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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In defense of experts.

Newsweek just posted a lengthy piece by Kurt Eichenwald, which is mostly a birdwatcher's guide to biblical criticism. Biblical criticism is a field that starts with the premise that the Bible is not supernatural or divinely inspired, and aims to find out what one can deduce about history, and the early development of Christianity, from the texts themsleves. And there are thousands of early manuscripts of the Bible and apocryphal works. It's truly a vast field.

First of all, I should say I’m a dilletante in the far-too-many things that interest me, and even more (less) of a dilletante in Biblical criticism, about which I’m mostly ‘meh’. Brought up a Catholic, my interest in the Bible was never going to be that great. I do like history, and so I take an interest in how the Bible relates to the history of the near east 0 - 400 CE. But 'interested layperson' about sums it up for me.

Mr Eichenwald is another kind of dilletante, a journalist. He seems to be a reasonably good one. To this interested layperson, he seems to have done a laudable job in summing up biblical scholarship. Of course, he’s made bonehead errors, that even I, less an expert than he, can see. For example, reputable Judaic scholarship does not claim that anything in the Old Testament was written around 1000 BC. As best I understand it, the earliest books (which are not the Pentateuch) were not written until after the Babylonian captivity. Still, the basic ideas are sound. Matthew Mark, Luke and John were not the apostles of the same name. The earliest existing gospel, Mark was not written anything like contemporaneously. It was probably written some time around the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Matthew and Luke probably drew on Mark and another, lost gospel (Q) as a source. And John is off in left field. Luke was probably also the author of Acts, and probably knew Paul, although his writings post-dated the Pauline epistles. And so on. There were also lots of competing gospels, many lost, and none of this got to be canon until much later. And while scholars will (as scholars do) fight to death over the details, none of the above is particularly controversial.

The problem is, contemporary Christian churches want you to think the Bible is divinely inspired, and so gloss over the small matter that decades intervened between Jesus's life (if there ever was a Jesus), and the very earliest versions of the gospels, of which the manuscripts are lost. If you're going to tell believing Christians this, it's a mistake to take shots at evangelical Christians while also writing a popularized account of Biblical criticism. It’s hard enough for Christians to get their head around the idea that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not the apostles of the same name, without throwing in contemporary politics.

The point is, Biblical criticism is an enormous subject, encompassing the work of thousands of scholars over hundreds of years, and it’s hard for a journalist to get it even approximately right. There are thousands of manuscripts, and entire subfields devoted to textual criticism, detailed study of the Koine Greek, etc. There are actually some biblical scholars who write well, and eruditely, who would have not left mistakes out there to be picked on, and who might have forgone the temptation to take cheap shots at Rick Perry. Why didn’t Newsweek commission one of them to write this?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A few last thoughts on the University of Virginia gang rape story

Sadness: the Washington Post today found so many and serious discrepancies in Jackie's story there is no other rational explanation than that she is a seriously mentally disturbed individual who concocted the entire episode. She's done a lot of harm, but reading the story, you have to conclude she's just sick, and has a bad choice of friends who reinforced her psychosis with the mantra 'I believe'. No, you shouldn't just believe, in this any more than in transsubstantiation.

Tragedy: downright evil reporting by a leftist activist magazine made this episode of individual psychosis into a national freak show.

Farce: The University of Virginia panicked into closing down all its fraternities and sororities and throwing itself into convulsions over a fabrication.

Crime: Cinderblocks were thrown through the windows of Psi Kappa Phi, and their premises vandalized, resulting in all the residents evacuating, all over a fantasy.

Cure: Go read the Crucible, take it to heart, and think three times before setting off on the next witch burning. And listen; being a liberal is volunteering as an extra in Groundhog Day. If you won't learn from history, you're condemned to repeat it.

I liked it better when we were a sane society, but I don't precisely remember when that was. Ask Gerald Amirault.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nick Kristof's biased racial commentary.

Today's New York Times commentary of race relations by Nick Kristoff, When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 5, beautifully illustrates why Kristof cannot be regarded as a fair reporter, let alone an accurate one. He says:
Two economists, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers, found that white N.B.A. referees disproportionally call fouls on black players, while black refs call more fouls on white players. “These biases are sufficiently large that they affect the outcome of an appreciable number of games,” Price and Wolfers wrote.
...except that's not what Price and Wolfers found. The paper is here. Look particularly at Table 3. What it shows is the racial composition of refereeing crews had almost no effect on the foul rate of black players. On the other hand, having a higher proportion of black referees tended to increase the number of fouls called on white players. White players had more fouls called on them overall.

Whether the racism was positive (white refs calling fewer fouls on white players) or negative (black refs calling more fouls on white players) is impossible to disentangle from the data, since a foul call is inevitably subjective, and it's clear white and black players tend to segregate somewhat by position and role.

But either way, the treatment of black players did not depend significantly on the race of the officiating crew. Or to quote the authors themselves:

This analysis reveals that the bias we document primarily affects white players.2 This is a departure from more standard accounts of discrimination which involve whites actively discriminating against blacks, although our setting is unusual in that black players are the majority group. In turn, this may reflect either white players being favored by white referees or disfavored by black referees, although our identification strategy (which relies on random assignment of refereeing crews) does not allow us to sort out which group of referees is responsible for this bias.
This directly contradicts Kristof.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ten things I learned from Ferguson

(1) When your old man gets out of the joint, paroled on federal firearms charges related to the manufacture, sale, and distribution of narcotics, and the parole officer says he can't live with your son, give Junior the heave-ho. He's 290 lbs; he can fend for himself.

(2) In the 'hood, a good shove is better than a $20 bill. It probably helps to be a 'gentle giant', though.


(3) Red is the appropriate color to wear to a funeral, if you have a close family affiliation with the Bloods.
(4) Never get between a grieving mother and her exclusive right to distribute merchandise exploiting her son's death. Don't care if it's Grandma doing it; assemble a posse, and beat the crap out of the old witch.
(5) Kewl gang symbols: apparently this means 'what's up, bro?'. Modeled, of course, by the beautiful and charming Mr. Brown himself.

(6) How to appeal for calm after a tragedy: 'raw emotion'.

(7) If you want to plow through a mob, a Ford F-150, bullbars and big wheels are de rigeur. Don't be like these people.

(8) If you are around when someone else tries (7), have a high quality digital recorder on hand, so you can sell the footage to the producers of 'The Walking Dead'

(9) Any questions why high-capacity magazines are A Good Thing? See (7) and (8).

(10) If you're working for the Newspaper of Record, it's OK to publish the address of a police officer receiving death threats, if you think he deserves to be killed.

Some remarks on jurisprudence, from a Professor of Chemistry.

The only person with a right to a trial is the defendant. If you see something you think is wrong, that doesn't entitle you to have the government prosecute. Federal private prosecutions are forbidden since 1981, and most states won't allow them either.

Back when many if not most prosecutions were private, the primary function of a grand jury was to squelch them if they were frivolous or unfounded. Now they don't happen, the grand jury is a mostly useless vestige. In Federal cases, they are constitutionally required, so prosecutors abuse them. However, while the practice of placing only evidence hostile to the defendant before a grand jury is permitted, it is not a mandate; in fact, the US Marshals' manual tells prosecutors to present the grand jury with exonerating evidence. A prosecutor who uses a grand jury to quash a prosecution the mob is demanding is acting far closer to the original intent than one who uses it as a rubber stamp.

Just because somebody practices criminal law, doesn't mean he knows this. I work with dozens of analytical chemists who don't know the history or first principles of the techniques they use.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson Solidarity Rally, or bus queue?

UNL Ethnic Studies (your tax dollars at work!) and the local ACLU held a Ferguson solidarity rally, which they carefully located away from any StarTran bus stops so they wouldn't be mistaken for a queue. Of course, you'd never actually see hipsters on a StarTran bus.

I'm a little surprised the turnout was so low, actually. N-street Liquors and Ben's Liquors are no more than 3 blocks away from the site. The looting possibilities are spectacular.

And I do like the 'No justice, No Mercedes-Benz' guy. Preach it brother! Solidarity and overpriced German cars!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Embarrassed by UNL Political Science, part 293

You may have read how UNL Political Science professor John Gruhl was videotaped dressing up as Dick Cheney and pretendy-shooting his students on Halloween, then launched into the sort of partisan tirade that students say is a common feature of his lectures.

Watch it on You Tube.

That Department which employed no registered Republicans last time I checked, is no stranger to scandal. It has had repeated problems with sexual harrassment.

There are a couple of good people in Poli. Sci., notably John Hibbing and Kevin Smith, but also some complete lunatics.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The straw that broke this camel's back: 'manspreading'

Apparenlty, 'manspreading' is a thing, and feminists are offended by it. Well, of course they are, i hear you say. But they even take pictures and set up blogs to bitch about it. Yes, I said 'bitch'.

Several of these premenstrual harpies had enough time on their hands to create tumblr blogs of the horror and stock them with pictures.

And to add to the ridiculousness, Massachuestts, a state entirely populated by eunuchs and steatopygian Brunnhildes, wants to outlaw it. Well, if you could elect Elizabeth Warren to the Senate, there are probably no limits to your stupidity.

OK, I've officially had enough. As of today, I am the patriarchal cisprivileged heteronormative white male oppressor you perpetually aggrieved sociopaths have for far too long accused me of being. If I'm going to be smeared with it, I'm going to do it. Whine at me, complain at me, and you're loudly going to be countered in the most snarky and demeaning way I can waste 5 seconds on. Which, as my wife will occasionally admit, but only occasionally, because she hates to encourage me, is Caro's acid strength. (I never snark at my wife, because she's not a raving harpy.)

Oh, you might say, what has changed? Well, actually, hard though it may be to believe, 90% of the time, I swallow hard and say nothing. No longer. Tell me what I can say, tell me what I can wear, or otherwise act like an officious santimonious twit, and I'm going to use my white male heterosexual cisgendered privilege to get in your face. Deal with it. Or as we in the oppressor business say, don't start a fight you can't finish.

And by the way, I'll spread my legs as wide as I want to, and then increase it a bit to piss you off. If you're uncomfortable, lose some weight in that overpadded arse. Kim Kardassian's (heh)freak husband may like them gynormous, but normal men don't. Word: 'Big Bottom' wasn't a love song, it was comedy.

And it you had to look up Caro's acid, you're a ditz.

Friday, November 14, 2014

GMO denialists get EU Chief Scientific Advisor sacked

The European Union, using the positive publicity of the Philae comet landing as cover, has terminated the post of EU Chief Science Advisor. CSA Anne Glover had been the victim of an intense lobby campaign by a coalition of environmental organizations, notably Greenpeace, follwing her insistence tha tthe safety of GMOs is a matter of scientific consensus and that opposition is 'a form of madness'. Incoming commission president, the alcoholic and corrupt Jean-Claude Juncker, is former prime minister of Luxembourg, which bans GMOs; pressure also came from the French.

Despite attempts from the left at fudging the issue ("it's an Anglo Saxon vs. Continental Europe thing"), there is wide consensus Professor Glover's GMO position led to her ouster.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quisling outbreak

UNL now has a student group called 'Men @ Nebraska'. Don't be fooled by it for a minute. They won't be protesting the withdrawal of protection for the accused in sexual assault cases, or asking why there are, six years after the passage of the Nebraska Civil Rights Inititative, still gender selective women's conferences at UNL, or why men pay more than women for drivers' insurance, but the same for health insurance. No, they'll be sitting around wondering why male athletes cheat, how they can prevent rape (easy one that: don't rape), grooving on Michael Kimmel (but in a manly way) and discussing why, generally, men are such pigs. Big clue: they meet at the women's center, and seem to be affiliated with that body and the LGBTQ alliance. Strong stench of male feminism here, methinks.
You have to admire the local feminists, though. This is a nice preemptive strike against there being any organized opposition to the 'preponderance of evidence' kangaroo courts currently sitting on campus.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A poem about a faculty meeting

Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up
if you'd all just shut up we could leave
month after month for 23 years
in this stuffy low-ceilinged-room
I've sat and listened to you drone
and sometimes I confess droned on myself
and if we ever had anything to say by now we've said it
and if anyone of us had gotten any wiser in that quarter lifetime
then he'd know at least one thing which is to
shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Twitter Is Hard, or, how do Millennials manage to wipe their own bums?

As some of you know, yesterday Nebraska elected (by a massive majority) Pete Ricketts to be the next governor of Nebraska. Pete's a former COO of TD Ameritrade, a brokerage house his father founded, and he's a nice guy. He's the only billionaire I know (very slightly) so of course he's a nice guy. He says hello to me.

Anyway, the gubernatorial campaign here mercifully steered clear of social issues, as did most of the national campaigns. In fact, I don't even remember the issue of gay rights coming up. I'm sure Pete pays lipservice to the standard GOP 'marriage should be between one man and one woman' boilerplate, because this is, after all, Nebraska; but I also know his sister is gay and that he's basically a libertarian conservative.

In any case, the election had its usual contingent of social media leftist twits, carpeting the standard election hashtags with cretinous slogans and having absolutely no influence on anyone at all. But, despite their complete and ignominious defeat in Nebraska, the struggle continues, man! So one of them just posted this.

Problem is, and I know this will be a shock, so sit down, but there is more than one public figure with the name 'Peter Ricketts'. And our little Golem chum happened to find Sir Peter Forbes Ricketts, who happens to be Her Majesty's Ambassador to France (The HMA in his Twitter handle is a big clue). Sir Peter might be quite surprised he's against gay equality, since of course gay equality is most certainly the position of HMG. I've no idea what he thought about this tweet, except it probably reinforced a prejudice that all Americans are lunatics.

So, if all this social media stuff is a Millennial thang, how come Millennials don't seem to be able to do it very well? I suspect it's just that they really can't do anything very well. In that case, I'm going to increase the storage capcity of my bunker to two years, because heaven help us all when this lot have to run the world without mommie's help.

It gets better. Sir Peter Ricketts clears up the confusion!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mission creep and the League of Women Voters

I'm a pretty serious birder. I keep a life-list (we all do; some of us just admit it). I spend hours in swamps in cold rain trying to photograph them. My wife complains they dominate every vacation we take.(It is true I've got a mental list of the number of endemics on each Caribbean island, just in case we're get into a discussion where to go).

So it would be logical that I join Audubon, right? When I moved to Nebraska, I considered doing that. I looked up Wachiska Audubon, on the proto-internet. What I found is that it was an active chapter, which scheduled a lot of night meetings. But not to hunt for owls. Wachiska Audubon's primary focus seemed to be human population control.

Now you might argue, and they do, that humans affect birds (indisputable) and that reducing the number of humans increases the health of the bird population (very disputable). But when a birding organization takes a position on human population growth, it first of all excludes those of us who don't see human population growth as a major problem (IMHO, the best way to limit population is grow the economy). And second of all, there are lots of organizations dedicated to limiting human population growth already, and if those float your boat, you can join them instead of Audubon.

But that's not how it works. Being a mere birding club is not good enough for some people. I call it the totalizing impulse; the temptation to make every interest, every avocation, every activity part of one great scheme to Save the Planet. It's consumed most nature-oriented organizations. Audubon is now about Saving the Planet. The Nature Conservancy, which once had the very admirable mission of buying private land and setting it aside for wildlife, is now about Saving the Planet. The Sierra Club, which used to be about creating and maintaining a trail network, is now about Saving the Planet. I'm tempted to see in all of this a manifestation of O Sullivan's Law

Any organization or enterprise that is not expressly right wing will become left wing over time
The Left cannot leave anything alone. The most innocuous club, be it dedicated to needlepoint, or model airplanes, or birds, must be coopted as part of the great totalitarian endeavor.

So what set this off? Ben Sasse, Nebraska candidate for Senate, did not fill out a voter survey sent by the League of Women Voters. LWV is a classic example of O Sullivan's Law in action. Founded in 1920 as an organization to register women to vote, it still calls itself 'non-partisan', but has gotten deeply into public advocacy in areas that have nothing at all to do with exercising the franchise. It's most notorious intervention to date was a vicious attack ad run against Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, which used a young girl with asthma as a vehicle to assail Brown's position on the EPA regulating CO2 emissions (which, of course, don't cause asthma.) Factcheck.org called the ads deceitful. LMV's incredibly contorted excuse was that increased CO2 increases plant growth, which increases pollen production, which aggravates asthma. On this basis they should oppose planting trees.

In the end, of course, this will hurt LWV. Instead of having a distinctive and noble mission, it becomes just another generic red/green advocacy group. And there is absolutely no reason why a conservative or libertarian should treat it otherwise.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Never mind"

On Monday, October 3, Mr Eugene Quillen, a Berkeley student, was charged in Alameda County Superior Court with rape by use of drugs to commit sexual assault. He faced jail time and permanent registration on the sex-offender's list, and had to post $100,000 bail. Yesterday, Mr. Quillin was exonerated. California has an unusual (and highly laudable) legal finding called a 'factual finding of innocence', which states not just that the charges were dropped, but that the facts indicate the accused is innocent and should never have been arrested at all.

This is the assistant DA's remarkable statement.

In court Friday, deputy district attorney Joni Leventis said, according to a court transcript, that she had closely reviewed the evidence from police, and had interviewed the woman who initially reported the rape. “I’ve had several discussions with her about those events and we’ve concluded that Mr. Quillin did not commit any sexual assault on September 27th, 2014. And I would add that Jane Doe is in agreement with that conclusion that we have come to,” Leventis told the judge. Leventis also told the judge that there had been no indication that Quillin had been responsible in any way for the woman’s intoxication.
So 'Jane Doe' (unlike Mr Quillen, she is granted the privilege of anonymity), decided that she wasn't raped after all. Hard to believe one could be mistaken about something like that.

Too bad Mr. Quillen's name is all over the internet now. Even though his arrest records will be expunged, any future potential employer will find him in a Google search and likely rule him out immediately. He will live with this false accusation the rest of his life. And his accuser, who one is led to believe accused someone of rape, watched him charged, and then decided he didn't, will face no consequences at all.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dach deeds at the White House

This is hilarious.

Leslie Dach (I like to call him Papa Dach) is a long-time Democrat operative who also lobbied for Walmart. Presumably as a reward for his help in 2008, the Obama administration hired him as a 'counselor' at HHS and his son Jonathan Dach as a volunteer staffer in the White House. As an advance-man for the President's ill-fated trip to Colombia, Baby Dach had a prostitute stay in his room overnight. So did a bunch of Secret Service agents. They were fired. The White House denied all involvement by its staff. Baby Dach wasn't fired; instead, he's now under federal contract with the State Department, working for, wait for it...

The Office of Global Women's Issues! (rimshot)

Well, he's certainly had experience with global women!

BTW, Mama Dach, whose actual name is Mary Dickie (the laughs keep coming), is on the far left, Papa Dach next to her, and Baby Dach on the far right.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Closet deontology, or how climate change turns utilitarians into Kantians

(Despite my knowledge of the jargon, I don't philosophize for a living, so be patient, and if possible, kind. I'm not, by the way, claiming these are novel observations. In fact, I have no idea if they are, but I expect they're not.)

There are two great classes of ethical systems in contemporary philosophy; deontology and utilitarianism. (One could argue there's a third system, based on what seems to be a universal and innate human ethical sense, but I'd argue simply adopting that would be falling into the naturalistic fallacy.) Anyway, broadly speaking, deontology is 'duty ethics'; actions are right or wrong depending whether they accord with doing one's duty. Deontology is often religious; obeying the Ten Commandments is a duty for Christians and Jews. One can argue even fairly strict and seemingly arbitrary deontological rules, such as keeping kosher, once had a rational basis. Avoiding pork and segregating milk from meat probably made a lot of sense in the 1000 BCE middle east. But as several orthodox Jews have explained to me, one obeys God's laws because they are God's laws, not because they make sense.

The idea that one should obey revelation-based rules obviously was not popular during the Enlightenment, and 18th century thought took two tracks. One was Kant's, which sought to found deontological ethics on reason, and led to the categorical imperatives, the most famous of which is 'Act as though the maxim of your actions could be a general law', or as my mother (knowing nothing of Kant) put it "What would happen if everyone did that?" There are all sorts of criticisms of Kant, and attempt to build on or modify his ideas; my own experience is that raw Kantianism leads to a set of rules that are incredibly strict.

The other great thread is utilitarianism, which essentially says one should act to maximize the overall happiness, or good, or something, of the universe. There are of course all sorts of problems with this too. Is happinees necessarily a good thing? After all, a well-supplied drug addict is happy. How can you define good in utilitarianism in a non-circular way? How do we know if animals are happy, and is their happiness to be given equal weight to ours? If we knew killing a baby Hitler would spare 50 million people, should we kill baby Hitlers? But my own view is we can solve most of these problems sufficiently. The one insurmountable problem, in my view, is the impossibility of the utilitarian calculus. It is simply impossible to forecast the long term results of any action, even to some acceptable degree of probability.

It is probably fair to say most deontologists are on the right, and most utilitarians on the left. The reasons for that are pretty obvious, so I won't belabor them. Because of what I view as the fatal flaw of utilitarianism, I am sort of a half-hearted Kantian, partly by upbringing, partly because I see little practical alternative, being an atheist.

That's all background; here's the point of this post. Climate change is a case study in why the flaws of utilitarianism cause its adherents to become deontologists. Climate change is happening, because we are collectively pumping large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. I happen to think the short term consequences of this will be overall benign, but it's hard to say that about the long-term consequences; it will take an awful lot of carbon-dioxide-bestowed goodness to offset drowning the coastal regions of the earth. So what, ethically, should one do?

Oh, oh, I know, says the utilitarian. Institute policies to push us away from fossil fuel use. Stop the atmospheric CO2 increase! Problem is, we can't actually do that. We can reduce our own production of CO2, at some considerable cost to ourselves (a utilitarian evil). But there is no indication enough of the world will do the same. China will say it will, but it won't. India simply refuses. If we lower our consumption of fossil fuels, that will simply increase the supply, lower the price, and incentivize consumption elsewhere. It's depressing but entirely reasonable to predict humans will continue to consume fossil fuels, regardless of long term consequences, until the last readily available fossil fuels are used up. At that point, we are seriously screwed. Another problem with utilitarianism; sometimes you can't do anything to increase the good of the universe.

How does the utilitarian answer that? He/she says we should do it anyway, to show 'leadership'. Maybe if we do the right thing, others will follow. it will at least give us the moral standing to pressure them to follow. I think that's deluded. India has all sorts of good moral arguments why it should continue to grow, and self-interest will cause it to pick its own, over ours

So, in the end, utilitarians are forced to argue that we should limit CO2 production, because it would be good if everyone did it. Kant stirs in his grave and murmurs "By golly, that sounds familiar!" (Auf Deutsch, natürlich). Welcome to the categorical imperatives, boys and girls, and get out your reading glasses. The Critique of Practical Reason is heavy going, but you'll get through it; if everyone did, the world would be a better place.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chuck Hassebrook's disavowal of his role in 'Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest'

...which he issued tonight, in the Nebraska Gubernatorial Debate, is transparently false. Chuck claims he only wrote a few paragraphs of the report, and wanted his name taken off. But he was a member of the group that published the report! If he wanted his name removed, since he was a member of the group that published the report, he could surely have done so then, or at any time in the 24 years since! In fact, the Biotechnology Working Group, of which Chuck was indubitably a member, was a cosy little bunch...
In the U.S., a particularly important social space where anti-GE activists generated ideas was the Biotechnology Working Group (BWG). The BWG was formed in the late 1980s when a dozen activists working on various aspects of food and agriculture, environmental issues, trade policy, and biotechnology got together for the first time, thanks to a grant from two small foundations. In the process of meeting together for several years, the group’s members began to constitute themselves as a collective actor (Melucci 1996).
The BWG played a catalytic role in bringing these activists’ diverse trajectories to converge, both intellectually and organizationally, on the issue of biotechnology. The BWG was an important place for gathering and exchanging information, and for forming a collective political analysis. When they got together, BWG members would discuss recent developments in the technology and industry, and brainstorm action strategies. In 1990, the BWG published a report entitled “Biotechnology’s Bitter Harvest: Herbicide Tolerant Crops and the Threat to Sustainable Agriculture.” This report reflected a synergy of ideas among people from diverse backgrounds and organizations. This pattern of co-authorship became a common means by which the ideational work of grievance formation took place in the proto-mobilizational phase of the anti-GE movement.
The face-to-face interactions among BWG members were crucial in forging the intimate personal relationships and strong sense of commitment, solidarity, and mutual support that helped to sustain this fledgling movement and made it hum with energy, tension, humor, and excitement. For BWG members, they were an important source of inspiration and morale-building. “I have really fond memories [of the BWG] because initially it was really a wonderful group,” one member nostalgically recalled. “I mean, I’ve been to some [other] meetings, and people go, ‘oh, this was like the BWG in the old days.”
Hassebrook was a member of a group actively campaigning against GMOs, and he won't admit it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chuck Hassebrook's War on Biotechnology II: "Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest"

It is hard to believe that a major-party candidate for the governorship, in a rural state like Nebraska, tried to suppress the development and use of the biotechnology that more than 90% of our farmers depend on. It is hard to believe that instead of trying to help sell our ag produce overseas, as our governors have historically done, the candidate told other countries not to buy our produce, and asked the UN to ban their export. Unfortunately, Chuck Hassebrook did both.

Chuck Hassebrook started with the Center for Rural Affairs, a left-leaning non-profit, in the 1970s, while in college. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t ever done paid work anywhere else.

From the beginning, he displayed deeply anti-free-market attitudes, castigating corporate farming and vertical integration of hog operations. CRA was largely responsible for passing the unconstitutional Initiative-300, which banned corporate ownership of farms in Nebraska. His commitment seems to be to a long-gone system of rural development, based on uncompetitive small farms, using obsolete technology, and propped up by government subsidies.

When GM crop development seriously started in the mid-1980s, Chuck saw everything he didn’t like; corporate profits for companies like Monsanto, increased efficiency, and an abandonment of the non-viable ‘sustainable agriculture model’ he had invested so heavily in. So of course he set out to oppose it. His attempt to crush biotech agriculture came in the publication (with three environmentalist coauthors) of Biotechnology’s Bitter Harvest, a document that aimed at stopping the development of genetically modified crops at every stage: research and development, use, and sale. You can still find BBH on line, still being pushed approvingly by groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists.

BBH is first of all a profoundly dishonest document. One of its favorite tricks is to lump all herbicides together, sometimes even with other pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, etc.). So, for example, it discussed herbicide dangers by referencing the relatively toxic bromoxynil, even while it provides data that by far and away the most prevalent herbicide used in GM crop development is glyphosate (which, as we’ve seen, has very low toxicity). While the authors were forced to admit

many herbicides are not acutely toxic to humans and wild animals
…they then proceeded to recite a litany of largely speculative or preliminary reports about chronic toxicity of herbicides, (but not glyphosate.)

There is other wildly speculative stuff

It cannot be assumed that the transferred genetic material will produce substances safe for human consumption

…but is there any evidence all it might be unsafe? No, and plenty of reason to believe it incorrect!

And there was plenty more unsubstantiated speculation about what negative effects GM crops might have on farm economics.

It’s clear reading the report that while all the nebulous dangers are cited, Hassebrook and his co-authors’ main problem is that Monsanto and other manufacturers might make money by selling GM seed/herbicide combinations. The authors also complained at length about US and State government funding of GM research.

Their alternatives? Generally tedious and back-breaking, such as mechanical tilling hoeing and intercropping. Mostly ineffective. And sometimes noxious, such as the introduction of alien species to prey on weeds.

The recommendations were draconian. Here they are in full.

  1. End federal and state support for developing herbicide-tolerant plants
  2. Increase federal and state funding for non-chemical methods of pest control
  3. Target the federal research and experimentation tax credit for corporate research toward socially and environmentally beneficial research and deny the credit for expenditures to develop herbicide-tolerant crops and trees;
  4. Change federal farm policy to discourage the use of environmentally damaging agricultural practices;
  5. Regulate genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant plants as pesticides;
  6. Prohibit the introduction of trees genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant into our national forests and other government lands; and
  7. Fully inform Third World countries of the potential negative impacts of herbicide-tolerant crops and trees and urge the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to develop restrictions on the export of herbicide-tolerant plants.
1 – 6 are predictably leftist; shut down research they don’t like, fund pet projects they like, and regulate the heck out of everything. But 7 is particularly chilling. Hassebrook wanted the UN to restrict US exports of GM crops, and to tell third world governments not to import our produce. This proposal, if implemented, would have cost our state and our farmers billions.

BBH was popular in extreme environmentalist circles, but fortunately had almost no influence on government policy. As anyone who knows anything about agriculture is aware, GM crops now account for most US production (98% of the soybeans and 70% of the corn in Nebraska, for example). The predicted Armageddon never happened. Herbicide use has declined, especially use of pesiticides of questionable safety, such as atrazine. Farm incomes are way up, and GM has had the major effect of decreasing the workload of farmers. GM also makes more feasible carbon-conserving practices like no-till.

Chuck was dead wrong, but he has never admitted it. As an actual expert, Matin Qaim, wrote in 2009...

Genetically modified (GM) crops have been used commercially for more than 10 years. Available impact studies of insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops show that these technologies are beneficial to farmers and consumers, producing large aggregate welfare gains as well as positive effects for the environment and human health. The advantages of future applications could even be much bigger. Given a conducive institutional framework, GM crops can contribute significantly to global food security and poverty reduction.

And Hassebrook's War on Biotech continues. In 2005, as a University of Nebraska Regent, he ineffectually opposed a licensing agreement between UNL and Monsanto to bring to market other GM crops developed by our researchers. In 2010, he was the sole vote against Ronnie Green, the vice-chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as a futile and rather childish protest against ‘industrial agriculture’.

Given that Hassebrook abused his position as regent to try to discourange the University of Nebraska from commercial licensing agreements, and to hinder our engagement in biotech agriculture, it is almost certain he will abuse the governorship to try to force our farmers back into last-century’s methods, and to discourage agribusiness. His life so far has had a single, all-consuming mission; why would he abandon it now?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Oh how I love to be lectured on climate change by Leonardo diCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio notoriously rented the superyacht Topaz to bring his pals to the World Cup. Just for fun, I decided to calculate the carbon footprint of the Topaz. At service speed (23 kn) it operates two large diesel engines at a total horsepower of 15980 horsepower. 1 horsepower is 745.7 watts, so the Topaz generates 11.9 MW of power. Since a marine diesel is pretty efficient, sometimes exceeding 50%, let's say this comes from 23.8 MW of heat generation. At 48 MJ/kg, this requires burning about 0.495 kg, or slighly over a pound of diesel fuel a second, to give 1.279 kg of CO2 per second.

A typical American home uses 10837 kWh of electrical energy per year. That corresponds to 1.236 kW of average power usage. Given the average coal plant operates at 33.8% efficiency, that corresponds to 3.662 kW thermal generation. At 24 MJ/kg, this requires burning 0.152 grams of coal per second, generating about 0.447 g of CO2 per second.

Dividing the two, we calculate that the bold ecowarrior Leonardo, on his trip to the World Cup, was generating as much CO2 as required to supply electricity to 2860 American homes, or around 6000 people. A small town, in other words.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thoughts on Salaita

Let's say you had a colleague at another institution whose public nastiness was legendary. Let's say he had retweeted that one of your articles should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv. Then you learned that your own institution was planning to hire this guy. Would you say "Oh well, his public posting of violent threats is of no concern, because Academic Freedom."

No, you wouldn't. And even if you yourself were not directly threatened, I doubt you'd take the position that a faculty member has absolute liberty to post anything he likes that isn't actually illegal (which, in the US, is almost anything), and expect it not to be taken into consideration in a hiring decision. There is a category of expression that, while not criminally prosecutable, will and should be considered a negative in a faculty hire. This is more to do with the manner of the expression than its content. If you express yourself like a thug, don't expect people to ignore that.

(Though, for example, if you've openly expressed overtly racist views,good luck with the job hunt. Some content is strenglich verboten.)

You can read a nice collection of Professor Salaita's tweets here. And, in case you haven't been paying attention, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, at the final stage of the hiring process, refused to employ Salaita in a tenured position in their Department of Native American Studies, because of voluminous complaints about his online nastiness. He had, unwisely, resigned his previous position in the Department of English at Virginia Tech. VT don't seem to be in a hurry to lure him back, by the way.

(It's a nice reflection on the chaotic and decayed state of the Humanities that neither position seems to particularly reflect Salaita's 'scholarly' output as a writer of anti-Israel polemics)

The most norotious tweet, in which he retweeted that "Jeffrey goldberg's story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv", is not here (it's been deleted) but the original is.

It has been argued that if this tweet relates to his academic work, it is protected by academic freedom; and if it does not, it is not pertinent to his job. I posit that neither contingency is valid. Academic freedom does not protect violent threats to others who write in the same area; and if one's twitter output about one's field includes a series of ill-tempered violent outpourings, that surely needs to be considered along with one's more conventional academic work. On the other hand, if these are academically-unrelated private opinions, they are hardly completely irrelevant. Would we hire a physics professor who very publicly opined that African Americans are genetically inferior, or that pedophilia should be legal? Not in a New York picosecond!

I would happily sign on to the idea that one's expression as a private citizen should not be considered in hiring, tenure, evaluation or retention, but that isn't the world we live in. My friend and colleague, Martin Gaskell, was denied a job as an astronomer at the University of Kentucky based on his evangelical Christianity, reports of some long-past-expressed opinions that evolution might not be the only source of life on earth, and unfounded rumors he might be creationist. He mentored my daughter's undergraduate research. I know he's not a creationist.

(I've heard determinedly atheist physicists say the same thing about evolution, by the way. Physicists are often quite contemptuous of biologists and often suspect they've missed something important.

A feminist law blog publicly debated if I should be fired on Title IX grounds, based on some derisive comments I posted on a 'potty parity' survey in STEM fields, which implied that women's underrepresentation in those fields was partly caused by inadequate provision of women's toilets. And there are plenty of other examples of conservatives being fired for political or other expression. In all these cases, the same crowd loudly proclaiming that Salaita's sacred academic freedom is being violated were completely absent.

I defended Dan Guth at Kansas when he tweeted nastiness about the NRA, but don't sign me up for this crusade (so to speak). Salaita is being treated in a way consistent with standard practice in academia. Whether or not you should be able to, you can't get away with publicly saying anything you feel like, and his is not a hill I feel like dying on. From what I've seen of his public effusions, Salaita's a nasty peice of work, and I wouldn't want him as a colleague.

Chuck Hassebrook's Record: Opposing Biotech, part 1

While our local left-leaning media has been busy trying to pin Pete Ricketts to everything the Platte Institute has ever published, there has been remarkably little analysis of his Democrat opponent's record as an environmental activist and as a member of the Nebraska Board of Regents. Part of this is undoubtedly bias; after all, one of the state's two major newspapers is owned by heavy Hassebrook financial backer Warren Buffett. But I think part of it is a result of the average political reporter's complete ignorance about science. If you have no idea what genetic modification is or how it's done, what it's used for in contemporary agriculture, and the history of its research, development and commercial implementation, how can you write a piece about it? To remedy this, I'm going to be writing a series of posts explaining GM and its enormous economic and other benefits to Nebraska, and then describing the extreme and sustained nature of Hassebrook's opposition to GM agriculture. At the end, I hope at least ask yourself how this fringe anvironmental activist could propose to govern an agricultural state like ours.

Genetic modification, succinctly, is the introduction of genes from foreign organisms into the genome of one's organism of choice. This has been happening slowly and quietly for billions of years; when a virus infects a cell, it occasionally incorporates some of the cell's DNA into its own genome. The virus's descendents can then go on to infect and transform other cells, sometimes modifying their genomes. In the early 1980s, we learned to do this much faster and in a directed way. Agrobacterium, a genus of plant bacteria, naturally transfers DNA between it and its hosts, via small extra 'chromosome-like' piece of DNA called plasmids. So a scientist can choose a gene from one organism, synthesize a plasmid containing the gene, infect Agrobacterium with it, infect a plant with the Agrobacterium, and screen the cells or offspring of the plant for ones that have successfully incorporated the gene. You can now buy kits to do this; it's so easy I've done it myself (I genetically engineered a bacterium to overproduce a plant protein called azurin). If Agrobacterium won't infect the plant (it doesn't infect corn) we can use something called a gene-gun to fire bits of DNA through the plant cell wall, again screening for descendants that have incorporated the gene into their own genomes.

Aside from a commercially unsuccessful attempt to genetically engineer frost-resistant tomatoes, the earliest atttempts to genetically engineer crops involved trying to introduce herbicide resistance (remember that term). The most successful of these GM-crops have been 'Roundup-resistant'. These are based on a very simple but elegant strategy of introducing a gene, already native to Agrobacterium, for the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (or EPSP synthase). EPSP synthase is vital to all plants, because it's used in the pathway to make the essential aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. Animals, however, don't need it, because we can't make aromatic amino acids, and have to get them in our diet. So if we can block, EPSP synthase, we can kill plants, but leave animals unharmed. And this is what Roundup, technically known as glyphosate and even more technically as N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine) does. It diffuses into the active site of the EPSP synthase enzyme, and sits there, tightly bound, preventing the enzyme from doing its job. Glyphosate is an extremely simple molecule, and is almost completely nontoxic to humans and other animals (naturally enough, since we don't have its target enzyme).

So where does genetic engineering come in? Well, Agrobacterium also makes its own aromatic amino acids, and so also has EPSP synthase. But Agrobacterium EPSP-synthase is structurally different from the plant enzyme, and is not blocked by glyphosate. So all you have to do is replace the plant enzyme with the bacterial enzyme, or even more easily, just give the plant the bacterial enzyme naturally, with a promoter that will cause it to overexpress, and the plant will still be able to make its essential amino-acids and will be resistant to the herbicide.

So now a farmer can plant his corn and soybeans on a field already cleared by glyphosate. He can even spray glyphosate on the field while his crops are growing, killing weeds but not his crops. The result is higher yield, and no need to use selective herbicides like atrazine, which are far more toxic to humans.

How could anyone oppose that? Well, as we'll see in the next post, Chuck Hassebrook did.

Rape and statistics

Consider this: under Bayesian statistics, the prior proability that an accusation of rape is true is 50%, and that it is false is also 50%.

Now introduce one piece of information; fewer than half of all rape accusations are false. This is a very modest assumption; while Kanin put the rate of false accusations at 41%, most sources put it lower. Feminists, unsurprisingly but in the absence of any real backing, claim false accusations are virtually non-existent. In any case, let's just say, statistically, more accusations are true than false.

With this one piece of extra evidence, we change the probabilities. A man accused of rape is more likely to be guilty than innocent.

But with the 'preponderance of evidence' standard now enforced by Obama's Department of Education, a better than 50% probability of guilt is sufficient to convict. That means, going into a campus sexual assault hearing, if no evidence at all is presented against him, the man should (according to the rules) be convicted.

Facing nothing but an accusation, therefore, he bears the burden of proving himself innocent, turning the entire common law tradition of Anglo-American jurisprudence on its head.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fake quotes: Ruth Thone and the Lincoln Journal Star

Ruth Thone is the wife of former Nebraska governor Charlie Thone. She has no particular distinction, except being a cranky old lady with a history of self-destructive habits. She's jumped on various feminist bandwagons, co-authoring books about women, weight, and aging. Oh yes, and she hates Israel.

Her latest effusion is a 'local view' column in the Lincoln Journal Star, a rabidly one sided castigation of Israel for its conduct in Gaza. Here, however, I'll just note that to attack the very existence and foundation of Israel, she used a nasty fabricated quote. This she attributes to David Ben Gurion, whom she calls 'an early prime minister of Israel' (He was first Prime Minister of Israel. Was that so hard to look up?). She attributes this to him:

We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of the Arab population.
Now, if you Google this, you'll find it attributed to two sources; Ben Gurion is one, and the notorious Koenig memorandum is the second. That's the first big clue it's false; made up quotes are frequently attributed to multiple authors. Now the Koenig memorandum has been translated into English, and you can read it; it doesn't contain the quoted text. Go look. And the only source given when attributing it to Ben Gurion is the 1978 biography by Michael Bar-Zohar; wherein it doesn't appear. It's also completely out of character for Ben Gurion, who, while he was by no means a pacifist, would not have held these views and certainly would have never acknowledged them publicly. It is therefore almost certainly false. Not only did Ben Gurion never say it; most likely it's completely fabricated.

The Internet is awash in false quotations and false attributions. Often they're innocent. Anything said about intelligence or pantheistic deism is usually attributed to Einstein; anything wryly humorous to Twain; anything upliftingly patriotic to Churchill, etc.. But often, as in the present instance, they are downright malicious. My advice is the following; believe a quotation if it

  1. Appears in a primary source: i.e. a book by the author
  2. Appears in a contemporaneous secondary account from a reputable reporter: e.g. a New York Times account of a speech by Fiorello LaGuardia
  3. Appears in a reputable, careful compliation of quotations, like Bartlett. In my experience, Wikiquote is pretty reliable; note that the above quote does not appears in its list of attributed Ben Gurion quotes. But always, if the quote denigrates the person to which it's attributed, check a primary source!
  4. Appears in a reputable biography; a good biographer will almost certainly provide you with the primary source
Anything else is junk. Be especially careful if you find yourself chasing quotes from one web page to another, or if the quote's attributed to more than one person.

The second quote given by Thone

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country
...can actually be properly sourced, to Nahum Goldmann, in The Jewish Paradox : A Personal Memoir of Historic Encounters that Shaped the Drama of Modern Jewry (1978). It's a 22 year old recollection of a conversation Goldmann said he had with Ben Gurion in 1956, and it supposedly is part of a pessimistic reflection by Ben Gurion on the future fate of Israel. Of course, Ben Gurion here is reporting the Palestinian point of view, not his own. And it's not really a quote from Ben Gurion, but an old recollection of a conversation with Ben Gurion, reported by a third party.

Lies, by my definition, do not just include deliberate falsehoods; they also include falsehoods repeated negligently, without due diligence as to their veracity. Thone, by this metric, is a liar, and the Lincoln Journal Star reproduced the lie. Their acknowledgment of this

The quotes at the bottom of this column by David Ben-Gurion are fake, some sources say. Their authenticitiy is in question.
is inadequate; the first quote is certainly falsified, and the second is a paraphrase of dubious reliability. Moreover, instead of owning up to an apologizing for publishing this trash, the LJS has tried to bury the evidence, by omitting Thone's piece from their opinion index.

What a pitiful excuse for a fishwrap.


(8/20/2014) The newspaper finally took the quotes down.
The original version of this column contained quotes from David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, that the Journal Star has concluded he never said. While the quotes have appeared in various publications, scholars have found no evidence that they can be attributed to Ben-Gurion. As a result, the Journal Star has removed them from this column.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Krugman wrong again

I know, I know, dog bites man. But he's wrong in an amusing way. To try to bolster his case that true scientists are Leftists (and not merely science fanbois) he shows the following.
Trouble is, the poll in question was not a random sampling of scientists, but was conducted among members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The vast majority of scientists are not AAAS members, and conversely AAAS members tend to be unrepresentative of scientists as a whole. You don't even have to be a scientist to be a member of AAAS. They don't ask if you have a science degree or work in a scientific field. AAAS also has a reputation for liberal advocacy and, now that Science magazine is available online to most working scientists, so you don't have to be a member to have easy access, it's increasingly an organization for people interested in 'Science policy'. The poll data were presented in a format that mentions the skewed sampling method only in an appendix, and Pew should be ashamed of themselves.

In any case, Krugman, an economist, probably claims to be a 'social scientist', but he's forgotten one of the most important principles of quoting other people's data: learn how they gathered it, before you cite it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lincoln Journal Star fails geography again

Their usual vacuous twaddle on the border crisis includes this:
Instead politicians are putting on sideshows, like Rep. Steve King’s assertion that Detroit has a worse murder rate than the countries the kids are fleeing. What buffoonery. Guatemala City has a murder rate twice that of Detroit.
Uhhh, Guatemale City isn't a country. Guatemala is. Guatemala had a 2012 murder rate of 39.9/100,000. Detroit had a 2012 murder rate of 54.6/100,000.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Heil Holder

The US Department of Justice sent a functionary to Norfolk, NE, today to 'investigate' the outbreak of political dissent, manifest in the 'Obama Presidential Library' float. The clear purpose of this is to intimidate the city and its residents, and to make it clear that open mockery of the Dear Leader will not be tolerated. And we slide further and further down the slope towards Banana Republic.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"open to an interpretation that it was bigoted"

The eponymous nonsensical turn of phrase is used by the Lincoln Journal Star this morning to castigate the infamous Norfolk parade float which represented the Obama Presidential Library (yet to be built) as an outhouse. The phrase is nonsensical, of course, because everything of human construction is open to the interpretation that it is bigoted, especially in the hands of a skilled player of the race card. The newspaper naturally can't actually say it was bigoted, because there is nothing at all bigoted about it, and any claim to the contrary would be laughed at. The Norfolk float is trenchant political satire, but as I've shown multiple times, far less brutal than much of what was thrown at President George W Bush.

Beyond that, the editorial has essentially nothing to say; a few quotes from local polticians from Norfolk trying desperately to straddle the fence, allowing it was perhaps not quite in the very bast of taste, an American of Kenyan origin whom the Journal Star itself unearthed and who feels (in the absence of any actual argument) that criticism of her fellow American of Kenyan origin might be racist. They say nothing substantive, because they have nothing substantive to say. The float was protected political expression, not especially harsh by recent standards, and no one to my knowledge has come up with a cogent argument that it was racist.

This is, therefore, another sad example of liberal intolerance. It is crucial to remember that the Left can sometimes endure criticism, but it cannot ever abide mockery. The Left takes itself incredibly seriously, and experiences almost physical revulsion when held up to ridicule. All the more reason why the Left's opponents need to defend Mr Remmich and his float, because the Left would, if it could, shut down this entire area of contrary speech.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My design for an Obama Presidential Library

Given the tempest in a teapot over the Norfolk Obama Presidential Library/Outhouse (trenchant but legitimate, if perhaps crude, prairie humor, IMO) I thought I'd do a much more eggheaded proposal for the design of the Obama Presidential Library, to be located, of course, on Oahu. Here are the 12 highlights.

(1) NSA intercepts reading room; here, in quiet surroundings, you will be able to settle into a comfortable computer desk and read the private emails of thousand of your fellow Americans! Find out what they think of their girlfriend's mother! Find out what they think about their boyfriends schlong! There will be selfies galore! And sexts! Even Anthony Wiener sexts!!

(2)The 'most transparent administration ever' FOIA room. With the help of our trained docents, yuu will be guided through the process of submitting a valid federal FOIA request. After submission, you can return in 2 or 3 years to pick up a genuine facsimile of a government document, with all but the words 'and' and 'the' redacted!

(3)'If you like your plan, you can keep your plan' healthcare center. After checking all your stuff with the guard at the door, you will experience a stunning multimedia experience, bouncing from '404 Page Not Found' to 'This server is temporarily busy, serving thousands of other customers' pages, until you finally get to select your very own healthcare plan, at only twice what you were paying last year! Then, on the way out, will will keep all your old stuff, but give you a bunch of new stuff you didn't want! Be sure to do this early, ss prices are going up up up!

(4) The Susan Rice Aviary. Watch and listen as carefully trained parrots squawk out dozens of human-sounding expressions, from 'It was all an internet video' to 'Iran will not be allowed to build nuclear weapons'.

(5) The 'Executive Order' whack a mole game! You get to play a Supreme Court Justice, trying to whack down Obama's unconstitutional actions as they pop up. You have to be sharp; when it comes to violating the constitution, no President has been as active as Mr. Obama.

(6) The 'Foreign Policy' reading room. This is completely unlit, and nobody knows what's going on in there, except it isn't good.

(7) The Obama toilet. No, it ain't an outhouse! This opulent, Hollywood-furnished pissoir (thanks, John Kerry!) has gold plated toilet paper holders which dispense copies of the constitution on soft, 3-ply tissue, as well as floor mats carefully inscribed with the words of the Fourth Amendment.

...and for the kids
(8) The Drone Targeting game. Here you get to select targets: 'wedding', 'orphanage', 'Tea Party', 'Samuel Alito', and 'Taliban*' But be careful. There's a 10% chance your drone may hit something you didn't expect!
*this may at any time be changed to 'Israel', depending on John Kerry's mood.

(9) The 'Fast and Furious' Massive Multiplayer Game. A true innovation. Like no other online game, Fast and Furious lets you earn weapons for your enemies, not yourself. Then they invade your territory and kill your guys! And if you make it through to the end, you get rewarded with a 'Contempt of Congress' sticker!

...and finally
(10) The Presidential Newspaper Reading Room, where copies of USA Today will brief you on all the shite your administration has been up to these last 6 years, while you were golfing on the...

(11) 36 Hole Private Presidential Golf-course. You can even play the course, for a $100,000 donation to Organizing for America!

...and last, but not least...
(12) The IRS 'what's your politics?' quiz. A simple online game that will challenge whether your political views are correct. But be careful! Score too low, and you'll trigger an audit!

Now, all together, 1, 2, 3, RWP is a racist!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"It's soccer, not football"

Interesting piece on the usage of the word 'soccer', which peaked in the UK in 1980 but has been in decline since. The author suggested that American adoption of the word has been a driver of British disuse of it. I have another hypothesis.

While the word 'soccer' was widely used in the UK and Ireland while I was growing up, it tended to be used by 'quality' newspapers in the UK, and its purpose was to distinguish proletarian association football from rugby union football, which was played by the wealthy. My conjecture is that if you screened for usage rates of 'soccer' vs. 'football' by the Times and Telegraph, on the one hand, versus the Mirror and Sun, on the other, you'd find big differences. In Ireland it was somewhat different; we used 'soccer' to distinguish the game from Gaelic football. The working class in Britain just called soccer 'football'.

As the British boomers grew older and adopted leftish views, in a sort of inverted snobbery that's particularly common in the UK, they rejected their parents' 'soccer' in favor of 'football', as they embraced the egalitarian association football and rugby union became stereotyped as a game played by rich thugs. Now the word 'soccer' is associated with America and is rejected even more vehemently by these same people, but in 1980, when use of 'soccer' in Britain began to decline, nobody knew or cared much about American sport, or what words they used to describe it. It's only with the internet Britons have become so conscious of American usage.

So while the author's data on word usage are invaluable, I think his explanation is somewhat off-base. 'Soccer' iniitially became unfashionable in the UK for an entirely different reason.


Oh, and a belated h/t to Roger Pielke Jr. for tweeting the link to the piece.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trademark cancellation request.

To: US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board
From: Gerard S. Harbison
Re: Request for revocation of trademark serial number 73305529, to University of Notre Dame
Date: June 18, 2014.

It has come to my attention that the University of Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, was granted a trademark on March 8, 1983, for the figure depicted below. As a dual citizen of the United States and the Republic of Ireland, I request cancellation of the trademark registration, per section 2 of the Trademark Act, 15 USC §1052, for the reason that it is grossly disparaging of citizens of the Republic of Ireland as well as Americans of Irish heritage.

The figure is classed ( inter alia) as a human engaged in sport, and is apparently associated with the nickname Fighting Irish, which the above institution has appropriated (without official sanction) for several of its sporting teams. The figure is a grotesque representation of a demeaning Irish stereotype, being misshapen; dwarfish; balding; with s garish shamrock-bedecked hat; a scowling expression; a deformed skull; a tiny emaciated body; huge feet (or badly fitting shoes); and a ridiculous beard. His (its?) fists are raised in a pugilistic attitude.

Note that Ireland is a peaceful nation which, unlike the United States, has fought no foreign wars since its independence, is officially neutral, and has contributed continuously to United Nations peacekeeping missions since 1958 (including no fewer than 13 current missions). Ireland has 10% of the per capita violent crime rate of the United States. The stereotype is therefore not only disparaging; it is grossly erroneous.

In addition, please note that the University of Notre Dame has no legitimate association with Ireland or the Irish. It was founded and is still run by a French religious order. It has been suggested that the nickname 'Irish' was originally an ethnic slur based on a perceived association between Irish and Roman Catholic. The name and the depiction are therefore offensive both in origin as well as current application. I fully understand that had they called themselves the 'Fighting French' the result would have been universal mockery. Still, that is no excuse.

I have previously complained to the President of Notre Dame about their use of the slur and the offensive depiction. I received only a form letter in reply. I therefore request that the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board review this and similar trademarks held by Notre Dame and cancel those which are clearly ethnically offensive.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pleistocene overkill confirmed

Peaceful indigenous people, living in harmony with their environment...

Uh, no. A study just published has confirmed the unfashionable but extremely plausible theory called Pleistocene Overkill. In summary, as our ancestors left Africa and spread out, first over Eurasia, Australia, and then to North and South America, they slaughtered and most probably devoured most of the the large animals. The totals are Africa 18, Asia 38, Australasia 26, Europe 19, North America 43 and South America 62. The extinctions correlate strongly with the arrival of hominins, and are far better correlated with our arrival than with climatic events.

The relationship between hominin palaeobiogeography and extinction magnitude is striking, with universally low extinctions in sub-Saharan Africa (maximum 13%), where hominins and the megafauna have long coexisted, but widespread exceptionally high extinction in Australia and the Americas, where modern humans were the first hominin present.
So if you think it's a shame there are no saber-tooth tigers, dire wolves, or marsupial lions any more, blame Native Americans or Australian Aboriginals. On the other hand, if your folk hailed from Europe, don't be smug; they wiped out pretty much everything, including mammoths, cave lions, wooly rhinos, and the magnificent Elasmotherium, a rhino-like beast as big as an elephant. Africans had the lowest body count, but probably only because the big beasts co-evolved with humans on that continent and learned to run away.

I still think Pleistocene Overkill would be a great name for a heavy metal band.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Belot funeral service

John's memorial service will be held at 1 pm on Thursday May 15th at the Cathedral of St. Joseph 1218 Eoff Street Wheeling, West Virginia (corner of 13th and Eoff in downtown Wheeling). For those of you not familiar with Wheeling, it is about 60 miles or an hour or so from Pittsburgh.
John's funeral service was very moving. It was heartwarming to hear how many people's lives were touched by John's kindness, energy, and creativity. The man was a first rate scientist and a free spirit, and it's just a shame that Nebraska rejects free spirits like the human body rejects alien cells.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

John Belot 1968-2014

A friend just informed me that John Belot died in hospital last night, of complications from a lung infection.

John was a friend and collaborator here at UNL. We worked together on hydrogen bonding. John was fired from UNL after an incident where he handed out fireworks in class, unfortunately at the same time the UN Ambassador was giving a speech at the Lied Center 100 yards away. The result was panic and overreaction. John was arrested, suspended, and eventually forced to resign, despite a finding he had been suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and a unanimous recommendation from our Academic Rights and Responsibility Committee that he be retained. I was away from campus on sabbatical when most of this happened, though I'm not sure there is much I could have done. Perhaps, earlier, I could have persuaded him to get help, but I doubt that would have worked.

I drafted a letter to the chancellor pleading for him to be retained, but only a very few of my colleagues were willing to sign it. I've never really felt the same about either them or this university since.

Another former colleague, Cindy Day, said it better than I did in a letter to the Lincoln Journal Star. We threw him out with the trash.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Catching up with old episodes, like Matthew 28.

Not wishing to be disrespecful, or anything, but it's curious that this seems to have been news to the Pontiff. I'm pretty sure they taught us about it in Catholic primary school. It certainly isn't going to help dispel the stereotype that Catholics don't read the Bible, or that religious education in Latin America begins with the principle that the means of production belong to the workers.

Still please cut the guy some slack, and don't let slip what happened 40 days later. Nobody likes a spoiler. I myself haven't gotten through the first season of House of Cards yet.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A musical offering

I woke up this morning, and got into my car
Oh yeah, I woke up this morning, but I didn't get very far
As soon as I turned onto Route 44
The stupid damn ignition key fell on the floor
And that is why I've got me the Cobalt Blues.

So I found the key, and took it back to the dealer
Said "I damn near got run down by an 18 wheeler"
He said "Ask for a refund, but you won't get one
cos Chevrolet is now Gummint Motors, son!"
And that is why I got me the Cobalt Blues!

Please remember to tip your waitress, and we'll be here all week!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The end of class (3 letters)

Spring is finally here, and to celebrate its coming, UNL is hosting a free concert by the handsome and talented Mr. Sean Michael Leonard Anderson. Mr Anderson, better known as Big Sean, is a rapper who, like most of his kind, has had some brushes with the law, specifically a conviction for unlawful imprisonment of a 17 year old girl. Mr Anderson and a friend pled this down from charges of forcible touching, second-degree unlawful imprisonment and third-degree sex abuse.

Fortunately for the future of Western culture, this did not tangibly affect Mr. Anderson's career or diminish his artistic enthusiasm; his masterwork to date, Dance Ass, begins with the memorable and evocative lines:

Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass
Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass
Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass Ass
My search routine informs me the song (Is that the right word? The rap? The oeuvre?) contains 61 instances of the word 'ass' (though this may well depend on the version), as well as 6 instances of 'bitch' or its plural, 3 instances of the word 'pussy', as well as 'Pootie Tang', 'shit', 'anus', whores, etc. etc.. It's a veritable ode to Mr Anderson's love for womankind, or at least those bits of womankind located between the waist and knees. It's sort of a Fodor's guide to the area, and best read with a copy of Urban Dictionary open, to properly acquaint oneself with its verbal nuances.

Campus feminists were unavailable for comment; evidently 'rape culture' activism has taken the week off.

Me, I'm just glad my daughters no longer attend this dump.


Update 4/15/2014: Assaults, thefts, MIPs keep UNL police busy during Big Sean concert.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why I oppose LB 485

LB 485 is a law prohibiting discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation in Nebraska. I'm against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and would not discriminate. Why, then, would I oppose this law?

(1) Laws are bad things. Most laws can at best be a necessary evil; they generally constrain the freedom of some people, to bring about what we see as a countervailing social good. If we forbid discrimination in employment for category X, that means we take away people's choice not to employ category X. Whether or not employers should discriminate against people in category X is irrelevant; it's not freedom if you can only do that of which society approves.

In addition, an anti discrimination law requires a staff to execute it, and results in businesses adopting practices to protect themselves against lawsuits. Both of these are counter-productive.

There are many things that are wrong, but should not be illegal. Lying, for example, is generally wrong, but should not be illegal except under very specific circumstances.

(2)If a law can at best be a necessary evil, this law fails the test of necessity. Omaha, the year after it passed its sexual orientation/gender discrimination ordinance, counted three actual cases of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/gender identity. There is simply no evidence gay or transgender people in Nebraska are suffering substantial unemployment because of discrimination. A feeling that you might once have been discriminated against is not a sufficient justification for this law.

Some of us, though libertarian, nonetheless support the 1964 Civil Rights Act, simply bacause discrimination at the time based on race and to a lesser extent based on sex was so pervasive that it constituted a genuine threat to the life and liberty of women and African-Americans. This is not the case at present with respect to sexual orientation or gender identity.

(3) While this bill covers only employment, as night follows day it will be followed by a law covering discrimination in public accomodations. Such laws have been used to force people to participate in activities that violate their conscience or desires. I don't believe in giving a special place to religious liberty (although the constitution does, and I think we should defer to the constitution), but if a photographer does not want to work a gay wedding, that should be his or her right. It's lousy business choice on his or her part, but maybe that's not important to him or her, and in any case it's none of our business.

(4) And finally, this bill is part of a general movement of intolerance of dissenting views in our society, particularly on the part of the 'gay-rights' movement. Brendan Eich was just hounded out of a CEO job at Mozilla for having six years ago contributed to Proposition 8, an anti-gay-marriage initiative in California. A similar hounding was attempted against Phil Robertson. Other proponents of Proposition 8 have been harassed. I don't agree with either of these gentlemen (especially Robertson) but I will defend to the death their right to hold, express, and act on their views. One should be generally skeptical of slippery slope arguments, but we know this slippery slope exists, and we've seen it in action. It's time some people learned tolerance is a two-way street. If for no other reason, we tolerate others so we will receive tolerance in return.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Do what the geopolitics dictates, tovarisch!

Nebraskans for Peace was a mildly obnoxious organization, apparently dedicated to reducing US standing in the world and achieving victory for the former Soviet Union. It was only mildly obnoxious, because it was a completely ineffectual coalition of moonbats. I thought it had gone away, but apparently they've found a new mission in helping the USSR's successor, revanchist Russia. Today Paul Olson 'a member of the Anti-War Committee of Nebraskans for Peace' tells Ukraine its place in the world.
But, most of all, it needs neutrality to take on the moderating middle position that geopolitics requires it to occupy.
Yes indeed, know your place, Ukraine. Forget about choosing your own direction; obey the geopolitics. You are designed to be a Russian buffer state. Too bad if you want to join the EU!

Olson, of course, is a multifaceted twit.

Crimea would provide Russia with Sevastopol, its only warm water port, and that Ukraine would provide the near-desert Crimea and Sevastopol with fresh water and electricity.
The picture above shows some of that 'near-desert'

Actually, Sevastopol averages about 18" of rain a year, about the same as North Platte, NE. It's classed as humid subtropical (Cfa), like, for example, Sao Paolo Brazil.

Olson also parrots Putin's line that the Ukrainian protestors are neo-Nazis, and claims they 'forbad' all languages but Ukrainian. I can find no evidence of the latter, and the former claim has been discredited.

Monday, March 31, 2014

New age hooey, courtesy of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln has a 'Wellness Program'. I have no problem with 'Wellness Programs', as long as they encourage people not to smoke or drink to excess, and to get exercise and eat properly. I annually fill out their little Wellness Survey, even though it's mostly just to get the discounted prescriptions they offer as a reward. The survey itself tells me nothing I don't already know. I diligently count calories and have a spiffy new Basis activity monitor. (OK, it's mostly a cool toy, but I do try to use it to make sure I'm getting adequate exercise, not sitting for too long, etc.) Feedback is good.

However, as happens to many initially well-intentioned ideas, UNL's Wellness Program has developed mission creep, and is now metastasizing dangerously close to the wall of separation of church and state. Here's their 'What is Wellness' page.

UNL utilizes a 7-element model of wellness including emotional, environmental, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual dimensions. This wellness model has been an internationally accepted model for over 10 years. It was chosen by the UNL Chancellor's Committee on Wellness over other models because of the inclusion of intellectual and environmental elements; elements we feel are important in a university setting.
Uh, huh. The mission ain't just creeping, it's gotten up and is settling into a moderate gallop. So let's look at some of their 'elements'

: Are you engaged in the process of Spiritual Wellness?

  1. Do I make time for relaxation in my day?
  2. Do I make time for meditation and/or prayer?
  3. Do my values guide my decisions and actions?
  4. Am I accepting of the views of others?
Uh, that's a no on number 2. That's because I'm an atheist, and when I tried 'meditation', I found it a pointless wage of time. The page disapproves.
If you answered "No" to any of the questions, it may indicate an area where you need to improve the state of your spiritual wellness.
Of course, a state university should not be pushing prayer, even in an 'and/or'.

Explaining their little symbol for spiritual wellness

Solar symbols can have meaning in astrology, religion, mythology, mysticism, and divination.
...or translated into the language of reality 'hooey, hooey, hooey, hooey, and hooey', and plagiarized hooey at that. Oh dear. Am I being unaccepting of the views of others? One more area I may need to 'improve my state of spiritual wellness!

Examples of 'Spiritual Wellness' activities

  • Meditation; prayer
  • Religious affiliation
  • Explore and enjoy the flora & fauna of a wilderness area.
  • Watch a sunrise or sunset
  • Exercise
  • Freedom
  • Outdoor act
I'm not sure how freedom is in any way a commensurate with 'religious affiliation'. Moreover, UNL should not be encouraging religious affiliation, or prayer.

The Spiritual Wellness Inventory below can be used to thoughtfully reflect upon your spiritual wellness.

  1. I am willing to forgive myself and others.
  2. I have a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose in my life.
  3. I have a belief system (e.g., spiritual, atheist, religious).
  4. I participate in regular spiritual activities with people who share my beliefs, and I am open to hearing about other's beliefs.
  5. I accept my limitations without embarrassment or apology.
  6. I keep the purpose of my life clearly in mind and let it guide my decision-making.
  7. I freely give to others.
  8. I am comfortable about knowing things without knowing precisely how I know them (intuition).
  9. I allow others the freedom to believe what they want without pressuring them to accept my beliefs.
  10. I look for and work toward balance.
  11. I continually explore personal beliefs, values and priorities.
  12. Principles, ethics and morals provide guides for my life.
Most of this is vapid new-agey crap, but 3 is stupid (atheism is not a belief system), and 4 is most certainly an endorsement of organized religion.

It goes on. Recycling is a form of 'environmental wellness', as is 'conserving water'. I don't just conserve water, by the way, I'm pretty sure, by metabolizing food, I actually increase the net amount of water in the world. I can write you a chemical equation for it, even!

The morons with too much time on their hands who wrote this could improve their 'libertarian wellness' by avoiding pushing their personal belief systems as university policy. Maybe I'll offer to create a page on that.