Mutant creatures of the air

From Matthew we get a tweet of an albino bat. It sure sticks out from the other bats, and I hope it will be okay.

This is a true mutant, unlike my favorite bat, the Honduran white bat (Ectoyphylla alba), which lives in the tropics and makes nests for itself by folding together Heloconia leaves. As far as I know it’s the only species of white bat on Earth. When I was in Costa Rica in the early seventies, doing a graduate course in tropical ecology, I went on a night walk and we found one of these bats in a leaf. We also mist-netted one, which I got to hold in my (gloved) hand. I promptly fell in love (photos from Wikipedia):

Here’s a group, probably a male and his harem, sacked out for the night. They look like cotton balls!

Here’s another photo of a “bat train” from Animal Spot. They are adorable!

Reader Don found a report at of a yellow Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in Alabama. I’ve never seen one of these before. The site reports this:

An extremely rare cardinal has birders and biologists flocking to Shelby County, Alabama this week, as images of a yellow cardinal have circulated around social media.

Jeremy Black Photography

Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill said the cardinal in the photos is an adult male in the same species as the common red cardinal, but carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be brilliant red feathers to be bright yellow instead.

Alabaster resident Charlie Stephenson first noticed the unusual bird at her backyard feeder in late January and posted about it on Facebook. She said she’s been birding for decades but it took her some time to figure out what she was seeing.

. . . Hill — who has literally written books on bird coloration — said the mutation is rare enough that even he, as a bird curator and researcher has never seen one in person.

“I’ve been birdwatching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I’ve never seen a yellow bird in the wild,” Hill said. “I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.

They’re keeping the location secret because birders will mob the site if they knew where it was. Here’s a video of this bird:

There are also leucistic cardinals lacking melanin pigment. This one doesn’t seem to be a true albino as its eyes aren’t pink:

Speaking of mutant cardinals, here’s a gynandromorph cardinal (half male/half female), probably reflecting a chromosome abnormality in the bird. This was sent by reader Brian Peer, who photographed it in Illinois. My piece on this was one of the most popular posts I’ve ever made.


The first Neanderthal cave art

There has been some debate about the artistic ability of Neanderthals, and to date no art has been found, though their “spirituality” has been suggested from traces of ochre in burial sites. That suggests either that living bodies were decorated before burial or were adorned after death in some kind of ritual.  People seize on that, eager to detect signs of religiosity. (Ochre is a red “earth” pigment that contains ferric oxide.)

There are of course famous representational cave paintings, like the wonderful beasts of Lascaux, but these were made about 20,000 years ago. That was after Neandertals became extinct and when “modern” H. sapiens had already colonized Europe from Africa around 40,000 years ago. (Note: I’ve always considered Neanderthals a “subspecies” of H. sapiens, H. sapiens neanderthalensis, while “modern” humans are H. sapiens sapiens. Needless to say, some anthropologists disagree, though the interfertility of these forms, as evinced by Neanderthal genes in the modern human genome, makes me deem them members of the same biological species.)

Neanderthals are conventionally thought to have been in Europe from about 250,000 years ago to about 40,000 years ago. Thus the finding of 65,000 year old cave paintings in Spain, as documented in a new paper in Science by D. L. Hoffmann et al. (reference below; free access with Unpaywall, pdf here), not only bespeaks an artistic bent of Neandertals, but is the oldest cave paintings by a hominin. (The previous records are a hand stencil in Indonesia and a red disk  in a Spanish cave: both date to about 40,000 years ago and were therefore almost certainly done by H. sapiens sapiens.)

So what did Hoffmann et al. find? The three Spanish caves they investigated bear red hand stencils, abstract art consisting of geometric figures, as well as figures of animals like deer and birds. Since the caves appear to have been continuously occupied for at least 100,000 years, there’s no way of knowing, without dates, which subspecies produced which art.

The novel thing about this paper, though, is that the authors were able to actually date the art using uranium-thorium dating on the carbonate crusts that form on top of the paintings. These carbonates are what make stalactites and stalagmites, and form when the calcium compounds crystallize out of dripping water. A crust on top of a painting therefore had to form after the painting was created. I didn’t look up how they can date the formation of the crusts using uranium and thorium, but I’m sure a reader will tell us.

At any rate, here’s a geometric ochre panel, with crusts over it (see inset), that was dated at a minimum age of 64,800 years. It’s called a “red scalariform sign” (“resembling a ladder especially in having transverse bars or markings like the rungs of a ladder”), but I sort of see a humanlike figure to the right, though it’s probably my imagination. You can see the crust that was dated atop the red pigments. What a lucky find!

Fig. 1 Red scalariform sign, panel 78 in hall XI of La Pasiega gallery C. This panel features the La Trampa pictorial group (21). (Inset) Crust sampled and analyzed for a minimum age (64.8 ka), which constrains the age of the red line.

Here’s a hand stencil almost completely obscured by calcite, but made visible with software (right). This is between 45,300 and 48,700 years old, but other samples indicated a minimum age of 65,000 years.

Fig. 2. Hand stencil GS3b in Maltravieso cave (minimum age 66.7 ka). (Left) Original photo. The inset shows where the overlying carbonate was sampled for MAL 13. (Right) Same picture after application of the DStretch software (25) (correlation LRE 15%, auto contrast) to enhance color contrast. See (20) for details.

Finally, here are some “speleothem curtains” (calcite sheets) which have some red pigment (surely of human origin) covered with calcite; the ages here are 65,500 years.

Fig. 3 Speleothem curtain 8 in section II-A-3 in Ardales cave with red pigment, painted before at least 65.5 ka ago. (Left) Series of curtains with red paint on top, partially covered with later speleothem growth. The white rectangle outlines the area shown at right. (Right) Detail of curtain 8. The black square indicates where carbonate, overlying the red paint, was sampled for ARD 13. See (20) for details.

Paintings and ochre daubings from all three caves are, as the authors say, consistent, and, at 64.8 kyr (64,800 years), “substantially predate the arrival of modern humans in Europe, which has been variously estimated at between 45 ka and 40 ka ago.” Thus this art predates the arrival of “modern” humans by 20,000 years. (“Modern H. sapiens” remains simply aren’t found Spain at the time of these paintings). Since the only hominins in the area were Neanderthals, it’s presumed these paintings are by that subspecies—unless there’s some still-undiscovered hominin, which seems unlikely.

Neanderthals, then, had art—though it’s not representational—well before the famous cave paintings of France. This shows, as the authors say, that Neanderthals had a light source and premeditation, both of which are necessary to create hand stencils. They add, “it is difficult to see them [the art] as anything but meaningful symbols places in meaningful places.”  Well, we are meaning-seeking creatures, so I wouldn’t go that far. Perhaps they’re the Neanderthal equivalent of graffiti, not having much meaning at all. (“Hey, Zog, look: I made a print of my hand!”)

It’s unlikely that this kind of art was unique to these three caves, and so, as Hoffman et al. propose, it seems likely that eventually we’ll find Neanderthal art in other caves. And it will be interesting to see if that subspecies hit on representational art—showing animals or hominins—before H. sapiens sapiens came to Europe and Neanderthals died out.


Hoffmann, D. L., C. D. Standish, M. García-Diez, P. B. Pettitt, J. A. Milton, J. Zilhão, J. J. Alcolea-González, P. Cantalejo-Duarte, H. Collado, R. de Balbín, M. Lorblanchet, J. Ramos-Muñoz, G.-C. Weniger, and A. W. G. Pike. 2018. U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neandertal origin of Iberian cave art. Science 359:912-915.

My letter in the student paper promoting free speech

I guess I’m on some sort of free-speech-on-campus kick since I heard that many students, alumni, and faculty were protesting an upcoming debate at the University of Chicago featuring Steve Bannon. Given our University’s liberal free speech policy, I was surprised—indeed, sandbagged—by this protest. It’s actually is more than just peaceful protest (I also think Bannon is a bad dude), but a call to deplatform him and rescind his invitation. Peaceful protest is great, and I encourage it, but I abhor censorship, deplatforming, and disruption of speakers. Students might actually learn something from such a debate, but the Censors of Record are trying to prevent that. How dare they? What gives them the right to determine what others on campus can hear?

Anyway, to date the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, has said nothing about the free-speech issue on our campus, despite it being a newspaper and despite it being on the free-est speech campus in America. If they are in favor of free speech, and against deplatforming, why haven’t they said anything? Or if they want Bannon banned because he represents “hate speech,” they should say that instead. So far: crickets. I have no idea why the Maroon‘s editorial board hasn’t weighed in yet, but it bothers me.

And so I wrote a letter to the editor pleading for the paper to take a stand. You can read my letter, which came out today, by clicking on the link below. I won’t reproduce it here as I’m sure the Maroon would appreciate the views. But do go read it, if for no other reason than to show the paper that many people are interested in free speech. And, if you wish, leave a comment after the letter.

Note that there’s another letter in the same issue, written by a first-year undergraduate, that characterizes Bannon’s views as “hate speech”, implicitly arguing that they have no place on campus.  This gives even more urgency for the paper to take an editorial stand on this issue! Are the editors afraid of student reaction if they don’t call for banning “hate speech”? Or are the editors divided in their views and thus can’t produce a coherent statement? Who knows? All I know is that it looks mighty bad when the student newspaper keeps its editorial mouth zipped on such a pressing issue.

(Note: I did not choose the title below.)


Another piece on the same page describes a recent appearance here by New York Times Columnist David Brooks, who graduated from the U of C in 1982. At the end of the article, Brooks, though not a fan of Bannon’s views, endorses his visit to the University:

Brooks enthusiastically endorsed Bannon’s upcoming visit to campus as an opportunity to better understand the populist worldview, although he stridently disagrees with Bannon’s views.

“I spent an afternoon a few months ago with Steve Bannon. I highly recommend that he come here,” he said. “It was like being with Trotsky in 1905. This guy knows who his intellectual antecedents are, he’s got a 50-year plan to take over this institution, that institution, he knows who his international allies are…. He’s got a tremendous coherence to his worldview and it was kind of inspiring. I didn’t agree with it at all, but at least there’s a coherence and a conviction.”

Brooks referred to his College experience, which taught him that hearing others’ ideas was the best way to sharpen his own convictions.

“They taught us how to argue by seeing the other points of view as well as we saw our own,” he said. “If you don’t get in the habit of teaching it, people will dismiss what they don’t want to believe.”

Spot the cats!

Reader Tim E. sent a “spot the cats” photo. I rate this one “pretty easy”, so if you’re a beginner start here.

I was in Rome last week taking a tour of the ancient ruins.  There was one I thought you would take a particular interest in, Largo di Torre Argentina.  As the tour guide was telling us it (it is very near where Caesar was assassinated) I noticed a number of cats lazing about in the ruins.  I snapped a quick picture thinking it would make a good “Spot the…” post. There are (at least) 5 in the picture.

The guide said that at one point there were more than 350 cats in the ruins.  In total I noticed about 10 once I started looking for them. Of course, most of them were just napping.

The answer is below the fold, but don’t look till you’ve seen at least five cats. Click the picture to enlarge it.


Read More »

Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

Reader Tim Anderson has some astronomy photos for us:

Here are three astrophotographs assembled using my 10″ Newtonian telescope and a monochrome camera using narrowband filters to pick out wavelengths emitted by specific kinds of material.
The first is the Horsehead Nebula (officially known as Barnard 33 – Barnard was a fascinating personality, well worth a Google search). This image is made using only emissions from Hydrogen atoms.
The second is the Keyhole Nebula, which lies at the heart of the Carina complex. It is so far south that it is rarely visible to you northern types, and should provide a good reason to visit the infernal regions. This image is comprised of exposures filtered to receive Hydrogen, Oxygen and Sulphur emission.
The third is a galaxy field – one big one and five small ones. Perhaps your readers may care to spot them.

Wintery closeups by reader Ken Phelps:

Some frost on a twig bent by the snow.

And a crop:

Flakes of frost fallen off the twig.


Ran across something I’d never noticed before this morning – icicles interfacing with a spider’s web. The depth of field isn’t exactly as deep as I’d like, but I was hand-holding the camera so had to keep the aperture a bit wide. There are larger slightly more detailed versions of some of the images on Flickr.

Tara Tanaka’s been busy, but has provided us with a new video called “The price of protection”. Be sure to watch it on full screen.  Here are her notes (warning: shows nature red in tooth):

I was eating breakfast last July overlooking our backyard swamp, and saw an enormous spray of water out in the cypress trees. I grabbed my binoculars and saw that it was one of our alligators with one of our recently fledged, still naive Wood Storks that had been hunting for food in the shallow water. I grabbed my digiscoping gear and ran out in the yard to video the behavior. The bird was already dead, but it was still hard to watch. I hoped that the parents weren’t watching.

The rookery couldn’t survive without the alligators that patrol the swamp, keeping raccoons from raiding the nests. If you’ve ever been to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm or Gatorland near Orlando, you know that birds understand that nesting over alligators keeps them safe from most predators. Unfortunately the draw for the alligators is that some birds fall – or are pushed by their siblings from their nests when they’re young, and then there are some like this unfortunate stork that fledge, but are not yet savvy enough to keep an eye out for alligators.


Friday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Good morning on Friday, February 23, 2018: National Chili Day and National Banana Bread Day. It’s also the Christian Feast day of Serenus the Gardener (Do Christians really feast on feast days? If so, I want in!) And, according to reader Chris, it’s National Drink Wine with Your Cat Week (see the link for cat-safe wine). Sadly, I have no kitty to drink with. It is sad.

The good news is that the world’s oldest wild bird, Wisdom, has hatched another chick! She is a 67 year old Laysan Albatross, and her age is undisputed.  Since females of the species raise at most one chick per year, Wisdom is the proud mother of between 30 and 36 chicks. All else pales before this awesome bird!

On this day in history, the Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the building of the Hagia Sophia, which at that time was an Orthodox Christian church, later repurposed as a mosque. The Great Secularist Kemal Atatürk converted it into a museum, but for the last few years, as Turkey grows more religious, Muslims have been holding prayers there.  On February 23, 1886, Charles Martin Hall produced, with the collaboration of his sister Julia Brainerd Hall, the first sample of man-made aluminum.  On this day in 1903, Cuba leased Guantánamo Bay to the U.S.—”in perpetuity”. Big mistake! It’s time to close our prison there, and perhaps the base as well.  On this day in 1927, Werner Heisenberg wrote to Wolfgang Pauli describing, for the first time, his new “uncertainty principle.” Exactly 14 years later, Glenn Seaborg first produced and isolated plutonium.

It was on this day in 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific, that a group of U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi. It is, in America, the most famous photograph of the war, and has been memorialized with a famous statue in Arlington, Virginia, right outside Washington, D.C. The photograph, which was actually of a second flag-raising, was taken by Joe Rosenthal.

Here’s the photo:

Here’s Mount Suribachi:

And a commemorative stamp from back in the 3¢ postage days:

A banner day in medicine: on February 23, 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was first given to a large group of children—in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Salk lived and worked. Finally, on this day in 1974, the Symbionese Liberation Army demanded $4 million dollars for the release of the kidnap victim Patty Hearst. They later demanded $400 million, and some money was paid, but she wasn’t released.

Notables born on this day include Samuel Pepys (1633), W. E. B. Du Bois (1868), William L. Shirer (1904), Peter Fonda (1940), Rebecca Goldstein (1950), and S. E. Cupp (1979). Those who went to the Big Fjords on this day include painter Joshua Reynolds (1792), John Keats (1821), John Quincy Adams (1848), Carl Friedrich Gauss (1855), Nazi “martyr” Horst Wessel (1930; you can discover a lot of unsavory stuff on the Internet by trying to hear the Host Wessel Lied on YouTube), Nellie Melba (1931), and Stan Laurel (1965).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has gone out, and you know what that means. But isn’t the vicious predator cute?

A: What are you looking at?
Hili: Dinner.
In Polish:
Ja: Na co patrzysz?
Hili: Na obiad.

Leon has taken his staff hiking, and Elzbieta has four pictures:

Leon: Let’s go. I planned an interesting hike.


Leon takes a break:

For your reading pleasure this Friday, I recommend having a look at Heather Hastie’s post “Are guns in schools a good idea?” (it comes with bonus tweets not seen here). I bet you can guess her answer.

From Matthew, a tweet about a real cat lover:

Don Marquis’s archie & mehitabel poems and stories are fantastic. Matthew and I love them, but I doubt that more than 1% of the readers even know of these wonderful tales and drawings. A tweet by writer Tom Holland, who also admires them:

Archie was a cockroach, Mehitabel an alley cat. Archie typed the poems and stories, but had to use all small letters as he was too light to press down the shift key. Do yourself a big favor and read some of this work, wonderfully illustrated by Don Herriman (creator of Krazy Kat):

Another tw**t from Matthew:

From Grania; a woman finding solace in bats (watch the video):

A cat on the catwalk:

. . . a cat takes liberties:

. . . and a bad pun:


Corvid altruism?

Reader Amy called my attention to this new video, which seems to show a crow not only sharing his bread with a mouse, but actually bringing it to the mouse. Could it be he’s trying to trap the mouse to eat it? I don’t think so. Could it be altruism? Hard to believe!

Judge for yourself:

Am I the bad cop?

Apparently so! Matthew sent me this strip from Existential Comics with the note, “You are Bad Cop.”  (Click to enlarge; it’s gonna overlap with website text on the right.) I am sad. . . .

The Perpetually Offended, east and west: Dresses, saris, diapers and square-root signs

When I woke up this morning there was one notice of how the Perpetually Offended were acting, and then it multiplied through today, so now I have four instances and no time to write about them. I’ll just give brief notices about these four episodes, which combine to show that people are looking for any reason to call other people out. It’s sad that forgiveness can’t obtain in innocuous cases like these.

First up, actress Jennifer Lawrence, who wore a revealing dress at a photoshoot in the cold.  Apparently she was publicizing her new movie, “The Red Sparrow” Here it is:

It’s a lovely dress on a lovely woman. So what’s the beef? The beef is that it was cold and she had her picture taken with men who wore coats against the cold. That has to be sexist, either on her part (objectifying herself), theirs (refusal to give her a coat), or the moviemakers (forcing her to show skin in the cold):

Jennifer Lawrence poses with her bundled-up colleagues, from left: director Francis Lawrence and actors Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons. (John Phillips/Getty Images)

More reporting:

An article in Jezebel had the headline, Please Give Jennifer Lawrence a Dang Coat, showing the actor’s co-stars, Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons among them, wearing large coats and scarves.

Similarly, Metro wrote that the men in the image are “nicely wrapped up bracing themselves against the chill of a bracing London winter, while Jennifer Lawrence is wearing a plunging thigh-split gown”. One tweet that called it “quietly depressing and revealing” received over 12,000 likes.

Other likes were accrued by intersectional tweets, like these from Helen Lewis, deputy editor of The New Statesman:

And Lawrence’s response:  GET A GRIP, PEOPLE!


On to Canada’s beloved Prime Minister. Well, maybe Justin Trudeau overdid the Indian clothes on a trip to India, during which he and his family not only wore Bollywood style clothes, but made the “namaste hands”

Pictures from the BBC, which also dominates the reaction of people (I haven’t yet seen any claims of “cultural appropriation,” though of course they could easily be made here). Most of the reaction seems to be that these clothes are over the top, and they are. I dress in Indian clothes when I visit the country, but wouldn’t wear stuff like heavy gold-embroidered coats, which are more suited for either a Bollywood movie or an Indian wedding. But leave the poor family alone!

Still, Trudeau is wangling a Canadian-Indian trade deal, and may also be trying to get Indian movies filmed in Canada. He’s just trying a wee bit too hard; so we get stuff like this:

That’s funny, but some of the commentary was more offended than funny. You can find it with a bit of Googling. Let’s move on.


This isn’t quite as funny. As several venues report (e.g., here, here, here, and here, and yes, one of them is The Daily Fail, but other sources substantiate it), a smiley-faced cat adorning a package of diapers from Pampers (“nappies” to Brits) has enraged Muslims in India because the cat’s nose and whiskers look like they’re spelling out “Allah” in Arabic:

Vector of arabic calligraphy name of Prophet – Salawat supplication phrase translated as God bless Muhammad; Shutterstock Purchase Order: –

You have to be a Pecksniff looking for offense to even see a resemblance!

As reports:

The lines of the whiskers, nose, mouth and left eye of the smiley cat, which appears on each nappy and on the brand’s packaging, allegedly bear close resemblance to the Islamic prophet’s name when written in Arabic or Urdu.

Members of the Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat group lodged a formal complaint with police in the Indian city of Hyderabad on Tuesday over the alleged “insult” to Islam, as video footage emerged of activists burning packets of Pampers Baby Dry Pants in the streets.

In a formal letter to police, the group claimed that “name of Prophet (PBUH) can be seen printed” on the packet in Arabic “even with the bare eye”, adding that it had “hurt the feelings of the entire Muslim community”.

“Therefore we request your goodself to kindly immediately intervene into the matter forthwith and stop the sale and distribution of Baby Dry Pants of Pampers Company and take action against its manufactures [sic], arrest them and punish them,” the letter said.

One of the complainants, Shahnoor Khan, told Indian newspaper the Deccan Chronicle the group believed the company had “deliberately printed” the word on each nappy to “hurt the Muslim community” and spark community unrest.

Muslims in Hyderabad burned the diapers. Don’t they know that Muhammad loved cats, had a favorite moggie (Muezza); and that cats are especially revered in Islam?

Proctor and Gamble responded:

“We are aware of the issue that some people are seeing the name of the Prophet on Pampers diapers, leading to unsettlement for some members of the Islamic community.

“We would like to clarify that this claim is not true. Our intent was never to hurt any individual or group’s religious sentiments or beliefs and sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.

“We would like to clarify that the diaper shows an innocent animated representation of a cat. It shows a cat’s mouth and whiskers like it is commonly portrayed in drawings and cartoons across the world, especially by little children.”


Finally, I’ll drop this here and move on. It’s from in Louisiana (click screenshot to go there):

The world is going mad, I tell you!

h/t: Brian, John (whose comment was, “Is anybody left who isn’t nuts?”

UoC President Bob Zimmer talks about free speech on campus

The Wall Street Journal has a week-old interview with University of Chicago President Bob Zimmer (a mathematician); the topic is free speech and Steve Bannon. The piece below (click on the link) is paywalled but judicious inquiry might yield a copy—if you really want it.As I’ve noted before, Luigi Zingales, a professor at the Business School, invited Bannon here for a debate, and Bannon accepted. (Note: the WSJ says that Bannon is scheduled to speak “early next month,” but I don’t think that’s true, as I haven’t heard anything about that.) Students objected (not all of them), to their eternal shame, 100 faculty signed a petition asking for Bannon’s invitation to be rescinded, and (to more shame) a large number of alumni did likewise (see my coverage here).

Calls to de-platform Bannon run contrary to the University’s speech code—probably the most liberal in the U.S. Any professor or group who invites someone to speak, and that person accepts, has a right to have the person speak on campus, and a right that the speaker be neither de-platformed by others nor disrupted.  Last year the faculty voted to impose sanctions on those students who try to disrupt speakers or keep them from talking.

Zimmer is a model of calm rationality, and I’ll just give a few statements he made in the interview with Tunku Varadarajan. At many universities, someone like Zingales would be called into the President’s or Provost’s office for a “chat.” Not here!

Mr. Bannon was invited to the university by Luigi Zingales, a finance professor. Would Mr. Zimmer ever contemplate having a quiet word with the prof and asking him to withdraw his invitation to Mr. Bannon? “I wouldn’t even think of it,” Mr. Zimmer answers, in a mildly but unmistakably indignant tone. And no, he won’t be attending the Bannon event. “We have many, many talks,” he says. “I’m really pretty busy.”

Mr. Zingales’s attitude is consistent with the norm Mr. Zimmer seeks to uphold. When I asked the professor by email why he extended the invitation, he replied that Mr. Bannon “was able to interpret a broad dissatisfaction in the electorate that most academics had missed. Remember the shock on November 9, 2016? Regardless of what you think about his political positions, there is something faculty and students can learn from a discussion with him.” Mr. Zingales, too, welcomed peaceable protests as a healthy exercise of free speech. “I admire the way our students have conducted their protests,” he wrote. “It speaks very well to the values that our university shares.”

Our antecedents:

In recent years, as colleges across America have censored unfashionable views, Chicago has also come to be known for setting the gold standard for free expression on campus. Mr. Zimmer, who became president in 2006, deserves much credit. He has been outspoken in defense of free speech and in 2014 even set up a committee—under the constitutional law scholar Geoffrey Stone —that produced the Chicago Principles, the clearest statement by any American university in defense of uninhibited debate.

Mr. Zimmer, a mathematician, says Chicago’s intellectual and moral strengths are “totally tied together.” He’s also quick to point out that its commitment to free debate precedes him, naming virtually every one of his predecessors as a guardian of openness. Mr. Zimmer created the Stone committee, he says, after watching free-speech struggles at other schools: “People were starting to be disinvited from campuses—speakers of some stature, in fact. You started to see this pattern.”

I don’t know much about our President (I met him once), but suspect that he’s a liberal (the odds favor this even if you know nothing about him); he makes a strong statement about not impeding immigration because it attracts talented people who improve the U.S. The WSJ being a conservative paper, the interviewer tries to get Zimmer to talk about identity politics. That’s a bit of a hot-button issue for a college president (but not for an emeritus professor!), so he handily deflects the question:

One could argue, perhaps paradoxically, that today’s campus activists are much more atomized as well. Identity groups push for their own particular agendas, often in absolutist terms: It matters to me more than anything else in the world that you call me “they,” not “she.” That’s not exactly a broad-based concern.

When I put this argument to Mr. Zimmer, he gently deflects: “Again, I’d go to the point that the main issue is—whether everybody is focused on one thing, or whether there are multiple groups focused on multiple things—that you get the same . . . kind of fervor, which says certain ideas should not be discussed and thought about. And that’s what the problem is.”

Well, to me this is politically astute, but a distinction without a difference. For it’s the very hierarchy of oppression associated with identity politics that makes those higher up on the ladder able to declare that some ideas (i.e., the ones they don’t like) shouldn’t be discussed or pondered.  But censorship is the crux of the problem of identity politics, so Zimmer got it right.

At the end of the piece, the President discusses a new initiative he has: having conversations with high-school teachers about how to prepare college-bound students for an atmosphere of free speech.

. . . it would be very healthy, [Zimmer] thinks, for high-school teachers “to actually be thinking about this in a kind of systematic way.” He’s observed that “a lot of students are not prepared for this environment.” Some of that is inevitable, Mr. Zimmer believes, because “free expression doesn’t come naturally for most people. It’s not an instinctive response.” Young people need “to be taught it”—and it’s better if universities don’t have to start from scratch.