Why are Biden’s ratings so low?

November 28, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Like many of you (perhaps), I’m wondering why Joe Biden’s approval ratings are so low—43% as of November 24—given that his infrastructure bill has passed and he appears to have brokered a deal to get the Build Back Better bill passed as well. Yes, there were hiccups: we still have problems at the border, there’s inflation, and the Afghanistan withdrawal wasn’t very tidy. But Biden’s left-centrist agenda is doing quite well. So why the disapproval? A new piece by the liberal writer Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine has a thoughtful (and long) take on the issue. Click on the screenshot to read:

The upshot is at the beginning:

But the truth is that Biden’s presidency began to disintegrate without his abandoning the center at all. He found himself trapped instead between a well-funded left wing that has poisoned the party’s image with many of its former supporters and centrists unable to conceive of their job in any terms save as valets for the business elite. Biden’s party has not veered too far left or too far right so much as it has simply come apart.

. . . The split within the Democratic Party runs along educational lines. The party’s college-educated cadre holds more liberal views and is increasingly estranged from its working-class counterparts. Those non-college-educated voters are disproportionately Latino and Black, but their worldview bears similarities to that of the white working-class voters who have left the party. The college-educated wing might have claimed power in the name of minority voters, but in reality it has started to drive them away.

Yes, Chait thinks that Biden is the unfortunate but innocent victim of a war within the Democratic Party.  On one side is the Left and the intellectuals, fervently backing causes (open borders, defunding police, etc.) that aren’t popular with Middle America and non-college-educated folks.  And the “progressive Left” doesn’t seem to grasp that minorities like blacks and Hispanics are more conservative than everyone imagines. The Right, of course, tries to label all Democrats as wokies like AOC and Elizabeth Warren, and they’ve done pretty well at that game. There is seemingly no end to the performative craziness that characterizes the extreme Left.

On the other side are the centrists, whom you’d think would ally with Biden. But they’re fueled, says Chait, by Big Business, which is pumping money and ideas into the centrist moiety of the party in a way that actually stalls Biden’s agenda (think Manchin, Sinema, and their allies in the House). In the meantime, the Democratic Party circles the drain as the internecine squabbling continues, ignoring the main concerns of Americans.

Here are a few quotes from an article well worth reading. There are many more examples in each area, so have a look at NY Magazine. I’ve tried to summarize the argument under a few subheadings. Quotes from Chait are indented.

What Americans want. 

One recent poll asked voters to identify the features of the Build Back Better plan that most appealed to them. The top five were, in order, adding dental and vision benefits to Medicare, home health care for the elderly and disabled, letting Medicare negotiate prescription-drug prices, Medicare coverage for hearing, and free community college. Democratic centrists in the Senate eliminated three of them from the bill completely and gutted a fourth. “Bizarrely,” observed Democratic pollster William Jordan in September, “the parts of Biden’s agenda that are most popular seem to be most at risk right now.”

The centrists did not, for the most part, object to the spending. What they ruled out was the policies Biden had come up with to pay for the spending. Most of the money would come from tax hikes on corporations and people earning more than $400,000 a year, cracking down on tax cheats, and letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for pharmaceuticals, which cost Americans more than twice as much as in peer countries. All those measures actually made the popular spending plans even more popular. Raising taxes on the rich commands near two-to-one support. And pollsters have said negotiating drug costs is literally the most popular idea they have ever tested.

What Americans don’t want. 

During the 2020 primary campaign, progressive commentators were writing columns on a near-daily basis insisting that none of this could hurt the party. Swing voters barely existed, left-wing policies were all popular, mobilizing the base mattered far more than appealing to moderates, and electability was just an empty buzzword used by a failed Establishment to fend off popular changes. For a while, these arguments carried the day as the leading Democratic candidates kept racing one another to endorse ideas that polled catastrophically: decriminalizing illegal border crossings (27 percent approval versus 66 percent disapproval), abolishing private health insurance (37 versus 58), and providing government health insurance for people who immigrated illegally (38 versus 59).

. . .The grim irony is that, in attempting to court non-white voters, Democrats ended up turning them off. It was not only that they got the data wrong — they were also courting these “marginalized communities” in ways that didn’t appeal to them. For the reality is that the Democratic Party’s most moderate voters are disproportionately Latino and Black.

In 2020, even as Biden improved on Clinton’s performance among white voters, Black support for Trump rose by three percentage points from four years before, and Latino support rose eight points. The California recall election and Virginia governor’s race this year both showed at least some evidence that Latino voters are continuing to slip away from Democrats. The 2021 New York mayoral election was marked by heavily Asian American neighborhoods flipping Republican.

Confounding the liberal assumption that immigrant communities demand more lenient border policies, many signs suggest the swing is a result of their wanting stricter enforcement. Some of Trump’s largest gains came in Mexican American precincts in Texas; Biden’s approval rating among Hispanic Texans stood at 37 percent in late September, with just 26 percent approving of his handling of the border. Their dismay was not that Biden has deported too many immigrants; by a 20-point margin, they registered their support for deporting Haitian refugees.

How the Left screwed up. 

There was never a world in which a concept supported by less than 20 percent of the public [“defunding the police”] was going to emerge victorious.

Yet activist groups of all stripes rushed to join the defund movement, including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and dozens of climate groups. Those endorsements have continued to blow back in the faces of Democrats. Virginia Republicans in this year’s election learned they could attack any Democrats receiving endorsements from these groups as gaining support from “pro-defund” organizations, and one Democrat declined an endorsement from NARAL, an abortion-rights group, in order to avoid being linked to police defunding.

Elizabeth’s Warren’s campaign exemplifies the toxicity of Wokeism. (Warren was at one time my go-to Democratic candidate.)

Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign in 2020 may offer the single most instructive example of the distorting effects of the progressive-activist complex. Warren began her presidential candidacy with some liabilities — most obviously, she was a woman running after an election many Democrats believed they had lost because of sexism — but also many strengths. She had earned a reputation as a hard-nosed champion of economic reform. Her platform was simultaneously aggressive yet broadly acceptable within the party.

Over the course of her campaign, though, Warren found herself both racing to outflank Sanders to her left and unable to expand her base beyond college-educated liberals. Persist, Warren’s campaign memoir, chronicles her dogged and largely successful efforts to win the approval of political activists. She proudly notes that a 2015 address at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston was called “the speech that Black Lives Matter activists had been waiting for” by the Washington Post. At another speech in 2018, she declared, “The hard truth about our criminal-justice system: It’s racist … front to back.”

The book quotes an activist’s tweet approving of her criminal-justice plan, her well-received appearance at the “She the People” forum, her endorsement by Black Womxn For. At no point, however, does she show any sign of grasping the disconnect between the preferences of progressive activists and those of minority voters. Indeed, as Warren’s campaign went on, her strategy devolved into issuing more (and more left-wing) policy promises, lining up more activist groups, getting more positive tweets.

The progressive-foundation complex was designed to lift up a candidate like Warren. Instead, it swallowed her in a trap, luring her deeper and deeper into a worldview increasingly alien to the voters she needed to win.

How the Left-centrists screwed up.  This is the part that I find the least convincing, but it is true that those who consider themselves centrists include those blocking the Build Back Better bill.

“We can’t go too far left,” warned Joe Manchin. “This is not a center-left or a left country. We are a center — if anything, a little center-right — country; that’s being shown, and we ought to be able to recognize that.”

The news media, after years of covering the party’s sharp left turn, were primed to accept this interpretation. “Tonight really empowers Manchin and [Kyrsten] Sinema,” a Democratic strategist told Politico. “Joe Manchin’s wing of the Democratic Party will seem much more crowded today,” observed the congressional tip sheet Punchbowl News.

But this seemingly intuitive response had its diagnosis backward. Rather than helping to correct the Democrats’ problems with the electorate, ManchinSinema, and their centrist House allies have compounded them. The story of Biden’s domestic agenda is that it was crippled by a small but crucial faction of Democrats who came to be persuaded by the C-suite view of the world. And all the while, those Democrats persuaded themselves that they were the authentic voices of the people.

The effect of the lobbyists on the center.

It was not quite as simple as wealthy people showing up in Washington with suitcases full of cash. But in some cases, at least, it wasn’t that far from the truth. Former North Dakota Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp was lobbying against changes to a notorious tax loophole permitting capital gains to escape taxation if the owners passed it on to their children — a loophole she had not long before called “one of the biggest scams in the history of forever.” Former Arkansas Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln, who had once campaigned on a promise to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, was lobbying against it on behalf of Big Pharma. And former Montana senator Max Baucus was writing op-eds arguing against various tax hikes for the rich while refusing to tell reporters who was paying for his consulting business.

. . .Over the summer and fall, item after item in the Biden agenda was suddenly plagued by a handful of Democrats expressing quiet doubts. Many of these doubts seemed new. When Sinema ran for Senate in 2018, she made reducing prescription-drug prices a core promise. And yet by 2021, she had turned sharply against her previous position.

The most spectacular success of this lobbying campaign was not merely that it persuaded a crucial faction of Democrats to ignore both the voters and their own policy wonks to side with organized business interests. It was that they managed to coat an agenda that was in its specifics as electorally toxic as defunding the police with the pleasant sheen of “centrism.”

. . . The independent variable here is not Biden moving to the left; it is congressional centrists counterposing themselves against Biden in a way that makes them look more centrist but also makes Biden look simultaneously more left wing and less effective.

What Biden wants to do, but is stymied. 

Biden’s legislative strategy has closely hewed to Shorist principles. Biden has tried to keep the political conversation framed as closely as possible around issues in which he and his party have an advantage: handling the pandemic and rebuilding the economy. His economic program has carefully avoided any controversial social debates and focused on a highly popular combination of raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy and redistributing the proceeds to the working and middle class through programs like universal access to child care, community college, and a child tax credit.

. . . In one sense, the strategy has worked perfectly. Biden’s program has avoided generating the kind of angry public backlash that rose up against Obama (and Bill Clinton before him). Indeed, Biden’s agenda has proved so uncontroversial that Republicans have barely roused themselves to denounce it at all, instead focusing on whatever culture-war chum floats across Fox News, from Dr. Seuss to COVID-vaccine mandates. Even the expected grumbling from progressives has largely failed to materialize because the agenda included an ambitious list of progressive economic priorities that no less a left-wing eminence than Sanders described as “the most consequential piece of legislation for working families since the 1930s.” Democratic pollster Sean McElwee told CNN he detected no divide between liberal and centrist Democratic voters, all of whom supported Biden’s program.

. . . The dream of a Rooseveltian presidency was always grandiose, not least because Biden lacks FDR’s giant majorities in Congress. Yet it was a sensible ambition in its form. Biden’s goal was to demonstrate the concrete benefits of good government and, in so doing, to disprove the cynical Trumpian claim that Washington was merely controlled by wealthy elites. The Democrats can still come through on that promise, if they can prevent the left wing and plutocratic center from pulling the party apart. But time is running out, and Trump is waiting.

It all makes sense, but of course this is all post hoc analysis of why Biden isn’t polling well. It may well be right, but the only way of testing it is to get rid of the Biden-impeding factors (which is impossible), and see if his numbers rise. I suspect that if the pandemic continues waning, and the Build Back Better plan passes with the bits that Americans actually want, then Biden will become more popular. But the border issue will remain, as will the “progressive” left, wedded to principles that won’t fly with the main body of the Left.

And Trump is waiting in the wings. . .

I need a new word for “woke”

November 28, 2021 • 11:00 am

I got an email the other day from a reader who objected to my repeated use of the word “woke” to refer to performative social justice warriors who don’t effect change.  He claimed that the usage was turning people off who might otherwise be on my side. When I asked for evidence, he said that when Richard Dawkins praised this site on Twitter, a lot of the Twitter comments, said the reader, mentioned unfavorably my use of the term “woke”.  I haven’t checked as i don’t do Twitter fights.

I know of course that “woke” originally had a more positive meaning, and was black argot for “alert to social injustice” (by that I mean true social injustice). Now, however, it’s used in a pejorative manner, as I indicated.  In that sense it’s similar to “p.c.” or “politically correct” which started out positive and then became satirical. In fact, it almost has the same meaning as “woke.”

But I’m still uncomfortable using a pejorative term to describe a movement I dislike intensely, though I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it detracts from my credibility or my arguments, but I suspect that those who are turned off by it are looking for an excuse to dismiss what I say. I haven’t yet processed why I’m contemplating this change.

The alternative term that the person suggested was a jawbreaker of many syllables, and was so arcane nobody would know its meaning. (I forgot it.) So I’m canvassing readers to see if:

a. I should still keep using the term “woke”


b. If not, what word would you suggest.

Please comment below.

Spot the snipe!

November 28, 2021 • 10:10 am

Yes, people have been sent out on fruitless snipe hunts, but there really is a bird called the snipe. In fact, there are 26 species that go by that name, all in the bird family Scolopacidae. Matthew, who started the “spot the nightjar” series, sent this “spot the snipe” photo.  I’ve put the extracted picture below the tweet so you can enlarge the picture by clicking on it. So SPOT THE SNIPE!

The answer will appear at 4 p.m. Chicago time.

The photo. This one I’d consider “very difficult.”  Do not cheat and look HARD. Count yourself lucky if you get it!

Harriet Hall debunks Mayim Bialik’s claims for Neuriva “brain supplement” and her status as “an actual neuroscientist”

November 28, 2021 • 9:30 am

Every evening or so in the ads on NBC News, I have to watch television star Mayim Bialik tout her “brain supplements”, which she claims she invented. They are of course untested nostrums (see below), but the icing on the cake is Bialik’s claim that she’s “a real neuroscientist.” (She does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and plays one on the t.v. show “The Big Bang Theory,” but that’s as far as it goes.)

Here are two of her commercials for Neuriva. Nothing she says in the first commercial about Neuriva is true, and she adds that she’s a genuine scientist, saying, “I really am; ask your phone.” Well, I asked my computer, and no dice.

Below is the short commercial I usually see, in which she advertises her snake oil and boasts, “I’m an actual neuroscientist.” She also says she “loves the science behind Neuriva Plus.”  Both the value of the product and her claim to be an actual scientist are dubious. As Harriet Hall notes below, there is no science behind Neuriva.

Over at Science-Based Medicine, Harriet Hall went after Bialik’s claims (both of them) and found them wanting. Neuriva’s efficacy is untested and doubtful, and as for the “actual neuroscientist” part, well, see below, as I did my own investigation.

Click on screenshot to read:

I hope Dr. Hall won’t mind if I reproduce her entire short piece:

I wrote about the brain supplement Neuriva over a year ago. I thought their claim to have proof from clinical studies was misleading. I won’t repeat here what I said there about the evidence: I urge you to click on the link and read what I wrote.

An article in Psychology Today reviewed the evidence and called it “Neuriva nonsense” and “just another snake oil.”

Now they are selling Neuriva Plus, which combines the ingredients in the original Neuriva with vitamins B6, B12, and folate. Do they have any evidence that adding these vitamins enhances the effectiveness of Neuriva? Of course not! Neither Neuriva nor Neuriva Plus has been clinically tested. They are relying on studies of individual ingredients, and those studies are questionable. The results have been mixed, and one study was in aged mice!

Now Mayim Bialik has embarked on a campaign as Neuriva’s science ambassador. You may have seen her commercials on TV where she says she “loves the science of Neuriva” and claims it supports six key indicators of brain health. You may remember her as Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s girlfriend in “The Big Bang” t.v. series.

Elsewhere she has said:

Neuriva Plus is backed by strong science — yes, I checked it myself — and it combines two clinically tested ingredients that help support six key indicators of brain health.

She holds a PhD in neuroscience, but I couldn’t find whether she ever actually worked as a neuroscientist. It’s obvious that her understanding of “strong science” doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. I doubt if she reads Science-Based Medicine or understands the principles we go by.

Conclusion: Bialik is a good actress. 

Does Neuriva Plus support brain health? Maybe. We have no way of knowing for sure until the product itself is clinically tested.

To check how “actual” Bialik’s claims to be a scientist are, I searched the Web of Science under the names Bialik M and Bialik MC to see if she had any publications (this is the way we find out someone’s record). As the screenshot below shows, she has zero publications. She is neither teaching in a university, working in a lab, or, as far as I can see, actually doing any science. (BTW, I no longer say “I’m a biologist” when someone asks me what I do. I say that I’m a “former biologist”, “superannuated biologist” or “retired biologist.”) The circling is mine:

Now Wikipedia does report on her training:

She returned to earn her Doctor of Philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007 under Dr. James McCracken.[25] Her dissertation was titled “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptiveobsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome“.[2][26][27]

But if you look at references 2, 21, 26, and 27, you find no peer-reviewed publications except her Ph.D. thesis. She has written no books on neuroscience, either. She’s written or coauthored four books, but none about neuroscience:

Bialik has written two books with pediatrician Jay Gordon and two by herself. Beyond the Sling[57][58] is about attachment parenting, while Mayim’s Vegan Table contains over 100 of Bialik’s vegan recipes.[59][60] Her third book, Girling Up, is about the struggles of and ways in which girls grow up, showing the scientific ways in which their bodies change. Its successor, Boying Up (2018) analyzes the science, anatomy and mentality of growing up as a boy, and the physical and mental changes and challenges boys face while transitioning from adolescence to adulthood.

To me this doesn’t give her present status as a neuroscientist, and she’d stand no chance of being hired by a university as one.  But I don’t mind that nearly as much as her using those credentials to sell untested “brain supplements” to a credulous public. People are spending actual money on Neuriva, and much of that must be based on Bialik’s claimed credentials and her status as a television celebrity. In this sense she is the female equivalent of Deepak Chopra, who can claim, “I’m an actual doctor” while selling his useless “longevity supplements.”

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 28, 2021 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and you know what that means: biologist John Avise has a themed collection of bird photos for us. His narration and captions are indented, and you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them:

Yellow Warbler and other yellow warblers

For common names in birds, upper-case letters conventionally refer to a particular species, whereas a lower-case letter means that the word is being used merely as an adjective.  For example, “Yellow Warbler” refers to a particular species (Dendroica petechia) whereas a “yellow warbler” could refer to any of several warbler species with yellow in their plumages.   Thus, a Yellow Warbler is a yellow warbler but a yellow warbler is not necessarily a Yellow Warbler.  This week’s post shows the Yellow Warbler plus several other yellowish warblers.  All photos were taken in Florida or southern California.

Altogether, about 36 warbler species (family Parulidae) breed in North America (not all have yellow in their plumages).  In my experience, these colorful and hyperactive arboreal sprites are very difficult to photograph.

Yellow Warbler, male (Dendroica petechia):

Yellow Warbler, female:

Wilson’s Warbler, male (Wilsonia pusilla):

Hooded Warbler, male (Wilsonia citrina):

Common Yellowthroat, male (Geothlypis trichas):

Common Yellowthroat, female:

Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica):

Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus):

Prairie Warbler, male (Dendroica discolor):

Prothonotary Warbler, male (Protonotaria citrea):

Hermit Warbler, male (Dendroica occidentalis):

Townsend’s Warbler, male (Dendroica townsendi):

American Redstart, female (Setophaga ruticilla):

Yellow-rumped Warbler, male (Dendroica coronata):

Sunday: Hili dialogue

November 28, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Ceiling Cat’s Day, Sunday, November 28, 2021: yet another day to eat leftover turkey; in fact, it’s Turkey Leftover Day. But it’s also National French Toast Day, and I love the stuff. My mom used to make it for me when I was a kid, with Mrs. Butterworth’s (faux) syrup poured on the top.

Further, it’s Small Brewery Sunday, Advent Sunday, Letter Writing Day (when was the last time you wrote a real letter?), and Red Planet Day, celebrating NASA’s launch of the robotic probe Mariner 4 on November 28, 1964. It was the first probe to fly by Mars. Now we have robotic vehicles tootling around on the surface of the planet. 

Today’s Google Doodle is a gif with flashing lights, and links to many articles about holiday shopping (click on screenshot) . I’ve never seen them tout capitalism before:

News of the Day:

*The big news is, of course, the spread of the “omicron” variant of Covid-19, which differs from “regular” strains by some 50 mutant sites, 30 of them in the spike protein. It apparently started in Botswana or South Africa, but has spread to other African countries, as well as Europe, Australia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. It appears to be more transmissible than the Delta strain, but we know nothing about what kind of disease it causes. Stay tuned and keep calm!

However, Matthew sent me this tweet by virus bigwig Eric Topol, who refers to an article suggesting that Omicron might not be as bad as thought, causing only mild disease in the young and the vaccinated. We just have to wait, as the data in this article are very poor (e.g., infection judged by symptoms rather than sequencing).

I asked the other day how so many mutations (more than 50) could accumulate in the omicron strain. Topol suggests an answer here: many of them accumulate as simple neutral mutations, making no difference in the virus’s spreadability or resistance to the immune system (since the patient in which they accumulate is said to be immunocompromised.)

*And at the Washington Post, and in the face of the ignorance about the variant, columnist Megan McArdle has the temerity to write a piece called, “The U.S. must defend itself against the omicron variant—without resorting to lockdowns“:

That strategy can’t be “everyone go back home again and stay there.” The costs of further lockdowns would be heavy, from eating disorders and opioid overdoses to small-business failures and school kids falling behind. Besides, pandemic fatigue is setting in even in blue states. We must be more selective in our policies, opting for anti-covid measures that disrupt daily life as little as possible. And we should look for ones that sidestep contentious political battles, such as mask mandates.

McArdle’s solution? Building codes with better ventilation, travel bans, and better home testing kits. Somebody put her in charge of the CDC! (Only kidding.) Until we know what we’re facing, it’s premature to stipulate what we must and must not do.

*After treatment with insulin-producing stem cells, a 64 year-old man appears to have been cured of juvenile (type I) diabetes. It’s early days, and part of a long trial of 17 afflicted individuals, but read the NYT story to learn about the history that led up to this treatment. Imagine if it became standard procedure to cure a disease that has terrible side effects.

Diabetes experts were astonished but urged caution. The study is continuing and will take five years, involving 17 people with severe cases of Type 1 diabetes. It is not intended as a treatment for the more common Type 2 diabetes.

“We’ve been looking for something like this to happen literally for decades,” said Dr. Irl Hirsch, a diabetes expert at the University of Washington who was not involved in the research. He wants to see the result, not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, replicated in many more people. He also wants to know if there will be unanticipated adverse effects and if the cells will last for a lifetime or if the treatment would have to be repeated.

But, he said, “bottom line, it is an amazing result.”

*It’s dire enough that contrarian biologist Bret Weinstein vigorously challenged Covid vaccinations and recommended ivermectin in their place, but now, over at Unherd, he makes “the liberal case for gun ownership.” He recounts buying a handgun during the pandemic, and explains why a bearded liberal would have a gun (h/t Hugh):

Most of those stocking up on guns and ammo belong to a culture, and like every other culture, it has its beliefs, suppositions and fears. That culture believes that tyranny may descend on us, even here in the freedom-loving United States of America, and that privately held guns are the key to fending it off. I’m not a member of this culture, but I believe they may well be right about this.

He defends the Second Amendment as left deliberately vague because “private guns may be decisive in a fight against tyranny,” and that tyranny could come at any time.

As a young man I regarded the second amendment as the founders’ biggest blunder. As we head into 2022, my position has flipped — I now believe history may well come to regard it as the most far-sighted thing the founders did, not in spite of its vagueness, but because of it. It’s like a mysterious passage from a sacred text that forces living people to interpret it in a modern context. The founders believed the people needed to be able to defend their free state — with deadly force — whether that refers to a geographical state, or a state of being, or both.

As for the carnage caused by guns in private handsd, well, that’s an unfortunate but necessary side effect of preventing tyranny. As for the coming battle of Weinstein vs. Trump and the army, he says this:

 in a head-to-head conflict between a treasonous, tyrant-led US military on the one hand, and freedom-loving Americans on the other, the military would trounce any number of militias, no matter how “well-regulated”.

But that isn’t really a persuasive argument, for two reasons. First, who decided this would be a fair fight? How many times will the US military have to find itself stalemated by inferior forces before we incorporate the lesson of asymmetric warfare into our national consciousness?

. . . The second reason an armed population might succeed against the military-gone-rogue is that it is exceedingly unlikely the entire military would accept immoral orders.

. . . A fox would almost always win a fight to the death with a domestic cat. But a house cat is capable of doing enough damage on the way out to dissuade anything but a desperate fox from trying it. An armed populace might not be able to defeat a tyrant’s army, but they could well punish it into retreat.

. .  . But if the dynamism of the West, the productivity, the ingenuity, and the quest for fairness can only be protected from tyrants at the point of a gun, then so be it.

Yeah, right. The thought of Weinstein standing in front of his house defending it against  only part of the Army makes me chuckle. The UK has far stricter gun laws than we do: aren’t they afraid of tyranny? After all, while we have Trump, they have Boris. It would do Constitutional Expert Weinstein good to read Garry Wills’s eloquent opposing view of the second amendment: “To keep and bear arms.”

*The Guardian tells a fearful tale. Zoos are overcrowded with an endangered subspecies of primate, and they’re proposing to kill the males rather than return them to the wild (h/t Jozséf):

Overcrowding of critically endangered western lowland gorillas in zoos has led the influential European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Eaza) to consider killing adult males of the species. Eaza is the body that regulates most of the zoos in Europe.

In the wild they are critically endangered. The exact number of western lowland gorillas is not known because they inhabit some of the most dense and remote rainforests in Africa. Because of poaching and disease, the gorilla’s numbers have declined by more than 60% over the last 20 to 25 years.

Leaked documents seen by the Guardian reveal that culling, castration and keeping adult single males in solitary confinement for a large portion of their lives are seen as potential solutions to an overpopulation of the species in zoos. The gorilla population in Eaza zoos consists of 463 individuals (212 males, 250 females and one of unknown sex) at 69 institutions.

Granted, it might be difficult to put them back in the wild given the reduced habitat and the likelihood that zoo animals could spread disease to the wild ones, but why not in wildlife parks in Africa? And since gorillas are (or soon will be) declared as sentient beings in the UK, along with lobsters, crabs, squid, and octopuses, this could be murder.  The zoos were responsible for bringing these gorillas into being, and now they are responsible for their lives.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 777,310, an increase of 955 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,215,057,  an increase of about 5,600 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on November 28 includes:

Here’s how Magellan found his way through the treacherous tip of South America:

That was a lot of dosh in those days! Here’s the entry for their bond of marriage in the Bishop’s registry. I pity the scholars who had to find that. 

  • 1660 – At Gresham College, twelve men, including Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, and Sir Robert Moray decide to found what is later known as the Royal Society.
  • 1811 – Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, premieres at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig.
  • 1893 – Women’s suffrage in New Zealand concludes with the 1893 New Zealand general election.

An 1893 cartoon urging women to vote for the Conservative Party, because they owed it to that party:

Lady Astor served from 1919 to 1945, and her verbal ripostes with Churchill were legendary—and probably apocryphal. Here she is in 1923:

Countess Markievicz, an Irish revolutionary (below), was elected to represent Dublin and environs in the House of Common, but, following Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy, never took her seat:

Here’s the chart on which Jocelyn Bell Burnett (cheated out of a Nobel Prize) first recognized the regular pulsar signals:

  • 1972 – Last executions in Paris: Claude Buffet and Roger Bontems are guillotined at La Santé Prison.
  • 1979 – Air New Zealand Flight 901, a DC-10 sightseeing flight over Antarctica, crashes into Mount Erebus, killing all 257 people on board.

Mount Erebus is on Ross Island, and the pilots experienced a whiteout, for which they had no training. The coordinates of the flight changed before the crash, and here’s its path:

  • 1990 – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resigns as leader of the Conservative Party and, therefore, as Prime Minister. She is succeeded in both positions by John Major.

Notables born on this day include:

Blake’s most famous poem, written and illustrated by him. He was okay at drawing felids, but not terrific: its snout is too short and the forelegs too massive. Oh, and the eyes are bulging.

Engels in 1879:

  • 1881 – Stefan Zweig, Austrian author, playwright, and journalist (d. 1942)
  • 1887 – Ernst Röhm, German soldier and politician (d. 1934)

Röhm was a nasty piece of work, head of the “SA”, the Nazis’ military wing. Hitler ordered his murder during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, as part of Hitler’s scheme to consolidate his power. Röhm’s scars came from a face injury in WWI. Here he is with Hitler in 1933, little suspecting that his companion would order his death:

N¸rnberg, Reichsparteitag 1933.
Adolf Hitler und Stabschef Rˆhm.

Gordy, who produced some of the finest soul music of the Sixties and Seventies, is still with us at 92

Remember this picture that wrecked Hart’s chances for the Presidency? (It’s not his wife. Do you remember her name?)

  • 1943 – Randy Newman, American singer-songwriter, composer, and pianist
  • 1948 – Alan Lightman, American physicist, novelist, and academician
  • 1962 – Jon Stewart, American comedian, actor, and television host

Those who vanished from this Earth on November 28 include:

  • 1859 – Washington Irving, American short story writer, essayist, biographer, historian (b. 1783)
  • 1939 – James Naismith, Canadian-American physician and educator, created basketball (b. 1861)
  • 1954 – Enrico Fermi, Italian-American physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1901)

Fermi and his wife Laura at Los Alamos, 1954. It was here at the University of Chicago that he achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear fission reaction:

  • 1960 – Richard Wright, American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet (b. 1908).

If you haven’t read Wright’s masterpiece, Native Son (1940), do so immediately. (It’s set in Chicago.) Here he is:

  • 1994 – Jeffrey Dahmer, American serial killer (b. 1960)
  • 1994 – Jerry Rubin, American businessman and activist (b. 1938)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili is upset because she hates cold weather and knows that falling leaves are a harbinger.

Hili: All the leaves fell off.
A: And?
Hili: They are on the ground.
In Polish:
Hili: Wszystkie liście spadły.
Ja: I co?
Hili: Leżą na ziemi.

From Not Another Science Cat Page:

From Nicole:

From Bruce: a meme for yesterday, but also today:

I found this one:

Yahweh himself explains Omicron:

From Luana. I think the tweeter’s interpretation is correct. Click on the text to read the whole thing. What a mess—it’s turning people’s brains to mush.

Ginger K. characterizes this tweet with one word: “True!”

Tweets from the eminent Professor Cobb. This doesn’t look like a baby to me! Juvenile, maybe, but that’s no baby.

I don’t know if this is real or staged, but the translation of the caption is, “I give this masterpiece of silent cinema a 10 out of 10.” Matthew says, “Write your own script.”

What else can you say besides the caption?

Translation: “When you pretend to play football.”

25,005 posts!

November 27, 2021 • 2:15 pm

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

The post before this one:

From Peter Jackson’s upcoming movie “Get Back”: Beatles songs come to life

November 27, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I knew that Peter Jackson was making a three-part, 8 hour series incorporating never-before-seen Beatles clips, but I didn’t realize that it’s already out.  Yes, it’s on Disney+, but who cares. I’ve liked everything that Jackson directed, and this movie most resembled “They Shall Not Grow Old,” which was great.


Here’s the trailer, with the YouTube notes below it:

The YouTube notes (there’s also a Wikipedia article which gives the episodes and more information):

Made entirely from never-before-seen, restored footage, it provides the most intimate and honest glimpse into the creative process and relationship between John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever filmed. Be sure to check them both out, and don’t forget to watch “The Beatles: Get Back” when it rolls out over three days, November 25, 26, and 27, 2021, exclusively on Disney+.

Directed by three-time Oscar®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “They Shall Not Grow Old”), “The Beatles: Get Back” takes audiences back in time to the band’s January 1969 recording sessions, which became a pivotal moment in music history. The docuseries showcases The Beatles’ creative process as they attempt to write 14 new songs in preparation for their first live concert in over two years. Faced with a nearly impossible deadline, the strong bonds of friendship shared by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are put to the test. The docuseries is compiled from nearly 60 hours of unseen footage shot over 21 days, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1969, and from more than 150 hours of unheard audio, most of which has been locked in a vault for over half a century. Jackson is the only person in 50 years to have been given access to this Beatles treasure trove, all of which has now been brilliantly restored. What emerges is an unbelievably intimate portrait of The Beatles, showing how, with their backs against the wall, they could still rely on their friendship, good humor, and creative genius. While plans derail and relationships are put to the test, some of the world’s most iconic songs are composed and performed. The docuseries features – for the first time in its entirety – The Beatles’ last live performance as a group, the unforgettable rooftop concert on London’s Savile Row, as well as other songs and classic compositions featured on the band’s final two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

It took Jackson four years to edit the material. Wikipedia adds, “It was created with cooperation from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the widows of John Lennon (Yoko Ono) and George Harrison (Olivia Harrison), as well as music supervisor Giles Martin (son of George Martin and a regular producer of Beatles projects since 2006). In a news release, McCartney said: “I am really happy that Peter has delved into our archives to make a film that shows the truth about the Beatles recording together”, while Starr echoed: “There was hours and hours of us just laughing and playing music, not at all like the Let It Be film that came out [in 1970]. There was a lot of joy and I think Peter will show that.”

I found three short clips from the series on YouTube, which, since I’m a big Beatles fans, really whets my appetite to see the series.  The first one seems to be when George Harrison introduces the song “I Me Mine” to the group:

Rehearsal of “Something in the Way She Moves”. And yes, Yoko is sitting there, and Linda McCartney is taking photos. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the band rehearse, but it’s lovely.

Rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down” with Billy Preston on the keyboard.

If anybody’s seen it, please report below.

It’s no secret that I think the Beatles are by far the best rock group that ever was, and ever will be. They could write everything from love songs to hard rockers, and nearly all of it was superb. What rock song today is the equal of “A Day in the Life”, or “In My Life”, or “Blackbird”, or “Strawberry Fields Forever”, not to mention “Yesterday”. (Well, there’s “Octopus’s Garden” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” but I prefer to think of them as mutations.)

It’s unimaginable to me that such talent could come together more than once, and that, combined with the demise of the genre, means that this is the apogee of rock music.

Atlantic article on why universities shouldn’t make official political or ideological statements

November 27, 2021 • 11:45 am

I swear, maybe I should try writing some of my website posts as articles for magazines, where I could actually get paid.  It’s not that I need the dosh, but getting a check is a special form of love in return for one’s words.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll never monetize this site.

The reason I thought about this is because monetized sites, like the Atlantic piece below by Conor Friedersdorf, often have articles about the very same topics I’ve written about days before. You’ll know about the several posts I’ve done about universities like UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz making unwarranted statements about the Rittenhouse verdict (opposing it because it’s supposed to be an instantiation of “white supremacy”), when they should not be making any official statements at all.  Such statements violate the spirit of the University of Chicago’s “Kalven Report”, which prohibits my university from making official statements about any ideological, political, or moral issues unless they directly impact the mission of the university.  Why? I’ll reiterate what I wrote a week ago:

There are actually two principles of free speech that should be proclaimed and adhered to by every college and university in America, whether they be private or public. (Religious schools, of course, must exempt themselves.)

1.) There must be freedom of speech for all as that freedom is described by the First Amendment and construed by the courts.

2.) The university must remove itself from making official pronouncements on morality, ideology, or politics, except when those statements affect issues that could impinge on the mission of the university itself: teaching, debating, and learning.

The second principle is there to protect the first one. For if the University makes political statements, like the one we’ll discuss today, that chills or quashes the speech of other people who might fear punishment from the administration for their opposing stands.  If an administrative or departmental website puts out a statement supporting the goals of Black Lives Matter, or that the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict demonstrates white supremacy in action, or that science is structurally racist and misogynist, what student or untenured professor is going to contradict that in public?  We already know that about 55% of college students feel that the climate on their campus prevents them from saying things they believe. That goes for professors as well, though the percentage would be lower. Ideally, the figure should be 0%.

The University of Chicago has adopted both of these principles. The first is the famous 2014 “Report on the Committee of Free Expression” headed by Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, with the committee convened by the then President Robert Zimmer. Now called the “Chicago Principles“, the statement has been adopted in its entirety or near-entirety by over 80 American colleges and universities.

Now if I’d had the gumption, I’d have proposed a piece on Kalven and its violation by Rittenhouse-dissing universities. Sadly, the laws of physics prevented me. However, they didn’t prevent Friedersdorf, who undoubtedly got a big wad of green stuff for the piece below (click on screenshot). However, I’m not all that jealous because a.) he did a much more thorough job than I of collecting statements and parsing their meaning, and b.) He’s a better writer than I. So read the article (it’s free); you will find even more examples of miscreant university administrators, though his conclusion is the same as mine: universities should abide by the Kalven Report:

Friedersdorf summarizes several places where administrators issued negative statements on the Rittenhouse aquittal; these include UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, and the “progressive” New School, whose President, Dwight McBride, published an official statement that violates Kalven seven ways from Sunday. Friedersdorf’s take on McBride:

At the New School, McBride described a starkly different ethos:

I don’t know immediately how to parse the Rittenhouse verdict at a university where students, faculty, and staff work so tirelessly and passionately for social justice. Therein may lie the answer in this moment: when we don’t know yet what to say, let’s take solace in each other. Let’s unite in our shared commitments and values. I am grateful to be part of this community that is so driven to confront inequality, unpack systemic racism, challenge oppression, and create positive change.

Tellingly, McBride continued:

While we don’t know what to say, we know what to do, which is to act to build stronger communities, unite amongst ourselves, and use our scholarship and research in service of social justice.

He’s not calling for searching, candid discussion among people with diverse views. He’s presuming that the community is united in one collective view––and, what’s more, that the community is somehow united both in not knowing what to say and in knowing what to do about it! And what about professors and students who disagree that the verdict was unjust, or feel upset by inaccuracies in media coverage, or believe that Rittenhouse was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, or worry that widespread criticism of the verdict is undermining the jury system?

Now deans and departments at my own University of Chicago have issued similar verboten political statements, though none that I know of about Rittenhouse. They’ve concentrated on systemic racism, and they all violate the Kalven Report. In that sense we’re hypocrites, for while ex-President Bob Zimmer recently reaffirmed that departments of our University cannot issue such official political statements, they’ve done it anyway, and the administration is too timorous to order these statements removed.

If nothing is done, the University of Chicago will go the torturous way of the New School and the University of California campuses, issuing statement after statement that gives “official” positions or, like the New School’s statement, tells all the students what they do or must believe and how they must act.  Parents of prospective students, I think, won’t be keen to send their parents to such woke schools, for they’ll get no instruction about what free speech means, much less how to exercise it.  And I’m sad because the unique aspect of the University of Chicago: it’s near-absolute encouragement of free speech, will erode away to nothing.

Those “official” statements are unnecessary anyway. Their main (if not only) purpose is to affirm the virtue of the writer by setting out ideological and behavioral principles that jibe with the progressive Zeitgeist. By doing that, though, they’re chilling the speech of anybody who thinks that, for example, the Rittenhouse verdict was correct. The uselessness of these statements is limned by both Friedersdorf and Glenn Loury:

But most top-down proclamations from administrators are unnecessary: As the Brown University professor Glenn Loury explained last year, they either affirm platitudes or present arguable positions as certainties. “We, the faculty, are the only ‘leaders’ worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas,” he insisted. “Why must this university’s senior administration declare, on behalf of the institution as a whole and with one voice, that they unanimously—without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance—interpret contentious current events through a single lens?”

It really is crazy—and totally unnecessary. Professors and administrators can write their own personal statements on websites and the like—that is free speech. But they need not, and should not, present those opinions as official views of their universities.

So I echo, and have anticipated, Friedersdorf’s conclusions, which are that universities should adhere to the Kalven principles. The Atlantic has a huge and intelligent audience, and though the Chicago Principles of Free Speech are widely known—and have been adopted by over 80 American universities—the Kalven Report is much less known, and Friedersdorf sets out its history as well as its principles. The report is here, and every university that has adopted the Chicago Principles of Free Speech should also adopt the Kalven Principles. They are simply two arms of the same endeavor: to allow free speech without intimidation. Friedersdorf has one a service by simply bringing this issue to the nation’s attention. But of course administrators at schools like Williams, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz simply can’t restrain themselves from weighing in on politics, thereby making themselves look empathic and sensitive.

Friedersdorf’s beginning:

At universities, the recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse should be an opportunity to study a divisive case that sparked complex debates about issues as varied as self-defense laws, guns, race, riots, the rights of defendants, prosecutorial missteps, media bias, and more. If administrators were doing their jobs, faculty and students would freely air a wide variety of viewpoints and have opportunities to better understand one another’s diverse perspectives. Instead, many administrators are preemptively imposing their preferred narratives.

And his ending:

Indeed, there are as many different views of what’s wrong in the world as there are individuals on a campus. People also differ widely in which news events, if any, they find upsetting. Students and faculty should challenge university leaders who, as if speaking for their entire communities, put forth subjective assessments and notions of what everyone else thinks or “must” do. These administrators tell the group what they think it wants to hear, create incentives for people to hide other views, and harm everyone’s ability to inquire and to learn from one another.

I wish that all the readers who fight for free speech at universities would also fight for the prevention of official statements on politics and ideology by those schools which, by giving “official views”, chill everyone’s speech. We already know that many professors and students—more than half of the latter in the U.S.—are intimidated from speaking freely about certain topics. That’s no way to get an education, much less produce a good citizen.

A new anti-woke book

November 27, 2021 • 10:30 am

Reader Keith called my attention to a new book by Charles Pincourt “with” James Lindsay, which gives advice on how to actually defeat Wokeness.  It’s published by New Discourses itself, and, as Lindsay notes at the beginning of the podcast below, he has another book coming out shortly, Race Marxism. Charles Pincourt is not a real person, but the pseudonym of somebody who writes the “Woke Dissident” blog on github. Further, Lindsay says in the podcast that he didn’t really co-author this book, which was written wholly by “Pincourt”. Lindsay’s name appears on the cover because he gave comments on the manuscript and published it.

The “field manual” bit reminds me of Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists, which was a field guide to combatting faith.

This is a short book: 111 pages, and is $12.49 in paperback. It’s Amazon position is fairly high: 2308 overall. Click on the screenshot just below to go to the Amazon site.

Here’s a 100-minute “podcast” with Lindsay that was featured on this page.  I haven’t listened to the whole thing, but it explains what the book is about.