Philomena promotes Britain but wants to be famous in America

Reader Michael, who has contributed to two posts today (see previous one), called my attention to a new series of short videos by Diana Morgan, who has abandoned the persona but not the demeanor of Philomena Cunk. The new series of three clips (one more to come) is called “British Famous“, and attempts to sell Britain as a tourist destination using the conceit that Morgan visits various places in Britain to prepare to be TRULY famous, which means famous not just in Britain, but in America. Here are the first three videos with this introduction:

Who was Benedict Cumberbatch a few years ago? Nobody Cumberbatch, that’s who. Because he was only British Famous. And he’s not alone.

For decades, British celebrities have been adored at home but anonymous abroad, until America discovers them and makes them the real kind of famous.

And that is precisely Diane Morgan’s plan. So she’s doing things she believes Americans love in the hopes of becoming the next big American thing, all while showcasing the greatest parts of Great Britain.

The first video, “The Self-Help Guru”, shows, as Michael noted, Morgan

…taking the piss out of ‘mindfulness’, crystals, chakras etc. . .  Good fun! Not from the T.V. show – Diane seems to have branched out into other stuff such as this YouTube channel, Love GREAT Britain, which is promoting holidays in GB

There are a few other Morgan skits on the channel if you’re interested, but this is the only one that’s reasonably well written IMO.

I didn’t know she has a talent for physical comedy [pratfalls, slapstick] until this series.

Judge for yourself. I prefer Philomena but this is still worth watching:

“The Rock Star”, filmed in Manchester, home of our Matthew Cobb:

And “The action hero,” filmed in Scotland:

The next installment to come is called “The Foodie.”


Templeton-funded issue of “The New Atlantis” does down science

 Reader Michael looked over the latest issue of The New Atlantis, and was horrified. He sent me the message given below, which prompted me to look at the magazine, too. And I shared his horror, for the issue, while pretending to be about science, really does down science, criticizing it in several articles for its problems and incompleteness (it supposedly uses the flawed assumptions of naturalism and materialism, and of course, as they say, many experiments can’t be replicated). It’s no surprise that this issue was financed by—you guessed it—the John Templeton Foundation. Here’s part of Michael’s email (indented):

The current “Special Issue – Information, Matter, and Life” of The New Atlantis is financed by the Templeton Foundation (see bottom of page.  [JAC: here’s the note:]

And some of the ‘essays’ in this special issue are absolutely incredible [in a bad way]! Take the one by Stephen L. Talbott [you’ve run into him before], “Evolution & the Purposes of Life” – I really suffered reading it & I’m not going to even attempt to give an overview:

The New Atlantis is published by two bodies…
[1] “The Center for the Study of Technology & Society”, who also publish “Big Questions Online” – the latter is entirely financed by the John Templeton Foundation (

[2] A Washington think tank called the “Ethics & Public Policy Center” which has this on the “About” page: “About EPPC. Founded in 1976 by Dr. Ernest W. Lefever, the Ethics and Public Policy Center is Washington, D.C.’s premier institute dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy. From the Cold War to the war on terrorism, from disputes over the role of religion in public life to battles over the nature of the family, EPPC and its scholars have consistently sought to defend and promote our nation’s founding principles—respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, individual freedom and responsibility, justice, the rule of law, and limited government.”

There seems to be associations with the Templeton organisation [especially their juicy seminars] ‘hidden’ all over the place with respect to The New Atlantis & its directors, board, etc etc. Here’s one:

Take Adam Keiper, editor at The New Atlantis. I put “Keiper” into the Templeton Grant Database, and then picking a year gives me these two [no results appear for other years]:
[1] Start year: 2015. Big Questions Online Pilot and Planning Grant
Project Leader: Adam Keiper
Grantee: Center for the Study of Technology and Society
$211,634[2] Start year: 2015 Special Issue and Sections in ‘The New Atlantis’ Dedicated to Big Questions
Project Leader: Adam Keiper
Grantee: The Center for the Study of Technology and Society

I [JAC] looked over a couple of articles, which give me cause for concern. But of course we’ve always known that Templeton tries to fuse religion and science, often by doing down science and suggesting it needs to be supplemented with the other metaphysical “ways of knowing”. That’s the subject of the first article I mention. There are other articles that push a hyperconservative agenda, including one on sex and gender that claim that gender and sexual orientation is far less “hard-wired” than we think.

Here are three specimens:

“The Limits of Information” by Daniel Robinson, an Oxford philosopher. Here we see an implicit claim that science is inadequate as a “way of knowing”:

Let’s pause to summarize these main points. First, the search for universally valid physical explanations must be futile, for some physical phenomena themselves lack the requisite certainty, as we know from quantum mechanics. Second, that aspiration cannot include a systematic understanding of what counts as an explanation in the first place. Imagine a Martian, sent to Earth to discover what human beings are. Returning to Mars, the “earthopologist” submits a report accurate in every detail regarding the composition of bodies identified as “human”: potassium, water, calcium, and so forth. All the empirical data are accurate and reproducible, but nothing in the account explains anything of interest about human beings. While this might count as an explanation of the chemical composition of human bodies, it cannot be considered an explanation of what it means to be human.

. . . It is not my intention to defend anti-realism. My own stance, if it’s even worth considering, is the Kantian position that, like it or not, we are all destined to be metaphysicians, so it’s a good idea to prepare for the mission. Van Fraassen, however, draws attention to the non-scientific dispositions and orientations endemic to the pursuit of knowledge: the choice of facts we attend to in our reasoning, and the stance one adopts in that process. There are also emotional and motivational factors that contribute to our choice of explanations. Once a revolutionary challenge to a previously uncontested scientific theory is vindicated by the facts, the scientist committed to that theory undergoes something akin to an emotional breakdown. There are real personal and psychological forces at work in a realm that textbooks treat as antiseptic and “objective.”

In these moments the moral, spiritual, and aesthetic dimensions of lived life may be informed by physics and physiology, but only from the third-person perspective. From our own first-person perspective, words alone fail, and making the experience known to another requires appealing to what is common in our humanity — yet another gap.

Well, yes, you can feel in your heart that there’s a God, which you might say is part of “being human,” but that feeling gives no confidence that there really is a God. It’s just a feeling, and establishing its truth value beyond the fact of your feeling it requires science.

And some day science may indeed explain the emotions. Further, the question of “what it means to be human” is of course totally nebulous. When made more explicit, the answers are empirical—scientific. That doesn’t mean that there is no value in the humanities—in literature, art, and music. What it means is that any question about the real nature of the Universe can be answered only by what I call “science construed broadly”: the use of reason and replicated observation of nature as a way of ascertaining such truths.

Another bad piece:Saving Science by Daniel Sarewitz, professor of science and society at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation and Society (we’ve encountered Sarewitz’s misguided ideas before: here and here).

Sarewitz claims in the subtitle that “Science isn’t self-correcting, it’s self-destructing.” To save the enterprise, he says, scientists must come out of the lab and into the real world.” His thesis is that all the problems of science— confirmation bias, lack of replication, etc.—can be cured if it’s driven by technology: the need for practical solutions. Sadly, that’s not even wrong, for technology driven science would miss some fundamental discoveries about the universe (like evolution), and science driven by pure curiosity, like quantum mechanics, has had great practical payoffs not predicted if the field were driven by human “needs” alone. Some excerpts:

Science, pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble. Stoked by fifty years of growing public investments, scientists are more productive than ever, pouring out millions of articles in thousands of journals covering an ever-expanding array of fields and phenomena. But much of this supposed knowledge is turning out to be contestable, unreliable, unusable, or flat-out wrong. From metastatic cancer to climate change to growth economics to dietary standards, science that is supposed to yield clarity and solutions is in many instances leading instead to contradiction, controversy, and confusion. Along the way it is also undermining the four-hundred-year-old idea that wise human action can be built on a foundation of independently verifiable truths. Science is trapped in a self-destructive vortex; to escape, it will have to abdicate its protected political status and embrace both its limits and its accountability to the rest of society.

. . . Advancing according to its own logic, much of science has lost sight of the better world it is supposed to help create. Shielded from accountability to anything outside of itself, the “free play of free intellects” begins to seem like little more than a cover for indifference and irresponsibility. The tragic irony here is that the stunted imagination of mainstream science is a consequence of the very autonomy that scientists insist is the key to their success. Only through direct engagement with the real world can science free itself to rediscover the path toward truth.

Sarewitz is the Chicken Little of Science, and our field is proceeding just fine without his tut-tutting, thank you. After all, some “facts” have remained unchanged for several hundred years. DNA is a double helix regardless of what people find in the future. Smallpox vaccination prevents smallpox (the disease is in fact gone now), benzene has six carbon and six hydrogen atoms, and the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old. Sarawitz falsely implies that the whole edifice of scientific truth is rotten,.

Finally there’s “Evolution and the Purposes of Life”, by Stephen L. Talbott, described as “a New Atlantis contributing editor, [and] a senior researcher at The Nature Institute in Ghent, New York”. This piece emphasizes the teleological aspects of organisms that seem to evince purpose (“purpose” of course, involves intention and thus a mind). I quote in extenso because this supposedly evolutionary article is really a Teilhard-ian argument that evolution, materialism, and natural selection are inadequate to explain the seemingly “purposive” nature of animal life. (This is not true, of course, as Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins have shown repeatedly.)

Even the “growth behaviors” of plants and the “chemical behaviors” of the individual cells in our bodies are in some sense intelligent and purposive, wisely directed toward need-fulfilling ends. Purposive — or teleological (end-directed) — activity is no merely adventitious feature of living creatures. Being “endowed with a purpose or project,” wrote biochemist Jacques Monod, is “essential to the very definition of living beings.” And according to Theodosius Dobzhansky, a geneticist and leading architect of the past century’s dominant evolutionary theory, “It would make no sense to talk of the purpose of adaptation of stars, mountains, or the laws of physics,” but “adaptedness of living beings is too obvious to be overlooked…. Living beings have an internal, or natural, teleology.”

The curious thing, however, is that despite this emphatic recognition of the purposive organism, we find in textbooks of biology virtually no mention of purpose — or of the meaning and value presupposed by purpose. To refer to such “unbiological” realities is, it seems, to stumble into the unsavory company of mystics. Yet we might want to ask: if purposiveness in the life of organisms is as obvious as many in addition to Monod and Dobzhansky have admitted, why should it be impermissible for working biologists to reckon seriously with what everyone seems to know?

. . . The idea of teleological behavior within a world of meaning is rather uncomfortable for scientists committed — as contemporary biologists overwhelmingly are — to what they call “materialism” or “naturalism.” The discomfort has to do with the apparent inward aspect of the goal-directed behavior described above — behavior that depends upon the apprehension of a meaningful world and that is easily associated with our own conscious and apparently immaterial perceptions, reasonings, and motivations to act.

The problem of teleology, with its apparent inwardness, has been thought to present itself on two fronts. It occurs wherever a conscious, purposive designer, traditionally taken to be God, is assumed to have created organisms, and again wherever the organism itself, once created, becomes a locus of end-directed functioning. Resolving the issue of teleology has meant, for the biologist, eliminating inwardness on both fronts, and the argument often makes little distinction between them.

. . . Everyone agrees that natural selection cannot work unless the organisms available to it are capable of carrying out all the activities necessary to their life and survival, while also reproducing and preparing an inheritance for their offspring. But these are the very activities that presented us with the problem of teleology in the first place. If natural selection must assume them in order to do its work, then to say it solves the problem of teleological origins looks very much like question-begging.

No, the “assumptions” are heredity and naturalism, both of which are not really assumptions, but methodologies that give answers. There is no question-begging!

But wait, there’s more!:

All of which takes us back to an earlier point: the organism is not so much something with a causal, physical origin as it is a power of origination — or a power of storytelling. It manifests itself in becoming — in the coordinated and directive aspect of organic processes moving toward fullness of expression — and is not something explained by the physical lawfulness of those processes. When we have understood this inward, originating power, might we not find ourselves better equipped to think about primordial origins?

Nope. What we have here is an indigestible word salad.

In the end, the article flirts with Intelligent Design: a divine force behind evolution. Or so I think from words like these (my emphasis):

Evolution-based pronouncements have somehow become far too easy. When theorists can lightly pretend to have risen above the most enduring mysteries of life, making claims supposedly too obvious to require defense, then even questions central to evolution itself tend to disappear in favor of reigning prejudices. What is life? How can we understand the striving of organisms to sustain their own lives — a striving that seems altogether hidden to conventional modes of understanding? What makes for the integral unity and compelling “personality” of the living creature, and how can this personified unity be understood if we’re thinking in purely material and machine-like terms? Does it make sense to dismiss as illusory the compelling appearance of intelligent and intentional agency in organisms?

It is evident enough that the answers to such questions could crucially alter even our most basic assumptions about evolution. But we have no answers. In the current theoretical milieu, we don’t even have the questions. What we do have is the seemingly miraculous agency of natural selection, substituting for the only agency we ever actually witness in nature, which is the agency of living beings.

But we do have answers: natural selection produces the appearance of “intelligent agency”. It’s not rocket science! Organisms live their lives as if their “purpose” was to survive and reproduce: to maximize their genetic output. Dennett thinks this is real design, just not conscious design, while others call it “designoid.” I don’t care what you call it so long as you understand how it came about. And we do!

So once again we see Templeton, while paying lip service to science, is really doing it down, claiming that it’s incomplete, that naturalism and materialism are insufficient, that there’s some kind of nebulous “purpose” behind evolution, and that we have to look at Other Ways of Knowing (read: God) to supplement science.

Shame on Templeton, and shame on those researchers who so gladly take its money!

Caturday felid trifecta: Kevin Richardson plays soccer with lions, cat tries to save owner from drowning in the bath, white tiger quadruplets born in Austria

Kevin Richardson has forged wonderful relationships with the lions who grew up in his presence (I’ve often featured him on Caturdays), but I still worry that some day he’ll be nommed.  But he’s quoted in Wikipedia as saying this:

Richardson has been scratched, punctured and bitten but never in a malicious way. Richardson is not dissuaded by these dangers. In an interview, he mentions, “Obviously one realizes the danger when working with animals of this calibre, I’ve weighed the pros and I’ve weighed the cons, and the pros far outweigh the cons.” He warns about following in his footsteps, however. All the pictures of his adventures do not portray his years of experience and bonding. “People like to take things out of context. They don’t know the relationship I have with this lion.” As a rule, Richardson only interacts with lions he has been with since their birth. Richardson also differentiates his work from that of professional zoologists interacting with completely wild animals they have not raised, or that of trainers whose animals are required to perform on stage day after day.

Here he is playing a game of footy with lions. They’re no Messi, but still. . . Note the caged videographers at the end!


This video is called “Cat tries to save his human from DROWNING IN THE BATHTUB!”, but I’m not sure that’s the cat’s real concern.


Finally, readers gravelinspector and Michael sent a video of white tiger quadruplets born at the “White Zoo” in Austria on March 22. The color is due to a mutation in a single gene, but not the gene that causes albinism (that would give them pink eyes).

They’re adorable, but I have reservations about breeding these color variants, as the inbreeding necessary to preserve the color has caused a number of deformities (crossed eyes, cleft palate. club feet. etc.), and of course they’re bred for pure entertainment–they cannot be released in the wild and so serve only as entertainment.

I’d still cuddle them, though.

h/t: Su

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Karen Bartelt sent some photos of birds and mammals from California. Her notes:

We were compelled to try and forget Trump, so we (my husband Bob and I) took a spur of the moment trip to a Blue State, California.  One of our target animals was the elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris).  We saw these at Drakes Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore.  The last picture was actually near the Patrick Visitor Center.  This mellow male was chilling on the sand, and I shot the photo from a respectful distance.  Not so the idiot who posed his wife next to the seal, and later touched his tail (luckily, the seal wasn’t looking for trouble).  We also saw Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna); interesting bicolored redwinged blackbirds (Ageiaius phoeniceus), a race that’s only found in central California; and sweet dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis).  I think this photo is of what’s considered to be the “Oregon race” of the junco.
Our other target animal was the California condor, which we saw at Pinnacles National Park, and will send later.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

After today, posting will be light for a couple of days while I entertain visitors, and Grania will be in charge. Today is Saturday, April 29, 2017: National Shrimp Scampi Day—a dish I’ve never had. And, appropriately given the situation in Syria, it’s The Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare, an issue that, while the UN can issue remembrances for, apparently can’t do anything to stop. Finally, I’ve just learned, thanks to reader jsp, that we missed a big holiday yesterday: National Hairball Awareness Day, celebrated the last Friday in April. I am not making this up. But Opus seems to have gotten the date wrong in the latest Bloom County:

On this day in 1770, James Cook arrived at and named Australia’s Botany Bay, now located in Sydney. On April 29, 1916, the Easter Rising in Dublin ended as rebel leaders surrendered to the British. Many were tried and several leaders were executed. Here’s a video clip of the executions from the movie “Michael Collins”: don’t watch it if you don’t want to see firing squads, but I find this very moving:

On this day in 1945, Hitler married Eva Braun in the Führerbunker and named Admiral Dönitz as his successor. Both Braun and Hitler committed suicide the next day. On the same day, the concentration camp Dachau was liberated by Allied troops. On April 29, 1992, following the beating of Rodney King, the Los Angeles riots began; the media is reporting on their 25th anniversay. On April 29, 2004, the last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line, ending 107 years of that car’s production. Finally, on this day six years ago, Prince William married Catherine Middleton.

Notables born on this day include Henri Poincaré (1854), Harold Urey (1893), Duke Ellington (1899), Willie Nelson (1933), my friend and ex-chair, geneticist Brian Charlesworth (1945), Dale Earnhardt (1951), Kate Mulgrew (1955), Daniel Day-Lewis (1957), Michelle Pfeiffer (1958), and Uma Thurman (1970). It was a good day for actors.

By the way, Duke Ellington was both a great musician and a great foodie. Here’s an excerpt from a nice New Yorker profile of him from 1944, mentioning his favorite desserts: a gemisch of different things:

Duke, who is always worrying about keeping his weight down, may announce that he intends to have nothing but Shredded Wheat and black tea. When his order arrives, he looks at it glumly, then bows his head and says grace. After he has finished his snack, his expression of virtuous determination slowly dissolves into wistfulness as he watches [Billy] Strayhorn eat a steak. Duke’s resolution about not overeating frequently collapses at this point. When it does, he orders a steak, and after finishing it he engages in another moral struggle for about five minutes. Then he really begins to eat. He has another steak, smothered in onions, a double portion of fried potatoes, a salad, a bowl of sliced tomatoes, a giant lobster and melted butter, coffee, and an Ellington dessert—perhaps a combination of pie, cake, ice cream, custard, pastry, jello, fruit, and cheese. His appetite really whetted, he may order ham and eggs, a half-dozen pancakes, waffles and syrup, and some hot biscuits. Then, determined to get back on his diet, he will finish, as he began, with Shredded Wheat and black tea. Long before this, he is usually surrounded by an admiring crowd, which watches him with friendly awe. He chats with the chicks in the group and may turn from his steak or lobster to say pleasantly to one of them, “You make that dress look so beautiful.” He is not a bit embarrassed by the fact that he said the same thing the night before to another chick in another town. Sometimes he will pause before eating a dessert awash in rich yellow cream and say to a girl, “I never knew an angel could be so luscious.” At the end of his supper, he may lean back, satisfied at last, and sing out to Strayhorn, “Dah dah dee dee dee, tah tahdle tah boom, deedle dee, deedle dee, boom!”

Those who died on this day include Ludwig Wittgenstein (1951), Alfred Hitchcock (1980), Albert Hoffmann (2008; discoverer of the effects of LSD, on which I heard him lecture at Harvard [he lectured in a lab coat and was very staid]), and Bob Hoskins (2014). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is killing time until lunch:

Hili: I’m thinking about post-breakfast philosophy.
A: And…?
Hili: I have time to do it until next meal.
In Polish:
Hili: Zastanawiam się nad filozofią postśniadanną.
Ja: I co?
Hili: Mam na to czas do kolejnego posiłku.

A remarkable case of mimicry: katydid nymph mimics ant

The nymphs (juvenile stages) of katydids—orthopterans from the family Tettigoniidae—nymphs look pretty much like miniature katydids; here’s a screenshot of what you see when you do a Google image search for “katydid nymph” (click to enlarge):

But one species, at least, has modified its nymph stage to look like a hymenopteran. Here’s a photo by Piotr Naskrecki taken in Mozambique:

Now clearly selection is responsible for this, but what kind? Does it hide from predators by running with real ants (crypsis), or does it resemble a stinging or toxic ant that predators have learned to avoid (Batesian mimicry)? I don’t know, but it’s a lovely mimic.

h/t: Matthew Cobb, who keeps his eye on Twitter

Weird and slightly alarming – the chaos game

by Matthew Cobb

This video from the excellent Numberphile YouTube channel shows a very simple game that has the most unexpected outcome. My only criticism of this video is that I’d like to be shown the explanation, even if it’s complicated! Maybe readers can help me.

Free Speech: Who gets to decide who speaks? But now we have a Decider!

This week we’ve seen two articles by English professors arguing that censorship is essential to ensure free speech. One, in the New York Times, was by Ulrich Baer from New York University, and the other, in the New Republic, was by Aaron Hanlon from Colby College (links go to my analyses, which contain links to the original pieces). Both professors claimed that yes, free speech was good, but that “hate speech”—speech that dehumanized people or attacked their identities or nullified their “lived experience”—was not free speech and thus was okay to censor. (By “censor,” I mean disinvite people who have already been invited to speak at universities, or to harass them in such a way that they become unable to give their talks.)

I’m thus pleased to see some pushback in the liberal press against what I consider not only dumb but dangerous arguments for censorship: arguments that, if they became policy, would allow only approved forms of speech on campus. One article, by Kevin Drum (a cat lover) is at Mother Jones, and is called “The most important free speech question is: Who decides?” Here’s an excerpt, in which Drum starts by referring to Aaron Hanlon’s New Republic piece:

The sophistry here is breathtaking. If it’s just some small group that invites someone, then it’s OK if the rest of the university blackballs their choice. After all, universities are supposed to decide what students don’t need to know. It may “look like censorship from certain angles,” but it’s actually the very zenith of free expression.

. . . But now everyone is weighing in, and here on the left we’re caving in way too often to this Hanlon-esque lunacy. Is some of the speech he’s concerned about ugly and dangerous and deliberately provocative? Of course it is. But that’s not a reason to shut it down. That’s the whole reason we defend free speech in the first place. If political speech was all a harmless game of patty-cake, nobody would even care.

Speech is often harmful. And vicious. And hurtful. And racist. And just plain disgusting. But whenever you start thinking these are good reasons to overturn—by violence or otherwise—someone’s invitation to speak, ask yourself this: Who decides? Because once you concede the right to keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that somebody may eventually decide to shut down communists. Or anti-war protesters. Or gays. Or sociobiologists. Or Jews who defend Israel. Or Muslims.

I don’t want anyone to have that power. No one else on the left should want it either.

Well, this argument is not new; it was made by Hitchens and parroted by me, and it’s a good argument. Who would you trust to make all the decisions about what you can hear on campus? Anyone? I can’t name anybody save someone like Hitchens, who would censor nobody. There is no clear distinction between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” speech, and different people have different views. I, for one, wouldn’t try to censor a Holocaust denialist, because I would want to hear what kind of arguments he/she would make. At the very least, hearing someone with “offensive” views gives you an idea of what  your opponents have to say, and a chance to hone your own arguments. There’s not really a down side, unless you think that you need to be The Decider because the Little People might be swayed by offensive speech.

A related piece is in the Washington Post, written by Samantha Harris, vice president of policy research for the estimable organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The piece is called Lawyer: Stop using censorship to ‘protect’ free speech“, and here’s an excerpt, which gives some tangible examples; I particularly like the invocation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Harris’s starting point is Ulrich Baer’s call for censorship in the New York Times:

Under this view, some enlightened group of people, claiming a monopoly on the truth, decide which viewpoints are permissible and which must be shut out because they “invalidate the humanity” of others. In Baer’s case, these impermissible views include not only Holocaust denial and white supremacy, but also opposition to illegal immigration and transgender rights, among other things.

. . . But Baer assumes, quite dangerously, that we can know in advance whose stories and experiences are “legitimate” and whose are not.

What about, for example, the lived experiences of genuine dissenters from marginalized groups — people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose arguments about the treatment of women in Islam have been the frequent target of calls for censorship because of their perceived insensitivity to Muslims, though Hirsi Ali was herself raised as a Muslim and subjected to female genital mutilation?

Would Baer and others like him consider her criticism of Islam’s treatment of women to be a legitimate personal narrative, or is it one of those topics that should be off-limits because reckoning with Hirsi Ali’s argument might force other Muslims to defend their humanity? Or is it both? And if it is both, how do we decide — and who decides — which aspect should prevail?

Down the rabbit hole we go.

And what about people like Jonathan Rauch, a gay man who thinks that unfettered free speech is actually critical to minority rights? What if Rauch — and not those who believe that minority rights require the suppression of “hate speech” — is correct?

In a 2013 article for Reason magazine, Rauch described growing up gay in an era of terrible prejudice, and observed how the right to free speech was critical to the success of the gay rights movement.

Now you can say that gay rights were clearly something that should have been articulated, and those opposing them censored, but remember that long ago there were many who had arguments against gay rights, and the morality of equal rights for gays, and of their marriage, wasn’t universally accepted. Societies change, and that change is promoted by free discussion. Criticism of Islam is considered “hate speech” by many Muslims; should we ban it? Then we lose the opportunity of reforming the religion to eliminate its more oppressive tenets.

But one person has set himself up as The Decider—the person who can and has determined which speakers colleges shouldn’t be allowed on campus. It’s those like Coulter and Milo, who are “Nazis” and “far-right asshats.” Further, we have to make such decisions because finance and time dictate that a college can host only a limited number of speakers (not a good argument!). We must invite only those people who promote education, not ignorance, and who open rather than close minds. (I presume, based on The Decider’s past posts, that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would not fill that bill.)

A bit of The Decider’s argument:

One catch. You want infinite free speech on campus, you have to give us infinite money, infinite time, infinite resources. Fair enough?

Somehow, I don’t think it’s coming. Especially since the same people who want to see Ann Coulter given a privileged spot on the non-infinite roster of available speaking engagements are the people who under other circumstances complain bitterly about diversity. The rage always seems to rise on behalf of far-right asshats and Nazis, like Coulter or Yiannopoulos, have you noticed?

But even if we could accommodate everyone and every single point of view, the result has a name: it’s called cacophony. I don’t see how that is useful or constructive. Universities have a mission of promoting education; should we, in the name of Free Speech, insist that we also promote ignorance? That would be incoherent.

Universities are not neutral on all issues, nor should they be. We try to encourage open-mindedness; you can’t do that by also opening the door to those who encourage the closing of minds. We try to serve a diverse community; that doesn’t work if you take a disinterested position on purveyors of hate and bigotry. We aim to be selective and teach the best ideas that have the support of an educated, informed group…the antithesis of indiscriminate acceptance of bad, unsupported, rejected falsehoods. Coulter has nothing to contribute.

I know what’s next: Marketplace of ideas! Exposing students to novel points of view! The university should take students out of their comfort zone!

This is true. We do that all the time. I introduced my students to epistasis last week — discomfort and confusion were sown everywhere. It was good. But none of these arguments apply to Ann Coulter.

. . . Further, if you think being a place for education and intelligence and learning means you’re supposed to be wide open and completely neutral on everything, letting every voice through unfiltered, you don’t understand the university. I’ll give you two words: critical analysis. The university will examine your ideas, all right, and it will judge them. Nazis don’t get to come back and demand a do-over and a new grade.

Those protests? Those are students exercising their intelligence, and then going into the public square to exercise their free speech. Why? Did you think free speech meant freedom from criticism?

Note to The Decider: none of us have ever made the stupid argument that free speech meant freedom from criticism. But criticism is different from violence, and the former doesn’t justify the latter.

Were The Decider to run a university, we would see nobody on the Right, or especially the Far Right, allowed to speak. After all, time and money are limited, and they’re asshats anyway.

In fact, cacophony is exactly what we need, for, as the Founding Father realized, progress comes not from a harmony of opinions, but from a clash of opinions. I would not want The Decider to decide who promotes the “best ideas” (which of course are his ideas). We wouldn’t hear from the Right, and many from the Left would also be censored—those, like Sam Harris, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who are the “wrong kind of Leftists.” What a constricted intellectual world!

Finally, as a geneticist, I have to say that the analogy between epistasis (gene interaction) and Ann Coulter is ludicrous.

h/t: Grania, Richard W.

Obama gets $400,000 to speak at conference organized by Wall Street investment bank

Sound familiar? Like what Hillary Clinton did when she got over $200,000 for each of two speeches to Goldman Sachs a few years ago?

Yep, Obama—our Barack Obama, former President—is scheduled in September to get nearly twice as much as Clinton for a speech: $400,000 for one hour’s work (I bet others will write the damn speech). Further, it’s a speech at a health care conference organized by Wall Street bank Cantor Fitzgerald. It’s also exactly the same amount Obama earned per YEAR as President of the U.S. The New York Times reports this:

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama’s spokesman defended the former president’s coming speech, saying Mr. Obama decided to give it because health care changes were important to him. The spokesman, Eric Schultz, noted that Cantor Fitzgerald is a Wall Street firm but pointed out in a statement that as a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama raised money from Wall Street and went on to aggressively regulate it.

Mr. Obama will spend most of his post-presidency, Mr. Schultz said, “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.”

If health care changes are important to Obama, there are plenty of venues where he can express his ideas and program without lining his pockets.

Well, at least Obama isn’t in a position to make policy about healthcare any more, but I find it unseemly for him to be so grasping and acquisitive after he left the Presidency. After all, the man is already wealthy from his earlier books (if you don’t believe me, I’ll show you a picture of his mansion about two miles from where I’m sitting). For one thing, he’ll cop several million bucks as an advance on the book he’s writing. And he won’t lack for opportunities in the future. The fact that Obama regulated Wall Street and cares about healthcare is just an excuse: the real reason is that he wants lots of money. He doesn’t need tons of extra money, especially from Wall Street firms. If he has a message, let him convey it to the American public.

I’m sure there are many readers who will say, “This is fine: more power to him. If somebody’s willing to pay Obama that much for an hour’s work, let him take the dough.” But would Jimmy Carter do that? Can you keep an image as a humanitarian while taking big bucks from Wall Street? Many of us criticized Hillary Clinton for giving $200,000+ speeches to Wall Street firms, and if we now say that what Obama is doing is okay, that’s a bit of a double standard. And yes, I know Clinton did it when it was clear she would run for President, but remember that Obama will still act as an advisor to Democrats.

In fact, even other Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were critical of this news. From The Independent:

Bernie Sanders has said he thinks it is “unfortunate” Mr Obama opted to receive the fee and argued the decision signifies the profound influence big business has on the political system.

“I think it just speaks to the power of Wall Street and the influence of big money in the political process,” the Democrat Vermont senator told Bloomberg.

“I think it’s unfortunate. President Obama is now a private citizen and he can do anything he wants to but I think it’s unfortunate. You have the former president of Goldman Sachs is now the chief financial advisor for President Trump, and then you have this, so I think it’s unfortunate”.

. . . Senator Elizabeth Warren has also expressed her reservations, saying she was “troubled by” the speaking fee.

“I was troubled by that,” Warren said on SiriusXM’s Alter Family Politics during an appearance to promote her new book.

“One of the things I talk about in the book is the influence of money. I describe it as a snake that slithers through Washington. And that it shows up in so many different ways here in Washington.”

Readers’ wildlife photos

Don’t forget to send in your good photos. I have a decent backlog, so if your pics haven’t appeared yet, don’t be concerned. They will.

Stephen Barnard has sent photos of birds in flight, but left the identification to you. His comment:

A few of the BIFs (birds in flight) photos I’ve taken recently. Species identification is left to the reader. I’ve posted all these before.