FIRE finds Syracuse University creating prohibitions against “threatening mental health”—even with a single remark

January 20, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I’ve heard of a lot of conventional universities trying to truncate freedom of speech, but not in such a draconian and ambiguous fashion as Syracuse University in New York. Syracuse has previously received the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) yellow-light rating, which means that the school has restrictions of expression that would be illegal at public universities(Syracuse is a private school.) However, within Syracuse’s free-speech policy is a sub-policy on nonsexual harassment that prohibits the following, all of which is reasonable and indeed, considered unprotected “speech” by the courts:

Harassment is defined at the University as unwelcome conduct or speech directed at an individual or group of individuals, based on a Protected Category, which is so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, terms of employment, educational program participation, or it creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for study, work, or social living. To qualify as Harassment under this policy, the speech or conduct must be both viewed by the listener(s) as Harassment, and be objectively severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would agree that the speech or conduct constitutes Harassment.In determining whether reported speech or conduct qualifies as Harassment under this policy, the University will consider all circumstances surrounding the reported incident(s), including, without limitation, the frequency, location, severity, context, and nature of the speech or conduct, including whether the speech or conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, rather than a mere offensive remark. The University will also consider the intent of the speaker(s).

Now “intent” is not really something that one can adjudicate, and doesn’t belong here, but the rest of the policy is not only reasonable, but shared by both private and public universities. Note that the violations have to be based on a “protected category”, which I don’t think is necessary because anyone can be subject to harassment that can constitute an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” But the incidents have to be more that one-off statements, even to members of a “protected class” (I’m not sure what Syracuse considers to be a “protected class”).

However you construe harassment, though, it doesn’t hold in the case described below.

What happened is that Syracuse freshman biology major Samantha Jones was at a party, and there saw a guy who was rumored to have “a history of problematic behavior toward women.” Jones went up to the guy and asked him flat out if he was a registered sex offender.

Granted, this is not the best way to get to know someone, and of course you can always look up online whether someone’s a registered sex offender. But this guy was Canadian, and I’m not sure if Americans can ascertain that online. However, the question, though weird, is neither out of line (maybe she would have left the party if the answer was “yes”), nor a violation of free speech, nor harassment.

But Syracuse didn’t see it that way, because they also have a Student Conduct policy that says this (my emphases):

The following behaviors, or attempted behaviors, are considered violations of the Syracuse University Code of Student Conduct:

  1. Physical harm or threat of physical harm to any person or persons, including, but not limited to: assault, sexual abuse, or other forms of physical abuse.
  2. Assistance, participation in, promotion of, or perpetuation of harassment, whether physical, digital, oral, written or video, including any violation of the Syracuse University Anti-Harassment Policy or Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Assault Prevention Policy. Bias-related incidents, including instances of hate speech, may qualify as harassment under this Code and the University’s Anti-Harassment Policy.
  3. Assistance, participation in, promotion of, or perpetuation of conduct, whether physical, electronic, oral, written or video, which threatens the mental health, physical health, or safety of anyone.

Because of her single question, Ms. Jones was punished by Syracuse. Here’s an extract from the FIRE report:

In October, having heard rumors of past predatory behavior, Jones approached a fellow student at an off-campus party and asked him if he is a registered sex offender in his native country, Canada.

He reported the incident to campus police, who referred the matter to Syracuse’s Office of Community Standards. Last month, the University Conduct Board found Jones responsible for violating a ban on “[c]onduct, whether physical, electronic, oral, written or video, which threatens the mental health, physical health, or safety of anyone.” Jones has since been placed on disciplinary probation and is required to attend “Decision-Making” and “Conflict Coaching” workshops.

“Accusing someone of something that has no validity, especially being on a sex offender list can harm one’s mental health and safety,” wrote Syracuse administrator Sheriah Dixon in a December memo detailing Jones’ formal punishment. The problem with this assessment? Jones didn’t accuse the man of anything. The Conduct Board’s own findings conclude plainly that all Jones did was seek clarification about rumors.

This is ridiculous. If Jones did that repeatedly, it could constitute harassment, but she asked the question once. Note as well that anything can be construed as harming one’s mental health. All you have to do is assert it; you don’t need to prove it, I suspect, by having the victim examined by psychiatrists, though that would be problematic as well.

You simply cannot prosecute someone for single questions or comments that the recipient takes as “harming their mental health.” That would prohibit any question or speech that the recipient finds “offensive”. (The boundary between “offense” and “mental harm” was erased a long time ago.) Finally, there is no restriction that your mental-health-harming statement be aimed directly at the complainant. What if, for example, a Jewish student said they were caused mental harm because somebody said “Burn down Israel” online? That is legal speech so long as it’s not uttered in front of a bunch of Hamas supporters holding Molotov cocktails.

FIRE sent letter to Syracuse that you can see at the link below:

FIRE wrote to Syracuse on Friday, asking the school to reverse its charges against Jones and reminding the institution of its obligations to protect student speech and facilitate sexual abuse reporting. FIRE urges Syracuse to clarify to students that asking questions or reporting sexual misconduct on campus doesn’t constitute “mental harm” — and won’t get them punished.

FIRE warned that this policy would be abused when Syracuse adopted it in 2020. Jones’ case shows how easily the “mental harm” ban ratchets up the stakes of any run-of-the-mill student disagreement. The looming threat of punishment will cast a chill over campus conversations.

Indeed. And it’s clear that Jones, however awkward her question, was trying to find out whether she was in the vicinity of a convicted sexual predator. Since he was Canadian, perhaps there’s no other way she could find out.

This is the result of adopting speech and conduct codes that include “mental harm” as an offense. Now if the offense is deliberate and repeated, yes, it can create a legal violation against harassment, but this is not such a case.

Syracuse should rescind the punishment immediately and apologize to Ms. Jones. At the bottom of the page, if you wish, you can fire off an email to Syracuse (there’s already a boilerplate you can sign) objecting to what it did to Ms. Jones. I’ve said my piece and sent it off.

No college can have a speech or conduct code so severe that it penalizes students whose one-off statements are supposedly damaging to “mental health”. And remember, even if you’re not in college or much interested in this kind of stuff, this kind of mishigass that begins in universities invariably spreads to the wider society. As Andrew Sullivan presciently said, “We’re all on campus now.”

I’ve written; it takes just a second. Imagine if all the readers who felt likewise took 2 minutes to send the email too? They’d get tens of thousands of complaints, and they couldn’t ignore that!

Deployment of Webb Space Telescope’s mirror’s successful, but we’re not there yet

January 20, 2022 • 11:00 am

The toughest bit, though seems past: successfully unfolding the entire mirror of the Webb Space Telescope was the most delicate of all its operations, since nothing could fail without endangering the scope’s usefulness. And nothing did! NASA has reported, along with many other sites, that the main mirror deployment is, as they say, “nominal.”  From Space.com:

JWST’s golden primary mirror includes 18 individual hexagonal segments, each controlled by seven actuators that allow precise movements. All 18 segments are now in their deployed positions several days sooner than scheduled.

Work began on the mirror segments on Jan. 12 and was expected to take about 10 days. But despite today’s announcement, those mirror segments aren’t quite ready to observe yet. First, NASA must conduct the painstaking process of fine-tuning every mirror’s position to turn 18 individual views of the universe into one large ultra-powerful mirror.

The team behind Webb expects that the entire mirror process will take about three months, all told.

Here’s a NASA video of the immensely complicated process of aligning all the mirrors once they’ve unfolded. I have faith in the Telescope Humans that all will be well.

More:

If this works okay, and nothing else goes wrong, in a few months the scope will be in position and ready to send data. There is one more important maneuver:

Webb has one more key deployment milestone to complete, a trajectory burn that will insert the observatory into orbit around a spot in space dubbed the Earth-sun Lagrange point 2, or L2. L2 is located nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth, on the side of the planet opposite the sun.

According to a NASA timeline, JWST is expected to complete this final arrival maneuver on Sunday (Jan. 23).

A good site to follow is “Where is Webb?” NASA’s real-time timeline of the mission showing the location of the scope and what it’s doing. Below is a screenshot that you can click on to see where Webb is now. It’s approaching “L2 insertion” on the right! Click on the photo to enlarge it.

 

Jordan Peterson hangs it up as a professor

January 20, 2022 • 9:30 am

Reader Duff called my attention to a piece by Jordan Peterson in—where else—Canada’s National Post, announcing that he’s quitting as a professor at the University of Toronto.  You can read the piece by clicking on the screenshot below:

As I’ve said before, I know virtually nothing about Jordan Peterson, though of course you can’t be living in this bubble without occasionally hearing of his doings. Jordan Peterson refuses to agree to mandatory pronoun use. Jordan Peterson near death’s door from disease and depression in Russia. Jordan Peterson clashes with British t.v. host, trounces her. Jordan Peterson writes bestselling book on how to live. And so on and so on.  When I’ve heard bits of his videos, I tend to agree with sp,e of what he says, but I claim no knowledge of his general views nor about his writings. (I tried to read his big academic book, and failed.) But I admire his honesty and his eloquence, though sometimes exercised in the service of causes I don’t support.

So I don’t have a strong reaction to the news above, nor endorse all that he says—except about the fulminating wokeness of academia, which is apparently what impelled him to resign. (I don’t think it hurt that he probably has about a gazillion dollars from his books and lecture fees!). I think he goes too far in indicting virtually the entire West for wokeness, though some of what he says rings true. Here’s one quote that I like.

We are now at the point where race, ethnicity, “gender,” or sexual preference is first, accepted as the fundamental characteristic defining each person (just as the radical leftists were hoping) and second, is now treated as the most important qualification for study, research and employment.

Need I point out that this is insane ? Even the benighted New York Times has its doubts. A headline from August 11, 2021: Are Workplace Diversity Programs Doing More Harm than Good? In a word, yes. How can accusing your employees of racism etc. sufficient to require re-training (particularly in relationship to those who are working in good faith to overcome whatever bias they might still, in these modern, liberal times, manifest) be anything other than insulting, annoying, invasive, high-handed, moralizing, inappropriate, ill-considered, counterproductive, and otherwise unjustifiable?

And this is credible; one of the reasons he resigned:

Second reason: This is one of many issues of appalling ideology currently demolishing the universities and, downstream, the general culture. Not least because there simply is not enough qualified BIPOC people in the pipeline to meet diversity targets quickly enough (BIPOC: black, indigenous and people of colour, for those of you not in the knowing woke). This has been common knowledge among any remotely truthful academic who has served on a hiring committee for the last three decades. This means we’re out to produce a generation of researchers utterly unqualified for the job. And we’ve seen what that means already in the horrible grievance studies “disciplines.” That, combined with the death of objective testing, has compromised the universities so badly that it can hardly be overstated. And what happens in the universities eventually colours everything. As we have discovered.

All my craven colleagues must craft DIE statements to obtain a research grant. They all lie (excepting the minority of true believers) and they teach their students to do the same. And they do it constantly, with various rationalizations and justifications, further corrupting what is already a stunningly corrupt enterprise. Some of my colleagues even allow themselves to undergo so-called anti-bias training, conducted by supremely unqualified Human Resources personnel, lecturing inanely and blithely and in an accusatory manner about theoretically all-pervasive racist/sexist/heterosexist attitudes. Such training is now often a precondition to occupy a faculty position on a hiring committee.

This is what I object to most about current academic culture: it forces people to either lie about their feelings or to shut up.

But, as critical as I am about DEI statements (he calls them “DIE statements,” which doesn’t help his cause), I still believe in affirmative action in some spheres, including academia. Since he’s uniformly opposed to it it any way, I can’t sign on to his views in toto.  I can’t claim, for instance, that current efforts to diversify universities will “compromise them so terribly that it means the death of higher education.” Nor do I think that DEI initiatives will produce a generation of researchers “utterly unqualified for the job.”

I do, however, hate to see institutions dedicated to pursuing truth nevertheless lie and dissimulate about their motivations, and chill the speech of who would disagree with “conventional” (in academia, that’s “progressive liberal”) views.

I suspect many readers know a lot more about Peterson than I, so do weigh in below. One thing you have to hand the man: he says what he thinks, even if others disagree strongly with him. That’s opposed to the many academics who say (or are forced to say) what they don’t think, or keep their mouths shut rather than buck the latest ideology.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 20, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today Mark Sturtevant is back with some lovely wide-angle photos. Mark’s IDs and comments (links are also his) are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

A specialty area of macrophotography is wide angle macrophotography. Here, a subject can be seen in extreme closeup while its broader surroundings are also in view since the lens is also a wide angle lens. The best-known wide angle macro lens is one made by Laowa, but that lens is rather expensive. But there is a near clone of that lens made by Opteka—the Opteka 15mm f/4) which retails for just over $100. So. . . I bought the Opteka. It took a while to figure out how to get along with it since these kinds of lenses are very challenging, but I can definitely say that this is the most fun lens that I own. Here are some wide angle macro pictures.

This is a ground-level view of my favorite spot to look for aquatic fishing spiders on lily pads. None were here that day. You can see that the depth of focus is pretty amazing when stopped down all the way to f/32 (!):

Views up a tree are always interesting. This lens encourages one to look for unique angles. The picture is focus-stacked from several pictures:

Mushrooms near a forest trail:

But of course, photographing spiders and insects is especially fun (for me). Here is a nursery web spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus), which is one of the biggest and scariest spiders around here. I could trust that she would not leave her babies in the web nursery, though, even though the lens is practically touching her:

Black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia):

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus):

European praying mantis (Mantis religiosa). I rather like the solar flares that often turn up in this lens. There is a short lens hood, but it’s pretty useless because the working distance is often just a few millimeters for wide angle macro lenses.

Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera sinensis):

Thanks for looking!

If anyone wishes to learn more about this kind of photography, one cannot do better than watch this delightful review from the great Thomas Shahan. He concentrates mainly on the Laowa wide angle macro lens, but it really is like the Opteka model as far as I am aware.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

January 20, 2022 • 7:00 am

Greetings on a cold (10° F, -12° C) Thursday, January 20, 2022: “National Cheese Lover’s Day“. Are they honoring only one lover of cheese, as the apostrophe suggests? Have they forgotten Wallace and Gromit? It’s also National Buttercrunch Day, International Day of Acceptance, honoring disability rights and Annie Hopkins, one of its greatest advocates, Women’s Healthy Weight Day (have they forgotten the mantra, “Healthy at any size?”), Take a Walk Outdoors Day (yes I will yes), and Penguin Awareness Day.  Here are some king pengies (and a photobomb by a species you should identify) that I photographed in the Falklands two years ago:

 

News of the Day:

*The article below was in the December 20 Washington Post. Anybody want to bet me some $$ that a cat will be in the White House by January 31? I’m betting “no”, will give even odds. Click on screenshot to read about another of Biden’s false promises—and this one he can turn into reality! WHERE’S THE DAMN CAT, JOE?

*I hope that Biden’s political prognostications are as well founded as his feline forecasts because, according to the New York Times, he’s now announced that he believes Russia will invade Ukraine.

“Do I think he’ll test the West, test the United States and NATO, as significantly as he can? Yes, I think he will,” Mr. Biden told reporters during a near two-hour news conference in the East Room of the White House, adding: “But I think he will pay a serious, and dear price for it that he doesn’t think now will cost him what it’s going to cost him. And I think he will regret having done it.”

That is Presidential saber-rattling, because the U.S. can do precious little to punish Russian for invading Ukraine. My own prediction is that it will because it can, but of course nobody but Putin and his top military advisers know for sure.

I watched some of the press conference, which was a lackluster performance with the press going after Biden with unusual vehemence. He admitted that Covid testing on his watch wasn’t up to snuff, but in other areas just asserted that he’s calling a reset. He blamed the lack of bipartisanship on Republicans (even though he promised more bipartisanship, and Republican recalcitrance was absolutely predictable).

*Legal news from reader Ken:

The Court has roundly rejected Donald Trump’s bid to prevent his presidential records pertaining to the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol from being disclosed by the National Archives to the House select committee investigating that attack.

The vote was 8-1 against Trump, with only Clarence Thomas marching, as is his wont, to the beat of some polyrhythmic drummer inaudible to the others, dissenting without opinion.

*Even the NYT’s coverage of the press conference and Congressional news was grim. Because of Manchin and Sinema, the filibuster won’t be ended, the Build Back Better bill won’t pass, nor will the voting rights bill. It’s a grim prospect, and will likely be grimmer this November. But I don’t agree with the Chicken Littles who say things like this:

“Nothing less than the very future of our democracy is at stake, and we must act or risk losing what so many Americans have fought for — and died for — for nearly 250 years,” said Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan.

I beg to differ, as I think the resilience of our republic is stronger than people think. Even many Republicans, as well as centrists, were appalled at the January 6 insurrection. Yes, Republicans have made it harder for minorities to vote, but vote they will. What we need to worry about is how they will vote.

*Breaking news: last night the voting rights bill went down to defeat in the Senate after Republicans invoked the filibuster.

*The Washington Post’s editorial-board piece, “How Biden can fix his presidency,” is long on mourning what he did wrong, or didn’t do, and short on prescriptions. The three recommendations include (quotes are indented):

1.) In his second year, Mr. Biden must tack toward the practical. Mr. Manchin had offered to support a $1.8 trillion Build Back Better proposal last month, which would have included hefty climate change provisions, before his talks with the White House collapsed. The president should have taken up Mr. Manchin then. Mr. Biden should say yes to Mr. Manchin now, salvaging as much of that proposal as he can.

2.) Meanwhile, the gravest threat to U.S. democracy is not vote denial but that administrators or elected officials will attempt to tamper with legitimate vote counts based on lies about fraud. Mr. Trump’s continuing effort to discredit the 2020 vote, which experts say was the most secure presidential election ever, has spurred a wave of GOP candidates to campaign on his bogus conspiracy theories. A bipartisan group of senators is discussing a bill that would harden vote-counting procedures against partisan subversion. Mr. Biden should foster these discussions.

Agreed, this opposition to legitimate votes constitutes one of our most serious problem. But “Mr. Biden should foster these discussions”? How is he going to do that—calling the Senators and saying, “You go, Senators!”

3.) The president should also encourage lawmakers to keep working on reforming the Senate. Though Mr. Manchin refused to upend the filibuster to pass a voting rights bill, he has signaled openness to altering the rules in more modest ways. These could include making it more difficult for the minority party to sustain filibusters, which have become routine only recently. Doing so might require more talks with Republicans; the president should get those started.

That’s a passel of lame advice for Biden! Granted, with a deadlock in the Senate it’s hard to do much, but then let’s face the facts: we Democrats are screwed, and to some extent its our fault for ignoring the average Joes and Jills in America.

*The little good news we have is the administration’s promise that starting soon, 400 million N95 masks will be given away for free to the American public beginning soon:

The nonsurgical N95 masks will start to be available at pharmacies and community health centers late next week and the program will be fully up and running by early February, the White House official said. The masks will be sourced from the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s safety net of medical-equipment supplies.

“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” the official said. “Experts agree that masking is an important tool to control the spread of Covid-19.”

Three masks will be available per person, the official said, to ensure broad access. Most of the pharmacies that are part of the federal pharmacy vaccine program will distribute the masks, the official said.

Warning; if you have to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy during the early days of mask distribution, either go early or wait till the initial rush abates. Everybody is going to want those masks.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 857,644 an increase of 1,971 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,585,483, an increase of about 10,300 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 20 includes:

  • 1265 – The first English parliament to include not only Lords but also representatives of the major towns holds its first meeting in the Palace of Westminster, now commonly known as the “Houses of Parliament”.
  • 1783 – The Kingdom of Great Britain signs preliminary articles of peace with the Kingdom of France, setting the stage for the official end of hostilities in the American Revolutionary War later that year.
  • 1788 – The third and main part of First Fleet arrives at Botany Bay, beginning the British colonization of Australia. Arthur Phillip decides that Port Jackson is a more suitable location for a colony.
  • 1887 – The United States Senate allows the Navy to lease Pearl Harbor as a naval base.

Pearl Harbor, photographed in 1986:

  • 1929 – The first full-length talking motion picture filmed outdoors, In Old Arizona, is released.

Here’s the whole movie. Some great acting (NOT!):

Here’s a letter following up on that conference. The Wikipedia caption:

In a February 261942 letter to Martin LutherReinhard Heydrich follows up on the Wannsee Conference by asking Luther for administrative assistance in the implementation of the “Endlösung der Judenfrage” (Final Solution of the Jewish Question).

I’ve highlighted the relevant words:

Here’s the inauguration and JFK’s address. But where’s Jackie?

Here’s Obama’s inauguration, with Michelle and the kids right there (speech, too):

  • 2021 – Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America. At 78, he becomes the oldest person ever inaugurated. Kamala Harris becomes the first female Vice President of the United States.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1775 – André-Marie Ampère, French physicist and mathematician (d. 1836)
  • 1879 – Ruth St. Denis, American dancer and educator (d. 1968)
  • 1888 – Lead Belly, American folk/blues musician and songwriter (d. 1949)

Lead Belly singing his most famous song, “Goodnight, Irene” (he didn’t write it) in 1934:

and Eric Clapton doing the same song 48 years later:

  • 1896 – George Burns, American actor, comedian, and producer (d. 1996)

His real name was Nathan Birnbaum, and here he is telling a story:

  • 1910 – Joy Adamson, Austria-Kenyan painter and conservationist (d. 1980)

Born free: Here’s Joy and Elsa the lion: the first lion to be successfully released from captivity:

  • 1920 – Federico Fellini, Italian director and screenwriter (d. 1993)
  • 1930 – Buzz Aldrin, American colonel, pilot, and astronaut
  • 1939 – Chandra Wickramasinghe, Sri Lankan-English mathematician, astronomer, and biologist
  • 1946 – David Lynch, American director, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1953 – Jeffrey Epstein, American financier and convicted sex offender (d. 2019)
  • 1956 – Bill Maher, American comedian, political commentator, media critic, television host, and producer
  • 1972 – Nikki Haley, American accountant and politician, 116th Governor of South Carolina

Those whose existence ended on January 20 include:

  • 1779 – David Garrick, English actor, producer, playwright, and manager (b. 1717)

Garrick and his wife Eva, painted by, of all people, William Hogarth:

In my view, Millet is underrated, though he much impressed other artists, notably Vincent van Gogh. Here’s Millet’s “Man with a Hoe”, painted in 1862:

A black man, Gibson was barred from major-league baseball by segregaton, but he would have shone there. His lifetime batting average was .374, and his best single season average was an astounding .466.  He was the second player from the Negro Leagues (yes, that’s what it was called) to be inducted in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. Here’s  a quote from Wikipedia and a picture of Gibson wearing the (Pittsburgh Homestead Grays outfit:

Even though Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern major league history in April 1947, Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier that July, felt that Gibson was the best black player in 1945 and 1946. Doby said in an interview later, “One of the things that was disappointing and disheartening to a lot of the black players at the time was that Jack was not the best player. The best was Josh Gibson. I think that’s one of the reasons why Josh died so early — he was heartbroken.” [JAC: He died at 35 from a brain tumor]

  • 1984 – Johnny Weissmuller, American swimmer and actor (b. 1904)
  • 1996 – Gerry Mulligan, American saxophonist and composer (b. 1927)

Here’s the Gerry Mulligan Quartet playing “open country”:

Yes, she was one of the Rothschilds, and decided to take up a career in entomology. She was eccentric and delightful; I met her twice at Harvard, where she’d come to work on the insect collections. A video (1 of 3), recounting her “Seven wonders of the world”. Do watch the 8-minute clip, which shows an enthusiasm for insects that I remember well in her.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is crawling between Andrzej’s and Malgorzata’s computer screens, which face each other on adjacent desks:

A: What are you doing there?
Hili: I’m checking the cables.
In Polish:
Ja: Co ty tam robisz?
Hili: Sprawdzam kable.

From Not Another Science Cat Page:

From Only Duck Memes:

From Jean:

From Masih Alinejad’s site. So much for Taliban reassurances about women’s rights.

From Barry, who notes that calling someone an ape is now hate speech:

From Simon, who says this:

This is pretty brutal as a takedown. The “cops” are part of the cast of Line of Duty which is a very popular British TV series (available here on Hulu). The TV show itself is well worth watching, the stories between seasons are separate but characters (including the three in this video) carry through. Lots o twists and turns – but not enough on its own to see me on Hulu – but perhaps enough to watch it on a free one month trial if the offer comes up!

I am wondering whether and for how long Boris will survive.

I found this one, but by following a tweet that Matthew sent (see below). Listen to that howl!

And the tweet from Matthew that led me to the howler:

More from Matthew. I have a juvenile sense of humor, and found this pretty funny:

A graphic demonstration of global warming:

But the Chosen Pig isn’t kosher!

Two baby tigers are born!

January 19, 2022 • 1:45 pm

It’s time for some relaxation. Tomorrow is Go for a Walk Day but I’m going to do this now. But I want you to see this video of a mother tiger (I don’t know the zoo or sanctuary) giving birth to two babies. It all turns out okay, but there’s a bit of suspense. At any rate, you get to see baby tigers being born!

It’s fascinating that a mother tiger who’s never had cubs knows exactly what to do: open the amniotic sack and lick the hell out of the baby to get it to start breathing. Those behaviors are surely encoded in the DNA, for of course any mother who didn’t do those things wouldn’t leave viable cubs. But I digress . . .. . watch two birthdays.

Oh, be sure to listen for the cries of the newborns.

Michael Phelps in line for accusations of transphobia after touting a “clean field” in women’s sports

January 19, 2022 • 10:45 am

Do I really need to apologize because this piece, which was sent me as a link to yahoo! news, ultimately turned out to be taken from the conservative National Review? That was my first impulse, but if I had to give caveats like that for everything, I’d have to give them for the New York Times and, in fact, for every media outlet with an ideological slant. I think I’ll stop giving these caveats and concentrate on the content. And, in this case, the content is documented by a video interview by Christine Amanpour and by the very facts of biology.

As you surely know, Phelps is by far the most decorated Olympic competitor of all time, having accrued a total of 29 medals for swimming—23 of them gold!  He holds several world records, and many see him as the greatest swimmer of all time, if not one of the greatest athletes of all time.

As far as I was able to find without digging about for too long, the National Review article wasn’t the same as—or as long as—the yahoo! news piece (I couldn’t locate the right one, I guess), so I’ll comment on the latter. Click on the screenshot to read (the “National Review: is the source, but the article is at yahoo!):

Here are Phelps’s comments followed by the interview tweet:

Swimming champion Michael Phelps recently called the controversy around Lia Thomas, the record-setting transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer, “very complicated” and stressed the need for a “level playing field” in swimming.

Playing on the women’s team this season after three years competing as a male, Thomas has set pool, program, and meet records, 38 seconds ahead of the next-closest female Penn swimmer in one event. [JAC: I think that was the 500-meter freestyle.]

Phelps’s comments came during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week when Amanpour asked the swimmer to react to the ongoing debate and Phelps likened it to his experience with doping in the sport, saying he does not think he has competed in a “clean field” in his “entire career.”

“I think this leads back to the organizing committees again,” said Phelps, who won 13 individual gold medals as an Olympic swimmer. “Because it has to be a level playing field. That’s something that we all need. Because that’s what sports are. For me, I don’t know where this is going to go. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Here are the tweets; the second is the important one.  Phelps won’t answer the question directly, but it’s pretty clear what he thinks: he thinks everyone should be “comfortable in their own skin” (i.e., he’s not transphobic), but he also favors competition on “an even playing field.” As if that weren’t clear enough, he mentions doping of swimmers, saying that he doesn’t think he himself has competed on an even playing field, and that doping clearly tilts the field.

Of course, by analogizing transgender female performance with the advantage given by doping, Phelps is going to get himself into more trouble, even though the analogy is better than he knows. For the advantage accruing to biological men who transition after puberty (as did Thomas) comes from the effects of testosterone during puberty. These effects, as several studies have shown, last for years, and I suspect many of them, affecting physiology and bone and muscle mass, will be permanent.  Even the International Olympic Committee has retracted its own regulations about how much circulating testosterone forms the upper limit for a transgender athlete to compete with women. (They now are in limbo without any guidelines.)

The NCAA guidelines, for college sports, are even more lax, as no hormone levels are even specified:

NCAA rules currently permit Thomas to compete on the women’s team. The guidelines are focused primarily on hormone treatments and read: “A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.”

They do not take bone density, accumulated muscle mass, or other considerations into account.

Well, they should! One year of testosterone suppression is just that—a year of treatment, and there’s no guarantee that the treatment will even give you Olympic-qualifying hormone levels. But, as we know now, the Olympic qualifying levels have no science to back them. The NCAA rules have equally little science—that is, zero. It is an attempt to look scientific without actually having the relevant data.

But wait—there’s more:

NCAA guidelines claim, “many people may have a stereotype that all transgender women are unusually tall and have large bones and muscles. But that is not true. . . . The assumption that all male-bodied people are taller, stronger, and more highly skilled in a sport than all female-bodied people is not accurate.”

But nobody is making that ridiculous claim! Of course there are “male bodied people” (do they mean biological men?; it’s not clear) who are worse than some women (“female-bodied people”) at sports. And even transgender women can beat many men. The claim is about the highest performance levels, and about averages and variances. It’s like saying that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer because some people who get lung cancer never smoked, and some people who smoke like chimneys never get lung cancer. What we have is a gross misunderstanding of both the statistics and the claims at issue.

The article goes on to denigrate Thomas by quoting her, but I’m not interested in that. What I am interested in is what Phelps emphasizes: having a level playing field. It is becoming ever clearer that for transgender women who go through puberty before hormone treatment, they derive a clear performance and physiological advantage over biological women that gives them a clear advantage in sports. If you say, “Well, so what? There are only a few transgender women trying to compete,” I have two responses. First, tell that to the women creamed by the performance of Lia Thomas. More important, the problem may be small now, but given the magnitude of women to men transitioning—far more frequent than the other way round—it’s going to be a much bigger problem in the future.

This is one case where the inconvenient biological and experimental facts are ignored in favor of “social justice”, for “trans” people are seen as heroes and as oppressed minorities. The biological women who are left in the dust by people like Thomas are being treated unfairly—just as unfairly as if they competed against someone engaged in doping. Everyone decries doping, and mandates punishment for those like Lance Armstrong who engage in it, but when the “dope” is testosterone and its lingering effects, well, no problem!

This is one example of what I call “MacPherson’s Law”, a generalization I’ve stolen from reader Diana. She once said that in cases like this—cases in which two tenets of progressive liberalism conflict—the resolution will always be to the detriment of (biological) women. The same is true for the oppression of women by Islam, and by other cases as well.

The scientific answer, though, is now clear enough now to mandate change. First, transgender women who transition after puberty should not be permitted to compete in women’s sports. (There can be another class, or they can compete in men’s sports.) I see fairness to women athletes as superseding any “right” of transgender women to compete in women’s sports, and I don’t see this view as “transphobia”.

As Richard Feynman said after the Challenger disaster, “”For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.” In this case, “Nature” comprises the facts about puberty and hormones, while “public relations” is the declarations by the ACLU and other woke organizations that, even in sports, “transwomen are women”, and should be allowed to compete as such.

h/t: Divy

Our attempt to correct the record about E. O. Wilson: a joint letter to Scientific American—which, of course, they rejected.

January 19, 2022 • 8:00 am

UPDATE: David Sloan Wilson has also published the letter on his site “This View of Life”.

______________

A bunch of people in evolution and genetics took exception to an op-ed in Scientific American by Monica McLemore, which called E. O. Wilson a racist just days after he died. The author, who apparently had almost no familiarity with Wilson’s work, gave no examples of his supposed racism, and left out quotes showing his opposition to racism. Anybody who knew Ed also knows that he was no racist! Many of the signers below knew Ed well.

The author also indicted others, including Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin, for the same sin:

Wilson was hardly alone in his problematic beliefs. His predecessors—mathematician Karl Pearson, anthropologist Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and others—also published works and spoke of theories fraught with racist ideas about distributions of health and illness in populations without any attention to the context in which these distributions occur.

My “bon mot” on this: “Did Mendel see green peas as superior to yellow ones?”

The fun didn’t end there, for McLemore got further entangled by trying to accuse the normal distribution in statistics of racism!:

First, the so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against. The fact that we don’t adequately take into account differences between experimental and reference group determinants of risk and resilience, particularly in the health sciences, has been a hallmark of inadequate scientific methods based on theoretical underpinnings of a superior subject and an inferior one. Commenting on COVID and vaccine acceptance in an interview with PBS NewsHour, recently retired director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins pointed out, “You know, maybe we underinvested in research on human behavior.”

This is too ridiculous to critique except to say that everything in that paragraph is wrong.

I wrote a critical rebuttal on this site about the badly misguided piece, which apparently constitutes part of Scientific American‘s campaign to morph from an organization teaching laypeople about modern science into an ideological venue for promoting “progressive” leftism and trying to effect social change. (No change, of course, will be effected by publishing ignorant nonsense like that. It is virtue-flaunting, pure and simple. Do they think that equality will come from accusing Ed Wilson of being a racist?)

A lot of us in the area were steamed at the arrant nonsense purveyed by the author, apparently approved for publication by Scientific American and its editor. We petulant scientists found each other on social media, and an initiative to write a critique of the Sci. Am. hit job was begun by geneticist Razib Khan. It came to fruition in the piece below, signed by many evolutionists and geneticists. It was rejected, of course: I fully expected that a journal that would publish such a flimsy attack on Wilson et al. wouldn’t want to hear the truth.

But the rejection was even worse because some of the staff at Scientific American reached out to Razib, saying that a formal rebuttal might be more useful than social media outrage. In other words, their own people solicited a response from Razib and others. From that it’s clear that not everyone on the editorial staff is overjoyed with the new woke direction of Scientific American! After promising us we’d get a quick response, they sat on our response for a week or so, finally giving Razib the thumbs-down after he had to inquire.

The journal of course acted abysmally here, though its most abysmal action was the publication of McLemore’s piece. But then they more or less asked us to respond, then refused to publish what we wrote.

After this reaction, Razib and I decided to publish the original submission, with its signers (all by their permission) on our websites, so at least you can see the panoply of scientists who think that the Wilson article was ridiculous. Razib put up his piece last night on his Substack site; it’s called “Setting the record straight: open letter on E. O. Wilson’s legacy.” I urge you to read it; although we’re posting the same text and signers of the rejected article, Razib has a very good introduction about his views and about how the piece came to be.

After the rejection, we got an email by editor Laura Helmuth, who, I think, is largely responsible for running the journal into the ground out of sheer ideological bias. The letter gave what I think are lame reasons for not running our piece. I quote (with interpolations):

We would be happy to publish other articles about E.O. Wilson’s research and legacy, but we avoid running direct rebuttals of earlier articles. This is a standard practice in most magazines to avoid being too self-referential, and so each article stands on its own.

Does anybody really believe that? First of all, Scientific American has run direct rebuttals of earlier articles: here are two (granted, they don’t do it often). Nor do their instructions about what and how to submit say anything about prohibiting rebuttals. But above all this, how else would a journal correct itself if it publishes distortions or errors, which are pervasive in the Wilson piece? “Each article stands on its own?” What that means, translated into regular English, is “each article is immune to criticism.” Besides, this article doesn’t stand on its own; it lies prostrate on its own. Helmuth wrote more:

As you may know, we publish a range of perspectives in our Opinion section, written by authors such as Monica McLemore who are presenting their own experiences and analysis.

It is not an “experience” to claim that Ed Wilson or Mendel were racists. Those are assertions of fact, and need to be—but weren’t—backed up with any evidence. I suspect this emphasis on “personal experience” is part of the woke path that the journal is treading. As the journal says in its instructions for authors of opinion and analysis pieces (my emphasis):

We look for fact-based arguments. Therefore, if you are making scientific claims—aside from those that are essentially universally accepted (e.g., evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of life on Earth; vaccines do not cause autism; the Earth is about 93 million miles from the Sun) we ask you to link to original scientific research in reputable journals or assertions from reputable science-oriented institutions. Using secondary sources such as news reports or advocacy organizations that do not do actual research is not sufficient.

I guess they waived those rules for this article.  Nor is there any note that rebuttals or critiques are not permitted.

Finally, a lame offer.

If you’d like to suggest a different article, or revise this one to be a stand-alone piece rather than a rebuttal, we’d be happy to work with you or your coauthors.

When I saw that, this thought letter instantly crossed my mind, “Dear Ms. Helmuth, I would like to write an article called ‘Why E. O. Wilson and Gregor Mendel were not racists’. I promise, however, not to mention McLemore’s article in the proposed piece. Yours, Jerry Coyne.”

I ask Ms Helmuth: what other way can we rebut false claims in your magazine than to cite the source and nature of the false claims?

At any rate, our letter is below the line; there are 33 signers, and you may recognize some of the names. Kudos to Razib for organizing it. I’ve added links to every name so you can verify the existence of those who signed.

In all likelihood, Scientific American will ignore this, whether it gets published here or in their magazine, but they do so at their peril. The wide range of interests of the signers, and the diversity of areas they work in, plus the fact that many actually knew Wilson and his work, should constitute a potch im tuchas to Helmuth and her magazine. And at least they know now that their own editorial staff is not 100% behind the new course the journal is taking.

Our letter is below the line:


The great entomologist and evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson died on December 26, 2021 at the age of 92. Within three days, Scientific American published a bewilderingly flimsy opinion piece that ignored his exceptional legacy of scholarship, innovation and advocacy, instead using his passing to attack science’s history of “white empiricism” and “scientific racism.” The piece suggests Wilson’s and other seminal thinkers’ works were problematically “built on racist ideas” and calls for “truth and reconciliation… in the scientific record.”

Wilson’s scholarly treatises and popular books appeared over an astonishing span of five decades, and their visionary breadth and graceful prose inspired generations of scientists. His  dozens of works include: The Theory of Island Biogeography; Genes, Mind, and Culture: The Coevolutionary Process; Sociobiology: The New Synthesis; Consilience and The Future of Life. Among his countless awards were the 1990 Crafoord Prize, non-medical biology’s equivalent of the Nobel, and Pulitzer Prizes for the books On Human Nature and The Ants. Wilson, a lifelong conservationist, is often credited with kickstarting an evolutionary understanding of universal human behavior, as well as developing models foundational to ecological theory.

No stranger to intellectual dust-ups, Wilson had for decades endured sometimes misplaced vitriol and ad hominem attacks. But he strived to uphold standards of integrity and insisted on putting science first, even when activists stooped to physically attacking him. Wilson was spared the indignity of reading Scientific American’s mystifying reappraisal. But such a weakly sourced and misinformed piece raises troubling questions about the state of scientific inquiry and discourse. “The complicated legacy of E. O. Wilson” is alarming, not because of any revelation about Wilson, since it’s hardly about him, but for the casual lapses in basic editing and fact-checking behind its extreme claims.

In “The Complicated Legacy,” Dr. Monica R. McLemore, professor of Nursing and Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, unloads an arsenal of buzzy accusations on the late scientist, dragging in Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Karl Pearson and Gregor Mendel for critique in the process. She quotes Craig Venter and Francis Collins, but neglects to link their allusions to “the complex provenance of ideas” and underinvestment “in research on human behavior” to widespread “scientific racism” in any way.

And what specific evidence does McLemore present against Wilson or the nineteenth-century scientists she holds up for opprobrium? She claims to have “intimately familiarized” herself with Wilson’s work, having enjoyed his fictional Anthill and thus being disappointed by Sociobiology (which touches on humanity only in its 26th and final chapter), because of its role in the orthodoxy that human differences “could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms.” But alas, she doesn’t appear to have familiarized herself even minimally with the basic science, because this proposition is empirically unassailable. Twin, adoption and DNA-level studies on millions of individuals consistently demonstrate that just about all human traits, from height to intelligence and personality, owe at least some, often much, of their variation among individuals to genetic influences – not to be confused with genetic determination as in the opinion piece by McLemore. And yet like Darwin, Wilson actually argued eloquently for a universal human nature, a premise that undermines racist agendas.

Furthermore, although McLemore apparently intended to damn Wilson by attributing to him this factual insight, it is not at all clear that the flowering of human behavior genetics even belongs in the ledger of Wilson’s scientific accomplishments. The germ of behavior genetics predates Wilson’s insights by decades. The fact is, sociobiology helped pave the way for other evolutionary approaches to human behavior, with a focus on understanding our human commonalities, as well as the nascent field of cultural evolution.

More perplexing lapses of scholarship follow. McLemore lumps Wilson, b. 1929, together with Pearson, Galton, Darwin and Mendel (born between 1809 and 1857), castigating all for “problematic” and “racist ideas.” Galton, Pearson and Darwin held Victorian views we find reprehensible today. But, the enduring truth or falsity of a scientific theory does not depend upon the anachronistic opinions of the scientists who helped develop it. So, has McLemore discovered bias in Wilson’s legacy?

Here, the author proceeds only to demonstrate a baffling ignorance of one of the most basic concepts in modern statistics. Calling on her expertise in public health, she claims “the so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against.” But this is nonsense. Far from a conspiracy of biased humans, the “normal distribution” is a widely observed feature of the natural world. Across the animal and plant kingdoms, traits like human birth weight and height, cucumber length, bovine milk production, indeed any trait with many random, independent variables at play, can often be found to approximately follow a normal distribution. “Normal” simply refers to a probability distribution with a certain mathematical form, the value-neutral outcome of random variables that have hewed to certain patterns.

Finally, we learn that “the description and importance of ant societies as colonies is a component of Wilson’s work that should have been critiqued.” It beggars belief that among the most serious offenses the author could dredge up from a wildly prolific career “built on racist ideas” was Wilson’s use of the term “ant colony,” a standard term for cohabitating groups of ants, wasps and bees in entomology. Perhaps it is by this logic that she also invites us to condemn Mendel, the father of genetics, whom she counts among Wilson’s intellectual forebears and who “published works and spoke of theories fraught with racist ideas.” Is Mendel, the Augustinian monk, famously pottering over his pea plants in obscurity, now racist for discovering the Law of Segregation? Or because he found that yellow peas are genetically dominant over green?

Following this uncompelling evidence, the author puts forward three suggestions for the health of science. She calls for new methods in science (an odd plea in the age of CRISPR and ubiquitous whole genome sequencing), “diversifying the scientific workforce”, a massive and important priority in academia today, and finally “truth and reconciliation … in the scientific record.” The entire idea of a “scientific record” is hard to interpret, but she suggests citational practices to flag “problematic work” and unironically nominates “humanities scholars, journalists and other science communicators” to make these judgments.

There is one point on which we can agree with McLemore: “It is true that work can be both important and problematic—they can coexist. Therefore it is necessary to evaluate and critique these scientists, considering, specifically the value of their work.” Indeed, this is how science has always proceeded. Unfortunately, McLemore continues “and, at the same time, their contributions to scientific racism.” Alas, Scientific American’s readers will find neither a clear definition of this sinister undercurrent, nor any instances of its actual existence in Wilson’s thought.

It surely says more about the spirit of our age than it does about Wilson that the editors of Scientific American chose to mark the passing of a scientist of his stature by debating baseless accusations of racism. A line Wilson penned to Nature in 1981 has aged well, “To keep the record straight, I am happy to point out that no justification for racism is to be found in the truly scientific study of the biological basis of social behavior.” Wilson’s insights speak for themselves and his dozens of worthy titles allow us to grapple with his actual ideas directly. His books are suffused with an abiding gratitude for and humble, lifelong wonder at the complexity of our natural world. Their impact will long outlive any hasty and poorly informed appraisals of his legacy.

Dr. Abdel Abdellaoui, Research Scientist, Department of Psychiatry, Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam

Dr. Rosalind Arden, Research Fellow, London School of Economics

Dr. Georgia Chenevix-Trench, Professor, Genetics and Computational Biology, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, Yale University

Dr. Anne B Clark, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Binghamton University

Dr. Jerry Coyne, Professor, Emeritus of Ecology and Evolution, The University of Chicago

Dr. Matthew Hahn, Distinguished Professor, Department of Biology and Department of Computer Science, Indiana University

Dr. John Hawks, Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Dr. Joseph Henrich, Professor and Chair, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Elliot Hershberg, Doctoral Candidate, Genetics, Stanford University

Dr. Hopi Hoekstra, Professor, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Molecular & Cellular Biology, Harvard University

Razib Khan, Unsupervised Learning, Substack

Dr. Nathan H. Lents, Professor of Biology, John Jay College

Dr. Armand Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Imperial College London

Dr. Jonathan Losos, William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor, Washington University

Daniel Malawsky, Doctoral Candidate, Genomics, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Dr. Hilary Martin, Group Leader, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Dr. Nick Martin, Senior Scientist and Senior Principal Research Fellow, QIMR Berghofer

Dr. Corrie Moreau, Martha N. & John C. Moser Professor of Arthropod Biosystematics and Biodiversity and Director & Curator of the Cornell University Insect Collection, Cornell University

Dr. Craig Moritz, Professor, College of Science, Australian National University

Dr. Vagheesh M Narasimhan, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University University of Texas

Dr. Nick Patterson, Associate,  Department of Human Evolutionary Biology,  Harvard University

Dr. Steven Phelps, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas

Dr. David Queller, Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology, Washington University in St Louis

Dr. Joan E. Strassmann, Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis

Dr. Alexander Wild, Curator of Entomology, Lecturer Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas

Dr. Peter M. Visscher, Professor, Program in Complex Trait Genomics, University of Queensland

Dr. Mary Jane West-Eberhard, Emeritus Scientist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution

Dr. Judith Wexler, Zuckerman Postdoctoral Fellow, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem

Dr. David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Dr. Richard Wrangham, Moore Research Professor of Biological Anthropology, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Dr. Alexander Young, Research Scientist, Human Genetics Department, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

Dr. Marlene Zuk, Regents Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota

_______

Note: three people (names crossed out) decided to remove their names from the letter after it was rejected.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

January 19, 2022 • 7:00 am

Greetings on Hump Day, or “Dan Grba” as they say in Croatia:  January 19, 2022, National Popcorn Day!! (I didn’t put the two exclamation marks in; somebody’s really excited about popcorn. It’s also World Quark Day (not the physics quark, but a cheeselike comestible), Brew a Potion Day, Tin Can Day, New Friends Day, and, in Iceland, Husband’s Day (Iceland).  Here’s the ritual:

Bóndadagur in Icelandic means “Farmer’s day”, and an early (generally considered humorous) reference to it was made in 1864 by Jón Árnason in his book Þjóðsögur (Folk Tales). According to Árnason, the master of the house should arise on the celebration day, put only one leg of his trousers and underwear on, and hop around outside calling men on neighboring farms to attend a feast to welcome the month of Þorri.

Here’s the male version of the Icelandic national costume:

There’s a Google Doodle today urging us all to mask up and get our jabs. Click on the screenshot of this gif to see where it goes. Note everybody celebrating their shots.

News of the Day:

*I am not sure how much to believe the hysteria about 5-G-endangered plane safety being promulgated by the major airlines. As you’ve undoubtedly heard, the new 5G internet rolling out this month has been claimed by airlines to cause landing issues in bad weather, because it messes up the altimeter. My doubts come from the fact that for years we’ve been told to turn off our cellphones in flight because it would interfere with navigation, but it doesn’t really. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t see flight attendants—and many others—talking on their cellphones in the air.

However, the airlines might be right, and we should err on the side of safety. Accordingly, both AT&T and Verizon have agreed to deactivate 5G networks from towers within two miles airport runways. But even that’s not good enough for some airlines, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Nonetheless, a handful of international airlines said Tuesday they plan to suspend some U.S. flights starting Wednesday, citing operational concerns stemming from the Federal Aviation Administration’s restrictions and Boeing Co. ’s guidance not to operate the 777 jet.

Emirates Airline said it would suspend flights to nine U.S. cities. Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. said Boeing had advised them not to operate the 777 to the U.S. in light of 5G deployment. Air India also announced the cancellation of some U.S.-bound flights operated by 777 jets.

*Over at the NYT, columnist and Supreme Court analyst Linda Greenhouse tells us “What the Supreme Court’s vaccine case was really about.” Greenhouse mentions “a now-obscure case from 1981, American Textile Manufacturers Institute v. Donovan,” and then explains that in that case, the Court agreed that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.(OSHA) had the right to regulate safety in the workplace—exposure to toxic cotton dust in factories. Now the court is apparently shifting direction:

That case stands for a time when the Supreme Court was willing to rescue an administrative agency’s authority from the storms of politics. Was that the dissenters’ point in citing it? I don’t know, but what jumped off the page to me was the contrast between how the court behaved in 1981 and what happened last Thursday in National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, when six justices yielded to politics to disable an agency from carrying out its statutory mission to protect the health and safety of the American work force. That is where we are now. That’s how far the court has fallen.

The fact is that this dispute — which, remarkably, found 27 states aligned against the federal government — was never principally about the vaccine. OSHA’s “emergency temporary standard,” under which employers of 100 or more people were to require vaccination or weekly testing, was mainly a target of opportunity. It offered the conservative justices a chance to lay down a marker: that if there is a gap to fill in Congress’s typically broadly worded grant of authority to an administrative agency, it will be the Supreme Court that will fill it, and not the agency.

In other words, this decision is about power, and about the Supreme Court’s power—though Justices are not health experts—to rule on decisions that are the purview of an agency that does have the expertise. Justice Alito even got himself pretty balled up in the decision:

Among the more head-snapping moments during the nearly four hours of argument in the two vaccine cases on Jan. 7 came with Justice Alito’s comments in the OSHA argument to Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar.

Justice Alito suggested that the vaccine policy was more onerous than other OSHA health measures because employees who accept the vaccine run some personal risk, presumably of a bad reaction. The justice, who like the eight others has received two vaccine doses plus a booster, wanted to have it both ways: to cast a cloud over the vaccine requirement while not being labeled an antivaxxer. “I don’t want to be misunderstood in making this point because I’m not saying the vaccines are unsafe,” he told the solicitor general. Then what was he saying, exactly?

Indeed. Another relevant difference: if you get lung disease from cotton dust, you can’t give it to anyone else. If you get Covid from refusal to get the jab, you can endanger others. The judges not only erred, but erred in the wrong direction.

*The Washington Post offers what seems to be helpful advice on “How often can you safely re-use your KN-95 or N-95 mask?” But the article seems less concerned with my query: “If you take off your mask and let it sit, how long till any Covid viruses are dead?” than with “How long should you wear your masks before they become ‘soiled.'” Dirt is one thing, and won’t abate with time, but viruses do. So forgive me if I cock an eye at this:

“In the ideal world — or pre-pandemic — many masks were really viewed as single-use,” said Michael G. Knight, an assistant professor of medicine at George Washington University. “The reality is they do have a little bit more length in the amount of time we can use them.”

What’s crucial, Knight said, is making sure the mask has “maintained its integrity.” Think about how many times you’ve used it and for how long, he said.

“If I’m just putting a mask on to go to the grocery store for 45 minutes and I’m taking it off, that mask very well should be able to last me a couple of days,” he said.

But if you’re wearing a mask all day, such as during a long work shift where you may be sweating and talking all day to the point the mask becomes soiled, “then that may not be a mask that I can reuse.”

“If I’m wearing it for three hours, I’m going for a workout and I’m sweating, then that mask is most likely going to be soiled,” Knight said.

When you start seeing signs that the mask is soiled, “you’re getting to the point that that mask needs to be replaced,” he added.

They’re conflating three things, two of which are concerning (“virus absence” and “integrity”) with “soiling”. Now I throw away my masks when they get unsightly, and I rotate the new ones so any virus dies (I expect three days should do fine, but I’m not going to pitch a mask because I get toothpaste on it (that is my most common contaminant). I bet that if you put your masks under a UV light for a day or so, they’d last until they started falling apart—when they lose “integrity.”

*I’ve used Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik as an example of how a humane justice system treats even the worst criminal. In 2011 Breivik, a right-wing nationalist and white supremacist, killed 77 people, mostly children, in two attacks. He got the maximum sentence possible, 21 years, with his first parole review after only ten years. (After 21 years, they review him for “reformation” every five years, so he’ll likely be in for life, but at least has a comfortable existence.) Still, he’s making things very hard on himself:

Sporting a stubble beard and a two-piece suit, he entered the makeshift courtroom in a prison gymnasium by raising his right hand in a Nazi salute and holding up homemade signs with white supremacist messages. One sign was pinned to his suit.

Asked by the prosecutor who the messages were aimed at, he said they were directed at millions of people “who support white power.”

The Associated Press resists being used as a conduit for speech or images that espouse hate or spread propaganda and is not publishing images showing Breivik’s Nazi salutes and other white supremacist propaganda.

So they published the photo below instead. Is this going to stop white supremacy because they don’t show his hand? Would others make the Nazi salute if they saw Breivik’s hand. After all, it’s clear what he’s doing. At any rate, this loon is likely to be in for life—as he should be because he”s still a danger to society and isn’t in the least reformed.

(From AP): Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik arrives in court on the first day of a hearing where he is seeking parole, in Skien, Norway, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. Breivik goes to court Tuesday, after 10 years behind bars, claiming he is no longer a danger to society and attempting to get an early release from his 21-year sentence. (Ole Berg-Rusten/NTB scanpix via AP)

*yahoo! news reports yet another case of British legal failure to protect the un-woke. A group of demonstrators gathered in front of J. K. Rowling’s home (guess why?) and then posted a photo of the demontstration in which you could make out her address. In other words, they doxxed her.  That is, I believe illegal in Scotland, but the Scottish courts let the protestors off (see the article for the photo–sans address)   (h/t: Divy)

Police Scotland investigated the protest, but confirmed on Monday that no criminality had been established.

At the time, the 56-year-old writer had accused the actors, who were in Edinburgh to perform in a “drag murder mystery” stage show, of “doxxing” her – a term which means to maliciously reveal private information about someone on the internet.

She claimed that the actors had positioned themselves carefully “to ensure that our address was visible” in an attempt to “intimidate me out of speaking up for women’s sex-based rights”.

“They should have reflected on the fact that I’ve now received so many death threats I could paper the house with them, and I haven’t stopped speaking out,” she added.

“Perhaps – and I’m just throwing this out there – the best way to prove your movement isn’t a threat to women is to stop stalking, harassing and threatening us.”

The three actors deleted their social media accounts after they were confronted online by Ms Rowling.

Rowling is good with the zingers, and if it weren’t transphobic, I’d say she had cojones. 

*Sinema and Manchin won’t vote to overturn the filibuster. That means that the federal bill preserving voting rights is dead on arrival—rather, dead before arrival. Biden’s approval ratings continue to sink, though he’s not responsible for Sinema and Manchin.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 853,740 an increase of 1,889 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,575,173, an increase of about 9.800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 19 includes:

Another pictures of the convicts arriving in Botany Bay.

(From Wikipedia): An engraving of the First Fleet in Botany Bay at voyage’s end in 1788, from The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay.[51] Sirius is in the foreground; convict transports such as Prince of Wales are depicted to the left.

The crossing (caption from Wikipedia):

(From Wikipedia): Generals José de San Martín (left) and Bernardo O’Higgins (right) during the crossing of the Andes.
  • 1829 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust: The First Part of the Tragedy receives its premiere performance.
  • 1853 – Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il trovatore receives its premiere performance in Rome.
  • 1883 – The first electric lighting system employing overhead wires, built by Thomas Edison, begins service at Roselle, New Jersey.

Edison as a young man (I can’t find any photos of an illuminated Roselle):

2019- The ACLU begins its terminal dissolution.

  • 1945 – World War II: Soviet forces liberate the Łódź Ghetto. Of more than 200,000 inhabitants in 1940, less than 900 had survived the Nazi occupation.

The children of the Łódź Ghetto being rounded up to be sent to the Chelmo concentration camp, where they were exterminated:

  • 1953 – Almost 72 percent of all television sets in the United States are tuned into I Love Lucy to watch Lucy give birth.

Lucy goes into labor:

  • 1978 – The last Volkswagen Beetle made in Germany leaves VW’s plant in Emden. Beetle production in Latin America continues until 2003.

Here’s the last Beetle, bedecked with flowers, rolling off the line in Emden:

The Beetle era ended in West Germany today when the last of the insect shaped Volkswagen autos rolled off an assembly line in Emden, Germany on Jan. 19, 1978. Here workers at the Volkswagen factory are stroking the last one during a farewell party. (AP Photo/Heinz Ducklau)

An original Lisa:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1807 – Robert E. Lee, American general and academic (d. 1870)
  • 1809 – Edgar Allan Poe, American short story writer, poet, and critic (d. 1849)

Poe, in a retouched daguerrotype:

Cézanne painted no cats that I know of, and I don’t like his work much anyway. You have to imagine the cats in there:

  • 1908 – Ish Kabibble, American comedian and cornet player (d. 1994)
  • 1923 – Jean Stapleton, American actress and singer (d. 2013)

Her greatest role, as Edith Bunker:

  • 1933 – George Coyne, American priest, astronomer, and theologian (d. 2020)

Coyne was a Jesuit who headed the Vatican Observatory, and probably is no relative. He was also a vocal accommodationist:

VOF Board Meeting
  • 1939 – Phil Everly, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 2014)
  • 1943 – Janis Joplin, American singer-songwriter (d. 1970)

Joplin in 1966 or 1967 with Big Brother and the Holding Company:

  • 1946 – Dolly Parton, American singer-songwriter and actress

Dolly singing one of my favorite songs that she released (a Mann/Weil composition, though she wrote most of her own songs):

Sherman’s oeuvre consists almost entirely of self portraits. Here’s one:

Those who perished from this earth on January 19 include:

  • 1729 – William Congreve, English playwright and poet (b. 1670)
  • 1968 – Ray Harroun, American race car driver and engineer (b. 1879)

Harroun, driving a Marmon Wasp (below) won the first Indianapolis 500 race in 1911. Here’s the original car on display at the Indy Speedway Museum:

 

Here’s his painting “Again,” which isn’t hard to figure out:

  • 1980 – William O. Douglas, American lawyer and jurist (b. 1898)
  • 1990 – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Indian guru and mystic (b. 1931)

The “guru” was deported from the US as part of a plea bargain (his ashram was rife with criminality) and died in India:

  • 1997 – James Dickey, American poet and novelist (b. 1923)
  • 1998 – Carl Perkins, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1932)
  • 2000 – Hedy Lamarr, Austrian-American actress, singer, and mathematician (b. 1913)

It was Steve Pinker who informed me that Lamarr was Jewish (as was Lauren Bacall), which astounded me. She was also smart and helped develop technology for radio guidance of torpedoes, technology incorporated into the modern Bluetooth system:

  • 2006 – Wilson Pickett, American singer-songwriter (b. 1941)
  • 2008 – Suzanne Pleshette, American actress (b. 1937)
  • 2013 – Stan Musial, American baseball player and manager (b. 1920)

Musial, the “Donora greyhound”, remains my favorite major-league baseball player of all time. Humble, civil (he NEVER questioned an umpire’s call), and wicked with a bat or on the basepaths, I believe he’s still the only major leaguer to hit five home runs in one day—during a double header. I saw him play only once, with his beloved Cardinals.

Here’s a short 6.5-minute video retrospective of his career.

 

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has special knowledge of where pens go. (She knocks them off the desk, of course).

A: Could you tell me where my pen is?
Hili: It probably fell under your desk again.
In Polish:
Ja: Czy możesz mi powiedzieć, gdzie jest mój długopis?
Hili: Pewnie ci znowu wpadł pod biurko.

From Jesus of the Day, which labels this a *head desk*:

A duck cartoon from Facebook:

A snow cat army from Lorenzo the Cat:

 

The Tweet of God:

From reader Paul. Michael Shermer takes on Scientific American, as every good scientist should do. More on our attempt to criticize the magazine in an hour or so:

From Simon. This is why I almost never use Excel:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. I’ve seen this display in action, and it’s quite impressive.

This is the beginning of a long thread, and documents the beginning of a career. It shows the importance of mentorship, and answering everybody who shows a genuine curiosity. Varney is a postdoc working on marine invertebrates at the University of California at Santa Barbara:

A lovely photo from Gil Wizen. Did you spot the ____?

Velvet ants are wasps in the family Mutillidae, and the females are always wingless:

And a playful thread: