary of the earlier parts includes McWhorter beefing about being a pariah because he’s antiwoke, so he’s suffered professionally for his heterodox ideas as a black man. He says, for instance, that he’s not going to be invited to any more professional linguistics meetings, nor will he be inducted into the AAAS. I’m a member, and believe me, if I could get in, McWhorter certainly deserves it!

They then discuss the incident in which Jordan Neely—a mentally ill black man who was harassing people on the NY subway—was killed after being held in a chokehold by Daniel Penny, an ex-Marine.  Most people fault Penny for restraining Neely, but McWhorter, in his NYT column on Jordan Neeley, demurs (he doesn’t favor the killing, though!):

I am going to venture an idea that may be unpopular: Jordan Neely, in all of his innocence, did deserve restraint. Only that. He deserved neither injury nor any more discomfort than necessary, and certainly not death. Where precisely Penny’s actions and intentions fall on this spectrum is a question for the legal system to interrogate aggressively. But society has a problem on its hands when mentally ill people are terrifying innocent citizens trying to get to work or back to their homes. The system needs to help both the Jordan Neelys and the rest of us. And this means there should be an honest discussion about the role of cops and subway officers in confronting and even detaining the mentally ill more frequently. Our mental health system, too, needs to better ensure that people who present symptoms of the kind that Neely did are more rigorously restricted from menacing or threatening others.

The reparations discussion begins at 37:40 with Loury so exercised about the idea that he nearly blows an artery. McWhorter listens attentively, and they note that some reparations have already been given, though not entirely to blacks; these include affirmative action, the Great Society, and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.  McWhorter also emphasizes—and here I agree—that if reparations are given, that must be the end of any form of racial preference: there would, for example, be no more DEI initiatives.


Addition: I should have said (see comments below) that McWhorter appears to be in favor of reparations in principle, but doesn’t’ think they’d work in practice. And on that I agree with him.

Have a listen, at least to the last 24 minutes, and see if you agree.

A quote from Loury’s discussion above. Note that he begins the show by announcing that he’s retiring.

There are any number of right-of-center arguments against reparations. I’ve made them before. Now, with cities around the US considering cash reparations payments to black Americans, I’m dismayed to find that I have to make them again. But why do we most often hear objections to reparations coming from conservatives? The left, if it was thinking about its broader long-term electoral viability, ought to reject reparations claims as well.

Imagine, for example, a white working-class voter in a Rust Belt state that is suffering the effects of deindustrialization, inadequate public services, and the opioid crisis. Such a voter might be quite receptive to a senatorial candidate calling for class-based solidarity in order to address these serious problems with large-scale structural reform, a more robust social safety net, and higher taxes on the wealthy. But if the candidate, at the same time, also promises to distribute huge cash payouts to this hypothetical voter’s African American neighbors while leaving him to fend for himself, the voter might question how serious those calls to solidarity really are.v

As well he should. We hardly ever hear this contradiction addressed by progressives calling for reparations, and yet it violates the very premise on which the likes of Bernie Sanders and John Fetterman have based their appeals to voters. Perhaps, as John McWhorter suggests in this excerpt from our most recent conversation, people would be willing to go along with reparations if they would finally end calls for race-based benefits. But, as John also suggests, reparations wouldn’t be the end. And if the payments go out and race remains a divisive issue, our hypothetical white working-class voter, and millions like him, may decide the only thing that’s finished is the left.

Below is half an hour of a 2001 debate on slavery reparations involving both Loury and the late (how it stings to write that word!) Christopher Hitchens. I didn’t listen to it today, though I did before, but, as I recall, they take opposite positions, with Hitchens favoring reparations. Loury speaks first, then Hitch (with his usual panache), and then Loury gets a rebuttal.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 29, 2023 • 8:15 am

Please send in your good wildlife photos lest the feature become sporadic or—Ceiling Cat forbid—go extinct.

Today we have some nice photos by reader Mark Sturtevant; his captions are indented, and you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.


This looks to be the last batch of WEIT-worthy pictures that I have from 2021.

First up are some of my favorite dragonflies, starting with the impressive royal river cruiser dragonfly (Macromia taeniolata). These are among the largest dragonflies in my area, but I am fortunate in that they are also among the most approachable. Sure, they will fly at break-neck speed as they patrol along a tree-line, as this one was, but then they hang themselves up at about eye-level, and there they sits. You may then take all the pictures you want, even at close range, and they don’t mind. The link to this species gives an idea about their size and approachability.

Next is our black saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerate). Common in fields, but unlike most dragons in the skimmer family who do more perching than flying, these will fly all day, effortlessly cruising around on those overly-broad wings. But occasionally one will give me a gift by sitting on a perch as this one was at a pond near where I work. So I like them because they play hard to get.

At another park there are redbud trees, and late in the season I noticed that just about every leaf was fastened shut as shown here. What was the surprise inside?

Why, a whimsical caterpillar! A squirmy little Dr. Seussian sock. In olden times, finding an ID of something like this would be a great tedium, but now we have the BugGuide web site. A simple search in there for “caterpillar on redbud”, and immediately we learn that this is the redbud leaffolder, Fascista cercerisella.

One might think that a “March fly” would be a spring insect, but actually members of this family have several generations a year, and they emerge synchronously in large numbers. One day in November just about every leaf along a forest trail had at least one of these odd little flies. They are also known as “love bugs”, as they are often seen mating. This particular species is Bibio albipennis.

I try to carry my wide-angle macro lens when I go out, but I seldom find a scene that will work with it. Here I managed to get a picture among a group of unknown mushrooms. Sorry, I don’t know the species.

One day the wife brought home a Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). A friend from down the street was visiting, and she had never seen one having a meal so I brought in a fly, slightly stunned it, and placed it as shown. As is well known, the trap is sprung if the hairs inside are triggered more than once. Our friend was pleasingly horrified at the sight of botanical carnivory.

Monday: Hili dialogue

May 29, 2023 • 6:45 am

NOTE: My podcast with Aron Ra this morning had to be canceled as he had a family emergency. Hopefully we’ll reschedule, and I’ll let you know when.

It’s Monday, May 29, 2023, and a holiday—Memorial Day—in the U.S. You can celebrate well as its also National Biscuit Day, though I thought we had that recently. By now you should know where to get the best biscuits in America, and therefore in the world.

Two biscuits is not enough!

And sumer is icomin in, lhude sing cuccu.  I don’t know what these flowers are, but I love them and I’m sure every gardener knows them. I passed them on my walk yesterday.

It’s also International Coq Au Vin Day, Learn About Composting Day, World Digestive Health DayInternational Day of United Nations PeacekeepersOak Apple Day in England, and  Statehood Day in Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

There’s a very plain Google Doodle today in honor of Memorial Day (click to see where it goes, and note the waving poppies at the bottom):

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the May 29 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The NYT gives some of the details of the debt-ceiling salvation engineered by Biden and the Republicans.

The debt ceiling would be increased until 2025, after the next election. The deal sealed by Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy would raise the debt ceiling for two years to take it beyond the 2024 election, so neither would have to address the issue again in the current term.

Domestic spending would be capped, but not as much as Republicans wanted. Mr. McCarthy’s Republicans insisted that any increase in the debt ceiling be conditioned on spending cuts, so the agreement he reached with Mr. Biden would limit certain programs to last the same two years for which the debt ceiling would be raised. Republicans had originally sought a 10-year time frame for spending limits but agreed to the shorter horizon.

The deal holds nondefense spending in 2024 at roughly its 2023 level and increases it by 1 percent in 2025, in part by redirecting funding from other programs. Among other things, the agreement would cut about $10 billion out of the $80 billion that Mr. Biden previously secured to help the I.R.S. go after wealthy tax cheats, and would use that money to preserve domestic programs that otherwise would have been cut.

Defense, Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ programs would be shielded. The agreement would protect the military and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare from spending cuts imposed on other parts of government. It would also fully finance medical care for veterans, including expanded services for those exposed to toxic burn pits.

Some recipients of government assistance would face new work requirements. New work requirements would be imposed on some recipients of government aid, including food stamps and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Major energy projects would be granted a streamlined review process. Environmental permitting for major energy projects would be streamlined. A single lead agency would be charged with developing a single review document according to a public timeline

And here’s my prediction from yesterday. Once again I am RIGHT (this isn’t rocket science, of course):

My prediction again: a raise in the debt limit that must be frozen for two years, and enough cuts to satisfy most Democrats and a few Republicans. (But what do I know?) Medicare and Social Security will stay.

I’m da king out dere, faddah!

*Oh dear Ceiling Cat, the odious theocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to be headed for victory in Turkey’s runoff Presidential election. Just like the Americans who elected Trump don’t know what’s good for the country, so it is with the Turks who voted for Erdogan.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared headed to victory late Sunday after facing his hardest election in years, according to vote counts by state-run and opposition-affiliated news agencies. The results, if confirmed, meant he had prevailed over a challenger backed by a united opposition movement, ensuring Erdogan’s dominating tenure at Turkey’s helm would extend into a third decade.

The preliminary results were the latest affirmation of Erdogan’s gift for political survival. Confronted by an electorate bludgeoned by a long economic crisis — largely of the president’s making — Erdogan shifted the public conversation to debates over terrorism and national sovereignty, outflanking his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who emphasized pocketbook issues and the president’s increasingly authoritarian practices.

. . .Erdogan’s lead in the preliminary tallies confirmed the place of his loyal supporters, many of them conservative Muslims, as a central force in the country’s politics. It left the opposition wondering what might have been, had they selected a candidate more charismatic than Kilicdaroglu, a bespectacled party bureaucrat who adopted more hard-line rhetoric in the middle of his campaign to attract nationalist voters.

And Turkey’s overseas allies, including the United States, faced another five-year term with the mercurial Erdogan, a prickly partner who has leveraged his government’s relations with a constellation of actors — including Russia — for domestic political gain.

Is “prickly partner” the journalists’ way of saying the impolite word for sphincter? Because that’s what Erdogan is.

*German Jews are protesting the concert appearances of Roger Waters, the ex-bassist for Pink Floyd, and now an undoubtable anti-Semite whose shows have nudged right into Nazism.

Several Jewish groups, politicians and an alliance of civil society groups gathered for a memorial ceremony and a protest rally against a concert by Roger Waters in Frankfurt on Sunday evening.

They accuse the Pink Floyd co-founder of antisemitism – an allegation he denies.

Waters has also drawn their ire for his support of the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

Frankfurt authorities had initially tried to prevent the concert taking place, but Waters successfully challenged the move in a local court.

The concert is taking place in the city’s Festhalle, where in November 1938 more than 3,000 Jews were rounded up by the Nazis, beaten and abused, and later deported to concentration camps.

It was even worse. As Billboard adds:

Perhaps most offensive was a segment of the show featuring the names of activists killed by authorities, including anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl, Mahsa Amini, who was killed by Iranian morality police, George Floyd and Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager murdered by the Nazi regime at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The latter’s name was listed just before Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American journalist who is thought to have been killed last May by shots from Israeli soldiers during a shootout with Palestinian militants. The paper reported that the juxtaposition sparked “outrage from Israeli and Jewish activists and officials around the world.”

After an intermission, Waters reportedly returned to the stage wearing a costume similar to a Nazi SS soldier’s uniform with a red armband while pointing a fake rifle at the crowd. The set piece also included a giant inflatable pig with a variety of symbols and words on it — including a prominent Jewish star — that floated over the crowd as “banners in the style of the Third Reich but with crossed hammers instead of swastika” hung from the ceiling.

Well, Waters should have the right to spout whatever nonsense he wants, and I don’t think he should be investigated or punished for what he did. (BTW, he also blames Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on NATO.) WIth speech like this, the best remedy is counterspeech. I will add that the investigations of who killed Shireen Abu Akleh were inconclusive, and the Palestinians refused to let anybody look at the bullets that killed her. The IDF would never deliberately target a Palestinian journalist, though, as they know what rancor they’d face for doing that.

Here’s a photo from the Berlin concert of Waters in uniform, holding his “gun” (from YouTube via the NY Post🙂

*Molly Worthen, who teaches at the University of North Caroline, argues in a NYT op-ed “Why universities should be more like monasteries.”

Worthen first describes two very popular classes at Penn, one involving living a monastic semester, giving up your phone and taking a vow of silence, the other, “Existential despair”, does this:

Students meet once a week from 5 p.m. to midnight in a building with comfy couches, turn over their phones and curl up to read an assigned novel (cover to cover) in one sitting — books like James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” and José Saramago’s “Blindness.” Then they stay up late discussing it. “The course is not about hope, overcoming things, heroic stories,” Dr. McDaniel said. Many of the books “start sad. In the middle they’re sad. They stay sad. I’m not concerned with their 20-year-old self. I’m worried about them at my age, dealing with breast cancer, their dad dying, their child being an addict, a career that never worked out — so when they’re dealing with the bigger things in life, they know they’re not alone.”

That seems more like a life lesson, not a college course, but so be it. Worthen’s point, though, is this:

Students are hungry for a low-tech, introspective experience — and not just students in the Ivy League. Research suggests that underprivileged young people have far fewer opportunities to think for unbroken stretches of time, so they may need even more space in college to develop what social scientists call cognitive endurance.

Yet the most visible higher ed trends are moving in the other direction. Rather than ban phones and laptops from class, some professors are brainstorming ways to embrace students’ tech addictions with class Facebook and Instagram accounts, audience response apps — and perhaps even including the friends and relatives whom students text during class as virtual participants in class discussion.

No laptops, no phones, and above all no AI. Instead, they should have this:

Most important, students need head space to think about their ultimate values. Contemplation and marathon reading are not ends in themselves or mere vacations from real life but are among the best ways to figure out your own answer to the question of what a human being is for — a question that is all the more pressing at a time when the robots soon may be coming for the white-collar jobs in medicinelaw and finance that the secular intelligentsia treats as shorthand for personal fulfillment. To use the trendy pedagogical jargon, here are the student learning outcomes universities should focus on: cognitive endurance and existential clarity.

Colleges could do all this in classes integrated with general education requirements: ideally, a sequence of great books seminars focused on classic texts from across different civilizations.

Sounds like the old “Great Books” program of the University of Chicago, but supplemented, as it should be, with non-Western texts.

*We’re gonna follow Theranos grifter Elizabeth Holmes all the way into her cell, and then we’ll drop the issue. But who can resist the WSJ article titled, “Inmates await Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes: ‘I want to be her friend.’” Oy!

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes could find some bad blood awaiting her at the Bryan, Texas, prison camp where she is expected to begin her roughly 11-year sentence on Tuesday. Literally.

A copy of the bestselling book “Bad Blood,” which documents Theranos’s rise and fall, was spotted in Federal Prison Camp Bryan’s library earlier this year, an inmate who was released in March recalled.

The book—plus a steady stream of prison gossip—has helped heighten anticipation for Holmes’s arrival at the facility, where a judge has recommended she serve her time, current and former inmates said in interviews with The Wall Street Journal.

“Some people are like ‘I want to be her friend,’” said Tasha Wade, a current inmate who was convicted last year of defrauding a former boss to take vacations and pay for cosmetic and dental procedures. “But other people are like, ‘I can’t believe that’s all she got for taking all that money,’” Wade said.

Well, I don’t want anything bad to happen to her—beyond what already has—but I I doubt that the other prisoners will give her a hard time. For one thing, it’s a minimum security federal facility: the country club of prisons. Also, she’s connected.

The Bryan camp is a minimum security, all-female facility located about 100 miles northwest of Houston. It houses up to about 720 inmates convicted mostly of white-collar crimes, low-level drug offenses and for harboring immigrants who were in the country illegally, according to BOP and current and former inmates.

And a bit about what she might do for 11 years:

Most inmates who self-surrender, as Holmes is expected to do, arrive at Bryan’s main gate in private vehicles. From there, they are searched in a reception area, and escorted to the laundry room to receive their short-sleeved khaki uniforms.

The prison’s tradition is that new inmates do a 90-day stint in the kitchen, the inmates said, noting that there are exceptions. The job pays 12 cents an hour and is considered one of the prison’s most grueling, said Lynn Espejo, a former inmate from Arkansas who was convicted of defrauding a physician’s office where she worked. Espejo, who now works in advocacy on behalf of other inmates, maintains her innocence.

Other inmates work as groundskeepers, clerks or as telemarketers in a call center operated by BOP’s commercial arm, Unicor. But those who have been convicted of crimes such as wire fraud, like Holmes, are barred from the Unicor job, inmates said. A prize posting is in the commissary, where clerks get first dibs on items such as hot giardiniera ($2.80), crochet needles ($5.50 for five) and MP3 players ($88.40).

You can get commisary $$ from your relatives, so she’ll be living like a queen in dere, faddah!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes a funny:

Hili: It is tweeting.
A: What is tweeting?
Hili: I’m a cat, not an ornithologist.
In Polish:
Hili: Ćwierka.
Ja: Kto ćwierka?
Hili: Jestem kotką, a nie ornitolożką.

. . and a photo of Szaron:


From Now That’s Wild:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Atheist Daily:

From Masih, a woman in custody stripped by male cops.

Translation from Farsi by Google:

Narrated by Mozhgan Keshavarz, women’s rights activist: “They said that you should be naked so that we can take a picture of your whole body. If you leave here, don’t say anything. They tortured me. I was embarrassed. I was putting my hands in front of my private parts, the officer shouted: stand facing me and remove your hands. Now sit down and do it with your legs open!”

From Ken, with his notes:

If Boebert thinks that the Soviet Union was a bastion of fighting Anti-Semitism, maybe she should have a talk with some of the old-time refuseniks. Then again, she’s given no sign that she’s educable on this or any other topic. Boebert got herself elected to congress strictly because it’s a great platform for trolling — well, that and self-enrichment. When Boebert was appointed to the House’s natural resources committee. her (soon to be ex-) husband scored an $800,000 a year gig as a natural-gas “consultant,” despite his lack of any obvious qualifications.
Way to drain the swamp, Republicans.

From Barry, who says, “That’s a helluva way to die.”

From Malcolm, role reversal:

From the Auschwitz Museum:  A seventeen-year-old Dutch girl who did not survive.

Tweets from Professor Cobb, the first showing a leucistic hawk:

Cat pickleball!

I didn’t know that squid could become transparent. They should do this most of the time!

Impediments to speaking freely in New Zealand academia

May 28, 2023 • 12:45 pm

The article below, published in NZ’s Stuff magazine, summarizes a big yearly survey taken by the country’s Free Speech Unions (find the big survey here or here, click the FSU icon below, or ask for a pdf). The upshot is that Kiwi academics often have difficulty saying what’s on their mind for fear of ostracism or reprisal—something we’ve long known from hearing academics beef privately, or from the reprisals visited on those who say what’s “politically incorrect”—people like the Satanic Seven (two have since died) who signed the Listener letter in 2021 and got demonized for it.

Click the first screenshot below for the short take-home lesson, or the image below that for the full report. The author of the Stuff piece is the head of the FSU:

So here’s a summary (note that I haven’t compared the data here to that in America, but perhaps some reader should. At any rate, from what I recall the degree of self-censorship is at least as great in NZ as in the U.S.

First, the a list of the questions that were asked (452 people were polled in April):

The FSU report (click to read, or ask me for a pdf).

A summary from Stuff:

The second annual survey on academic freedom by the Free Speech Union is an eye-opening read for those of us who value ideas and solutions being openly debated in Kiwi universities.

. . . Concerningly, this report shows that a majority of academics who responded at five of our eight universities disagreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions, even though this is one of the specific features of academic freedom as defined in the Education and Training Act 2020.

Across all eight universities, only 46% of academics agreed they felt free to question received wisdom and state controversial and unpopular opinions.

The rest disagreed. Men in particular, (59%), believed they were not free to voice these views.

Claims that those who were more senior (and therefore supposedly more secure) in roles, such as professors, were freer to speak on controversial subjects did not play out.

In fact, only 31% of professors agreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions. If those who have dedicated their careers to exploring specific subjects feel unfree to voice their views if they are unpopular or controversial, how can these conversations move forward?

Not surprisingly, the degree of self-censorship was correlated with political affiliation: the Left is, of course, on the side of “indigenizing” education in the country, and wokeness sets the agenda for “acceptable” speech:

Problematically, it is clear that the flow of political persuasion mapped almost directly onto whether academics felt free. About two-thirds (64%) of academics who identified as “very left” and 70% of those who identified as “left” felt free to state controversial or unpopular opinions.

It decreased from less than half (46%) of those who are “slightly left” to one-third (34%) of those who are “centrist” down to one-quarter (26%) of those who are “slightly right” to 18% for those who are “right”. No academic who responded as “very right wing” agreed with the statement (admittedly, there was a small sample size for this group).

This, in the context of an academy that we already know has a left-leaning bent (the respondents to our survey reflect this disposition), is frightening for intellectual diversity.

Academics were asked about six specific subjects which might be controversial; a majority of academics felt comfortable discussing only three: religion, politics, and sexual orientation.

The topics that made people most uncomfortable were, as you see above, sex and gender, the Treaty of Waitangi and colonization, and race. Not surprising.

Some 59% of academics did not feel comfortable discussing the Treaty of Waitangi and colonialism, with at least one-third (30%) of academics at every single university feeling “not at all comfortable” (45% of academics from Otago were “not at all comfortable”).

Otago is one of the most Māori-centri unviersities in New Zealand.  Finally, Māori self-censor far less than do European descendants, which is also not surprising since Māori are seen as the victims.

Interestingly, Māori academics were much more likely to feel comfortable discussing this issue (54% felt “very comfortable”), while almost two-thirds (61%) of European academics did not feel comfortable (44% “very uncomfortable”).

This is more or less what I expected, but I wonder if the Kiwis themselves think these figures are disturbing (I do). Ideally, except for those who are pathologically shy, academics should at least feel free to broach the topics mentioned above.

The authors drew five themes from the survey. I’ll just mention them in the authors’ words and give their take on one: the Māori-related issues (like the Treaty, or Mātauranga Māori) that are more or less taboo to discuss.  We’ve talked about MM before, and the government’s attempt to stick it into the science curriculum as a form of “indigenous science”, so it’s worth a special look.

  1. Academic freedom is under threat and there is a climate of fear

  2. Freedom to do research is constrained by the ability to attract funding, or to do certain types of research

  3. Certain issues are off-limits for debate.  [JAC: see below]

  4. Universities themselves are not always upholding academic freedom

  5. Trends in universities reflect wider societal trends

This is what you read under #3:

The survey asked people to say how they comfortable they felt discussing a number of issues at their institution. Many of the comments made related to those topics, with people elaborating on what they perceived as the difficulties in discussing those issues. There were very few comments on issues such as politics, religion or sexual orientation – these were also the issues that fewer people in the main survey said they felt uncomfortable discussing. Comments were more likely to be made about the Treaty of Waitangi and colonialism, race, or sex and gender. There were a few comments on topics not asked about in the survey, such as climate change. Respondents who commented on these issues often described them as being out of bounds or not up for debate. Fear of being misinterpreted or being called racist or phobic, as well as the impacts on job security and promotion mentioned in Theme 1, resulted in many people saying they had decided that it is best to say nothing at all on these topics.

I have the impression that saying anything around race, gender, the Treaty of Waitangi, sexual orientation, or what political structures lead to the best outcomes for society, or what the best outcomes for society are, would be fraught with career danger.

The pressure to be ‘PC’ and ‘woke’ is enormous – and my views are pretty PC and woke! But I feel the most gentle, careful questioning of ideas around issues such as trans rights or mātauranga Māori would result in ostracism by staff and negative feedback from students (at best).

Treaty of Waitangi/biculturalism/Māori/race-related issues featured particularly, in relation to teaching and assessment, course content, research, promotion and general discourse and debate. This was especially the case in institutions that were moving to becoming ‘Te Tiriti-led’. [JAC: “Te Tiriti” refers to the Treaty of Waitanga.]

The greatest challenge to academic freedom relates to Treaty of Waitangi and race issues where there is no ability to speak without dire consequences for academics.

There is definitely a chilling effect on academics when it comes to debate on topics such as colonisation and racism for fear of being labelled racist.

Our university has a host of pre-ordained positions on things, especially Te Tiriti, race, colonialism and rainbow topics. I don’t know what would happen to someone if they spoke out in disagreement with these positions because no one ever does. I think everyone knows not to touch these issues and not to try to explain any nuance or slight disagreement on their part, as we know it will likely end badly.

Many respondents emphasised that their comments should not be seen as dismissing concepts such as mātauranga Māori, or the role of the Treaty in informing the university’s work. However, they wanted to be able to ask questions, discuss and not compromise on quality.

I teach a science and while I am happy to include cultural examples of that science as appropriate, my priority is making sure the students learn the science. I am feeling pressured to include cultural constructs at the expense of the science. I strongly believe in the value of affirmative action and changing our language to be more inclusive. At the moment, I feel excluded from the discussion.

This all jibes pretty well with what I hear from New Zealand academics who write me privately. Of course, you might say that I’m only going to hear from the disaffected ones, but you’d think that I’d also get emails from those who disagree with my opposing the hegemony of Mātauranga Māori in secondary-school science classes. Yet I’ve never heard from one correspondent who disagreed with me about that. In contrast, I get all kinds of comments and emails from creationists who deplore my acceptance and popularization of evolution.

The problem with this self-censorship about the fulminating indigenization of New Zealand is that, even more than minorities do in America, Māori bear the “authority of the sacred victim,” so that opposing initiatives like putting MM in science class is not only going to get you called a racist, but may well get you fired.

Open debate is essential if New Zealand isn’t going to be wokified to death, and taking science down with it; but open debate, particularly on item #3, is precisely what is taboo.

Case in point: in December, 2021, I discussed the demonization of the Satanic Seven by the University of Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater. Freshwater had previously issued a statement explicitly criticizing The Listener letter and its seven signers, but backed off when she realized she was violating academic freedom. She then got all kumbaya-y and said this (bolding is mine):

The debate that initially started as about the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science in the secondary school curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand has intensified and extended over recent weeks, with a number of overseas commentators adding their opinions.

Unfortunately, the debate has descended into personal attacks, entrenched positions and deliberate misrepresentations of other people’s views, including my own. This important and topical debate deserves better than that.

I am calling for a return to a more respectful, open-minded, fact-based exchange of views on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, and I am committing the University to action on this.

In the first quarter of 2022 we will be holding a symposium in which the different viewpoints on this issue can be discussed and debated calmly, constructively and respectfully. I envisage a high-quality intellectual discourse with representation from all viewpoints: mātauranga Māori, science, the humanities, Pacific knowledge systems and others.

Well, that debate has never taken place, and there are no signs that it will. Freshwater’s words were just cant: a way of placating those concerned about free expression.

Live interview with Aron Ra tomorrow

May 28, 2023 • 10:30 am

Aron Ra has asked me to be on his live video podcast tomorrow, and I’m glad to oblige. It will be about evolution. As Aaron told me:

Ideally, we would like to do a half hour of you talking about your career in defense of science against creationism. Then we would do another half hour of taking selected questions from the chat.

The show is at 10 a.m. Chicago time (11 a.m. Eastern time) tomorrow, and you will be able to watch it by clicking on the link below.