Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

You know the tune, boomers...

Last night I said these words to Kerry
Obey me, or I'll put you in the cemetery
I've got a bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
Appease me, oh yeah, 'cos I've got a bomb.

Last week Iran, today it's China
Next week North Korea wants something minor...
They've got a bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
Appease them, oh yeah, 'cos they've got a bomb.

I don't want to stop complaining 'cos there's always something else I can demand
(I can demand!)
Get it to me quick so my requests I can expand, oh yeah, or you'll soon be blue.

Last night I said these words to Kerry
Obey me, or things are gonna get hairy
I've got a bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
A bomb, a bomb
Appease me, oh yeah, 'cos I've got a bomb.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ho-hum

Reading Lincoln Journal Star editorials is a useful mental exercise; assemble in your mind all of the unexamined premises, misguided conclusions and downright falsehoods, and then try to determine if they spring from malice or ignorance. An editorial like today's, whole-heartedly approving of a campaign for political correctness at UNL, is an especially meaty challenge. You just have to step back and admire the following
As often is the case, an effective response to those who use freedom of speech in an offensive way is a simply to exercise more freedom of speech. That's what UNL administrators are doing and what they are encouraging students to do.
Well, no. In fact, that's a complete inversion of the truth. The student senate is exploring the impeachment of the offending student. The administration has done nothing publicly to discourage that impeachment. In fact, Harvey Perlman has minimized free speech concerns. I am not aware of anything he or any other administrator has said that encourages speech to be met by more speech, invoking the marketplace of ideas, or emphasizing that universities are bastions of free expression. Quite the opposite, in fact. "Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever" is not a slogan that signals a campaign based on ideas.

The editorial, while it give the student's name in full (no doubt to secure plenty of unfavorable web hits when he goes looking for a job) never once mentions he faces sanctions for expressing a political opinion.

I'm going with ignorance on this one. I don't think they could be bothered to spend 5 minutes researching the case. And you just have to laugh at this.

A quick online search shows that in recent months racially charged incidents have occurred on campuses on the East Coast, West Coast and other parts of the country.
A quick online search will also get you UFO reports from the East Coast, West Coast and other parts of the country. It doesn't mean we face interplanetary invasion. There is no evidence of an epidemic or an increase in the number of 'racially charged' incidents. In fact, many of the most prominent cases, such as Oberlin, turned out to be mistakes or overt hoaxes.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The consequences of standing up for free speech at UNL

So, a visiting professor in my lab, Dr. Young-Sik Kye, two weeks ago, told me we'd been inspected by Environmental Health and Safety, and given a clean bill of health. That's good. We've really worked the last 3 months getting my lab clean after I was Departmental Safety Chair.

But then, very strangely, after I'd tweeted and blogged criticizing Harvey Perlman's response to the ASUN senate free speech issue, I got another notice saying I was going to be inspected again. Fine I replied, but wasn't I just inspected? No, that was your offices, I was told (not what I heard previously, though). We need to do your labs, HaH 725 725a and 725b.

That's OK, I said, there is no 725a or 725b, but do 725.

After this very abrupt and surprising inspection, I was told I was getting a humdinger of a safety report, but the main thing is my lab fridge and freezer were not compliant.

That's funny, I replied, they were modified by the department's own electronics shop to be safety compliant. And they've been judged safety compliant for 15 years (and frankly, there's not much in them)

Things have changed, I was told. Requirements are much more stringent. OSHA. (We're not actually subject to OSHA)

Then I was asked for safety records of all my students and personnel. Fortunately, 2 of the 3 signed on in the last 3 months and were rigorously trained. The third does purely theory. And the Department, mostly thanks to our excellent current safety chair and building manager, keeps rigorous records.

Then they looked at my own training. Although I was Department Safety Coordinator for the previous three years, and was actually doing the safety training for everyone in the department, apparently my own training is inadequate. I must take more safety courses.

I have no idea what will happen next. No doubt my email password will be judged inadequately secure, or I'll have to do diversity training.

They're messing with the wrong guy. I won't resist any of this. Instead, I'm going to list it all on my annual merit evaluation at the end of the year and demand credit for professional development.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

(2) Missing: Nebraska journalism.

Both Kevin Abourezk of the Lincoln Journal Star and the editorial staff of the Daily Nebraska are well aware of the critical FIRE piece about UNL's response to Mr Murphy's speech at the ASUN senate meeting, and have chosen not to cover it. I emailed Mr. Abourezk, and @DailyNebraskan was flagged repeatedly on Twitter. No response.

As usual, our local professional 'journalists' have displayed profound incuriousness about the whole series of events. Exactly where did this alleged sidewalk chalking occur? Has anyone asked? In this age of camera phones, does anyone have a photograph? Are the police investigating? Crickets!

Needless to say, the chances of this being a 'consciousness raising' hoax, after a publicaly controversial racially tinged incident, are pretty darn high. Everyday bigots and frat house drunks don't walk around with sidewalk chalk in their pockets. Activists do.

Meanwhile, coverage of last night's rally was uncritically accepting of the prevailing racial grievance narrative..

Our local cadre of community activists masquerading as journalists are far more interesting in retricting the information we get access to, than in actually informing us about what is going on.

(1) A bad week for freedom at UNL

Harvey Perlman's proclamation about goings-on at the Association of Students at the University of Nebraska (ASUN) senate got the attention of a national campus free-sppech watchdog group, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). In a nice piece on recent incidents at the Senate and the university repsonse, Ari Cohn of FIRE wrote:
Of course, the blame for all of this “unlearned liberty” doesn’t rest solely with the students. With administrators like UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, it’s no surprise that students misunderstand the principles of free speech. Perlman addressed the incident in a message to the entire UNL community, saying:
Racial epithets and racial impersonations are not acceptable anywhere but especially in an institution devoted to education and progress. ... I am deeply hurt that use of this language has been used here, for purposes I can’t imagine and in venues where civil discourse and its values are honored. We don’t need to debate any nuance of free speech to conclude such language is harmful, despicable, and intolerable.
Perlman is seemingly unaware of the purpose for which the offending words were spoken. This message conveys no sense of context, as if a student had inexplicably launched into a racist tirade without prompting—when in fact Murphy chose his language specifically to make a point about free speech and the nuances of words that make banning them a bad idea.
As far as anyone knows, Mr. Murphy is still awaiting expulsion from the Senate. Meanwhile, over the weekend, the New York Times, distributed on campus by the same ASUN, published a column by Ta-Nehisi Coates which had no fewer than 13 instances of the spelled-out N word, which got Mr. Murphy in trouble. One law for us, another law for them.

But then, above all else, Nebraska has lacked self-awareness and a sense of irony during this whole affair. Hasn't anyone even noticed that their chintzy slogan Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever doesn't exactly broadcast tolerance?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Chancellors and unpopular student speech

I used periodically to write letters, some quite snarky, and post comments to the Daily Nebraskan, the local student newspaper. I gave it up after a conversation with an older colleague who happened to be a good and very popular teacher. He pointed out that regardless of how faculty regard the relationship, students tend to see faculty as authority figures, and what the professor might think to be a reasonable challenge to an idea, could easily be seen by them as bullying, and one needed to be careful. (This, obviously, does not hold if the student has initiated open hostility or rudeness.)

This came to mind this week in the controversy about a speech a Association of Students of the University of Nebraska senator gave at a student senate meeting. The student reportedly, in a debate about free speech and a resolution advising against derogatory language, read part of a racial-epithet-laden monolog from African-American comedian Chris Rock, and also deplored complaints from Mexican-American students about wearing of sombreros on homecoming floats. I'm merely inferring this, but I think the points he was trying to make were (1) that it's unreasonable for there to be words that one group of people can use without recrimination, but can't be used by other groups of people and (2) that everyone is too gosh darn easily offended anyway. Both points are valid. I happen to agree with both, but even if you don't, I hope you will concede they're valid positions to take.

Even though the chair of the ASUN senate meeting allowed the speech to proceed, Mr. Murphy is now facing 'impeachment' by the student senate. Evidently the irony of punishing someone for what he said during a debate on free speech has escaped some of the members of that august body. And that itself would be fine; it's not as if expulsion from the ASUN senate will blight one's career, and student representative bodies should, except in extreme circumstances, be left alone by the university. It would be nice if its members had been imbued in their college education with an appreciation of the importance of free speech, particularly freedom of political speech, but that's on us, not on them.

All of this was proceeding merrily -- in fact, I'd paid almost no attention to it -- until the Chancellor of the university turned up with a sledgehammer to attack this tiny nut. He sent out this email to everybody -- students, staff and faculty.

I'm sorry, the most pejorative descriptor of Mr Muprhy's remarks, as reported, that I can come up with is 'ill-judged', and that's in hindsight. Not to mince words, calling his speech 'harmful, despicable, and intolerable' is ridiculous hyperbole, and whether Perlman accepts it or not, coming from a chancellor to a student, it is bullying. Perlman apparently thinks very little of free-speech, and apparently doesn't agree that of all speech, political speech deserves the highest level of protection. That is not a 'nuance', it is a cornerstone of freedom and democracy. And if Perlman 'can't imagine' why the language was used, well, let's just kindly say his imagination is deficient.

The statement had its intended effect. Mr. Murphy has indeed been silenced, as Perlman wanted, and won't speak to the newspapers. Meanwhile, last night, the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences sent out his own statement, which included a clich├ęd call for "critical thinking and engagement in dialogs on race, gender and sexual orientation".

The UNL administration's actions show they're not in the least interested in a dialog. Rather, anyone who expresses a contrary view is to be browbeaten until they shut up. And faced with such powerful adversaries, who wouldn't shut up?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A direct, blatant lie from the Lincoln Journal Star

Three men, armed with a shotgun, committed a home invasion robbery in the near-south area of Lincoln; they assaulted a resident with the gun. The Journal Star reported:
Davidsaver said the resident was OK and was not taken to the hospital. The men were able to provide only vague descriptions of the intruders.
Captain Davidsaver is a police spokesman. But that is not what the police said. Lincoln Crimestoppers reports.
The robbers are described as black males, between the ages of 19-to-23 and all with average builds. The woman is described as being mixed race.
This is not in the least vague. The Lincoln Journal Star has gone from suppressing suspect descriptions in armed robberies, to telling direct lies about them.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Wind turbines kill 600,000 bats a year in the US alone

From Science Times
Wind turbines killed hundreds of thousands of bats in 2012 in the United States, according to an article by Mark Hayes of the University of Colorado. Hayes took the number of dead bats from 21 wind turbine locations and inferred the number of nationwide bat deaths, arriving at the conservative estimate of 600,000 bats killed in 2012. But the real toll, Hayes notes, may be as high as 900,000.
Bats, several of which are endangered species in the US, are apparently killed either by the blades or by barotrauma. Evidence for the latter are lung or middle ear hemorrhages. 100% of dead bats had the latter, whereas only 46% had physcial trauma. In the vernacuylar, barorauma is where the pressure differences around the blades or in their tiny and vital ears are blown out by the blades. I wonder how many more lose their hearing and starve to death?

Envoironmentalists are cruel bastards

I love bats, but they reproduce slowly. The study confirms other work. Bird kill numbers around wind power stations are also enormous.