Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Good morning: it’s Saturday, February 18, 2017. Spring, it seems, has arrived in Chicago, at least temporarily. We had record high temperatures yesterday of 62°F (17° C), which broke a 134-year old record by 2° F. The students at my university were basking in the sun wearing teeshirts and shorts, exposing acres of milk-white winter skin.  And temperatures will be high like that for the entire weekend.  It’s also National “Drink Wine” Day, a day I can get behind—but why the scare quotes?

On this day in 1861, Jefferson Davis became President of the Confederate States of America, and, in 1885, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published. Hemingway famously praised this book in his own novel The Green Hills of Africa, saying, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” (Hemingway’s meaning has been questioned.)

On Febraury 18, 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto from studying astronomical photographs. Is it a planet? You be the judge. On this day in 1943, Joseph Goebbels delivered his “Sportpalast speech” in Berlin, calling for totaler Krieg (“total war”)—a tacit admission that the Nazi Reich was in danger. You can hear part of the speech at the link. Goebbels, of course, died in the Führer bunker, shooting his wife Magda (who had just poisoned all of their six young children) and then himself (you can see these two scenes from the movie “Downfall” here and here). In 1954, the first Church of Scientology started operations in Los Angeles. On this day in 1970, the “Chicago Seven” were found not guilty of conspiracy to cause riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I remember that raucous trial well; how many of the Chicago Seven can you name? I could remember only five. On this day in 1972, the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty to be illegal since it constituted “cruel and unusual punishment”—a decision that, along with a Supreme Court ruling later that year, stopped executions throughout the US, but only for a time. Finally, it was on this day in 2001 that NASCAR hero Dale Earnhardt died in an accident at the Daytona 500 race.

Notables born on this day include Ernst Mach (1838), Hans Asperger (1906), Toni Morrison (1931), Cybill Shepherd (1950), John Travolta (1954), Vanna White (1957), and Molly Ringwald (1968). Those who died on this day include Martin Luther (1546), Michelangelo (1564), J. Robert Oppenheimer (1967), and Harry Caray (1998; Holy cow!). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is watching the birds eat and wanting to eat the birds:

Hili: Two titmice and a sparrow.
A: Well? So?
Hili: They are eating.
In Polish:
Hili: Dwie sikorki i wróbelek.
Ja: I co?
Hili: Nic, jedzą.

Yesterday it was World Cat Day in Poland and much of Europe (I forgot to note it). Leon is aware of this, but thinks that a single day is insufficient. Two of his friends apparently agree.

Leon: Have you heard? Apparently, it’s a Cat’s Day today! I don’t know any other days.


The Cincinnati Zoo’s tiger cubs are growing

Well, these cubs can’t do otherwise, can they?

Reader Michael is keeping tabs on the Cincinnati Zoo’s trio of tiger cubs, now two weeks old. They’re Malaysian tigers, and, rejected by their mom, they’re being hand-reared by zoo staff.

Is it too much to ask to pet one of these before I die?

A theocracy in America? Influential conservative group calls for injecting God into American public schools

Two days ago, the Washington Post ran an article warning of the dangers of theocratic incursions into American public education, “Influential conservative group: Trump, DeVos should dismantle Education Department and bring God into classrooms.”  Well, we don’t want that, do we? It certainly violates the First Amendment, and even a staunch originalist, like Scalia was and Gorsuch will be, would be hard pressed to say that the First Amendment allows dragging God into the classrooms.

The Post‘s fears come from a document (removed online, but archived here) produced by The Council for National Policy, a secretive conservative group that had Steve Bannon as a member and Kellyanne Conway on its executive committee. The  report is explicitly based on religion:


Here are some of its goals, which include posting the Ten Commandments, teaching Bible classes, and removing “secular sex education materials” from schools:

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-12-49-29-pm screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-12-49-53-pm

The document doesn’t explicitly mention evolution, but you know what would happen were these goals implemented.

There’s more religious palaver about Jesus at the end of the document, but you get the idea. This is to education as the infamous Wedge Document was to science: an embarrassing, religiously motivated plan of action that was removed from the Internet because it clearly conflicted with secular public education.

The Post wrings its hands over this a lot, but DeVos, not a known member of the Council for National Policy, has stated that she doesn’t favor elimination of the Department of Education, and in her confirmation said that she would “implement the laws as intended by Congress. That includes the provisions about the prohibition against religious instruction in schools.” Of course, she might be lying, as her history is in favor of religiously based charter schools. And although DeVos’s husband has expressed support for teaching creationism, DeVos herself has kept her nose clean on that issue. So we don’t know, and I think the Post is crying a bit of “wolf” on this one. Still, it’s worthwhile to see the aims of this group, and learn who belonged to it—just as it was worthwhile knowing about the Wedge Document.

Some have joked that the new logo for the Department of Education would be the one below, but that’s a bit premature:

Israeli army veteran criticized—for not wanting to rape Palestinian women!

A ex-soldier in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) walks into a U.S. college. . .

That could be the beginning of a joke, but it isn’t even close. Israel and the IDF are demonized on British and American campuses, and when an ex-IDF soldier, even one who was an extreme leftist, never hurt anyone and whose activities, he says, were as “an officer in an IDF COGAT unit that attends to the needs of Palestinian civilians who are not involved in the conflict and promotes Palestinian civil society” starts talking on those campuses, he’s in for trouble.

Meet Hen Mazzig, who has suffered the slings and arrows of the pervasive demonization of Israel (and of anti-Semitism as well) while bravely venturing onto campuses. His experiences are described at Europe Israël News, with some bits taken from here and here.

Typical interactions from a lecture tour Hen Mazzig made in 2013 (my emphasis):

This year, from January through May, I went to college campuses, high schools, and churches to tell people about the history of modern Israel, about my experience growing up in the Jewish state, and about my family. I also always spoke about my military service as an officer in an IDF COGAT unit that attends to the needs of Palestinian civilians who are not involved in the conflict and promotes Palestinian civil society.

At a BDS event in Portland, a professor from a Seattle university told the assembled crowd that the Jews of Israel have no national rights and should be forced out of the country. When I asked, “Where do you want them to go?” she calmly answered, “I don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t have any place else to go. They should not be there.”

When I responded that she was calling for ethnic cleansing, both she and her supporters denied it.

And during a presentation in Seattle, I spoke about my longing for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. When I was done, a woman in her 60’s stood up and yelled at me, “You are worse than the Nazis. You are just like the Nazi youth!”

A number of times I was repeatedly accused of being a killer, though I have never hurt anyone in my life.

On other occasions, anti-Israel activists called me a rapist. The claims go beyond being absurd – in one case, a professor asked me if I knew how many Palestinians have been raped by IDF forces. I answered that as far as I knew, none.

She triumphantly responded that I was right, because, she said, “You IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinians because Israelis are so racist and disgusted by them that you won’t touch them.”

In fact, as that woman admitted, there’s no evidence that IDF soldiers ever raped a single Palestinian woman.  But of course you can make hay out of that too if you’re sufficiently motivated to demonize Israel and its inhabitants. You can even turn non-rape into a bad thing, and even into rape itself!

The “not raping is bad” trope came in fact from a Hebrew University paper written by Tal Nitzan, a doctoral candidate (you can apparently buy it here, but it’s not on the internet for free). It’s described here, and that description is verified in several places. Want to see demonization at its worst? Read this:

A research paper that won a Hebrew University teachers’ committee prize finds that the lack of IDF rapes of Palestinian women is designed to serve a political purpose.

The abstract of the paper, authored by doctoral candidate Tal Nitzan, notes that the paper shows that “the lack of organized military rape is an alternate way of realizing [particular] political goals.”

The next sentence delineates the particular goals that are realized in this manner: “In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be seen that the lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences – just as organized military rape would have done.”

The paper further theorizes that Arab women in Judea and Samaria are not raped by IDF soldiers because the women are de-humanized in the soldiers’ eyes.

The paper was published by the Hebrew University’s Shaine Center, based on the recommendation of a Hebrew University professors’ committee headed by Dr. Zali Gurevitch.

You can’t win: If you rape an Arab, you’re dehumanizing them. If you don’t rape them, you’re dehumanizing them too. The alternative hypothesis, that Israeli soldiers don’t engage in rape because of professional strictures and moral scruples, isn’t even considered.  The newspaper also reports this, apparently a quote from Mazzig, though I’m not sure:

According to Dr. Gurevitch, This was a very serious paper that asked two important questions: Is the relative lack of IDF rapes a noteworthy phenomenon, and if so, why is it that there are so few IDF rapes when in similar situations around the world, where rape is so much more common?

The abstract of the paper, authored by doctoral candidate Nitzan, could not find instances of rapes of Palestinian women by the IDF it sought to find, so it was decided that the paper show that “the lack of organized military rape is an alternate way of realizing [particular] political goals.” It continues, “In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be seen that the lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences – just as organized military rape would have done.”

Ergo, Nitzan could not find any cases of rape by IDF soldiers of Palestinian women even though Palestinian media constantly accuses Israeli soldiers of this. Apparently distraught over such findings, Nitzan had to twist her thesis to attribute the lack of such rapes to a governmental program instilling in IDF soldiers that the Arab women are sub-human or inferior.

This is in contrast to the behavior of Arabs, who have sexually harassed and assaulted Western and Israeli women who were engaged in protests against the West Bank settlements. In fact, a female Egyptian lawyer has called for Arab men to sexually harass Israeli women, and even, at the end, suggests that the women wouldn’t have any reason to complain even if they were raped, because, after all, Israelis are raping Arab land. This is from, and verified by the video below (not my emphasis):

Following are excerpts from an interview with Egyptian lawyer Nagla Al-Imam, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on October 31, 2008.

Interviewer: Egyptian lawyer Nagla Al-Imam has proposed that young Arab men should sexually harass Israeli girls wherever they may be and using any possible method, as a new means in the resistance against Israel.


Interviewer: We have with us the lawyer Nagla Al-Imam from Cairo. Welcome. What is the purpose of this proposal of yours?

Nagla Al-Imam: This is a form of resistance. In my opinion, they are fair game for all Arabs, and there is nothing wrong with…

Interviewer: On what grounds?

Nagla Al-Imam: First of all, they violate our rights, and they “rape” the land. Few things are as grave as the rape of land. In my view, this is a new form of resistance.

Interviewer: As a lawyer, don’t you think this might expose Arab youth to punishment for violating laws against sexual harassment?

Nagla Al-Imam: Most Arab countries… With the exception of three or four Arab countries, which I don’t think allow Israeli women to enter anyway, most Arab countries do not have sexual harassment laws. Therefore, if [Arab women] are fair game for Arab men, there is nothing wrong with Israeli women being fair game as well.

Interviewer: Does this also include rape?

Nagla Al-Imam: No. Sexual harassment… In my view, the [Israeli women] do not have any right to respond. The resistance fighters would not initiate such a thing, because their moral values are much loftier than that. However if such a thing did happen to them, the [Israeli women] have no right to make any demands, because this would put us on equal terms – leave the land so we won’t rape you. These two things are equal.

Here’s that interview:

I have no comment except to say that this form of anti-Israeli behavior goes beyond valid political protest when it calls for sexual harassment of Israeli women (with the harassed women having no right to respond) as well as leveling crazy accusations that Israeli soldiers’ failure to rape Arab women is itself some sort of moral wrong. Tell me that there’s no anti-Semitism in there!

Here’s Hen Mazzig, from an Oxford University site where he was described as “being in the IDF for almost five years. As a lieutenant in the COGAT unit, he worked as an intermediary between the Israeli Defence Forces and the Palestinian Authority, the UN and the many NGOs that work in the West Bank. During his service, he facilitated several infrastructure projects including the construction of schools, hospitals, roads and water-related infrastructure. Hen also served as an as an openly gay LGBTQ activist in the IDF.”

Well that’s certainly deserving of hatred, isn’t it? And he didn’t rape anyone—how disgusting!


hh/t: Malgorzata

Trump’s bizarre press conference: Is he mentally ill?

If you missed Trump’s press conference yesterday, you missed one of the most bizarre behaviors of an American President I’ve ever seen. It’s matched in my memory only by Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman” assertion, and Nixon’s “I am not a crook” statement.

But this went on for 74 minutes, and if James Joyce could write a press conference in the style of Ulysses, it would be this one. I’ve put the whole video of the press conference below, and reproduced in its entirety the email I got from CNN about the conference. CNN even gave its report the headline I’ve put below (click on screenshot to go to story). And I recommend you click on the link below called “Trump’s most memorable lines,” which include this gem:

“The leaks are real, the news is fake.”
and this palpable lie:
“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”


Here’s CNN’s email (I have to say, I feel both revulsion and amusement when the daily bulletins called “CNN Breaking News” show up in my “in” box, for I know it will be yet another report on the progress of the Trump Clown Car):

President Donald Trump launched an extraordinary denunciation of his critics on Thursday, slamming stories that his campaign was constantly in contact with Russia as “fake news.”

Trump held court for an hour and 15 minutes, displaying a sense of anger and grievance rarely vented by a president in public.

Watch the full news conference and read the transcript.

He touted his own poll numbers, victory over Hillary Clinton and discussed cable TV ratings.

Reporters repeatedly pressed Trump on whether his campaign staff had been in contact with Russia, as a widening drama over his alleged connections with Moscow dominates news coverage.

“Nobody that I know of. How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse,” Trump said. “Russia is fake news.”

The real story, Trump insists, are “criminal” leaks from the intelligence community that have illuminated his campaign’s ties to Russia.

“We’ll find the leakers,” Trump told reporters. “They’re gonna pay a big price for leaking.” The White House is considering tapping an outsider, longtime Trump friend Stephen Feinberg, to review US intelligence agencies, US officials say.

Trump offered more made-for-TV moments during his news conference, many of which you’ll have to see for yourself:

Here’s the video: watch and weep:

People are arguing whether Trump is mentally ill or not, and HuffPo even had an confusing (and malicious) article about the issue whose title is given below (the original title was worse, as it didn’t include the word “Psychiatrist:” at the beginning). Click on screenshot to go to the article:


The main argument of that piece is this:

Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, told the newspaper that he wrote the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder ― and Trump doesn’t meet it.

“He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder,” he wrote.

There are a few points to make about this. First, I doubt that Frances has personally examined Trump, so he has no business asserting whether or not Trump has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  Second, Frances has no idea whether Trump suffers “distress” over his personality. Even if he doesn’t, he’s certainly impaired in his interpersonal relationships. Third, Frances is conflating “mental disorder,” “mentally ill” and “narcissistic personality disorder.” Some psychiatrists don’t consider personality disorder a “mental illness” because it’s not as serious as some mental problems, or doesn’t drive people into therapy. Yet NPD is still listed in version 5 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the gold-standard book mental health professionals use for formal diagnoses. (If you know about the DSM, you’ll know about its disturbing history of changing diagnoses and criteria. As a scientist, I have substantial problems with how it uses a set number of criteria to effect a diagnosis, as I see many mental “disorders” as occurring on a sliding scale with no fixed threshold.)

Is there a difference between being mentally ill and mentally disordered? Well, some people think so, but given that both are based on biological conditions of the brain and physiology that make one behave outside the norm, I think such a distinction is subjective and arbitrary.

But judge for yourself: here are the DSM-5’s criteria for NPD. Does Trump show the symptoms?

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So does Trump have NPD? I’d say that based on all these criteria, “yes”; but of course I’m not a professional. But I’d also assert (see below), that I don’t really care.

Is Trump mentally ill? Well, that depends on whether you see NPD as a mental illness. It’s certainly behavior that is disturbing and outside the norm, but not as far outside the norm as severe clinical depression or schizophrenia. But you can make the case that this is an arbitrary distinction; after all, if NPD isn’t a mental illness, then a cold isn’t a physical illness, because leukemia or diabetes are more debilitating, and drive people to physicians. Again, I don’t really care whether the answer to this question is “yes” or “no.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter because what we should do is independent of the answers. Trump is not going to get therapy—personality disorders are famously resistant to therapy, anyway—and so our response to his behavior should be to intervene politically, not medically. All we can do is to stop his actions as best we can, and that’s achievable only by political opposition to what he does, not by pondering and diagnosing his psychological makeup. (Of course, if he does have NPD, and if your goal is to rile him up, then are certain things that are more effective than others, like saying that he’s not as competent as someone else, or got fewer electoral votes or smaller Inauguration crowds. To trigger someone with NPD, you impugn their grandiose claims.)

It’s like one commenter yesterday who argued that we’d be more effective at stopping the misogyny of Haredi Jews against secular women (like those on airplanes) if we understood where in religious law and custom those attitudes came from. I doubt that. We stop the misogyny by making rules and laws against it, not by trying to convince the Orthodox Jews that their interpretation of scripture is wrong. Likewise, we must use the courts and our protests, not the ministrations or diagnoses of psychiatrists, to stop Trump from wrecking our country.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Tony Eales from Queensland, Australia sent a passel of photos of natural selection in action. His notes (species weren’t identified, so I’m putting up his photo labels):

To help top up the tank I’m offering up a set of photos of arthropods eating other arthropods.

Assassin bug versus beetle larva:


Assassin bug versus caterpillar:


Crab spider versus bug:


Crab spider versus fly:


Crab spider versus mantis:


Crab spider versus stingless bee:


Dragonfly versus fly:


Spider versus something (photo unlabeled):


Lynx spider versus bee:


Mantid versus bug:


Mantid versus butterfly:


Spider versus alate (ant):


Spider versus moth:


Spider versus spider:


Free will: the only kind worth wanting

Reader Michael from the UK sent this poster, which gave him a double take. His notes:

I was in my GP’s waiting room this morning & my eyes were drawn to a poster on the noticeboard similar to the one below.  Your free will posts have so thoroughly meme-iated my head that it took me a few seconds to figure out the intended meaning 🙂
As Dan Dennett might say, “This is the only form of free will worth wanting.”

Friday: Hili dialogue

Good morning: we’ve now reached the end of most people’s work week—Friday, February 17, 2017. It’s both National Indian Pudding Day and National Cafe’ Au Lait Day. Indian pudding, a baked concoction of molasses, cornmeal and other good stuff (recipe here) is best served warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love it, and recommend that you try it if you’re in New England (I doubt you can find it outside the northeast US). Here’s what it looks like:


If you’re in Boston, try this at the Durgin-Park restaurant near Faneuil Hall; their version is very good.

And in Europe today, it’s World Cat Day.

On this day in 1600, Giordana Bruno was burned alive for heresy, but of course (as the scholars of science tell us) it had nothing to do with religion. On February 17, 1801, there was an electoral tie between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson for President; it was resolved by the House of Representatives, which made Jefferson our third President and Burr the Vice-President. On February 17, 1904, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly opened at La Scala in Milan, and, in 1980, the Polish mountaineers Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy made the first winter ascent of Mount Everest.

Notables born on this day include evolutionary geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher (1890), creationist Duane Gish (1921), Alan Bates (1934), Gene Pitney (1940), Huey P. Newton (1942), and Paris Hilton (1981). Those who died on this day include, beside Bruno,Molière (1673), Jan Swammerdam (1680; one of Matthew Cobb’s heroes), Geronimo (1909), and Thelonious Monk and Lee Strasberg (both 1982). I asked Matthew to write a brief summary of Swammerdam’s life, and here it is (the Swammerdam website can be found here, though there is no authenticated portrait of the man):

Swammerdam was a pioneer microscopist and entomologist who made a number of discoveries in the 1660s and 1670s. In particular, he showed that the caterpillar and the butterfly are the same organism, and came up with an aphorism that might seem trivial today, but which was truly revolutionary at the time: all animals are born from an egg produced by a female of the same species. He died of malaria at the relatively early age of 43. He contracted the disease in Europe some time in the 1670s – malaria was finally eradicated in Europe only in the 20th century.

Ironically, one of his most striking drawings is of the mosquito, the insect which transmitted the disease that killed him:

SWAMMERDAM: MOSQUITO. Illustration by Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680) from his 'Histoire Generale des Insectes', posthumously published in 1682.

Illustration by Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680) from his ‘Histoire Generale des Insectes’, posthumously published in 1682.

His manuscripts, which many of which are held at the University of Leiden (where he studied) or at the University of Göttingen (it’s complicated) show when he was ill – his handwriting becomes weak and scratchy. His friends, in particular his patron, the mysterious Melchisedec Thévenot (one-time ambassador, spy, inventor of the spirit level and bibliophile) tried to obtain ‘Jesuit’s bark’ (the bark of the quinine tree) to help him, but to no avail. There is a plaque marking the site of his grave in Amsterdam, but the grave has long been cleared. His birthplace – not far away – is marked by a fine stone plaque set into the wall.


Swammerdam features largely in Matthew’s well-regarded book, Generation: The Seventeeth-Century Scientists Who Unraveled the Secrets of Sex, Life, and Growth 

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Malgorzata and Hili are having a lie-down:

A: Have you decided to take a nap?
Hili: Maybe we need a short rest.
 In Polish:
Ja: Położyłyście się na drzemkę?
Hili: Widać potrzebowałyśmy krótkiego odpoczynku.
Here are two animal tweets, both furnished by Matthew:

Finally, in honor of Trump and his bizarre press conference yesterday, we have this lagniappe:


Intrepid squirrel drives away burglar, gets rewarded with Whoppers

From WXPI in Idaho, we hear of a Hero Squirrel named Joey who drove a burglar, apparently attacking and biting the intruder. Adam Pearl, Joey’s owner, came home and found scratches on his gun case, with a few items missing. Apparently the police found the intruder, who confessed to the crime after the cops noticed he bore marks of sciurid wrath:

Pearl called police and Officer Ashley Turner came out to take a report. She was startled by Pearl’s pet squirrel and asked Pearl if Joey would bite, according to the KIVI report. Pearl said the squirrel normally didn’t bite, but he couldn’t rule it out.

Turner left to investigate the crime, only to return to Pearl’s residence a few hours later with some of Pearl’s stolen merchandise. When questioning the suspect, Turner noticed he had scratches on his hand and asked if he got them from a squirrel. The man said the squirrel wouldn’t stop attacking him until he left the house.

Pearl said Joey is basking in his heroic actions by enjoying his favorite treat – Whoppers candy.

Click on the screenshot to see the short video that appeared on television.


I don’t know if they sell Whoppers outside the US, but if you don’t know the candy, it’s the archetypal movie treat: malted milk balls covered with a chocolate-like substance:


Other candies I ate as a kid at the movies were Raisinettes, Nonpareils, and Sugar Daddy caramel suckers.

The interior of a Whopper:




h/t: Martin R.

Chinese students object to Dalai Lama’s graduation speech because it violates tolerance and diversity

When a tactic proves politically successful for one group, others often adopt it.  Students all over the US and UK, for instance, have taken a page from the extremist Muslim playbook, equating “I’m offended” with “I have been injured”—a justification for censoring others. And in Berkeley, the anarchists go further, threatening violence when they’re offended, like those Muslims who went on a rampage after the Danish cartoons were published.

Now it’s happened at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), where a group of mainland Chinese students have taken a tactic from college Leftists. It’s all detailed in an article at Quartz: “Chinese students in the US are using ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ to oppose a Dalai Lama graduation speech.

What happened is that UCSD invited the Dalai Lama, a much beloved figure but to some, including the late Christopher Hitchens, a flawed one. All in all, though, I see him as fairly innocuous—one of those religious leaders who doesn’t do much damage. I do take issue with those who claim he’s pro-science—even though he wrote a book saying Buddhism was compatible with science—as he also accepts reincarnation and karma: numinous and unscientific beliefs.

But the mainland Chinese see things differently. What happened to Tibet, of course, was that the People’s Republic of China annexed that land in 1951, and, after an unsuccessful revolt, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he resides with his followers. Since then, the Chinese have waged a relentless campaign to de-Tibetanize the country, pouring Han Chinese settlers into it, and engaging in human rights violations, including, according to an Amnesty International report, executions, tortures, extrajudicial killings. sterilization, and forced abortions, as well as the closing of monasteries. When I visited Tibet about 14 years ago, the monks all beseeched me on the sly for pictures of the Dalai Lama, which are illegal. (One English woman was even assaulted by Chinese soldiers for wearing a Sergeant Bilko tee shirt, since Phil Silvers, who played the sergeant, supposedly resembled the Dalai Lama.) The old Tibet and its people are rapidly disappearing.

This anti-Tibetan animus was further driven home to me when a young professor who came from mainland China, but had a job in the U.S., went on a rant to me about the Dalai Lama, asking me if I realized that he “drank human blood from a skull.”  Of course young Chinese are taught that the Dalai Lama is a figure of divisiveness and rebellion. and he’s called a “terrorist”, so I eventually understood.

Now pre-Chinese Tibet wasn’t perfect by a long shot: it had the remnants of a feudal system, only a step from slavery, and many people were mistreated. But one can’t say that it’s palpably better now, especially for the Tibetans, who are slowly being driven to extinction by the Chinese, and are forcibly denied many of their traditional religious perquisities.

Anyway, UCSD’s invitation to the Dalai Lama angered the university’s Chinese students, who said he was an inappropriate speaker because he was an oppressor, because he was divisive, and because his invitation showed a “lack of respect” to Chinese students. Notably, his choice was said to show an “ethnic secessionism” equivalent to Trump’s xenophobia, an anti-egalitarianism, and a lack of cultural sensitivity to Chinese students. (The students’ objections are detailed in the article.)  What was surprising was the students’ and alumni’s use of social justice rhetoric:

In a letter addressed to the university’s chancellor, the UCSD Shanghai Alumni Group used similar rhetoric, invoking “diversity” to justify its opposition.

As Chinese alumni, we are proud to be part of the growing UC community because of its diversity and inclusiveness. When addressing such a diverse community, there is a greater responsibility to spread a message that brings people together, rather than split them apart. During the campus commencement, there will be over a thousand Chinese students, families, and friends celebrating this precious moment with their loved ones. If Tenzin Gyatso expresses his political views under the guise of “spirituality and compassion,” the Chinese segment of this community will feel extremely offended and disrespected during this special occasion.


At UCSD, the Chinese-student opposition to the invitation came instantly. Just hours after the announcement, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) issued a lengthy, Chinese-language note on WeChat saying it had communicated with the Chinese consulate about the matter.

UCSD is a place for students to cultivate their minds and enrich their knowledge. Currently, the various actions undertaken by the university have contravened the spirit of respect, tolerance, equality, and earnestness—the ethos upon which the university is built. These actions have also dampened the academic enthusiasm of Chinese students and scholars. If the university insists on acting unilaterally and inviting the Dalai Lama to give a speech at the graduation ceremony, our association vows to take further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior. Specific details of these measures will be outlined in our future statements.

We don’t know what these “further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior” will be; I hope they’ll consist of peaceful protests. In fact, I’m pretty sure they will be.

Of course nobody knows what the Dalai Lama would actually say in his address, but I strongly suspect he’d stay away from matters politic. What strikes me about this protest is that the Chinese students who object come from a country that’s dedicated to wiping out a cultural minority. How dare they protest the Dalai Lama on grounds of promoting “cultural diversity” and “respect”? And it’s also striking that they’ve adopted the language of social justice warriors. As the article reports:

“If there were an objection to the Dalai Lama speaking on campus 10 years ago, you would not have seen the objection from Chinese students being framed within the rhetoric of diversity and inclusion,” says professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom, who researches modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine. “There is a borrowing of rhetorical strategies.”

Dr. Tsering Topgyal, a Tibetan native who received his master’s degree at UCSD and now lectures at the UK’s University of Birmingham, called diversity “an expedient notion to latch onto given its importance in both rhetoric and substance in the US and academia.” But he questions its appropriateness as a framing device for this specific grievance:

“If the Chinese students wish to exploit diversity, they would come across as more convincing if they were more committed and supportive of this principle back home. If they are so committed to diversity, it behooves them to be more accepting of the Dalai Lama’s talk, especially since I am sure that many of the non-Chinese student community would wish to hear the Dalai Lama.”

Let’s face it: these Chinese students are neither oppressed nor victims. If anybody is, it’s the Tibetans. How ironic, then, that the Chinese use the language of victimhood in their protests. Of course they have every right to protest, but they really should absorb a bit more history.


Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

h/t: Mehul