Why do people hate Bill Gates?

The answer to the title question, in these days of polarization, is “Because he’s a billionaire”. With Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren making political capital by demonizing the very rich, this effect has spilled over onto philanthropists, most notably one of the world’s greatest philanthropists, Bill Gates. Along with his wife Melinda, Gates gives away billions of dollars to good causes through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the Foundation’s website is here).

According to Wikipedia, the Gates couple are the second most generous philanthropists in the U.S.—after Warren Buffett. Over its history, their Foundation (henceforth GF) has given away $45.5 billion, almost half of Gates’s total wealth.  And they give to causes I like: they’re international, not focused on the U.S., and the money goes to projects that really save lives—curing malaria and infectious disease, getting people access to reproductive services and clean water, improving agriculture, and so on (see list below).

I was thus a bit nonplussed when someone called my attention to a tweet by Massimo Pigliucci, with whom I’ve squabbled several times in the past. Those squabbles have been mostly over scientism and the “demarcation problem”, or trying to fix a boundary between science and non-science. Pigliucci hates my view that plumbers, mechanics and the like practice “science broadly construed” when they use empirical methods to diagnose and fix problems. Frankly, I can’t be arsed to argue the point, since these people use the same empirical strategies as do scientists. It’s a semantic issue, really, with no practical consequences that I can see.

At any rate, here’s Massimo’s tweet, which links to a conservative Daily Wire article reporting Gates’s criticisms of Warren’s proposed wealth tax, as well as his unwillingness to make political declarations about whom he’d vote for in the next Presidential election.

And so, although almost never engage in Twitter disputes, I responded:

And then Massimo shot back, citing the GF’s work on charter schools (Note about the tweet just below: my content is “not shown” on some people’s Twitter sites because in the past I’ve posted “objectionable” material like Jesus and Mo cartoons. Even the most innocuous things are hidden unless you click the “show media” button.)

I gave up at this point, as a Twitter war is the last thing I want; they’re almost completely useless.

But yes, a democratic society, in principle, shouldn’t have to rely on the charity of billionaires. Still, poor Massimo is missing the point with his “kool-aid” remark. As a philanthropist whose interests are helping the most deprived on the planet, Gates wants his money to go to people in poor countries, not to be sucked up by the U.S. government for missiles, border walls, or other dubious projects.

As for Gates’s “attempts to undermine public education,” I know the GF promotes charter schools, and I have mixed feelings about that, but on balance who can argue that Gates has been a bad influence on the world and should be “despised”? Only a splenetic Pecksniff like Pigliucci.

And who can argue that, given that Gates has pledged to give away most of his fortune, and is already doing so, that he might propose that he can put it to better use than the government grabbing it a large amount of money that could be used for better purposes?

I’m not arguing that richer people shouldn’t pay more taxes, for they should. I’m arguing that the demonization of Bill Gates on the basis of a couple of things he said is unwarranted—a sign of the “eat the rich” sentiment that has enveloped many progressive Democrats.

And that is what Matt Johnson argues in this new article in Quillette (click on screenshot).

Johnson is identified in the piece as a writer for places like Stanford Social Innovation Review, the BulwarkEditor & PublisherAreo MagazineArc DigitalSplice TodayForbes, and the Kansas City Star. It adds that “he was formerly the opinion page editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal.”

First, Johnson recaps what most people can easily find out about the GF:

 Between 1994 and 2018, Bill and Melinda Gates personally donated $36 billion to the foundation, which has issued more than $50 billion in total grant payments since its inception.

A glimpse of what that money has accomplished: The Gates Foundation was a founding partner of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), pledging a five-year commitment of $750 million which launched the program in 1999. Since 2000, Gavi has immunized more than 760 million children to protect them from rotavirus, meningitis, polio, measles, and many other deadly diseases. The World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that Gavi has saved 13 million lives since its inception. After providing the seed money for Gavi, the Gates Foundation continued to support the program with billions of dollars—$4 billion to date, and $1.5 billion between 2016 and 2020 alone, around one-fifth of all donations. And this is just one of the programs the foundation supports—in 2018, it spent more than $4.3 billion on global health and development. When Singer credited Bill and Melinda Gates with saving several million lives, it was almost certainly an understatement.

Then Johnson takes on writer and journalist Anand Giridharadas, who goes after Gates in a video I can’t see, but also in an interview:

But the mask, according to Giridharadas, has finally slipped. He cites an interview at the New York Times DealBook Conference in which Gates argued that Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax is too extreme: “I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I’d had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over.” Giridharadas quoted this portion of the interview and then observed: “When you start to come after his wealth, even Bill Gates gets cagey.” Neither Giridharadas nor the Mediaite article he cited bothered to report the lighthearted tenor of these remarks, or that Gates immediately followed them by admitting, “I’m just kidding.”

I haven’t seen a single report before this one that Gates’s remarks were lighthearted or especially that he said, “I’m just kidding.”

The Presidential-candidate issue was mentioned by MyNorthwest.com, which noted that Gates refused to commit to saying which candidate he favored in 2020 if the election were between Warren and Drumpf:

At a New York Times conference, when asked who he would choose between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Trump, the Microsoft didn’t want to commit and said he’d vote for the more professional candidate, leaving his decision open to interpretation.

That puzzled me at first, but I think Johnson’s explanation below is correct, especially given the data I show after the quote:

. . . Finally, Gates specifically said he isn’t interested in making “political declarations,” about which he has every reason to be wary.

The Gates Foundation works closely with U.S. foreign aid agencies. Would it really make sense for Gates to openly antagonize a vindictive president who’s already deeply hostile to foreign aid spending? The Trump administration tried to cut State Department and USAID funding by 28 percent in 2017, which would have meant dramatic cuts in global health and humanitarian assistance.

In fact, as OpenSecrets.org notes, contributions from the GF to politically affiliated recipients go overwhelmingly to Democrats:

Here are the numbers for the GF, with the lowest percentage ever given to Democrats in one year being 65% in 2019, but 96%-100% in eight out of the 11 years reported!

This is what I’d expect given Gates’s generally liberal views. Do people really think he would vote for Trump? I think the hypothesis that he doesn’t want to rile up an irascible President is a decent one.

Further, money diverted from Gates’s assets for taxes will go to the U.S. government, which means U.S. projects, which in turn means largely for defense (about 22% of Americans’ taxable income goes to the Department of Defense). Gates want his bucks to be used where they have the biggest bang: in poor countries:

There’s a good reason why Bill and Melinda Gates focus on international programs to alleviate poverty and control infectious diseases: That’s where their fortune can do the most good. There are still 736 million people living on less than $1.90 per day, while half the planet lives on less than $5.50 per day. Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization, “In 2018 an estimated 6.2 million children and adolescents under the age of 15 years died, mostly from preventable causes. Of these deaths, 5.3 million occurred in the first five years, with almost half of these in the first month of life.”

Aren’t Warren, Sanders, Giridharadas, and members of the New York Times editorial board supposed to care about inequality? Or do they only care about inequality in the richest country in human history?

Apparently so! Look, there are lots of rich people who sit on huge amounts of wealth and don’t give much of it away, retaining far more than they need to sustain even a hugely lavish lifestyle. But Bill and Melinda Gates are not among them. If you want to demonize somebody, there are lots of obscenely rich people who do all they can to keep their wealth. And you might want to go after Gates because you don’t like what he did when founding Microsoft. But what you shouldn’t go after him for is his unwillingness to commit to a Presidential candidate right now.

Even the abstemious and charitable philosopher Peter Singer defended Gates when speaking against the motion “It is immoral to be a billionaire” at a Oxford Union debate. Johnson reports Singer’s words:

“If you vote for this motion, you are condemning all people who are billionaires … You’re saying that Bill and Melinda Gates are immoral, despite the fact that they set up the Gates Foundation,” an organization which has “undoubtedly already saved several million lives.”

It’s strange that Pigluicci “despises” Bill Gates, a man whose presence in the world has saved and improved innumerable lives. And isn’t that a good way to measure the value of someone’s existence? But Pigliucci, who spends his days making a career out of the futile task of staking out the borders of science, seems unable to recognize a net good when he sees it. That’s odd for a philosopher, isn’t it?

For those of you who want to pile onto Bill Gates in the comments—and feel free to do so—ask yourself if you’ve done even a thousandth as much for the planet as has Gates.

A cold and windy day at sea

Here’s the view from my cabin window this morning. I was up early, at 5 a.m., but it was fully light. And it was also light when I went to bed at 10 p.m.

And here’s our position according to the real-time map, as well as a zoomed-out view, showing us fairly well south on the Antarctic peninsula. We are in fact slightly south of Petermann Island, where we’re scheduled to land today. Wikipedia describes it as a “popular tourist destination” and adds this:

The island has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife Internationalbecause it supports a breeding colony of about 3000 pairs of gentoo penguins. Other birds nesting at the site in smaller numbers include Adélie penguins, imperial shags, Wilson’s storm petrels and south polar skuas.

It’s time I saw an Adélie penguin!

Here are two shots from the ship’s almost-live Panomax webcam, showing the sunrise and surroundings about an hour ago:

Yesterday we were scheduled to have a Zodiac cruise around Andvord Bay and Neko Harbor, and, in the afternoon, to have a real landing on the Peninsula at Damoy Point on Wiencke Island. Well, those plans were scotched (is that word pejorative?) because there were high winds, up to 60 mpg, snow, and freezing cold. We literally cooled our heels aboard all day, as there was simply too much wind and ice to land us safely. Although some people groused, the ship knows it’s more important to keep us safe than to get us ashore in risky and potentially fatal conditions.

Besides, we were treated last night to a passage through a very narrow channel that was completely frozen over, so the ship cut its way through a thin layer of ice, occasionally hitting a lump of ice with a bump. That passage was absolutely stunning, and, after I find out its name today, I’ll post pictures of it tomorrow morning.

It’s sunny and cloudless now, so with luck I’ll see a lot of birds today, including penguins, imperial shags (no jokes, please), and perhaps an Adélie (I was told a stray one was present at our landing at Yankee Harbor on the last trip, but I missed it).

Here are some photos from yesterday and the day before that.

On Sunday afternoon we left Orne Harbor, on the Peninsula, after climbing to the chinstrap rookery. Here’s a shot of our departure, showing the local glacier and Spigot Peak:

A panorama shot of Orne Harbor, to the left, with Spigot Peak center right. According to Wikipedia, “the name, given by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee (UK-APC) in 1956, is descriptive of the appearance of the feature; a spigot is a wooden peg. It doesn’t look very peglike to me!

I just discovered the panorama feature of my camera (I don’t read manuals much), but it’s hard to take shots like this as it makes the features of the landscape, so impressive to the eye, very small:

Icebergs in Orne Harbor:

The berg above contained a puddle of water:

The view from my cabin window yesterday morning:

The highlight of the day was our evening docking at Errera Channel, where some passengers went ashore to spend the night on the Peninsula. It’s mostly for bragging rights, I think, though an Expedition Team member who accompanied the passengers said that it was clear in the middle of the night and the stars were awesome. Some night I must arouse myself to see them!

Errera Channel, as I said in yesterday’s post, now counts as one of the four most beautiful places I’ve been on the planet, though I’m far from having seen all its wonders.  Here’s a panorama, which is a very, very poor indication of what this amazing site is like:

More photos from where we spent the night aboard:


Yesterday morning we navigated out of the channel, but the weather was dire and the sea full of floating bits of ice as well as a few icebergs.

The icebergs are endlessly fascinating because of the variety of their shapes and colors, especially that turquoise blue. Here are a few of the bergs that the ship had to navigate around in the channel:


The captain was steering the ship, not with a wheel (there isn’t one on the bridge), but with a mouse and, sometimes, a joystick. Here he is on the job, and it was a tough job that morning because the channels between the big bergs were narrow. But our intrepid pilot threaded the course deftly.

Look at those huge windshield wipers!

At midday we passed Port Lockroy, an unusual place because it’s inhabited during part of the year by a few people and has the world’s southernmost post office—and a souvenir shop!. As Wikipedia describes it:

The bay was discovered in 1904 and named after Edouard Lockroy, a French politician and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies, who assisted Jean-Baptiste Charcot in obtaining government funding for his French Antarctic Expedition. The harbour was used for whaling between 1911 and 1931. During World War II, the British military Operation Tabarin established the Port Lockroy Station A on tiny Goudier Island in the bay, which continued to operate as a British research station until January 16, 1962.

In 1996, the Port Lockroy base was renovated and is now a museum and post office operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust.

It is one of the most popular tourist destinations for cruise-ship passengers in Antarctica. Proceeds from the small souvenir shop fund the maintenance of the site and other historic sites and monuments in Antarctica. The Trust collects data for the British Antarctic Survey to observe the effect of tourism on penguins. Half the island is open to tourists, while the other half is reserved for penguins. A staff of four typically process 70,000 pieces of mail sent by 18,000 visitors that arrive during the five month Antarctic cruise season. A souvenir passport stamp is also offered to visitors.

The ship was going to bring a few residents aboard to bring postcards for us to mail, but the base was iced in and there was no access. The highlight of the day, given that we didn’t land, was when the ship radioed the base and asked them to come out and wave to us at a given time, which they obligingly did.

Here’s the museum, repurposed from the base (photo from Wikipedia):

A view of the surroundings. You can just make out the facilities on the shore near the right side of the photo, where you can see the buildings:

A closer view of the facilities:

And here, from the longest zoom on my point-and-shoot camera lens, are the guys coming out to wave at us. I didn’t really see them waving, but at least you see residents on the continent. You can also see why they couldn’t motor out to our ship:

The landscape near Port Lockroy:

More tomorrow, showing our breaking our way through ice in the narrow channel as well as, I hope, showing the wonders of Petermann Island.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue, gooseful rush hour and a cold a frosty UK morning

by Matthew Cobb

In Poland, Hili is scary:

A: You frightened me.
Hili: That was my intention.
In Polish:
Ja: Wystraszyłaś mnie.
Hili: Taki był mój zamiar.
Meanwhile, in the UK, it is cold and frosty down on the farm, but the fowl are as keen as ever on their rush hour. This episode features a close-up conversation with Cuthbert the Goose. What is he thinking in his bird brain?

A number of folk on Twitter have been surprised by the chill:


Even the University of Manchester’s radio telescope at Jodrell Bank is looking a trifle cold:

It’s cold under the ocean, too, though not in the same way. Just hope you don’t meet one of these:

And last night on the Okeanos feed we had this – sound on, mos def’. The fish head drifted down and was scavenged by the isopod (a relative of a woodlouse or a pillbug) – most likely it was dropped by one of the many squid we saw, because squid are, it appears from the experts on the commentary, “messy eaters”. Whatever the case, the isopod seems pretty keen to protect its find from the ROV:

A reptile in the air over Yorkshire, hundreds of millions of years ago:

An interesting-sounding article – maybe The Boss will write it up on his return from the Frozen South. [JAC note: I may well do!]

The things you see in Central Park:

People on Twitter are showing pics of themselves in 2009 and 2019. We can all sympathise with this I guess:

Finally, this looks like something out of a science fiction film (Annihilation comes to mind), but it is tragically real:


Words and phrases I hate

All our excursions and landings in Antarctica for the day have been cancelled because of very high winds (ca. 50 mph) and very low temperatures. Even a few minutes on deck without gloves or a hat will freeze your extremities. The sea is covered with bits of ice, large and small, and I’m not lecturing today.

So what’s there to do except engage in a favorite way of blowing off steam: noting the words and phrases I hate? Today I have three, but two come from the most reliable source of bad language: HuffPost. The other is a new phrase that grates on me most painfully.

I can’t guarantee that I haven’t mentioned any of these before.

1.) “Fierce”. This is now used not to denote fearless aggressiveness, but simply “something admirable”, as in the HuffPost article below (click on screenshot). By eviscerating the word’s meaning, its users show a laziness that’s mistaken for cleverness by the young folk. (Okay Generation Zers; see below).

2.) “All the feels.” This one really burns my onions. It’s usually used in the phrase “X brings all the feels”, meaning “X [a book, t.v. show or the like] makes you experience a panoply of feelings.” Here’s a HuffPost example:

Need I point out that the noun at issue is “feelings”, not “feels”? (The latter is a coarse phrase for sexual groping, which makes it even more inappropriate for the woke youth who employ this phrase.)

3.)OK Boomer.” This is an ageist term used to dismiss the arguments of someone of the Baby Boom generation (conventionally those born between 1946 and 1964, a group that includes me). It was, for example, used to dismiss Barack Obama’s thoughts when he recently criticized social justice warriors who try to effect societal change by hurling insults online. OK Barack!

The phrase is becoming so common that it even has its own Wikipedia page noting its usage and pejorative intent. But it’s odious, for it tries to dismisses ideas and ideologies based simply on the age of those propounding them. By all means go after ideas that may be common among those of a certain generation, old or young, but don’t use this patronizing phrase as a substitute for argument.  One might as well say, “OK Millennial” or “OK Generation Zer” with just as much effect. It’s ironic that this palpably ageist term is used mostly by people who decry ageism.

Get off my lawn! And, as usual, I invite you to submit your own pet peeves about language.

A report on our first cruise from reader (and passenger) Paul

It’s a small world: one of this site’s readers, Paul Hughes, as well as his wife Corinne, were along with us on our first trip from Valparaiso to Antarctica and back to Punta Arenas. Paul, a Brit, sent me a summary of his experience on the Roald Amundsen’s first Antarctica trip, and left it up to me whether to post it. Although it’s a bit self aggrandizing me to post encomiums from others, that’s by no means all that Paul had to say, and I thought it would be useful and interesting to hear the take of a science-friendly reader who experienced the same voyage as I. Paul’s comments are indented below, with one comment from me. Thanks to Paul and Corinne for their company on the trip!

I’ve asked Paul to read the comments and, if he wishes, to answer any questions that readers might have.

Paul’s email salutation to me:

I’m glad you’re having a great second trip, and am managing to control my outbursts of jealousy! When WEIT readers discovered that I was on the same trip as you, some of them cheekily asked me to report on your performance. So here it is. It is up to you whether you wish to post it or not, of course.

And his report:

The largest land “predator” in Antarctica is Belgica antarctica, the Antarctic midge (2 – 6 mm long), but recently there have been repeated sightings of a cat in the region. Experts have identified it as a Ceiling Cat. This is a known individual, PCC(E), and has been seen well away from its usual North American habitat. Ceiling Cats seem to have a fascination with penguins, particularly chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica), but then again who in their right minds would not empathise with this behaviour!

Ceiling Cats are also renowned for their love of noms, so the MS Roald Amundsen is a natural habitat for them as the food is excellent. PCC(E) was often to be seen foraging in the Aune restaurant. My wife and I also ventured up to the “posh” Lindstrom restaurant. There is a 25 euro surcharge to dine there. The food was good, but rather nouvelle cuisine. For us, we preferred the more relaxed atmosphere, greater choice and larger portions to be found in the Aune [PCC(E) take note].

On a more serious note, the whole trip was AWESOME. Many travellers said that they simply ran out of superlatives to adequately describe the experience. I have been on many expeditions before, and I have stayed in 5-star hotels, but I have never before been on an expedition in a 5-star hotel! The whole wildlife experience was greatly enhanced by an excellent lecture programme and the opportunity to take part in citizen science projects.

Most people agreed that although all of the lectures were good, the best ones were delivered by PCC(E). As one reporter said to me, he not only learnt a lot but the narrative drive to the lectures, the excitement of the story-telling, was fascinating. The first lecture from PCC(E) was “The Fuegians, the Beagle, and Charles Darwin – how a collision of cultures influenced evolutionary biology.” I thought I knew this story well, but discovered so much more from the talk.

His second lecture was “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield – science and the Terra Nova expedition.” As a Brit I’ve been brought up with tales of Scott’s “heroic failure” to get to the South Pole first, but hadn’t realised how much important science was done on his expeditions. It has made me re-evaluate my attitude to the man. For example on the sled next to the tent in which the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were found were 35 pounds of Glossopteris fossils. PCC(E) elaborated expertly on continental drift and evolution at this point, much to the anger of two American creationists sitting in front of us. He also alluded to the fact that many Americans do not accept evolution. This was met with incredulity by many of my fellow British passengers, some of whom talked to our lecturer afterwards to find out more. PCC(E)’s last lecture wasn’t delivered, much to the chagrin of many of us, who felt that the Expedition team may have deferred to complaints from creationists and robbed us of another great story.

[JAC: I don’t really think this was the case; my own theory, which is mine, is that the talks coordinator just couldn’t find a slot to fit me in. Still, I really did want to give all three talks, as I want to earn my keep by working as well as having a great time. Further, each talk, with the background reading and slide-making, took a month to prepare. Finally, the audience on the ship is so appreciative and inquisitive that giving lectures helps me make friends and acquaintances. On this second voyage I did give my previously undelivered lecture—on adaptations of Antarctic animals—and with luck I’ll get to do the other two on this trip. Given the European interest in the phenomenon of American creationism, I’m also going to try to do a workshop on this topic.]

There were six Citizen Science projects to get involved in if you wished, and this was an important and fulfilling part of the trip for me. I was mainly involved with the bird survey and the clouds survey, whereas my wife Corinne spent time on the phytoplankton project. During my time on board we identified 22 species of birds. The penguins are amazing, but I also fell in love with the petrels and the albatrosses. The majestic soaring above the waves of the Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarce melanophris) and the mesmerising flocks of Cape Petrels (Daption capense) that sometimes surrounded the ship will live long in the memory. I have fallen in love with the Antarctic continent, and hope one day to return, but the trip has also made me even more determined to be an ambassador for this incredible place, and a campaigner for its continued preservation.

Word of the Day: “lapidation”

by Greg Mayer

Brian Leiter has drawn attention to a “working paper” by Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and former Obama administration official. Entitled “Lapidation and apology“, Sunstein’s paper argues for a reinvigoration of the figurative usage of a rather obscure word: “lapidation”. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The punishment of stoning to death”, it has been used figuratively since at least 1864, and Sunstein proposes a figurative usage of it as apropos for the digital age’s twitter mobs, pile-ons, and ‘cancellations’. As Sunstein begins,

Groups of people, outraged by some real or imagined transgression, often respond in a way that is wildly disproportionate to the occasion, thus ruining the transgressor’s day, month, year, or life.

His abstract continues,

To capture that phenomenon, we might repurpose an old word: lapidation. Technically, the word is a synonym for stoning, but it sounds much less violent. It is also obscure, which makes it easier to enlist for contemporary purposes.Lapidation plays a role in affirming, and helping to constitute, tribal identity. It typically occurs when a transgressor is taken to have violated a taboo, which helps account for the different people and events that trigger left-of-center and right-of-center lapidation. One of the problems with lapidation is that it often accomplishes little; it expresses outrage, and allows people to signal their identity, but does no more. Victims of lapidation might be tempted to apologize, but apologies can prove ineffective or even make things worse, depending on the nature of the lapidators.

According to Sunstein, a lapidation is always wrong:

Can lapidation be justified? As defined here, it cannot be.

The reason is that lapidation, even if not based on an outright falsehood or misconception, is characterized by the excess and disproportion of the reaction. Thus, one might disagree over whether a particular case is a lapidation, but it would be incoherent to ague that a lapidation was deserved.

Sunstein also introduces the delightful term “lapidation entrepreneur” for those who promote lapidation; HuffPo is “lapidation entrepreneur” central!

Sunstein lists five paradigmatic cases of what he considers lapidation: Ronald Sullivan‘s non-renewal as house dean at Harvard’s Winthrop House; the dismissal of sociologist Noah Carl from Cambridge University; death threats against Ilhan Omar; Elizabeth Warren being called “Pocahontas” by Donald Trump; and Al Franken‘s forced resignation from the Senate.

As the links to the names on these examples show, all of them have come to our attention here at WEIT. I’m not sure that I would concur with Sunstein’s evaluation of how well each exemplifies his usage, though. Franken’s life has been ruined; Carl’s academic career has taken a serious hit, from which he may or may not recover; and Sullivan has suffered publicly at the hands of Harvard, but he is of sufficient stature and accomplishment to weather these insults. All these fit what I take to be Sunstein’s point, but the cases of Omar and Warren seem different. The death threats against Omar are intolerable, and ‘disproportion’ doesn’t even begin to get at what’s wrong with such threats, but she seems not to have experienced any loss of political influence or support. And the crude insults of, and uninformed attacks on, Warren seem not to have derailed her campaign. Perhaps they do fit Sunstein’s schema if we take note of the lower end (“day, month”) of his temporal scale, and as he rightly notes, “Even if a few stones are thrown, people might hurt.”

A note on where Sunstein posted his working paper, SSRN.com: I gather from Sunstein’s paper that it is an unreviewed draft of something he might eventually publish. It contains what might be charitably described as infelicities of wording (and less charitably as errors), and his account of Franken, one suspects, would be different were it written now in the light of Jane Mayer’s reporting. There’s also some briefly described survey research, which might be more interesting or compelling if more fully set out, as one would expect in an academic paper. I’ve seen similar sorts of not-quite-ready things on this website before. I hope Sunstein will finish up his paper and get it published.

Orne Harbor: a second climb to the chinstraps

At the moment we’re parked in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, the Errera Channel, between the small Cuverville Island and Danco Island.  The ship’s map (below) shows that the channel runs between Rongé Island (the large island on the left) and the west coast of Graham Land, part of the Antarctic peninsula to the right.

I haven’t yet downloaded my photos from yesterday, but the view we had in the evening is similar to this one shown on Wikipedia, but better, as it extended 360° around us (my photos tomorrow).

We are almost completely surrounded by glaciers, high snowy mountains, and placid seas studded with icebergs, big and small, calved from the nearby glaciers. At about 9 pm last night, when it was still light, we could hear cracks as the glaciers calved and one loud boom as we saw a big avalanche above the glaciers. Here’s a view from the ship’s Panomax camera this foggy morning:

In fact, it’s so amazing here that I must count it among the four loveliest places I’ve ever seen, taking its place beside the view of Mount Everest and Ama Dablam from the Thyangboche Monastery in Nepal, Machu Picchu viewed from the hill above, and the Taj Mahal under a full moon. I know my photos won’t be able to convey the splendor of this site, but I’ll put them up tomorrow anyway.

Last night was also “Amundsen Night,” when a group of applicant passengers, chosen by raffle, spent the night ashore. I wasn’t keen to do that, as it wasn’t cheap and the experience wasn’t one on my bucket list, but I couldn’t imagine a nicer place to spend the night.

Today we’re headed to Andvord Bay and Neko Harbor for a tour around the bay in Zodiacs (no landing), and, in the afternoon, a real landing on the Peninsula at Damoy Point on Wiencke Island,which harbors an abandoned British research station operated for two decades after 1973. All of this, like the Errera Channel, will be stuff I haven’t seen before.

But on to yesterday’s activities. I awoke to find this view from my cabin window. I never know down here what I’ll find when I open the curtains at about 6 a.m. What a fine view!

The day before yesterday we cruised from Half Moon Island, part of the South Shetlands, to Orne Harbor on the mainland (the Peninsula), where yesterday we repeated our Great Climb to the Chinstrap Rookery (see here). Here are some landscapes I photographed along the way (I note again that all photos are de-pixillated by at least 75% to be able to post them from the ship.

A beautiful iceberg in the morning, before the fog lifted:

And a few hours later, showing the surroundings:

Part of Half Moon Island:

The kind of views you get constantly as you cruise along the Peninsula:

Half Moon Island again; to the center right you can see the Argentine research station with its twin antennas:

Below: approaching Orne Harbor in the morning. When we stopped it was overcast and foggy, but by the time we climbed to the rookery it was sunny and beautiful. When we descended, it had become so warm that the snow was slushy, making walking a bit hard:

More of the Antarctic Peninsula:

Orne Harbor with its glacier:

And some calved iceberglets, showing the blue color as well as the large portion that’s underwater.

A sociable group of cape petrels (Daption capense), also called also called the Cape pigeon, pintado petrel, or Cape fulmar, floating beside the ship on Saturday afternoon. This is the only species in its genus, and, as Wikipedia notes,

The Cape petrel is a unique looking petrel. It has a black head and neck, and a white belly, breast, and its underwing is white with a black border. Its back, and upperwings are black and white speckled, as is its tail which also has a band of black. When fully grown, their wings span 86 cm (34 in) and they are 39 cm (15 in) long.

. . . Daption is derived from Ancient Greek for “little devourer”, and the Cape name is because of where the type specimen was collected. Finally, pintado is Spanish for “painted” for its plumage. One of their other names, Cape pigeon, is from their habit of pecking at the water for food. The word petrel is derived from St. Peter and the story of his walking on water. This is in reference to the petrel’s habit of appearing to run on the water to take off.

Here’s a photo of one in flight, taken from Wikipedia. Its dappled plumage is unique for a petrel:

The expedition team went out early to break a trail to the top (it had snowed recently), and shortly thereafter groups of passengers started the climb. (Only 100 passengers are allowed ashore at once according to Antarctic tourism regulations.) I used a pair of ski poles, as the footing was a bit dicey on the zig-zag trail:

A view from the top: the Roald Amundsen moored in the harbor:

And, as a reward for your climb, you see chinstrap penguins—lots of them!

I love this species: they are adorable with their chinstrap markings, and are endearingly clumsy on land. I believe that the Russians call them “police penguins” because their chinstrap resembles the strap of a Russian policeman’s hat. But I can’t find the reference, which I remember reading yesterday.

At any rate, these birds must hike up and down steep cliff to feed, which they do at least once a day. (They feed at night, so I saw only a couple of birds moving toward or away from the water, which they do carefully!)


I saw a pair of chinstraps COPULATING! Here’s the pair, with the mail atop the female, right before they aligned cloacas. A third individual nearby averts its eyes. The species is sexually monomorphic, and only a chinstrap can immediately tell the sex of another chinstrap. These two look as if they’re kissing.

The female’s cloaca is clearly visible, and copulation, which occurred right after I took this photo (I have a video), was quick. Then the male hopped off and flapped his flippers rapidly, to the call of a British tourist shouting, “Good job, mate!”.

It’s breeding season in the rookery. Soon there will be eggs.

Chinstraps often build rookeries high up for protection:

A sleepy chinstrap:

One penguin climbing up. I have a video of another individual laboriously making its way up the backside of the hill on its belly, using its flippers to drag itself toward the rookery:

Chinstrap heads. This one looks as if had recently dined on a lot of krill:


When we returned to the ship, tired and famished, we found that one of the linch buffet items was roast suckling pig. I had a generous portion with some of the crispy skin.

And a view from the dining room at yesterday’s lunch. You can’t eat in surroundings prettier than this!


Monday: Hili dialogue, farm rush hour and some murmurations

by Matthew Cobb

In Poland, Paulina, a student and Malgorzata and Andrzej’s lodger, is working hard:

Hili: What are you doing?
Paulina: I’m preparing for the next exam.
In Polish:
Hili: Co ty robisz?
Paulina: Przygotowuję się do kolejnego egzaminu.
On the farm, it’s rush hour, and the fowl all come rushing out…

Murmuration 1:

Murmuration 2:

Some more bird action here:

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what TikTok is (it’s a teen thing), this is good:

Gruesome at the beginning, but the planarians all seem OK about it:

And where would Monday be without an amazing fly?


Caturday felid part deux: Update on Mietek the kitten

This is part two of Caturday Felids; Greg posted part one yesterday.

Today’s CF is a brief update on the status of Mietek the Kitten, rescued by Elzbieta and Andrzej the Second (the staff of Leon). Mietek was badly hurt after he was kicked by a savage human, who created a big hernia that required little Mietek to have two operations. Somebody left the injured kitten in a cardboard box outside a church, and Elzbieta and Andrzej II rescued him, took him to the vet, paid for both operations, and adopted Mietek as Leon’s brother.

For a while it was touch and go, but I’m delighted to report that Mietek is now out of the woods, eating well, playing with Leon, and thriving. He still tends to lick at his stitches (see below), but they’re trying to stop that by enclosing his midsection in a sock.

Here’s Mietek resting, with antiseptic on the operated section of his belly:

Mietek playing with Leon!

Here’s the not-too-successful attempt of Mietek’s staff to keep him from licking and biting at his wounds. Malgorzata says this:

Mietek manages to get out of this black thing they put on him without any problems. It’s a constant fight. One of the cuts on his stomach is healing nicely, the other not so. That’s why they tried to shield the site but it doesn’t work very well. Mietek is definitely too clever to stay in something he doesn’t like.

Williams College finally has a “free speech” policy

The short take: Williams College, a ritzy and well-regarded liberal arts school, but one infected with a bad case of Wokeness, finally published its policy on free expression. It’s not as bad as I thought from previous drafts, but still suffers from insisting that one can have nearly complete freedom of speech coexisting happily with inclusivity.


The President of Williams College, Maud Mandel, promised a while back that the College would come up with a free-speech policy, but it’s been delayed for reasons unknown.

The issue with the policy was always twofold. First, many Williams students and faculty simply don’t want a free-speech policy along the lines of the gold-standard University of Chicago Policy on Free Expression.  (That policy, or one substantially similar, has been endorsed by 70 American colleges and universities.) Over and over again, both students and faculty—not all of them, to be sure—have emphasized the “harm” and “violence” (read: hurt feelings) that comes with “hate speech” (defined, as usual, as “speech we don’t like”). They wanted the right to either censor speakers or deplatform them, and not to be punished for doing so.

Second,  because Williams is become increasingly Woke, and because its administration, fearful of creating an Evergreen State situation, wants to avoid national attention caused by demonstrations, it has repeatedly tried to balance “free speech” with “inclusion and diversity”, realizing that the former is perceived by many to conflict with the latter. Thus, initial versions of the free-speech policy had restrictions like having a faculty adviser to help each group decide whether the speakers it invited were too controversial and might produce “harm.”

Earlier versions of the free speech policy, which I discussed here, thus suffered from trying to trade off free expression with diversity.  The first dilution was to try to create a class of prohibited speech that threatened “dignitary safety”, construed as the denigration of a group’s worth. One can only imagine the kind of speech that would be barred because it was this form of “hate speech”, but criticism of Islam, of Palestine, of affirmative action, of illegal immigration, and so on, might well fall under this aegis. And, according to the earlier version of Williams’s policy, that sort of speech, which is of course legal under the First Amendment, would mandate an official response by the College, although they don’t explicitly mention prohibition:

Among the kinds of legally protected speech at issue in our charge, there are two broad classes of potentially harmful speech. The first constitutes speech that offends—sometimes deeply so—but is part of the everyday debates, discussions, and deliberations that occur on a college campus. This speech threatens intellectual safety : “the attachment to one’s unquestioned beliefs.” Such safety simply cannot be maintained on college campuses, as the questioning of beliefs is at the very heart of a college’s educational mission. The second type of protected, but harmful, speech is that which threatens dignitary safety : “the sense of being an equal member of the community and of being invited to contribute to a discussion as a valued participant.” The College has a duty to maintain this type of safety, particularly in the face of what is commonly called hate speech: “speech that is intended to menace, intimidate, or discriminate against an individual based upon a personal characteristic or membership in a group.” Such speech, inimical in all respects to a college’s educational mission, is worthy of contempt and may warrant an institutional response. Such a response could include: “counter-messaging, condemnations, direct support to targeted individuals and groups, dialogue, and education.”

In my view, the institution should tender no such response, for so doing would make the institution adhere to a specific ideology. The Chicago Statement mandates no such response, and when a group invites a person generally considered odious, like Steve Bannon, our school simply says “he’s permitted to speak” without condemning him.

Further, earlier versions of the Williams Statement recommended a disclaimer that would make students think twice about inviting controversial (i.e., right-wing) speakers:

We recommend that a statement such as the following appear at the top of any communication (internal as well as external) regarding the invitation of outside speakers/performers/artists or other presenters:

Williams College is committed to building a diverse and inclusive community where members from all backgrounds can live, learn, and thrive in a context that robustly supports both inclusion and open inquiry. When planning events (speakers, artists, performers, exhibits, and others) we ask that you think carefully about the goals, format, and framing of your event and its relationship to the Williams community and its educational mission and values.

The aim of this revision is to remind those inviting speakers/performers/artists as well as speakers themselves about Williams’ aspirational ideals and values. These guidelines are not designed to prevent invitations, but rather to promote more thoughtfulness and transparency in the invitation process.

Well, I’m happy to report that these counterproductive measures have been eliminated from what seems to be Williams’s final free-speech policy, whose substance (along with an introductory statement from President Mandel) was published on Ephblog, a Williams alumni website that often reproduces emails sent to students and alums at the college. Here’s what they published two days ago:

First, the President’s note:

To the Williams community,

For the last year, members of the Williams community have been discussing how best to live up to our obligation to ensure both free expression and inclusion. Today I’m sharing a statement developed by the Faculty Steering Committee with my input, and reviewed with the faculty as a whole, that affirms our commitment to those core principles.

The essence of the statement is this: Freedom of expression and inquiry matters. Inclusion matters. Both values are essential to the health of any community, and especially to a healthy learning community. For Williams to continue reaching its highest educational aspirations, we need to maximize our commitment to both values. We need to run toward the hard things.

I’ve been gratified by the intelligence and passion that many of you have shown in discussing, debating and sometimes protesting this most crucial issue. My job as president is to guide that energy into helping Williams excel: delivering the best liberal arts education imaginable, and preparing graduates to set the standard for civic virtue and engagement.

I want to thank Steering for their careful work, as well as the faculty members who offered their views on the drafts, the Ad Hoc Committee upon whose report the statement is based, the people who worked to ensure that our college policies reflect our values, and all of you—students, staff and faculty—who added your views to the discussion.



Note again Mandel’s connection between free speech and inclusion, a connection which not only should not be made (Chicago doesn’t), but falsely implies that you can have a policy that maximizes both. That is palpably false: speech that criticizes a religion, such as the oppression of Islam or Catholicism, or a group’s activities (Israel, Black Lives Matter, Students for Justice in Palestine, and so on), clearly is not “inclusive”. What Mandel and the College are trying to do here is to comport two values that may often be incompatible. And where they do clash, I’d argue that free speech takes precedence over inclusion.

That is not to say that Colleges should willy-nilly be inviting Nazis or white supremacists just to stir things up. But if a college organization wants to invite someone, they presumably have a reason for doing so, and that person should be heard, even to the detriment of “inclusion”. I would, for instance, not object to Christians inviting a creationist to speak, or someone inviting a Holocaust denier or a critic of affirmative action like Ben Shapiro. I wouldn’t agree with them, but we should have the chance to hear them out.

But on to the policy as a whole. Here’s what went out to the Williams community:


To: The Faculty
From: The Steering Committee and President Mandel
Date: November 13, 2019

Inquiry, Expression and Inclusion at Williams College

At Williams, our educational mission requires us to cultivate an inclusive environment in which each member of our community is equally respected and equally invited to speak and to be heard. This goal unites the college’s core commitments to freedom of expression and inquiry and to building a community in which everyone can live, learn and thrive, as enunciated in our codes of conduct for faculty, staff and students.

The college extends the same opportunities for expression and debate to anyone invited to speak or participate in a college event. Visitors are welcomed and expected to participate in open discussion and robust deliberation while they are on campus. We expect anyone inviting an outside speaker to create such opportunities as part of the visit.

The college publishes clear administrative procedures for event planning and rules for the use of college property. The college likewise retains the discretion to impose reasonable limitations on the time, place and manner of speech by visitors to our community as well as by its continuing members. The college exercises this authority sparingly, and never with the goal of suppressing a point of view.

JAC: I’m adding a paragraph from the Chicago Principles below, indented further and put in italics, to show that they’ve copied some of the language:

In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

Back to the Williams Principles:

Williams College does not consider an invitation to campus an endorsement of the visitor’s views. Further, in our encouragement of vigorous dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, we acknowledge that discomforting encounters will occur. In that knowledge, we will continue expanding ways to offer support to all individuals and groups within our community, as part of our mission to equip every community member with the tools they need for effective discourse, debate and dissent. We also recognize that free expression has its limits: speech that threatens, incites violence, or constitutes harassment has no place in our community.

Our policies, which are intended to protect and promote the freedom of every community member to communicate, debate and peacefully protest, can be found here. We recognize that in the past these freedoms have not been equally available to all people and that inequity of access persists today. The college is committed to supporting equal access to these freedoms and pledges to continue working to realize this commitment fully.

This isn’t bad, and, as I noted, copies almost word for word some of the stipulations of the Chicago Policy.

But I have three issues with the Williams policy. The first is its repeated insistence that the policy is consistent with maximal inclusion and diversity, which isn’t the case. In fact, this is explicitly recognized in the Chicago Principles:

Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

The second issue is Williams’s claim that access to free speech has been denied to certain groups, and their policy will rectify that denial. What they mean, of course, is “minoritized groups” like blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. But in fact those groups have not only not been denied freedom of expression or access to free speech over the last few decades at Williams, but those groups have been the most prolific users of free speech, as evidenced by the many protests and boycotts they’ve promoted Here Williams is conflating equality of opportunity in America as a whole with access to free speech on its own campus.

The College should beware, though, for if any groups don’t have access to free speech at Williams, it’s conservatives and Jews, who have been pretty demonized on campus. (Last year a Jewish organization was denied student-group status by the student council, and the administration had to do an end run and force the group to be recognized).

Third, I don’t think that groups inviting controversial speakers should be forced to create opportunities for counterspeech, as stipulated by this bit of the Williams policy:

Visitors are welcomed and expected to participate in open discussion and robust deliberation while they are on campus. We expect anyone inviting an outside speaker to create such opportunities as part of the visit.

Yes, Q&A should usually be part of a talk, but it doesn’t have to be, as when there’s a panel discussion. The main discussions about a speaker’s views should be created not by the inviting organization, but by the students themselves, especially if they hold counter-events or protests. The new policy almost sets up controversial speakers to create opportunities for others to rebut them.  This is useful, but it shouldn’t be part of a free speech code.

In the end, this policy is okay, but I doubt it it will earn Williams College the “green-light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that it deeply craves. That’s because its current “yellow light” rating from FIRE is based not on Williams’s free-speech policy but on other things like sexual harassment policy, bias reporting, and other issues (see here).