HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » cab67 » Journal
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next »


Profile Information

Member since: Wed Jul 24, 2013, 01:10 PM
Number of posts: 1,786

Journal Archives

I'm tired of living like this, and I don't really have that right.

I'm on one of the administrative committees at the college where I work. At our weekly (virtual) meeting this morning, the first topic of discussion was the Chauvin trial.

My public university is in a comparatively small Midwestern college town (not in Minnesota). We attract some diversity because of the university, but the surrounding area is overwhelmingly white, which limits enrollments from students of color. And yet over the summer, at least one of the BLM protests here became very large and ended up tear-gassed.

So our discussion this morning is over what the university will do should the trial end with an acquittal. There will be multiple statements released by different officials, from the president through the provost and down to the deans' offices, with some department heads probably joining in. These statements are already being drafted.

They have to be drafted carefully; the community around the university is progressive, but the state as a whole, as reflected by the governor and state legislature, follows a very different and decidedly rightward path. As long as we rely on the legislature for funding, we have to balance expressing objection to the obvious injustice an acquittal would represent with not coming across as institutionally partisan or reactionary. But we can't stay absolutely silent if the community around us unravels.

Meanwhile, a few miles south of me (I'm living in a different state most of the time because of the pandemic), the National Guard has already been deployed.

I'm tired of this shit. We as a country have never really dealt with the fundamental racial disparities throughout our system. It's gotten so bad that when an opportunity arises to make things right, even by a little bit, it's fumbled. And I have to worry about whether my building on campus might be damaged by a crowd that includes many of my friends. I have to worry about my friends working downtown, either back home near the university or here; will they encounter violence from people using the protests as an excuse to riot? From the police? From the National Guard?

And you know what? I have no business feeling this way. Not really, anyway. I'm a white heterosexual cis-male. I'm a walking billboard for what unintentional white privilege looks like. I get tired of things because I'm worried a riot might break out many miles from where I sit; African American teenagers get tired of being wary of every police officer they encounter, knowing there's a greater likelihood that they'll be shot ton the false theory that they're armed. I worry that the riots will disrupt my travel and make my community look bad; people of color have to worry about how - not whether, but how - their ethnic background will hold them back every day.

When I was a kid, my parents had the "police talk" with me. The police are our friends, I was told. If we're in trouble, if we're lost or something, we look for a police officer for help. We can trust them. Every other kid in my suburban neighborhood got the same talk. I was never told that the police might kill me if they mistook me for a criminal, or if they mistook my wallet for a Smith and Wesson.

So I look at the fact that I'm worried about how this will end almost as a point of shame. I'm safe where I am. I'm doing everything I can to promote equity and inclusion, both at my institution and in my field, so I can at least pretend I'm part of the solution, but why should I worry when my life isn't in any real jeopardy?

So I consciously try to direct my worry where it belongs - to my many friends of color, to my LGBTQ friends, to my friends who are immigrants, and - yes - to my friends in law enforcement, all of whom really are trying hard to rebuild the trust that should exist between every citizen and the police. I work to direct it to their families. It's really all I can do.

I try to turn my worry into real empathy - the kind that promotes positive change.

just wanted to say this.

"I'm old fashioned" and "that's how I was raised."

I'm tired of hearing these excuses for bigoted behavior.

I can understand that being brought up in an environment where racism was openly expressed might impress some racist attitudes on you. "That's how I was raised" would thus be a reasonable explanation for racist behavior. But it isn't an excuse. The second clause shouldn't be "so you're just going to have to deal with it;" it's "but I'm working to do better."

It's never been clear to me from which era those who claim to be "old fashioned" came. Racism and bigotry have been widely understood as character flaws for all 53 years I've resided on this planet. Although bigotry has sometimes been tolerated, it hasn't been extolled much. And though we're all apt to look with nostalgia at the world of our youth, that shouldn't keep us from understanding that progress, overall, has been a good thing.

Just my thoughts. I've run into more than one bigot over the past several weeks who tried to weasel out of his or her predicament by referring to the past as though it's a good thing.

When did Bill Maher jump the shark for you?

Added on edit: Some have claimed that it's ok to watch someone with whom one disagrees. This is absolutely true, just as it's true that there is no human being alive with whom I never disagree. I disagree with President Biden on some things. I disagree with Charles Pierce from time to time. I disagree with my wife at times. We're grown-ups. That's allowed.

It's the nature of the things Maher says, not the mere fact that I disagree with them. Downplaying the importance of vaccines? That's not just wrong - it's flat-ass dangerous coming from someone with a loud platform and a large audience. His agreement with Irving Police about the home-made clock was racist; I doubt he'd have supported the police had the kid who made it been white. His fat-shaming can cause damage to people who really struggle with weight. He's not merely wrong - he's offensive.


Maher often says things I agree with, and he says them very forcefully, but I don't really pay much attention to him anymore.

His regrettable anti-vaccine position keeps me from taking him seriously, but that's not the reason I stopped watching his show.

I stopped watching because of the Ahmed Mohamed clock incident.

Mr. Mohamed was a 14-year-old kid in Irving, TX, who built a digital clock at home and brought it to school, where he showed it to his friends and teachers.

One of those teachers decided it looked like a bomb. That Mr. Mohamed is Muslim almost certainly contributed to that decision. As a result, Irving police were called, and they actually arrested him.

Long story short, his family ended up relocating to Qatar because of the bigotry they faced. It woudn't stop.

That the Irving police should have looked into it was understandable. But anyone with more than a handful of neurons in his or her head would know that a 14 year old who built a something that didn't look like a bomb wouldn't be showing it off to teachers if it was, in fact, a bomb.

Maher supported the cops in this case. It looked like a bomb. The kid is Muslim. That, to him, justified not merely looking into the matter, but actually putting the boy in cuffs.

At that point, I wrote Maher off as a racist. I haven't looked back.

How about others? When did you realize Maher is no friend to us?

a word that must be used when people say they're not getting the COVID vaccine

That word is "selfish."

It's selfish for people to just decide not to be vaccinated. Vaccines only work if a high percentage - 90 percent or more - of a community is vaccinated. This protects people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons as well as those few who didn't pick up immunity from the vaccine.

That's why I get far angrier with anti-vaccine people than nearly every other class of denialist. They're being very, very selfish.

I'm not necessarily talking about people who've fallen for misinformation - and boy howdy is misinformation out there in great abundance. This goes beyond the "vaccines cause autism" trope - people are told the COVID vaccines are unsafe - they haven't been tested carefully enough. Or that a lot of people are harmed by these particular vaccines. Their fear might be real, even if based on false claims that should be corrected.

I'm referring to people who simply decide, for vague personal reasons, that they won't get the vaccine. Maybe they don't like "big pharma" or think this whole thing is a government plot. Or they take an overly broad stance on "it's my body" or "it's my freedom."

"It's my body" works if the only person physically affected by a medical procedure is the patient. It doesn't work when refusal to participate puts everyone else at risk.

Such a decision is grotesquely selfish. One's sense of personal self-importance does not take precedence over the health of everyone.

I'm serious about this. I recently had an exchange with someone who had decided not to get the vaccine. She didn't specify her reason, though it wasn't medical in nature. When I tried to argue that the vaccine really is a good thing, she said something like "all feelings are valid!"

Really? So if I feel that it's OK to force children to drink rubbing alcohol, that's valid? Am I going to get out of an armed robbery charge if I felt it was both legally and morally acceptable to hold up a bank? Or what if I feel very strongly that I'll fly, Superman-style, if I jump off my roof? Are such feelings valid?

I take great exception to the old adage that "there are two sides to every story." No - not always, anyway. There aren't two legitimate sides to climate change, for example, in the same way there aren't two or more sides to the claim that the earth orbits the sun. Or that vaccines are safe and effective. There's just the one legitimate side.

Thus, I don't care about someone's feelings about self determination. When it comes to herd immunity, we're all in this together, and to withdraw for no good reason is very, very selfish.

The word has to be used. You think you're better than me, and that your sense of personal freedom comes before everyone's efforts to end this pandemic, save lives, and allow us to bring back at least some sort of normalcy? You're selfish. That's that. Don't want to be selfish? Get the damn shot.

(I will concede one place where it might be best to avoid that word: I realize people of color have an additional reason to be skeptical of these vaccines - there's a long history of unethical research involving African American subjects (e.g. the Tuskeegee experiments), and African Americans are infrequently parts of medical trials. And they may have had bad experiences at local hospitals based on race. I totally get it. But I also think it would be wrong to not explain to friends of color that these vaccines really are safe, and that it only works if they also get vaccinated.)

its the obstinacy, stupid

Against my better judgment, I've engaged with some people I knew in high school on Facebook over the decision to stop publishing some Dr Seuss books.

My own opinions on this are mixed, largely because the situation is not as simple as people think. There's a good reason they've decided to stop printing these books - they contain images that aren't just a little off-color; they're flat-out racist. I agree with that decision. But Dr Seuss himself spoke out against racism, bigotry, and anti-semitism, both vocally and through his art. Some of the cartoons in the "Dr Seuss Goes to War" anthology, which includes cartoons drawn as World War 2 was starting, were anti-Jim Crow. Racism continued to appear from time to time - have a look at how he depicted Japanese people after Pearl Harbor, and you'll see a glaring example - but he sometimes edited his books to change content he came to see as offensive. So I remain a Dr Seuss fan while acknowledging the shortcomings of the flawed human that he was.

Anyway - one thing I think we on DU can all agree with is that none of this constitutes censorship. The company holding the copyrights is going to stop printing six of Dr Seuss' books, meaning the other 54 can keep being printed. No one is making libraries take them off the shelves, and bookstores can still sell them, so long as they're in stock.

No amount of explanation can get some of the red-hatters among my former classmates to see this. They continue to post memes comparing this decision with book-burning in Nazi Germany. They cry out against this as an example of political correctness and cancel culture. And they claim people are coming to take their kids' books.

This is different from other conflicts I've had, or so it seems to me. In the past, they stuck with their "facts" regardless of my efforts to correct them. The election was stolen, and the evidence they cited remains evidence in their eyes. COVID isn't that bad. Trump's tax cuts went mostly to working-class people. They wouldn't let them go.

This time, they've come to see that what happened wasn't exactly as their memes portrayed it.
Most of them have stopped claiming all of Dr Seuss' books are being taken off the market. They've even stopped claiming that libraries are pulling them from the shelves in large numbers.

But under no circumstances will they accept that this isn't censorship. They're willing to change the definitions of words to avoid admitting they got something wrong.

the war on higher ed in Iowa continues; or, pray for us!

I work at a public university in Iowa. I would thus be under direct threat should any of these bills become law.

The bills, themselves, don't actually bother me very much. The bill to abolish tenure comes up pretty much every year. The state's business community is strongly opposed to it, and everyone saw what happened to the University of Wisconsin when that state weakened its tenure policies. So although I'm keeping an eye on it, I don't think it will become law.

Moreover, the proposed law that would prohibit non-disclosure agreements on research grants would get tossed by the courts almost immediately. It would violate HIPAA policies. The other bills would also run up against contradictory federal law, or even the Constitution itself.

What bothers me is the grotesque ignorance and vindictiveness that drives this effort. The state legislature here seems to think we're a bunch of liberal elitists who want to tear down western civilization. They genuinely don't know what we do, how research grants work, or what we provide to the state, if not the entire nation. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me, given the flagrant stupidity of our governor, who just lifted pretty much all COVID restrictions. (Two major highways - I-80 and I-35 - intersect in the middle of the state. A lot of shipping passes through the state. Think of all the truck drivers who will risk their lives just driving from point A to point B.)

I get really hacked off when a politician dismisses anything I say with "But you don't live in the real world." As if we professors don't put our pants on one leg at a time. We come from the same neighborhoods as anyone else. (My father worked in a dairy factory when I was born.) We work our asses off, just like everyone else. Yes, there's a specialized language that seeps into our daily conversation and we sometimes talk shop when in groups, just like everyone else. And yes, some of us are jerks. But you know what? That's equally true of police officers, dental hygienists, farmers, lawyers, sales representatives, auto mechanics, hair stylists, truck drivers, airline pilots, and anyone else in a field that requires training and dedication. But when it comes to academics, the rules just don't seem to apply in their eyes.

I honestly don't know what to do. I love my institution; my grandfather taught here, I did my undergrad here, and I've been here as faculty for more than 20 years. You know how they say New York is a great place to visit, but you'd never want to live there? Iowa City is a great place to live, but you'd never want to visit. But I am nevertheless feeling the urge to go somewhere else. Somewhere that values higher education.


how this ends - insights from really, really old alligators


A while back, I compared changes in the Republican Party since 1980 with the phenomenon of runaway selection in evolutionary biology. It's especially prominent in the context of sexual selection. When selective pressure on a feature is very strong - for example, if females have a very strong preference for males with elongated tail feathers, brightly colored scales, tall antlers, or some other display structure that doesn't necessarily improve survivability - that structure can evolve very rapidly to an extreme condition. This is even true if the sexually selected trait impairs the ability of a male to escape predators or find food - as long as it survives long enough to breed, an early death doesn't matter.

This is what we've seen with the Republican Party. The Reagan "Revolution" brought a higher levels of demonization of Democrats. This was amplified by AM radio, and then by partisan cable news and the internet, so that each succeeding Republican candidate had to be more conservative than anyone else or risk losing during the primaries. But this may be approaching the limit of survivability, because they've now become so extreme that they risk losing the general election.

I thought some more about this over the past few days, and my own work might indicate how this might end.

It's a generally accepted axiom that generalized ancestors evolve into specialized descendents, but not the reverse. Butterflies that can collect nectar from a wide range of flowers gradually become increasingly specialized toward a particular kind of flower to the point that, eventually, they can only really collect nectar from that one kind of flower. (This also happens with hummingbirds. Look up the sword-billed hummingbird, and you'll see what I mean.) In turn, the flower evolves to cater only to that one kind of butterfly.

(This axiom is actually false, as I'll discuss below.)

This has the benefit of ensuring a relatively competitor-free source of food for the butterfly as long as the flower is around, and it ensures pollenation of the flower as long as the butterfly is around.

But this implies a serious cost - if the flower disappears, so will the butterfly. Specialization, in general, increases the risk of extinction if the environment changes in ways that prevent the specialist from functioning. Generalists, being more capable of using other resources, are more likely to survive.

I really do think we're at the point where the Republican Party has become overly specialized. It is now directed at Trump-style populism and nationalism. There are still plenty of people who call themselves Republicans and regard themselves as economic conservatives or libertarians, but who also dislike Trump, but anyone watching the impeachment process can clearly see that fear of offending Trump's base is keeping them from doing anything about it. The party is now specialized for the collection of votes from red hatters in gerrymandered districts.

This hurt them in the 2018 midterms - they may have succeeded in the primaries, but not so much in the general election. It appears to have been less true in the 2020 congressional elections, but it was a weird election all around. I fully expect this trend to continue for the next several election cycles.

So how does this end?

There are two possibilities. The first, and most obvious, is extinction. But here, I see a disconnect between my analogy and political reality. A species goes extinct when none are left alive. The Republican Party might collapse, but its members are still going to be here.

This is where my work, and that of my students, might prove insightful, because we've helped show that specialists can, indeed, become generalists. (This is also where I run the risk of revealing my identity - not too many people do what I do - but so be it.)

A good example is the North American alligatorine radiation. Alligatorines comprise comprise the two living species of Alligator (American alligator, A. mississippiensis, and critically-endangered Chinese alligator, A. sinensis) and extinct forms more closely related to them than to the caimans currently found in Latin America. (Alligatorines and caimans together form Alligatoridae.)

There's only one species in North America today. But if you go back to between 65 and 40 million years ago, there were several. One could find as many as three species co-occurring in parts of the American West. (The same was true in Europe, by the way.) And none of them really looked like an American alligator - they were all very small (6 feet in length for some, no more than 3 feet for others), they had comparatively short snouts, and most had blunt, anvil-like teeth in the back of the jaws. These were specialized for hard-shelled prey.

At the same time, there were several other crocodylians living alongside these wee alligatorines. One was a kick-ass hoofed form with no close living relative, but others were distantly related to modern crocodiles. They also looked more or less like a modern crocodile - about the same size, with a long, flattened snout with conical teeth and a diet that included anything they could swallow. They took the larger prey that the small alligatorines were unable to process, and when young may have eaten fewer turtles or mollusks.

What happened? Climate changed abruptly. Temperature was probably not the main driver - the region was still plenty warm enough for crocs. It probably had more to do with changes in rainfall that led to the expansion of dry areas and the first grasslands. All crocodylians in western North America died out except one of the small blunt-toothed alligatorines.

The modern American alligator is basically like a crocodile, at least ecologically - fairly large, with a long, flat snout filled with conical teeth and a very broad diet. And its ancestors were specialized for small hard-shelled prey.

The transition from specialist to generalist took a very long time. The earliest forms to appear shortly after the diversity crash were still fairly small, though the snout was somewhat longer and the teeth not so knobby in the back. Body size and snout length gradually increased, as did the number of teeth in the jaws. It was another 10 to 20 million years before animals that would have lived like a modern American alligator arose.

I think this is what we'll see. The Republican Party won't go away - not completely, anyway. It might even have a different name. But over time, it will recalibrate toward the center. This will be necessary for its survival; demographic changes in the US will make it much less likely they'll win elections, an gerrymandering might not be able to rescue their chances. They'll see a choice between keeping some red hatters happy and actually being in office. Meanwhile, some media outlets (e.g. Fox "News" will begin to moderate, at least a little. They won't have had a change of heart - they'll be desperate for viewers and advertisers. And the initial changes will be so modest, many of us might not even really notice.

I have no idea when any of this will come to pass. I hoped we'd have seen stronger evidence for this in 2020. And I could be completely full of shit with my analogy. But I really do hope this happens sooner rather than later.

(For your viewing pleasure, here are a couple of skulls showing the kinds of changes I mean. The first skull is about 55 million years in age; the second is about 39 million years in age; the third is modern.)

back yard just now -

it's my 5-year-old daughter's first Accipiter.

(male Cooper's hawk)


some animals I've seen


I'm not a professional wildlife photographer. In fact, I'm not a photographer at all. I'm a vertebrate paleontologist whose camera equipment is optimized for objects within 4 or 5 feet of me that aren't moving.

Nevertheless, I've tried for some animal shots over the past few years. I apologize if these are substandard, but I did the best I could with the equipment I had.

I put up some bird shots on the Birding group. I'm a birder, so I tend to focus my photography on birds. But my research is dedicated to crocodylians, so there's also a gator and croc bias evident in my photos.

Not sure if I'm bragging or asking for advice on how to improve, but I thought some of you might appreciate them.

Scarlet tanager, Ryerson Forest Preserve, Illinois

Vermilion Flycatcher, near Tucson, AZ

blue-spotted salamander, Ryerson Forest Preserve, Illinois

Nile crocodile, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

American alligator, Cameron Prairie NWR, Louisiana

Ethiopian wolf, Bale Mountains NP, Ethiopia. (It helps when your birding guide did his thesis work on this species.)

Black-pencilled marmoset, Riberao Preto, Brazil. I don't usually have much use for primates, but this was cute.

giraffe, Maasai Mara, Kenya

bush elephant, Murchison Falls NP, Uganda

spectacled caiman, near Manaus, Brazil. This species is undergoing major revision and will probably be split up into several species.

blue mud wasp, Hickory Hill Park, Iowa City, IA

African giant snail, National Museum of Kenya grounds. (This was a juvenile about the size of snails I typically see in the upper midwest.)

Could the new videos of Marjorie Taylor Greene made a difference?

We've all seen the recently circulated videos of Marjorie Taylor Greene revealing just how loathsome she is - looking for Muslim members of Congress to force them to swear an oath on a Bible, calling for violence, and so on.

On a recent thread, I asked why these videos hadn't come to light before the election, when they might have made a difference. A couple of you suggested that they wouldn't have made a difference in that district - that there was no way a Democrat could have won, and that a lot of people in her district are as unhinged and ignorant as she is.

On the whole, I now agree with that point of view. By November, the results in that district were a foregone conclusion. BUT - I do think one of the videos might have made a difference during the primaries.

I have several Facebook "friends" who are Republicans. They're mostly either family or people I knew in high school; some people in my social and professional circles consider themselves conservative, and may vote Republican, but they had no use for Trump and his core.

Some of them would have no problem with voting for a candidate who'd previously called for the execution of a Democratic congresswoman, or who had the mistaken belief that swearing an oath on anything other than a Bible is somehow un-American.

But most of them would have a very real problem with the video showing her pursuing and shouting at David Hogg. They might like their guns, but they don't think Parkland was some sort of "false flag" operation, and they would recoil at the thought of someone accosting the young survivor of that mass shooting, or any other, to promote conspiracy shit. It would cross too many lines - lines of credibility (however one stands on gun control, these mass shootings happened) as well as lines of decency (someone who actually survived a mass shooting might have a different opinion on gun control than you, and it would be morally wrong to attack that person for sharing it).

Not all of them would feel that way. I saw plenty of commentators on Fox Jazeera attacking David Hogg, and Trump's base will believe anything. But assuming at least some of the conservatives in MTG's district would, there's a reasonable chance they might have preferred a different candidate during the primaries.

Hindsight hope springs eternal, I suppose, but due diligence by the media is central to making sure nutbags don't get elected to Congress.
Go to Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next »