A duck song

March 5, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Here’s Garfunkel and Oates (Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci respectively) singing about gay marriage, using ducks as examples.

As the YouTube notes say:

Riki “Garfunkel” Lindhome and Kate “Oates” Micucci sing a pro-gay marriage song in response to a Pat Robertson quote that legalizing gay marriage would lead to legalizing sex with ducks.

I have to say, though, that they could have done a better job on the duck costumes.

h/t: Ken

More about Dr. Seuss, but with humor

March 5, 2021 • 1:15 pm

By now you’ll know that Dr. Seuss Enterprises has decided not to continue printing six of his books on the grounds of racist imagery. Having seen the images, I do think they’re offensive, and so I don’t mind if those who have custody of his legacy stop printing these books. Here are two of the images, and I have to say that while they may have been mainstream at one time, they don’t belong in children’s books any more:

 

 

 

That said, I certainly don’t think they should be removed from libraries!

Here are the six no longer printed:

  • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
  • “If I Ran the Zoo”
  • “McElligot’s Pool”
  • “On Beyond Zebra!”
  • “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
  • “The Cat’s Quizzer”
In response, and according to the Streisand Effect, all of the canceled books have sold out at Amazon and other booksellers, but his other books are doing great business, with 9 of the top 10 books on the Amazon’s bestseller list being Dr. Seuss books. As CNN Business reports, “While Dr. Seuss Enterprises has not announced the discontinuation of any other books, fans and collectors seem to be stocking up just in case.”

As many know, Seuss was also an antiracist later in his life, and one of his books, The Sneetches and Other Storieswas explicitly aimed at showing people that superficial differences in appearance were meaningless. In this case, the Sneetches were birdlike creatures, some of whom had green stars on their bellies. This led to “othering” and a huge fracas. As Wikipedia notes, “‘The Sneetches’ was intended by Seuss as a satire of discrimination between races and cultures, and was specifically inspired by his opposition to antisemitism.” (I presume the green stars were analogues of the yellow Stars of David worn by Jews during WWII.)

But not so fast. Thanks to my colleague Brian Leiter, who somehow found this piece and highlighted it on his website, saying “This is amusing. The anti-Irish racism is indisputable!” Yes, someone has found a way to make The Sneetches not only racist, but anti-Irish as well. Click on the screenshot to read a short and funny parody of Cancel Culture.

 

Here’s a small excerpt of the anti-Sneetch screed. First you’ll have to learn a bit about Monkey McBean; here’s the Wikipedia excerpt of McBean’s behavior in The Sneetches:

An entrepreneur named Sylvester McMonkey McBean (calling himself the Fix-It-Up Chappie) appears and offers the Sneetches without stars the chance to get them with his Star-On machine, for three dollars. The treatment is instantly popular, but this upsets the original star-bellied Sneetches, as they are in danger of losing their special status. McBean then tells them about his Star-Off machine, costing ten dollars, and the Sneetches who originally had stars happily pay the money to have them removed in order to remain special. However, McBean does not share the prejudices of the Sneetches and allows the recently starred Sneetches through this machine as well. Ultimately this escalates, with the Sneetches running from one machine to the next…

Finally, just an excerpt from the post above:

Further, The Sneetches is clearly a swipe at people like [Robin] DiAngelo. After all, DiAngelo, like McMonkey McBean, makes lots of money by offering partial but incomplete solutions to people’s racism. By portraying McMonkey McBean as an absurdly opportunistic sociopath, Seuss is in effect describing DiAngelo as an absurdly opportunistic sociopath. But that’s not fair. After all, DiAngelo strongly encourages us to continue to categorize people by race, while McMonkey McBean’s actions eliminate the possibility of racism by destroying people’s capacity to think in terms of race. There’s nothing more racist than that!

Finally, notice that McMonkey McBean has an Irish-sounding name. As a non-white, Irish person, I’ve notice that Seuss frequently uses the “Mc” prefix in his cartoon names when he wants to make a character seem silly or ridiculous. This reveals Seuss’s own anti-Irish racism–a form of racism which continues to pervade universities to this day, and from which even the high priest of anti-racism DiAngelo suffers. (DiAngelo regards Irish people as white, which means she endorses and perpetuates British imperialism and erasure of Irish identity. It is thus morally imperative that she be cancelled, and if you buy her new book, you are a racist.)  Could you imagine if Seuss used, say, Swahili-sounding names like this in the effort to make someone seem silly or ridiculous? But of course in the United States, a remnant of the British empire, anti-Irish racism is not only permitted, but routinely condoned.

Cancel Dr. Seuss. A world in which no one pays attention to whether sneetches have stars or none upon thars is nothing to celebrate. To dream of a world in which all people sing together “free at last” is a KKK fantasy.

Almost sounds like Titania McGrath, doesn’t it?

University of Minnesota adds mandatory racial justice course

March 5, 2021 • 11:30 am

Is an course on “race, power and justice” an essential part of a liberal education? The University of Minnesota’s (faculty) senate, has declared “yes.
as reported in the student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Up to now, all undergraduates at UM were required to take four courses from the five “themes” available (multiple courses are offered under each “theme”): civic life and ethics, diversity and social justice in the U.S., the environment, global perspectives, and technology and society. Now the “diversity and social justice” theme has been renamed “Race, power and justice in the United States” (RPJ), and that theme is no longer one you can omit: it has, as of next year, become an obligatory course. (It will apply only to incoming students, not ones already at the University of Minnesota.)

According to the chair of a faculty group that vets liberal-education courses, “this proposal was created in response to a request from Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson following the police killing of George Floyd last summer.” But that chair, Kathryn Pearson, also said this:

“We’re failing our students if we don’t make them aware of systemic racial inequality and give them the tools to analyze it and its implications,” Pearson said. “Minnesota has some of the worst racial inequities in education, housing, health care, criminal justice, the environment. And most recently, it’s the site of George Floyd’s murder.”

Well, it’s debatable whether George Floyd was “murdered”, a term whose definition is “a deliberate and premeditated killing”. I prefer just saying “killing”, for the trial of the officers accused of murdering Floyd hasn’t yet started, and we should wait for the verdict. Even here at the University of Chicago, some department statements—already in violation of University policy against making official political statements—pronounce George Floyd’s death a police “murder” done out of racism. (see here and here, for example).  They should hold off a bit!

At any rate, there is both approbation and pushback about the course at UM, but some of the pushback involves dubious statements about “emotional labor”, a phrase that bothers me because having emotions doesn’t seem like “labor” to me. But I’m splenetic today. The article continues:

“I think the University has a responsibility and a lot of ways partly just given where we are geographically, partly given what the objectives of higher education institutions are to equip students with a diverse worldview,” said Carter Yost, an MSA student representative, who co-led MSA’s endorsement of the new theme requirement. [JAC: What, exactly is a “diverse worldview”?]

“I think making this theme a requirement for students is a really great step towards better student understanding,” he said.

Some senate members expressed concern about the new requirement, such as the idea that requiring these courses could place additional emotional labor on students of color who have lived experiences with racial injustice.

Mattea Allert, the speaker for the Council of Graduate Students, said she feels the new requirement does not accurately address student needs.

“I don’t think it’s inherently a bad proposal,” Allert said. “I sort of come from the mindset of opposed to dedicating specific classes to talk about race and social justice, that race and social justice should be brought into … all subjects because it touches everything.”

There are two questions here:

1.) Is a course in Race, Power and Justice a good course to require all students to take? It’s surely timely, but is it important enough to make it the only course required of the five theme courses? I don’t know; I’m willing to be persuaded either way, but that depends on the answer to the second question.

2.) Is there a way to teach a Race, Power and Justice course without propagandizing the students into an accepted way of thinking, and without penalizing them for questioning the accepted wisdom? And you know what “wisdom” I mean: the Woke doctrine.

Reading the existing course guidelines for this theme, which are given below for the current courses, I’m not reassured. They will concentrate on “power and privilege”, an essential part of Critical Theory, and the course has a purpose: “to ensure that students’ educational experience and knowledge-base of the United States is inclusive of group and social differences.” That sounds like an educational purpose, but is really a political purpose, more or less telling the students how they will have to act. And because this violates requirement #2, it also violates requirement #1. My conclusion: given the fraught nature of the subject, combined with my near certainty that this is an indoctrination course in which only accepted viewpoints will be adumbrated and differences of opinion discouraged, this course should not be required.

Diversity and Social Justice in the United States objectives and criteria

Understanding the internal diversity of the United States and the complex ways in which diversity can be both an asset and a source of social tensions is integral to an informed, responsible, and ethical citizenry. Courses fulfilling the Diversity and Social Justice in the United States theme requirement may emphasize very different content and be taught from a variety of disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives. They promote historical and contemporary understanding of how social differences (such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and disability) have shaped social, political, and cross-cultural relationships within the United States. More specifically, courses fulfilling this Theme will critically investigate issues of power and privilege, instead of merely promoting a surface-level “celebration” of diversity. The objective of this requirement is to ensure that students’ educational experience and knowledge-base of the United States is inclusive of group and social differences. Through this type of educational experience, our students will be better able to live and work effectively in a society that continually grows more diverse and inclusive.

Course must meet these criteria:

  • The course explores one or more forms of diversity through the multi-layered operation of social power, prestige, and privilege.
  • The course advances students’ understanding of how social difference in the U.S. has shaped social, political, economic, and cross-cultural relationships.
  • Students examine the complex relationship between a particular form of diversity in the United States and its impact on historical and contemporary social dynamics, democratic practices, and institutional stratification.
  • The course enhances students’ understanding of diversity as a social construct that has promoted the differential treatment of particular social groups and served as the basis for response to subsequent social inequities by these groups.
  • The course engages scholarship that has emerged in response to epistemological gaps in information and perspective in traditional disciplines.

But it’s a fait accompli. Similar initiatives will soon be coming to a college or university near you.

Bari Weiss on self-censorship

March 5, 2021 • 9:30 am

I’m worried about Bari Weiss, for she seems to be publishing the same stuff over and over again. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m reading the same stuff over and over again, but from other people. Regardless, her new piece is in the Deseret News, an odd choice because it’s owned by the Mormon Church (LDS).  The topic is how many people silence themselves, both on the right (if they live in blue states), or the left (in red states or if you’re a “liberal” but surrounded by hyperliberals who will go after you, like at Smith College).

We already knew that, so click on the screenshot if you want to read it, and I’ll put a few tidbits below that may be new to you.

The “old” liberal consensus:

I was born in 1984, which puts me among the last generation born into America before the phrase “cancel culture” existed. That world I was born into was liberal. I don’t mean that in the partisan sense, but in the classical and therefore the most capacious sense of that word. It was a liberal consensus shared by liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.

The consensus view relied on a few foundational truths that seemed as obvious as the blue of the sky: the belief that everyone is created in the image of God; the belief that everyone is equal because of it; the presumption of innocence; a revulsion to mob justice; a commitment to pluralism and free speech, and to liberty of thought and of faith.

. . . Most importantly, this worldview insisted that what bound us together was not blood or soil, but a commitment to a shared set of ideas. Even with all of its failings, the thing that makes America exceptional is that it is a departure from the notion, still prevalent in so many other places, that biology, birthplace, class, rank, gender, race are destiny. Our second founding fathers, abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, were living testimonies to that truth.

Well, we can leave the God part out, since most of us don’t believe in gods. We can still hold people deserving of equal treatment for other reasons, which are better ones: it is simple justice to treat people equally in terms of moral responsibility, the law, and so on, because there is no good reason to do otherwise, and society runs best when all are “equal” in this respect.  I have no problem with the rest of it.  And the last paragraph shows how the “new” liberalism—the liberalism of extremists—differs from that worldview.

The new “illiberal orthodoxy”:

This old consensus — every single aspect of it — has been run over by the new illiberal orthodoxy. Because this ideology cloaks itself in the language of progress, many understandably fall for its self-branding. Don’t. It promises revolutionary justice, but it threatens to drag us back into the mean of history, in which we are pitted against one another according to tribe.

The primary mode of this ideological movement is not building or renewing or reforming, but tearing down. Persuasion is replaced with public shaming. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Mercy is replaced with vengeance. Pluralism with conformity; debate with de-platforming; facts with feelings; ideas with identity.

According to the new illiberalism, the past cannot be understood on its own terms, but must be judged through the morals and mores of the present. Education, according to this ideology, is not about teaching people how to think, it’s about telling them what to think. All of this is why William Peris, a UCLA lecturer and an Air Force veteran, was investigated because he read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” out loud in class. It is why statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln were torn down last summer. It is why a school district in California has banned Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” It’s why the San Francisco School Board just voted to rename 44 schools, including ones named for George Washington, Paul Revere and Dianne Feinstein — you read that right — for various sins.

Okay, that’s a good list, but we know much of this already, although perhaps Weiss’s readers don’t. But she’s way behind the news curve, as with the school renaming. However, here’s one tidbit I’d missed:

In this ideology, if you do not tweet the right tweet or share the right slogan or post the right motto and visual on Instagram, your whole life can be ruined. If you think I’m exaggerating, you might look up Tiffany Riley, the Vermont public school principal fired this fall because she said she supports Black lives but not the organization Black Lives Matter.

You’re gonna get paywalled if you try to follow those links, so here’s the story from Vermont local NBC news outlet:

Riley’s post said she firmly believes that “Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with the coercive measures taken to get this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point.”

She went on to write that while she wants to get behind Black Lives Matter, “I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race. While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all?”

Her post generated more than 100 comments and was widely shared, the school board said. She was placed on paid administrative leave June 12 and the board unanimously voted on July 27 to fire Riley, pending a termination hearing. The Sept. 10 hearing was held in a closed executive session, although Riley tried to have the hearing open to the public.

Not a smart Facebook post if you want to retain credibility with your community, but it is still within Riley’s freedom of speech to post this on Facebook. Indeed, she filed a freedom-of-speech and defamation lawsuit in 2020 but I haven’t found much about it since. You shouldn’t get fired for exercising your freedom of speech unless it somehow contravenes your ability to do your job or reflects badly on your employer, nether of which seems to be true in this case.

Finally, Weiss explains what’s new about “cancel culture” as opposed to previous “discussions” about differing views:

But what we call cancel culture is a departure from traditional taboos in two ways.

The first is technology. Sins once confined to the public square or the town hall are now available for the entire world for eternity. In our era of Big Tech there is no possibility of moving to a new town and starting fresh because the cloud of all of your posts and likes hangs over your head forever.

The second is that in the past, societal taboos were generally reached through a cultural consensus. Today’s taboos, on the other hand, are often fringe ideas pushed by a zealous cabal trying to redefine what is acceptable and what should be shunned. It is a group that has control of nearly all of the institutions that produce American cultural and intellectual life: media, to be sure, but also higher education, museums, publishing houses, marketing and advertising outfits, Hollywood, K-12 education, technology companies and, increasingly, corporate human resource departments.

And this leads to self-censorship. Even I have to worry about shutting up when I address certain topics, though I have little to lose.

At any rate, although what’s above may be news to the good citizens of Utah, it seems to be banging the same old drum, with the addition of gods.  Or maybe I’m just splenetic today.

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 5, 2021 • 8:00 am

I importune readers once again to send in their photos, as the tank inexorably drops.

Today we have some diverse landscape photos by reader James Blilie, including some great mountain-climbing shot. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

These ones are landscape photos, sometimes including human figures.

First, a church doorway (St Bartholomew’s parish church) in Brightwell Baldwin, Oxfordshire, England. Also home to a fine pub:  The Lord Nelson (2015):

The next one is a climber resting on the easiest route up Mount Stuart in the Washington Cascade Range, 9,415 ft (2,870 m), a huge exposed block of granite.  I climbed this peak when I’d been living in Seattle only a few weeks (1984):

Then a view of Hell’s Canyon on the border of Idaho and Oregon.  1.5 times as deep as the Grand Canyon, though without the spectacular geology of the Grand Canyon (1987):

Next a view of the Isle of Hoy from Stromness, Orkney Islands (1992).  I was fascinated by the dry stone walls around around the UK.

Next is a view of Mount Foraker (17,400 ft (5304 m)) taken from the 14,000-foot camp on the West Buttress Route on Mount McKinley (now officially Denali).  We were attempting the peak and had the “worst weather since 1967” or something like that.  It never went above 0°F (-18°C) for the three weeks we were on the mountain (May, 1987).  The photo was taken at 2am – it never really gets dark in May at the latitude.

Next is a view of the Emperor Face of Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies (1981).  We hiked in to Berg Lake to camp.  Spectacular hike and location; but a long day of hiking uphill (and then down).  

Then a view of climbers moving onto the edge of the Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan in the North Cascades of Washington, 1985.

Next, a view of one of the large Fjords in western Norway (2012).  I’ve traveled pretty widely and I think the Norwegian Fjordlands are one of the most scenic places on Earth.

The next one shows my son Jamie on the “hiking” route up to a small chapel on a mountaintop in Seguret in the Vaucluse in France:  Notre Dame de Aubusson.  My wife said, “If you have to use your hands, it’s climbing, not hiking.”

The next one is a view of Sentinel Peak on the Ptarmigan Traverse in the North Cascades, 1986.  The shot is from Yang Yang Lakes.

Next is a view of St. Helen’s Passage, Oxford, England.  2015.  I was standing next to an outdoor table of the Turf Tavern when I took this photo.  I was having Real Ale and fish and chips.  Yum.

JAC: The Turf is my favorite local in Oxford; they have at least 20 real ales on tap and yes, the fish and chips is (are?) great.

Lastly, a view of the eponymous cave at the Cave Stream Reserve between Porter’s Pass and Arthur’s Pass on the South Island of New Zealand.  I’m sure you were very near this (if you didn’t get to visit it) during your recent trip to NZ.  You can hike up through the cave and come out the other end after about a ½-mile underground.  You are wading in the stream to dress appropriately and carry multiple light sources and watch the weather!

Friday: Hili dialogue

March 5, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Friday,March 5, 2021: National Cheese Doodle Day (cheese-flavored styrofoam). Much better, it’s National Poutine Day (not easily available in the U.S.), National Absinthe Day, St Piran’s Day in Cornwall, and World Day of Prayer, which we can ignore.

News of the Day:

It looks like Biden’s stimulus bill will pass the Senate, and thus the House, but sans the raise in minimum wage, which the Senate parliamentarian nixed on procedural grounds. This is Biden’s first big legislative accomplishment in office, and kudos to him and his team! The GOP, however, is trying to stall the bill by asking Senate clerks to read the bill word by word. It is 628 pages long! That will take about 16 hours, and for what purpose? Thank Ceiling Cat this will be over today, and the Senate can proceed to a vote. I see nothing that Republicans accomplish by this stalling maneuver, though I’m sure that many in the GOP think this is hilarious.

Cat news from the Guardian: A moggy curled up on top of the engine of a fast Londton-to-Manchester train and refused to get down. Efforts to coax it down initially failed, and there was a danger the cat could touch the electrical wires and die. Finally, the passengers were transferred to another train, a bin was pulled up to the car to allow the cat to get down, and the feline made its exeunt stage left. A photo is below:  (h/t: Matthew)

The words “committed suicide” should now be taken out of circulation, at least according to a woman writing at HuffPost whose son, err. . . committed suicide. She argues that that phrase should be replaced by “died by suicide.” I am really sorry for her loss, but it’s hard to imagine you can get closure by forcing others to use different phrases. The rationale:

We don’t say that our elders commit old age or commit death in their sleep. They die, of old age or heart failure. They die, by whatever cause. We don’t blame the one who suffers the disease.

When Austin took his life, he planned ahead. He left letters. He said goodbye, in his own way. And he ended his intense pain in his own way. How can such a desperate decision be considered a crime or a sin? I think saying he committed suicide blames Austin and stigmatizes his death. Haven’t we suffered enough by his loss without a side of ignominy and taboo?

. . . Bring them back to the light, your conversation, your family history, your mantel or photo album, with loving compassion, by proclaiming that they died by suicide,

Suicide is not of course a crime (well, it is in some places, but I’ve never seen any survivor prosecuted) or a sin! “Committed” simply means “took action”. You can’t “commit” a heart attack in the same way.

According to Newsweek (which seems to have become a right-wing site), eBay has now refused to sell the six banned Dr. Seuss books on the grounds that they’re offensive. As the writer notes:

This writer actually has access to a worn copy of one of the out-of-print books, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and listed it on eBay late Tuesday afternoon. On Thursday morning, though, this writer received an email from eBay saying that the listing was removed for violating an “Offensive material policy.”

“Listings that promote or glorify hatred, violence, or discrimination aren’t allowed,” the automated email says. “Dr. Seuss Enterprises has stopped publication of this book due to its negative portrayal of some ethnicities. As a courtesy, we have ended your item and refunded your selling fees, and as long as you do not relist the item, there will be no negative impact to your account.”

Well, how many offensive things can you find on eBay? How about “Gentlemen’s magazines,” like Hustler and Penthouse? Sure! Dildos? You bet! But surely they wouldn’t sell Hitler’s Mein Kampf? WRONG; there are plenty of copies of Hitler’s book! Procols of the Elders of Zion? Certainly! What about the issues of Charlie Hebdo, depicting Muhammad, that offended Muslims so deeply?. Yep, they have ’em!  It seems that eBay considers it wrong to offend Asians and blacks, but not Jews or Muslims

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 520,028, an increase of about 2,000 deaths over yesterday’s figure.  The reported world death toll stands at 2,583,173, an increase of about 9,700 deaths over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on March 5 includes:

Here’s Copernicus’s heliocentric model in the book’s manuscript. Note the Sun in the center with seven planets around it.  The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was finally abolished as church law in 1965.

 

  • 1770 – Boston Massacre: Five Americans, including Crispus Attucks, are fatally shot by British troops in an event that would contribute to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War (also known as the American War of Independence) five years later.

Crispus Attucks is singled out because he was the first American killed in the Revolutionary War, and also because he wasn’t white, though his exact ethnicity is in doubt. I learned that he was black, but it now seems he was part Native American.

  • 1933 – Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party receives 43.9% at the Reichstag elections, which allows the Nazis to later pass the Enabling Act and establish a dictatorship.
  • 1946 – Cold War: Winston Churchill coins the phrase “Iron Curtain” in his speech at Westminster College, Missouri.

A video of part of that speech. The mention of the “Iron Curtain” is right at the beginning:

He used to be on display next to Lenin in a mausoleum, but now, after his fall in reputation, Stalin is buried in the Kremlin wall, the place marked by just a bust (I don’t see any name on it). Here’s his body laid out after death, followed by a photo of his bust at the Kremlin wall:

How many people did he kill? Between 9 and 20 million if you include famines that he engineered.

  • 1963 – American country music stars Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and their pilot Randy Hughes are killed in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee.
  • 1974 – Yom Kippur War: Israeli forces withdraw from the west bank of the Suez Canal.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1887 – Heitor Villa-Lobos, Brazilian guitarist and composer (d. 1959)
  • 1898 – Zhou Enlai, Chinese politician, 1st Premier of the People’s Republic of China (d. 1976)
  • 1938 – Lynn Margulis, American biologist and academic (d. 2011)
  • 1958 – Andy Gibb, English-Australian singer-songwriter and actor (d. 1988)

Gibb died of myocarditis at only 30; he had used cocaine for years. Only one of the four Gibb brothers is left now. Here’s a live performance of “Words”:

 

  • 1974 – Eva Mendes, American model and actress

Those who crossed The Great Divide on March 5 include:

Wikipedia needs to change this to “enslaved person”.

  • 1827 – Alessandro Volta, Italian physicist and academic (b. 1745)
  • 1950 – Edgar Lee Masters, American poet, author, and playwright (b. 1868)
  • 1950 – Roman Shukhevych, Ukrainian general and politician (b. 1907)
  • 1953 – Herman J. Mankiewicz, American screenwriter and producer (b. 1897)

If you haven’t seen the 2020 movie “Mank,” about Mankiewicz’s collaboration with Orson Welles on the script of Citizen Kane, do so.  Here’s the trailer:

  • 1953 – Sergei Prokofiev, Russian pianist, composer, and conductor (b. 1891)
  • 1953 – Joseph Stalin, Soviet dictator and politician of Georgian descent, 2nd leader of the Soviet Union (b. 1878) See above.
  • 1963 – Patsy Cline, American singer-songwriter (b. 1932)
  • 1980 – Jay Silverheels, Canadian-American actor (b. 1912)

Silverheels played “Tonto”, the “faithful Indian companion” of the Lone Ranger. And indeed, Silverheels was a genuine Indigenous American, born in Ontario. Here’s the intro and closing of the show; I used to know all these words by heart:

  • 2013 – Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan colonel and politician, President of Venezuela (b. 1954)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the editor is looking for one of her staff:

Małgorzata: What are you doing?
Hili: I’m hunting Andrzej.
In Polish:
Małgorzata: Co ty robisz?
Hili: Poluję na Andrzeja.

Little Kulka went on an adventure down to the Vistula, trotting behind Paulina all the way down the hill to the river.

Caption: An expedition to the river. (Photo: Mariusz R.)

In Polish: Wyprawa nad rzekę. (Zdjęcie Mariusz R. )
From a Russian site, Котопедия (Catopedia), a cat with tabby bangs. I’ve never seen a kot like this:

From Facebook. The most interesting thing is that the photographer deliberately sacrificed a good ten cups of cooked rice so they could have this picture:

From Bruce: truefact!

From Titania:

Found via a link from Matthew: a giant murmuration of starlings that looks like a bird:

A tweet from Ginger K. Hard to believe this is real!

Tweets from Matthew. First, a melanic fox! (Click to go to the BBC article to read more.)

I like this one a lot:

A beat-up slice:

There’s an ocelot baby boom!!!!

And a dorsoventrally compressed beetle with a good caption:

“Everyone’s just lying to everyone”: ZeFrank on mimicry

March 4, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Matthew and I love mimicry, as it instantly shows the “creativity” of natural selection in a way that few other adaptations can. And it’s so diverse: note that there’s also audible mimicry, smell mimicry, and even “vibrational” mimicry, none of which can be seen by just looking at an animal’s appearance. We’ve only scratched the surface of the diverse ways that animals (and plants) can pretend to be something that they’re not.

This is the best ZeFrank video I’ve seen. Not only are the videos absolutely stunning, but it’s biologically accurate. (I found only one tiny error; can you spot it?) It’s not as funny as ZeFrank’s other videos, but to a bio nerd, it’s stunning. Do watch it, and if you’re not amazed at nature’s largesse, you have a heart (or brain) of stone.

Many of the images in the video are taken from here.

h/t: Matthew

NIH accused of structural racism, even though there’s no evidence for it; but director Francis Collins apologizes anyway

March 4, 2021 • 1:00 pm

About a month ago, I wrote two posts (here and here) about a paper calling attention to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) disparity in funding black versus white investigators (this disparity is real), and the accusations that this is due to structural racism at the NIH (false). There are several sets of data showing that the funding disparity is due to other factors, like choice of research field, as well as suggesting that there is no racism involved in assessing NIH proposals.

And yet now the NIH is saying that the organization, and biomedical research in general, are ridden with “structural racism”, and working to omit racism for which there’s no evidence (indeed, there’s evidence against it).

I’ll briefly reiterate the lines of evidence for lack of racial bias in NIH funding disparities.

a.) An extensive 2019 study in which blinded referees were asked to review genuine NIH proposals with black, white, and female authors, found no evidence of racial or gender bias. Here’s a summary from the study’s authors:

We find little to no race or gender bias in initial R01 evaluations, and additionally find that any bias that might have been present must be negligible in size. This conclusion was robust to a wide array of statistical model specifications. Pragmatically, important bias may be present in other aspects of the granting process, but our evidence suggests that it is not present in the initial round of R01 reviews.

R01s are primary research grants: the most important source of funding for individual investigators. Curiously, nobody seems to pay attention to this study, and I suspect it’s because it doesn’t support the dominant narrative of racial bias.

b.) Another paper in Science Advances showed that the funding disparity was due to two factors. First, black investigators tended to submit proposals for kinds of research, and to research areas, that historically have not had funding rates as high as those of fields involving more “pure research”. That is, the disparity was due in part to choice of research area, not to race. An even large amount of the disparity in funding was the “track record” of investigators: previous research and success in doing well with funded grants. As I wrote:

An earlier study that I haven’t yet seen shows that “track record” (i.e., accomplishments as recorded on the NIH c.v., which includes papers published that resulted from previous grants or other funding) to have an even larger effect on rate of funding. That shows that the track record of black scientists is rated lower than white scientists in funding, but, as we saw above, racism itself, as opposed to this index of previous accomplishment, wasn’t found to contribute to funding scores. Track record is not a funding problem, but a “pipeline” problem whose solution is complex.

This again, seems to not involve racial bias, because these track records are part of NIH proposals, whose evaluation, as noted in a), show no evidence for racial bias.

If then, you want to attain equal rates of funding of black versus white investigators (“equity”), you must either shift the priorities for different areas to get funding, or work on ways to improve the track record of black scientists applying for grants. The latter difference may ultimately devolve to historical racism which creates the “pipeline” problem, but what’s clear is that accusations of racism during the NIH evaluation process itself are unfounded.

Click on the screenshot to read the Science piece, including the director’s apology for “structural racism” for which there’s no evidence:

NIH director Francis Collins, who’s done a good job at the helm, nevertheless had to take one for team diversity and say that there’s structural racism at the NIH. All indented sections are from the article, and I’ll respond briefly.

Collins’s apology is certainly responding to an earlier letter in Cell that basically called the NIH racist in its funding decisions. The indented quotes, though, are from the article above:

Responding to concerns about discrimination against Black people, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins today issued an unusual public apology for what he called “structural racism in biomedical research” and pledged to address it with a sweeping set of actions.

NIH’s long-running efforts to improve diversity “have not been sufficient,” Collins wrote in the statement. “To those individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have endured disadvantages due to structural racism, I am truly sorry.” The agency plans “new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and will also correct policies within the agency “that may harm our workforce and our science,” he added.

As I said, there’s no published evidence for racism at the NIH, and funding disparities are due to other factors. And note that Collins is indicting the NIH, not just “biomedical research” (I can’t speak to racism in the latter, but we’re talking about the NIH, which was the subject of the Cell letter).

What he’s asking for here is equity, that is, equal funding of black and white investigators, not just equal opportunity, which involves proposals judged by merit alone, and without racism. In other words, there is to be a quota of some sorts, attained by either by switching around the NIH’s funding priorities by overemphasizing applied research and downgrading pure research (a major change), or somehow prioritizing black scientists over white ones, which is illegal (see below).

More. I’m not sure whether Native Americans can be considered to be less important than blacks in getting funding given the history of genocide of America’s indigenous people, but I’m not touching that:

Although some observers welcomed NIH’s plans, first described Friday at a meeting of Collins’s Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), critics fault the agency for not more directly addressing funding disparities between Black and white scientists.

NIH’s move is, in part, a response to last year’s incidents of police brutality as well as the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Black people. An ACD working group on diversity released a report on Friday that calls for NIH to “acknowledge the prevalence of racism and anti-Blackness in the scientific workforce.” The group focused specifically on Black people and not groups such as Native Americans because of the country’s 300-year legacy of slavery and segregation, says co-chair Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University.

Here are the data on disparities in funding:

NIH has also faced long-standing concerns about racial bias in its funding patterns. A 2011 study known as the Ginther report found Black researchers’ funding rates are 10 percentage points lower than those of white researchers. The latest data show improvement: From 2003 to 2020, the number of basic R01 grants to Black investigators has risen from 52 to 166, and their success rate has doubled to 24%, compared with 31% for white investigators. Still, that is only “incremental improvement,” says Marie Bernard, NIH acting chief officer for scientific workforce diversity.

A doubling of success rate in 17 years seems pretty good to me, and the gap has lowered to only 7%. But that this is characterized as “only incremental improvement” seems weird to me: of course improvement will be incremental, and it will be especially slow if it depends on improvements in science education and opportunities for minorities that start at a young age.

The article notes that the NIH is already committing itself to spending $60 on funding research on “health disparities and health equity”, and is appointing diversity officers at every one of its 27 institutes and centers, as well as improving “outreach about NIH’s diversity training programs”.

But that is not enough, for people are demanding immediate equity in funding:

But many of the planned steps were presented “in a passive, noncommittal way,” Eniola-Adefeso says [she is the senior author on the Cell critique of the NIH]. And her group was disappointed that NIH has not agreed to fund Black scientists seeking R01s at the same rate as white scientists. Some observers have argued NIH could narrow the gap by funding Black scientists whose proposals fall just outside the peer-review score that is the cutoff for funding; the agency already does this for grants that meet an institute’s programmatic goals.

They are demanding funding equity, but that’s hard to do for three reasons. As I noted above, part of the gap is due to different choices between black and white scientists in what areas they apply for, with black scientists applying in areas that are less liable to be funded for everyone. Second, there is the differential track record, and omitting that means ditching an important meritocratic way to evaluate grants: how well the scientist has done. But, as we know, meritocracy is being downgraded in many places, probably for this reason.

Finally, to rate or rank grants using race as a criterion, especially in a government-run institution, is simply illegal.

“That is the immediate action that is needed,” Eniola-Adefeso says. “We cannot wait for more studies. We will lose [investigators] from the pipeline which then propagates this vicious cycle.” NIH’s diversity working group noted that Supreme Court decisions make it difficult for the agency to make funding decisions based on race or ethnicity.

The courts have ruled, in principle, that it’s discriminatory to use race-based funding, at least not in a government system. As I said, there are ways to decrease the funding gap, though they may not be palatable to the NIH itself, which may be why they can make only “incremental” improvements. Other ways mean improving education and opportunity for minorities starting at birth, but talk about incremental change: that will be extremely incremental! But, as I say repeatedly, it’s the only way to effect truly equal opportunity.

But one thing is clear, there is not a scintilla of evidence that the funding disparity at the NIH is due to racism. Collins has nothing to apologize for about the NIH. Why he chooses to perpetuate the narrative of structural racism in his organization, in light of the evidence for no racism (and no evidence for racism itself) is something I’ll leave to others.

A creationist writes in: Eric Hedin resurfaces

March 4, 2021 • 10:15 am

This morning I got the following email, occasioned, I suppose, by the appearance of a new book by Eric Hedin published by the ID creationist outfit The Discovery Institute. The DI is promoting it heavily, as it’s not selling very well; and I haven’t mentioned it, although one of its main topics is the alliance between me and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in trying to get Hedin to stop teaching intelligent design in a public-university (Ball State) science class. We succeeded, helped by the reporting of Seth Slabaugh at the Muncie (Indiana) Star Press, who pulled no punches about Hedin.

I won’t recount in detail the story of our interactions with Hedin and Ball State, but they took place in 2013. After the FFRF wrote a letter to Ball State warning them about teaching religion in a science class (after all, it was before that, in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, that a federal judge declared that Intelligent Design was “not science”), they deep-sixed Hedin’s course, which was full of religiously-based readings. At no time did any of us call for Hedin to be fired. What we wanted was simply the cessation of teaching a religiously-based idea in a public university classroom. That is not freedom of speech, but a violation of the First Amendment as well as the abnegation of every professor’s duty to teach the subject as it is understood by experts.

Hedin got tenure at Ball State, and I did not oppose that, either. He seemed to be a competent professor in his area (physics and astronomy), and I don’t believe in trying to ruin people’s careers just because they teach one misguided course. Nevertheless, Hedin eventually left Ball State and wound up at a school more attuned to his religiosity: the evangelical Christian Biola University (an abbreviation for its former name: “Bible Institute of Los Angeles.” There he isn’t forced to teach the Satanic topic of evolution. And his new book, which I haven’t read, and won’t, is apparently One Long Kvetch about how he was bullied and canceled by me and the FFRF. It was that incident that nabbed me the Discovery Institute’s 2014 “Censor of the Year” award—one of the proudest achievements of my life.

I asked the author of the email, William Wegert, if I could post it here and include his name, and, to his credit, he said yes, as “It’s part of free inquiry and rationale [sic] dialogue.” Only after I answered him did I look him up and found out why he’s interested in l’affaire Hedin.

Wegert’s email was copied to me and was actually sent to the Provost and President of Ball State University, where Hedin no longer teaches.

Dear President Mearns and Provost Bracken,

I wish to thank Ball State University!  I recently learned of the university’s cancellation of Dr. Eric Hedin’s “Boundaries of Science” course following the intervention of Dr. Jerry Coyne.

After reviewing the information available on the web and from Dr. Hedin’s own words, his popular honors class was an exercise in critical thinking in which students were invited to read the works of materialists as well as those believing that specified complexity might have an intelligent cause.  For any right thinking person, this is what institutions of higher education should be doing, giving students opportunities to consider scientific evidence that lends support to both positions, as well as everything in between.  Apparently, Dr. Coyne and Ball State think otherwise. They must have been fearful of something, but I would not have expected them to share those fears openly.

For what reason?  The First Amendment?   Anyone with a high school understanding of American history knows that such an issue has absolutely nothing to do with our Founders’ concerns in that Amendment.

So looking for another rationale for cancelling the class, let us say the class lacked a scientific basis, at least in the minds of Ball State administrators.  If that is the case, I suggest that those decision-makers have some research to do to get caught up on a plethora of research projects, peer-reviewed articles, and major books coming out of the Intelligent Design movement.  They are quite behind the times, something not becoming to publish-or-perish faculty, wouldn’t you agree?  You see, week-by-week, article-by-article, research project-by-research project, evidence mounts that Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism have both been hung in the balance and found wanting as a tenable explanation of the complexity of life, starting with the genetic code.

The reason I thank you is that I have a popular presentation I make to students and parents around the US and overseas entitled the “Six Surprising Benefits of Attending a Faith-Based University.”  Ball State’s actions in cancelling this course has allowed me to add a seventh benefit!  At faith-based institutions, where I have nearly 40 years of experience, by the way, we provide students with both sides of these kinds of arguments and let them evaluate the evidence for themselves.  There is no fear of where the evidence might lead.  Students are going to be stepping out into the wide world soon enough and will come to their own conclusions anyways.  Why not challenge them in the area of sound critical thinking during the college years?   Dr. Coyne and Ball State give every evidence of being afraid of where that evidence may lead.

So, thanks to your actions, I get to add yet another benefit for attending a faith-based institution.  This kind of fear does not exist at such schools.  Free inquiry is invited and there is no fear of what the students might be exposed to.  Faith-based colleges and universities take seriously the mission of preparing students to think for themselves based on the facts, including results of scientific studies..

Welcome to the Cancel Culture, Gentlemen.  And thank you for enhancing my presentation and giving me a nice Ball State University/University of Chicago case study to present to eager listeners.

William E. Wegert
Monroe, VA

Well, I said my piece above about why professors should not teach intelligent-design as if it were science. For one thing, it’s illegal at state schools. But it also is a lie. It’s as if a European history professor denied the Holocaust in her classroom. I have no objections to creationists speaking at Universities in public lectures, and when one spoke here a few years back, I didn’t try to stop it. But it’s a different matter to teach it in a biology classroom as if it were accepted science.

Wegert’s antepenultimate paragraph about working at a faith-based institution, piqued my interest about who Wegert is. And it didn’t take long to find this on LinkedIn (click on screenshot):

He works at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where evolution IS NOT EVEN TAUGHT! Instead, they teach “Creation Studies“, and not in a way that promotes students’ independent thinking. And it teaches the most ridiculous form of creationism, YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM, which is a triple lie since it distorts geology and chemistry as well as biology.

Here’s the “purpose” of its teaching of Creation Studies:

Purpose

The purpose of the Center for Creation Studies is to promote the development of a consistent biblical view of origins in our students. The Center seeks to equip students to contend for their faith in the creation account in Genesis using science, reason, and the Scriptures. The minor in Creation Studies provides a flexible program with broad training in various disciplines that relate to origins as well as the Bible. Students in both science or non-science majors will benefit from an in-depth study of creation and evolution.

Really, objective, Mr. Wegert, right? Really an exercise in critical thinking for the poor Liberty University students, right? Nope; it’s lying propaganda to turn biology students into parrots of Genesis 1 and 2.

After I found this out, I wrote back to Wegert saying this:

You failed to mention that you are at Liberty University. Do they teach Darwinian evolution there?
What I see is “Creation studies”.
I suspect you don’t teach Darwinian evolution and “let the students make up their own minds”, do you?
Although Wegert replied within minutes when I asked permission to publish his letter, so far I haven’t gotten an answer to this one.

I invite readers to respond to Mr. Wegert. After all, he’s seeking discourse! Just remember to be polite.

An excellent essay by an actor on the novel “Lolita”

March 4, 2021 • 9:00 am

If you haven’t read Nabokov’s fantastic novel Lolita, published in 1955, you should, for it’s a classic and its prose is beautiful. The topic: the infatuation of a pedophile, Humbert Humbert, for a 12-year-old girl he names Lolita (her real name is Dolores), and their subsequent affair (or rather, serial rape). This a dicey subject, and in this wonderful essay in the New York Times (click on screenshot), Emily Mortimer ponders why the novel didn’t encounter so much opposition back then when it would surely be considered unpublishable today (after all, Humbert repeatedly rapes Lolita). And indeed, I can’t imagine it being published today. Nabokov himself had trouble getting it into print, as it was rejected by many mainstream publishers and finally issued by Olympia Press, which specialized in pornography. But it’s still widely read and appreciated, even in this #MeToo age. Why is that? Mortimer has some provocative thoughts.

What’s even more amazing is that Emily Mortimer (born 1971) is not a literary critic but a movie star; you may have seen her in Lovely and Amazing, Notting Hill, and Woody Allen’s Match Point, as well as in various television series. But her essay is as readable and intelligent as that of any popular book reviewer or critic, and I was amazed that an actor could produce criticism of this quality. She’s a true polymath, and it’s clear from her essay that she’s very well read. But, looking her up, I see that she also has a degree from Oxford in Russian studies.

The occasion for this publication is the appearance of a new anthology called Lolita in the Afterlife, published this month, in which Mortimer’s essay appears. Also, Mortimer starred in a 2017 movie called “The Bookshop“, which got lukewarm reviews but does have an important bit in which Mortimer, playing a widow who opens a bookstore in a small English town, must decide whether or not to stock Lolita lest its presence cause trouble.

At any rate, do read her essay, which mixes her movie experience, remembrances of her barrister father, who defended people like Humbert Humbert, and, above all, her appreciation for the novel and ideas about why it’s risen above the “cancel culture” that would preclude its publication today. Click on the screenshot:

Here are some of Mortimer’s ideas about why the novel, though perennially controversial, is still popular.

In some ways I think it is much easier to separate the writer from his subject in the case of Nabokov and “Lolita” than it is to separate Picasso, say, from his paintings or Woody Allen from his films or Balthus from his little girls. Nabokov was a happily married man who admired and adored his wife, Véra, and lived an exemplary life as an academic and author. By all accounts his only extramarital dalliances were with buxom middle-aged women. If Nabokov had ever had dark, venal thoughts like those of Humbert Humbert’s, they remained thoughts, or words on a page.

But I think there are other reasons “Lolita” has endured, despite being more shocking than many pornographic novels of its time and despite the reappraisal that many other transgressive works of art have gone through in our time. First, it’s very funny. My dad always said you could get away with anything in court as long as you made people laugh: “In obscenity cases the first thing I did was to make the jury laugh. The great object of the judge and the prosecutor was to stop the jury from laughing.” Humbert Humbert is hilariously self-aware and funny. Even in extremis, even at the height of the drama when he is out for blood and on the road to ruin (when a lesser author would have forced his hero into earnestness), our hero is still cracking jokes and making us laugh.

The novel is also written in brilliant prose. Nabokov himself claimed that this book was a record of his “love affair with the English language,” and the feeling is of language being used as it has never been used before and might never be again. You read about awful things in vertiginous, sensational sentences that take your breath away. As Humbert confesses, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.”

She quotes Nabokov’s brilliant beginning, which simply sucks you into the novel:

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

That is brilliant writing! The book is a tour de force not just of thought, but of writing itself. One more thought from Mortimer:

It’s impossible to retreat to any kind of moral high ground when you read “Lolita” — partly because Nabokov threads a strange emotional honesty and purity through his portrait of obsession. Because as well as all the other things the book is, “Lolita” is one of the most beautiful love stories you’ll ever read. You finally understand this in its last, thrilling, devastating, tragic section.

And there’s one more reason, something I’ve touched on in my exchange with Adam Gopnik about whether literature gives us knowledge, and, if not (my view), what does it give us? Mortimer’s answer parallels mine:

Mortimer:

“Lolita” makes us see with the eyes of a man who is a pedophile, a rapist and a murderer, and that’s I think the essential reason it’s escaped the harsher accusations of both the courts and the moral police in the 60 years since it’s been published.

. . . Unlike many lesser works of fiction, some of which my father found himself advocating for, “Lolita” has been protected by “the refuge of art,” where it should be forever safe to explore the thoughts and feelings of people capable of the most monstrous things. “Lolita” remains unassailable because it disarms you and transcends judgment. The experience of reading it, if you do actually read it, is to relinquish concern with right and wrong and just to feel things as another person feels them. One of our most precious attributes, and perhaps the greatest measure of our humanity, is our ability to do this. Florence Green in her little bookshop understood it, my dad knew it, Nabokov did, and really anyone who is a reader knows it, too.

And this, I think, is why, despite its depiction of pedophilia, rape, and murder, the novel has retained its status as consummate art. As I wrote in one letter in the Gopnik exchange, “In the end, truth in art is simply an understanding of the artist’s perspective on life. That perspective can be disturbing, life-affirming or even life-changing, but the knowledge it imparts is how one person’s mind works.” And I added this:

By portraying others, literary art offers us a sense of self-confirmation: the realization that people are like us in many ways, though different in others. Art brings awareness of and focuses on feelings that we may not even be aware of, giving us the chance to assess, alter, and buttress our own lives. It’s a series of “aha moments.”

In this case, the minds we enter are those of Nabokov, and by proxy his creation Humbert Humbert. Is this the way any pedophiles really think? I doubt it: it’s the way Nabokov thinks that one pedophile might have thought, and surely there are elements of reality in it. But in the end it’s a work of pure imagination. What draws us—and Mortimer—to Lolita is the opportunity to step out of our quotidian lives and see what it might feel like to be an aging intellectual soaked in love for a diffident 12 year old girl. There is no “knowledge” about the universe in this book (at least no knowledge that doesn’t require confirmation by empirical study), but that doesn’t lessen its value, so aptly described by Mortimer above. And who cares if Humbert Humbert is feeling anything that any human has felt before? What’s important is that we feel it, and for the interval between the book’s covers we become Humbert Humbert.

Here’s the trailer for “The Bookshop,” and, come to think of it, I HAVE seen this movie. But I don’t remember much about it. The trailer features the selling of Lolita, as well as the professor who extolled van Gogh in the famous “Dr. Who” clip.