Chutzpah of the decade

From CNN we have a report that North Korea billed the U.S. for $2 million for “hospital care” for Otto Warmbier, the student who died after being arrested in the DPRK, kept in North Korean custody, and then returned home in a coma. In my view, they killed him.

Click on the screenshot to read:

North Korea wouldn’t release Warmbier unless the U.S. signed the bill and agreed to pay it, and so U.S. special representative Joseph Yun signed. But, in a rare display of recalcitrance, the Trump administration won’t pay it. And we shouldn’t, for this is ransom.

The Trump administration has not paid this bill, a third source familiar with the matter told CNN Thursday, adding that North Korea did not raise the issue as it sought to begin easing the tensions with the US in 2018 nor when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo negotiated the release of three Americans that same year, the source said.
“We made clear that they were never going to get anything” when the negotiating occurred for the release of the 3 Americans, the source added.
Is there any regime on the planet more odious and repressive than North Korea?

 

Footy skills

UPDATE: Speaking of soccer greats, I’d urge you to read this post from 2012, in which I interviewed renowned soccer commentator Seamus Malin about the best games and players he’d ever seen. I really like that post.

_____________

In honor of the birthday of Johan Cruyff, I present a 6.5-minute video of great soccer skills displayed on the field. (This was suggested to me by YouTube when I was watching a Cruyff video, and I liked this one. YouTube suggestions, though, are one of the greatest time sinks around.) If you get a “Go to Youtube” message when you click here, just click on the “Watch on YouTube” line.

I especially like the “seal dribble” (0:30), Ronaldinho’s flick (1:35), Higuita’s save (4:35, but did he need to save that way?), and Draxler’s backwards pass (5:24). But they’re all great; I can’t imagine playing soccer at this level.

Two philosophers guilty of “philosophism” with respect to brain differences and free will

If “scientism” is the bad tendency of scientists to pronounce on matters outside their bailiwick, them I hereby proffer a new term: “philosophism“. And I define it as “the practice of philosophers pronouncing on matters outside their expertise”.  In the article below from the Irish Times, two philosophers Helen Beebee (University of Manchester) and Michael Rush (University of Birmingham) decide that questions of brain differences between sexes and genders, as well as the existence of free will, are questions that should not be left to scientists. (It’s common for philosophers to claim hegemony over free will at the expense of neuroscience). Their views constitute a good specimen of philosophism.

To be fair, they don’t completely agree with each other, and give science some room with questions of brain differences, but they still seem confused and muddled on both issues. I’ll explain below, but first read the short piece by Joe Humphreys, who interviews them both (I’ll use their initials when quoting the philosophers).

Joe Humphreys immediately irritated me at the start of the article with this characterization:

Science and philosophy have had a strained relationship in recent times. Their roles resemble that of a wide-eyed child and her grumpy uncle. Each time the youngster runs in with a new discovery, the older relative harrumphs: “Is that all? Sure, that doesn’t amount to anything?”

Philosophical pooh-poohing of neuroscience is particularly pronounced, especially giddy claims that brain scans have unlocked the secrets of human consciousness. Atheistic thinkers like Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne have latched onto current research to declare that free will does not exist. Rather, they say, our every decision is encoded in nature – a stance known as determinism.

First of all, I don’t know anyone who claims that “brain scans have unlocked the secrets of human consciousness.” Further, why are Sam and I described as “atheistic thinkers”? Our atheism has nothing to do with our views on free will or gender differences between brains, views that come from a scientific standpoint, not from our rejection of gods.

But never mind. The first philosophical misstep comes from Rush, who says this (questions in bold come from Humpreys):

Every couple of weeks there is a new study out on whether men’s and women’s brains differ. The majority view among neuroscientists now seems to be that brains are, in fact, gendered but it’s due to nurture rather than nature. What role do philosophers have in this debate?

MR: “If the differences come from nurture – which seems plausible if we’re talking about gender, because gender is a social phenomenon rather than a biological one – then the differences are not in any interesting way differences between kinds of brain; they’re differences in what we do to brains, or what kind of things we can make brains into.

“If we’re talking about the sexed nature of brains – a biological rather than a social phenomenon – then it’s plausible that there are differences between male and female brains, since they are intimately linked to, for instance, hormones, and the presence and levels of certain hormones vary depending on which sex one is.

“One role that philosophers have in this debate, as they have in any debate, is keeping the discussion honest.

“Neuroscientists can tell us what differences there are, if any, between male and female brains; philosophers can explain why the mere existence of the differences wouldn’t entitle us, despite what many people seem to think, to say that they were innate or outside our control.”

Let me be brief. Contra Rush, gender may be a biological phenomenon in an important way: someone who is born, say, in a male body who feels that they are female, and takes steps to look or identify as female, may well have done so because of biology. Transgender people often say that they feel they are of a different gender from their birth sex from a very young age. While this feeling could be socially conditioned, it may well be—and must often be—the result of cryptic biological phenomena, including wiring in the brain.

At least Rush admits that there could be biological differences between male and female brains: I hope so, because there’s plenty of evidence for that.  But what is this with philosophers “keeping the discussion honest”? Do we scientists tend to dishonesty? Further, what is this about scientists being unable to tell us which differences are “innate” (presumably biological differences that may be evolved) or “outside our control.” Both of these are empirical determinations that are the bailiwick of scientists and empiricists, not philosophers. Philosophers can add clarity to discussions, and help weed out bad arguments, but they cannot tell us what is empirically true. Whether a phenomenon is “innate” or “produced by social forces” are empirical questions.

And who is going to keep the philosophers honest? (Curmudgeons like me, I guess.)

The confusion between social conditioning and inborn biological features continues, but let’s pass on to what really interests me: free will.  Note when you read the discussion that neither Beebee nor Rush ever explicitly define what they mean by free will when they pronounce on it. At least “atheist thinkers” like Sam and I define it (we think of it as libertarian “you could have done otherwise” free will). In the bit below, Rush claims that free will is not a scientific matter because you cannot “run an experiment” on it. Jebus! What a canard! (That’s an insult to ducks.)

Another battle ground between neuroscience and philosophy surrounds the question of free will. Is there an experiment that could be designed to settle the matter once and for all?

MR: “No. Whether there is free will is not the sort of thing we can tell by looking. It’s easy to get carried away with the widespread successes of the scientific method and start assuming that it is the only – rather than just a really fruitful – way of getting to know things about the world.

“Some things, like what happens when you chuck caesium in the bath, are most easily discovered by, well, in that particular case, grabbing some caesium and chucking it in the bath. And standing well back.

“Some things we can’t discover by running an experiment. But if we can’t send out a search party to see if we have free will, and we don’t think the question is hopeless, how else might we set about it?

“What we do first is we define in careful terms just what we mean by asking if an action is free. Once we’ve decided what we’re asking about, we consider our other theoretical commitments, and we see if free will is consistent with those. Both those essential tasks are very difficult, but neither is achievable by running an experiment.”

Ummm. . . what about the series of experiments showing that you can predict people’s decisions with a significant level of accuracy by scanning their brains? Those are experiments, aren’t they? What about experiments in which brains are stimulated to produce “involuntary” actions, giving people a sense of agency where it doesn’t exist? What about diseases that efface people’s sense of agency? These are all empirical matters, and many are experiments; all bear on at least my conception of free will.

Rush, I fear, is either ignorant of these data or is using the usual anti-science trope in which something is claimed to be true but outside of science because “you can’t run an experiment on it.” Well, it happens to be the case that a lot of science depends not on experiments but on observations, analysis, and predictions. There are almost no experiments described in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Does that mean it’s not science? What about figuring out how stars evolve over time? That’s observation, not experiment. And so on. This is not rocket science, Drs. Beebee and Rush!

I will claim that because the laws of physics affecting matter are observed to hold universally, this shows that we have no free will in the contracausal sense. Our brains are matter, what we do depends on our brains and what impinges on them, and therefore our actions must be determined by the laws of physics alone. (This includes those laws that mandate some pure indeterminism, like the behavior of electrons. But that indeterminism still comports with the physical determinism of free will because we cannot use our will to affect electrons.)

Here Dr. Beebee also gets muddled about free will:

Thinkers on free will have divided into three camps: determinists (who say all future states of mind have prior causes in line with best scientific thinking), free-willists (who reject determinism), and compatibilists (who see no contradiction between free will and determinism). Which one are you?

HB: “Well, I’m not sure about determinism; I think that’s one for the physicists to figure out. But I’m a compatibilist so I think even if determinism turned out to be true, we would have free will.

“We wouldn’t be controlled by the laws of nature, or by our brains – as though we’d just be puppets being controlled by some unseen puppet-master. To put it crudely, there isn’t enough of a gap between me and my brain for it to really make sense to think that my brain is somehow controlling me. And as for the idea that laws of nature control me, well, I’m not even sure that makes sense.”

The physicists have already figured out that determinism refutes the notion of contracausal free will defined as ‘free will’ by people like Sam and me. Read some Sean Carroll (a compatibilist), Dr. Beebee! But note that she doesn’t define free will.

But she’s a compatibilist, so she has to adhere to at least one concept of free will that’s compatible with determinism. Sadly, she doesn’t say which one. And her second paragraph, in which she denies being a puppet is confusing. Beebee’s statement that “there isn’t enough of a gap between me and my brain for it to really make sense to think that my brain is somehow controlling me” is a simple Deepity. What kind of gap is she talking about? Finally, it makes perfect sense to say that the “laws of nature control me”: that’s what physical determinism of behavior is all about. I get the sense here that Beebee may be out of her depth, or else is using philosospeak to somehow attack determinism.

Some final waffling by Dr. Rush:

What about you Michael? Is determinism a rational stance?

MR: I think the answer is ‘yes’, but there are a couple of questions worth keeping separate. Is it rational to believe that every event was fully caused by some preceding event, according to the operation of some fixed natural laws? Sure.

“Whether that’s true, and what those laws are, look like jobs for physics to concern itself with. The second question is more worrying to some people: Is it rational to believe that if determinism were true we would have no free will? I think the answer to that is ‘yes’ as well.

“It’s also rational to believe we would have free will under those conditions. Whether or not we have free will won’t be decided by whether either view is irrational, just like two scientists can both be rational but disagree about whether the evidence they share points to the existence of a new boson.

Well, at least he argues that determinism (which is true) is a rational stand. As far as the “worrying” second question, “Is it rational to believe that if determinism were true we would have no free will?”, Rush waffles. All he needs to say is “yes, we have no free will in the contracausal sense if determinism is true, but if you define free will in a compatibilist way, then yes, we might have a form of free will.” The first question, whether contracausal free will exists, has already been answered in the negative, by evidence. The question of whether we have compatibilist free will is a semantic and philosophical one, and depends on your definition. Of course compatibilists always define free will in a way that we do have it: that, after all, is why they are compatibilists.

This is not rocket science, but somehow both Beebee and Rush manage to mangle language and thought, and wind up confusing the reader.

I defy the scientifically-minded layperson to read this piece and, at least with respect to free will, come up with a summary of what these two philosophers really think. All I can discern is that they want to elbow themselves into issues of free will that are susceptible to scientific investigation, and, keeping the scientists “honest”, want to tell us, “Hey, listen to us philosophers!”  This is a prime example of philosphism.

 

h/t: Michael

Williams College student council rejects formation of pro-Israel group

The College Council of Williams College, a student-run group that regulates and votes on student initiatives, has just voted to reject registration for the group “WIFI” : Williams Initiative for Israel.  You can read the article by clicking on the screenshot, though I’ve put the entire text below:

The report:

Last night, College Council (CC) voted 13–8 with one abstention to reject a request from the Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) to become a registered student organization. The vote came a week after the club’s request was tabled at a previous CC meeting, and the meeting involved nearly two hours of protracted and heated debate among both CC members and a large number of guests attending.

Before the debate began, numerous members and guests expressed concerns that publicly revealing the names of those speaking, as CC has previously done to some extent through livestreams on its Facebook page and published minutes accessible to students at the College, would make students feel unsafe and prevent them from fully expressing their opinions. Several members and guests cited national news coverage of College events in recent weeks, including cases where specific students were mentioned by name, as justification for these concerns. CC ultimately decided to publish anonymous minutes accessible only to students with College emails.

This is a developing story, occurring exceptionally close to our print deadline.

Is decreasing empathy causing increased disruption on campus?

This short paper on the NPR website (click on screenshot) describes research suggesting that the empathy of young Americans has decreased over the past fifty years. I’m not familiar with this research, but will provisionally assume that the results described are correct.

Here are a few quotes (it’s a short article):

. . . more than a decade ago, a certain suspicion of empathy started to creep in, particularly among young people. One of the first people to notice was Sara Konrath, an associate professor and researcher at Indiana University. Since the late 1960s, researchers have surveyed young people on their levels of empathy, testing their agreement with statements such as: “It’s not really my problem if others are in trouble and need help” or “Before criticizing somebody I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place.”

Konrath collected decades of studies and noticed a very obvious pattern. Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation — 40 percent!

It’s strange to think of empathy – a natural human impulse — as fluctuating in this way, moving up and down like consumer confidence. But that’s what happened. Young people just started questioning what my elementary school teachers had taught me.

Their feeling was: Why should they put themselves in the shoes of someone who was not them, much less someone they thought was harmful? In fact, cutting someone off from empathy was the positive value, a way to make a stand.

Author Rosin describes some neurological studies of empathy, and notes that what seems to trigger it most strongly is a human conflict in which you favor one side over the other.  This, of course, is intensified by tribalism, in which you don’t have to think very hard about which side to empathize with. Fritz Breithaupt, a professor at Indiana University who studies empathy, says if you embrace the empathy born of tribalism, “basically you give up on civil society at that point. You give up on democracy. Because if you feed into this division more and more and you let it happen, it will become so strong that it becomes dangerous.”

Breihaupt’s solution to this tribalistic empathy seems bizarre, however,

In his book [The Dark Sides of Empathy, to be released June 15], Breithaupt proposes an ingenious solution: give up on the idea that when we are “empathizing” we are being altruistic, or helping the less fortunate, or in any way doing good. What we can do when we do empathy, proposes Fritz, is help ourselves. We can learn to see the world through the eyes of a migrant child and a militia leader and a Russian pen pal purely so we can expand our own imaginations, and make our own minds richer. It’s selfish empathy. Not saintly, but better than being alone.

Maybe it’s better than being alone, but it surely doesn’t inspire the kind of helpful action that is thought to be a benefit of empathy. Yes, empathy can be divisive and increase tribalism, but it can also increase charity. I would favor a less tribalistic empathy but also a striving to see the point of view of your opponents in other “tribes.”

NPR also has a 52-minute show on this topic that you can hear by clicking on the screenshot below (the page also has a transcript). I haven’t yet listened as I just discovered it and must be off.

When I read Rosin’s piece, I started thinking that if the decline in empathy among students is as real and as substantial as touted above, it may help explain the bizarre entitlement and aggrieved behavior of college students like those I’ve described at Middlebury, Williams, and Evergreen State.  For if you consider the inevitable demands that these students make of their college administration, they are rarely about improving society as a whole. Rather, they are about the personal comfort and well-being of the complaining students: demands meant to improve their own local situation. The students want courses that suit their needs and ethnicities, more therapists, weekend trips to the city, segregated housing, free food in the dining halls, and so on. While these demands may cite things like “universal structural racism,” they ask not for a change in society as a whole, but at their college.

This seems to me to contrast with the rebelling college students of the Sixties. The demands back then were more universal and less restricted to the local situation or to the students’ own welfare. The demands were for an end to racism in the country as a whole, an end to nuclear weapons, an end to the Vietnam War, and so on. You didn’t hear demands for therapists, free trips, or free food.

I realize that I may sound like a grumpy old man here, but I do perceive this difference, and wonder what readers think—particularly those of a certain age who have experienced college culture over the past fifty years. For it is the combination of increasing tribalism and decreasing empathy that could well produce the kind of demands and entitled behavior of college students that we’ve seen lately. These demands see the college itself, and its white “structural racism”, as the enemy, and foster a kind of tribalism that manifests itself in demands for “affinity” (segregated) housing in which each ethnic group (presumably Blacks, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics) gets to live by itself. (Imagine what would happen if white students were to demand that kind of housing!) There may be empathy in there, but it’s surely tribalistic empathy and an unwillingness to even engage the “enemy” with civil discourse.

At any rate, there are other theories as well, such as those of Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff in their recent book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

As I wrote last November:

[Lukianoff and Haidt’s] worry is that students have absorbed what they call the Three Great Untruths, and these are what’s driving the bizarre behavior on campus. Those untruths are these, each exemplified with a motto:

1.)  We young people are fragile (“What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.”)

2.) We are prone to emotional reasoning and confirmation bias (“Always trust your feelings.”)

3.) We are prone to “dichotomous thinking and tribalism” (“Life is a battle between good people and evil people.”)

The book is, then, an exposition of this thesis, an exploration of why students have become this way when they were different twenty years ago, and, finally, suggested remedies to buttress the emotional strength of students, make them think more rationally, and stop them from living in a Manichean world of Good People versus Bad People.

The causes of this behavior are, say the authors, sixfold: the rapid growth of campus bureaucracy that gives students someone to complain to, and is itself self-perpetuating; the rising rates of depression and suicide in young people; the lack of unsupervised play in kids (parents don’t let kids roam free much these days); a culture of “safetyism” in parents, who have grown overprotective and micromanaging in the face of an environment that’s far safer than it used to be; increased political polarization in America; and the transformation of students’ desire for “justice” into an ideology that demands equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities (this is the form of social justice that Lukianoff and Haidt decry).

The talk about the tribalism, of course, but not so much about the decrease in empathy. However, overprotectiveness and political polarization could well help erode empathy.

h/t: Wayne

Readers’ wildlife photos

We have photos from two readers today. The first is a batch from Sean Crawford, whose notes are indented:

I’ve attached some photos of the reed beds in the Norfolk Broads in England, taken from a boat. Aside from the reeds themselves, there are some swans. It’s an amazing habitat that can only be appreciated by boat.

And the swans [JAC: These look like mute swans, Cygnus olor]:

From reader Tim Anderson in Australia:

This magnificent creature is a male gang-gang cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum), a relatively rare forest-dweller. Consider his magnificent topknot.

JAC: This is one of the few sexually dimorphic species of parrot. The female (below, photo from Wikipedia) lacks the bright head coloration and has a smaller crest:

Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s Thursday April 25, 2019. Posting may be light today as I have to hie downtown to the “Apple Genius Bar’ (who’s supposed to be the genius there?) to get the battery on my old—but perfectly serviceable—iPhone 5s replaced. It’s a lot cheaper than a new iPhone, and the new ones are too big to put in my pocket.

It’s National Zucchini Bread Day, a comestible I detest. Isn’t it ironic that the world’s worst vegetable is also the one that grows most prolifically? People are even forced to use it up by putting into cakes and breads! It’s also DNA Day by proclamation of Congress, celebrating the publication of Watson and Crick’s structure of “the molecule of life’ (see below).

On this day in 1792, the robber Nicolas J. Pelletier became the first person to be executed by the guillotine. Wikipedia adds to his biography, “The crowd, however, was dissatisfied with the guillotine. They felt it was too swift and ‘clinically effective’ to provide proper entertainment, as compared to previous execution methods, such as hanging, death-by-sword, or breaking at the wheel. The public even called out “Bring back our wooden gallows!” On that very same day, April 25, 1792 the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”, was composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.

On this day in 1859, ground was broken for the Suez Canal by engineers from France and Britain.  In 1898, the U.S. declared war on Spain, formally beginning the Spanish-American War. On April 25, 1915, the Battle of Gallipoli began, with the Gallipoli peninsula invaded by troops from Britain, France, India, Newfoundland, Australia, and New Zealand.  After 8 months of failure and slaughter (the latter on both sides), the Allied troops withdrew. The death toll was around 100,000.

It was on this day in 1953 that Watson and Crick published their groundbreaking paper in Nature suggesting the correct structure of DNA, “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid“.  The paper, the most influential in biology of the 20th century, was only a bit more than a page long. Here is most of the text:

 

In 1954, it was on this day that the first practical solar-energy cell was demonstrated by Bell Labs. And, on April 25, 2007, Boris Yeltsin was buried in the first Russian Orthodox funeral of a leader since that of Emperor Alexander III in 1894.

Notables born on this day include Oliver Cromwell (1599), Walter de la Mare (1873), Wolfgang Pauli (1900), Edward R. Murrow (1908), Ella Fitzgerald (1917), Al Pacino (1940), Johan Cruyff (1947), and Dinesh D’Souza, (1961).

One of the greatest soccer players of our time, Cruyff perfected the famous “Cruyff Turn,” which you can see in the highlight video below (or here), and played for Ajax and Barcelona. A heavy smoker when young (I have no idea how you can play soccer so well with that habit), he died of lung cancer at 68.  You can get an idea of how good he was by watching this short video:

Those who took the Big Nap on April 25 include David Teniers the Younger (1690), William Cowper (1800), George Herriman (1944), Dexter Gordon (1990), Ginger Rogers (1995), and Bea Arthur (2009).

Herriman’s Ignatz and Krazy Kat

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Editor Hili refuses to do menial chores:

A: Come and help with the cleaning.
Hili: What were you smoking?
In Polish:
Ja: Chodź, pomożesz sprzątać.
Hili: Chyba coś ci zaszkodziło.
Here’s something I found on Facebook:

A tweet from reader Barry. What has this bipedal cat realized?

Tweets from Grania. This first one is fricking amazing: synthesizing speech from signals coming from brain neurons. Immensely useful, I’d say, and it works well. Have a look at the linked article, and be sure to put the sound on.

Who doesn’t love tiny black kittens?

Speaking of moggies, this is a very bizarre photo:

I knew vampire bats could amble, but didn’t realize that they could lope!

Bird knees are always above where you think they are:

Tweets from Matthew: a bee is born.

Twenty-five mice a day! (Does anybody know the species of owl?)

A spider mimicking an ant. Count the legs!

I retweeted the tweet above, and Outis sent a response: more ant mimics:

Three days of unnecessary deaths leading up to April 6:

And a first: reader Tim Anderson has supplied today’s black dog, whose name is Angus:

Baby bears cross the road

A mother bear gets two distressed cubs to cross the road.  Things to note:

  1. FOUR cubs! That’s a lot; I thought the median number was about two.
  2. Note the babies’ squalling, which is incredibly cute.
  3. The babies appear to be following either the mother’s scent or the mother’s tracks
  4. I love the way the mother lures the cubs: she pretends to run away so that the cubs will follow her, but then comes back when they don’t follow. She does this several times.
  5. Cubs don’t seem to like roads.

Bears are awesome.

Credits: Occurred on April 9, 2019 / Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA. Credit: FB/EnteringCadesCove

Williams College gets unwanted media attention

The kind of negative publicity that brought down Evergreen State College is now devolving on Williams College, and I can’t say that it upsets me. Many of its students and much of the administration are trying to tiptoe around enacting a speech code that conforms to the First Amendment (it’s “hate speech” that has to go, you know); the students are calling for housing segregated by race (as well as other criteria); and some students are making ludicrous demands that the University undergo serious structural changes, threatening to take unspecified actions if the College doesn’t answer their demands by 5 p.m. Friday (these include the creation of the euphemistic “affinity housing”).

A number of articles, including ones on this site, have called attention to these shenanigans and to to the demands of aggrieved but entitled students. The media has now gotten hold of the Williams issue, though, and they’ve published several pieces that cast the College in a bad light. I’ll summarize the pieces I know of in this post; click on the screenshots to go to the pieces.

As is usual with these things (and which was the case with Evergreen State before the New York Times finally wrote about it), it’s the right-wing media that first highlights the shenanigans, for their agenda is to make liberal colleges, and thereby the Left, look bad. That’s not my agenda, though, which is to keep colleges as places where freedom of speech is sacred as a tool for learning, and to try to keep the Left from going so bonkers that it discredits itself, possibly leading to another Trump victory next year.

Here goes:

From Inside Higher Ed:

 

From The College Fix, a right-wing site:

. . . and another:

Oy! Breitbart:
This one will surely make Williams administrators sit up:  Fox news via Project 21:
While the Fox discussion (below) starts about reparations, at 3:21 the host abruptly brings up the issue of affinity segregated housing at Williams. LaDawn Jones actually tries to defend it, saying “I see nothing wrong with exploring the ideas about what works for them [the black students].”  Indeed, if you read the letter from Williams’s President Maud Mandel (see below), you’ll see that she as well seems open to the idea of segregated housing.

Below is Williams Professor Darel Paul‘s Areo piece on the excesses of Woke Williams and other similar schools. I’ve already mentioned this piece; it’s quite critical of the College:
Finally, a letter from Williams President Maud Mandel to the College has been reprinted on the site of an alum, Ephblog (for some reasons Williams students are called “Ephs”):

Make of the letter what you will. I see Mandel as the Eastern equivalent of Evergreen’s George “Invertebrate” Bridges: someone who realizes that she must cater to the students’ demands while making noises about civilized discourse for all. After all, students can make a lot of trouble for a college’s reputation, but the faculty, well, not so much. Faculty don’t march, demonstrate, or make ludicrous demands.

Mandel highlights but one instance of supposed “hate speech”: the removal of a poster advertising a panel organized by a left-wing faculty member; but Mandel ignores even worse actions taken by students against a professor who contested some of the students’ claims (the students defaced his door with odious anti-white slogans and claims that he was “killing them”). I have my doubts about whether the one instance of bigotry that Mandel mentions in her letter is even real, given the history of such crimes at Williams, which almost always have been hoaxes, and nearly all of which seem to have been perpetrated by members of the minorities that were the targets. (The results of those investigations of hoaxes, by the way, are never revealed to the students, so an atmosphere of paranoia is kept alive.)

There’s also mention of “affinity housing” in a letter that is a masterpiece of equivocation: not taking any stand but pleading for respectful discourse. Here’s a bit: (my emphasis):

The issues over which people are disagreeing right now are serious and valid. They’re also not just “Williams problems”: Campus attention to race relations is connected to national and global injustice. Conflicts over speech and speakers are roiling many schools. Work on affinity housing points to wider challenges with balancing integration and the right of free association. Tensions over how we disagree are characteristic of a societal problem with public discourse. A school like Williams absolutely should discuss these complex and important issues. When we do, conflicts will necessarily and even productively arise. Our goal shouldn’t be to avoid disagreement or dissent, but to develop ways of engaging in it without losing respect for each other as people.

I hope we can model this ideal in classrooms and dorm rooms, offices and alumni gatherings, joining in a campaign to improve our culture. Some people have expressed frustration that processes like Strategic Planning won’t make this happen quickly enough. I share the sense of urgency, but meaningful change often does take time: Time to make sure all points of view are surfaced, listened to and considered. Time to educate people on new ways of working and healthier ways of engaging with others. Time to figure out which investments will make the biggest, most sustainable impact on issues we care about. Organizations like Williams can do this deliberate work without sacrificing our ability to address more immediate challenges.

The way each of us acts affects the community as a whole. If we’re intolerant and harsh, it sets a norm for how we’ll be treated in return. To make Williams instead a place where everyone is valued, we’ll need to treat each other with respect when differences inevitably emerge. It’s up to each one of us, and all of us as a collective, to make it so.

Translation: “I’m going to give the students what they want, including segregated housing (if I can get away with it), but it will take a bit of time. In the meantime, you professors treat the Aggrieved Students well and don’t make them mad.”

If I were the Trustees and administrators of Williams, I’d take this negative publicity very seriously. After all, it’s what brought down Evergreen State.

More religious testifying in a major newspaper

If you don’t know what “testifying” is in an American religious context, it means telling to a bunch of people—usually in a church—how you came to Jesus (it’s a Christian practice) and how much you love the Lord. In fact, Wikipedia even has a subsection on it. But listening to such testimony quickly gets boring and repetitious.  Yet, increasingly, the op-ed pages of newspapers, including good ones like the New York Times, are occupied by flat-out, old-fashioned Christian testifying or its intellectual equivalent: unexamined assertions about the truth claims of religions like Christianity.

And now the last redoubt of good American journalism besides the Times, and I’m referring to the Washington Post, has published an even more extreme op-ed, one using the burning of Notre Dame as a reason to tout Christianity very hard and mourn its disappearance. While newspapers publish a variety of pieces from various viewpoints, simple proselytizing like this should be going away; it doesn’t deserve any space in such a good newspaper.

You can read the piece by clicking on the screenshot below. The author, Mark Thiessen, is characterized by Wikipedia as “an American author, columnist, and political commentator. He writes for The Washington Post newspaper. He served as a speechwriter for United States President George W. Bush (2004–09) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (2001–06).”

So he’s clearly a conservative, but he’s also a staunch Christian who wants to bring God back to the West. Just as Jesus wept (the Bible’s shortest verse), so Jerry wept when he read this:

It’s a short piece. Thiessen bemoans the increasing secularism of France and Europe, which he says, correctly, is spreading to the U.S. But the burning of Notre Dame, he claims, “is an apt metaphor for the devastation of Christianity across Europe—and a warning for us in the United States.”  And although he doesn’t say the fire was a sign from God, he does want us to pay attention to the spectre of secularism that is haunting the West:

France was once one of the most Catholic countries in Europe. Today, while 64 percent of French people still identify as Christian, only 5 percent attend church regularly and just 1 in 10 pray daily. The younger generation is even less attached to the faith of their fathers. According to a study by the Benedict XVI Center for Religion and Society, only 26 percent of French young adults consider themselves Christians, and 65 percent say they never pray. The same sad story is playing out across the rest of Europe. The study found only three countries — Poland, Portugal and Ireland — where more than 1 in 10 young people said they attend a religious service weekly.

The situation in the United States is somewhat better: 39 percent of Catholics and 58 percent of evangelicals attend church services once a week, and even more say they go a few times a month. But the numbers are in decline among the young as well. Only 11 percent of younger millennials are weekly churchgoers, while 16 percent more go either once or twice a month, or a few times a year. The secular tsunami that has swept Europe is making its way across the Atlantic.

I, for one, can’t get too worked up about this. In fact, I think it’s a great trend that will end a lot of divisiveness in our world.

Thiessen even goes so far as to compare secularism with totalitarianism, implying that secular morality is either nonexistent or inferior:

. . . . in the West, modern secularism is slowly accomplishing what the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century tried and failed to do: eradicate God from society. We are seeing the triumph of what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a homily a day before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, called the “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” On both continents, young people are putting off or forgoing marriage, and having fewer children — because a culture of self runs counter to the sacrificial love at the core of marriage and family.

Finally, Thiessen pulls out all the stops and spews his testimony all over the page. To paraphrase Hitchens, he’s like a preacher on a street corner, yelling at us and selling snake oil from a tin cup:

Today, France is in a heated debate over whether to rebuild Notre Dame as it was, or modernize it — much as the Louvre was modernized when I.M. Pei’s glass and metal pyramids were added to its classical grounds. But this is the wrong question. Yes, most of the millions who visit Notre Dame each year experience it is [sic] a museum. But it is not a museum. It is not even primarily a symbol of France. It is a house of worship. To restore it, we must restore its fundamental purpose: to bring people closer to the Almighty.

The human heart is made to love God. And as Cardinal Robert Sarah put it in an interview with Le Figaro this weekend, the fires which engulfed Notre Dame were “an appeal from God to rediscover his love.” He is right. Skilled craftsmen will soon repair the cathedral stone by stone. But, as the priest who said Easter Mass in Bordeaux told us, to truly rebuild Notre Dame requires what St. Peter called “living stones … God’s own people [who] declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:4-9).

We need more of these living stones — in France and in America, too.

My response to the last sentence is this: “No we don’t.” Lovely ancient cathedrals, yes; ancient superstitions foisted on the people, no.

It amazes me that blather like this gets published in the Washington Post. What were they thinking? All it does is use the destruction of a cathedral as a way to say that we should be mindful of the waning of Christianity. That’s not all that far from saying that the fire is God’s warning that we should stop coddling homosexuals.

h/t: Jeff