Links from the last week

Read a lot of interesting stuff this week, but much of it in tweet or book form – harder to share this way then, let’s see what we have.

1. Average seasonal temperatures yearly inflection point

Neat map I thought.  The US as a whole is usually its hottest around July 21 – so it’s all downhill from here.  Check your location for more specific climatology.

2. First Human Embryos Edited in U.S.

Hard not to call this important news.  Would that I had confidence our public understanding of humanity was deeper than “if we can do it, and some people want to do it, why not?”

3. Our Cultural Waterloo

Nice piece by Carl Trueman, especially directed at Christian colleges, but with some advice for perhaps all who would wish to convince another.

My arguments did not work, because . . . well, they were arguments, and did not take into account how the mind of my young critic had been formed. She had not been convinced by any argument. Her imagination had been seized by an aesthetically driven culture, in which taste was truth and Will and Grace carried more weight than any church catechism or tome of moral philosophy.

4. Trump Cuts Wildly Ineffective Teen Pregnancy Program, Media Flip Out

Shared not because I particularly care about this program but because, as I often say, good thinking is in the details – and people ignore those details all the time when it suits them.

“Trump’s hires at HHS were notably hostile to teen pregnancy programs that worked. Now they’ve killed them,” claimed one fact-challenged columnist at the Los Angeles Times. No media outlet mentioned the ineffectiveness of the programs, whether it was NPR, the St. Louis Post-DispatchPoliticoBusiness InsiderThe IndependentForbesTeen Vogue, or Bustle, even though effectiveness reports are right there on the agency’s web site.

5. Because this has me tilting my head to the side as often as anything these days:

6. Richard Dawkins’s response to his de-platforming in Berkeley

A man who sometimes seems to almost make a living offending and insulting Christians, is de-platformed from an invited talk for saying something offensive and insulting about Islam.  As the host could hardly have not known about his feelings toward Christianity, why the double standard?

Another example from Dawkins himself:

The banner statements could hardly be more parallel.

7. Study: Intersectionality Makes People Less Empathetic

OK, that’s a bit of a partisan summary – feel free to ignore that article if you’d like and go straight to the original source: Competition over collective victimhood recognition: When perceived lack of recognition for past victimization is associated with negative attitudes towards another victimized group

Groups that perceive themselves as victims can engage in “competitive victimhood.” We propose that, in some societal circumstances, this competition bears on the recognition of past sufferings—rather than on their relative severity—fostering negative intergroup attitudes. Three studies are presented.

This week’s post brought to you by the Lansing River Trail.

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Links from the last week

1. On Political Correctness

The title of this essay severely undersells what is a great long-read on observations of academia by a self-described “member of the liberal elite”.  Any excerpt I did would undersell it as well, highly-recommended anyone interested in our universities take the time to read it.

2. Organic water? Asarasi exploits loophole to get USDA-certified label on bottles

Oh dear.

Because Asarasi’s water is filtered through a living thing ― a maple tree ― it appears to pass the USDA’s certification test.

3. NTSB: Air Canada close-call at SFO was even worse than first reported

Not sure how many people realize that two weeks ago *almost* saw what would have been the worst airline disaster in US history, when an Air Canada flight nearly landed on a taxiway with four other jets lined up waiting for takeoff, only finally aborting when told to by ATC.  Why?  It was nighttime.  The pilot was supposed to land on runway 28R.  Runway 28L was out of service and so had its approach lights off, which may have made 28R look like 28L to the pilot (the left-most runway), which made that long strip to its right (the taxiway) look like 28R.  The flashing lights of the planes lined up on the taxiway may have looked like the strobe lights of a runway – early on in the approach the pilot asked ATC about what appeared to him to be other aircraft on the runway but was told it was clear.  All very logical, frighteningly so.

4. I’ve Worked with Refugees for Decades. Europe’s Afghan Crime Wave Is Mind-Boggling.

Another long essay on how, and perhaps why, the “refugee crime” of Europe is not uniformly distributed, but actually especially significant among refugees from Afghanistan (who now account for half of all sexual assaults in Austria, for example).

So again: what’s going on? Why is this happening? And why the Afghans? A few competing theories are in circulation.

5. Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church

Interesting read via Rod Dreher. I found most discouraging her note that every time she opens her social media she finds herself reading:

yet another treatise on how white supremacy must be eliminated and how white people need to repent of their whiteness. A friend recently said that it is like the new prayer of Jabez.

Her bigger point is to suggest that the language and categories of social justice activism naturally create an us versus them mindset, and encourage people to view others suspiciously based on demographically determined guilt. Which is poison to real unity in the Church.

6. The correlation = causation fallacy in its purest form

7. Eugene Peterson’s Theological Sigh

There’s no intersection of Christ and culture that finally finds both running parallel all the way to glory.

This week brought to you by a red-tailed hawk in Lansing, Michigan’s Groesbeck neighborhood.

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Links from the last week

1. When Astronomers Chased a Total Eclipse in a Concorde

Thought this was a pretty neat story in light of upcoming events – in the 1970s, a group of astronomers used a prototype Concorde to chase a solar eclipse for 74 minutes across the Sahara.  Still kind of amazing to think about a commercial airliner flying at Mach 2.0, 55,000 feet – so fast the passenger windows were warm to the touch.

2. UPS Airlines

Yes, a Wikipedia article, but to continue the flight theme – almost sounds like a military operation.  Impressive the extent to which some of these large corporations have optimized their operations.

On every week day night, UPS designates 14 different planes at 7 hub airports to be spare aircraft ready to launch at anytime, known as hot-spares. The flight crew will preflight the empty aircraft and then wait to be launched to a gateway to rescue stranded packages, and then return flight back to a hub for sorting. Most commonly hot-spares are launched because of an aircraft mechanical issue, additional volume, or weather. Once the call is made to launch a hot-spare, the aircraft needs to be in the air within 30 minutes or less to assure the packages will make service the next day.

3. Mega Millions, Multiple Winners, and Expectations

Just some interesting math here – the calculated mean return on a Mega Millions ticket as the jackpot grows, *including data on the number of people who purchase tickets increasing as well*.  Yes, the graph does eventually go down – there is an optimal jackpot price when it comes to ticket buying!  (Of course as I say… lotteries are also a nice illustration of the difference between the median and the mean.)

4. Germany’s Newest Intellectual Antihero

Signs of the times.

Whatever becomes of Mr. Sieferle’s reputation, the scandal around him reveals certain unsuspected problems. When the German literary establishment unanimously denounced Mr. Sieferle’s work as an extremist tract, readers did not nod in agreement. They pulled out their wallets and said, “That must be the book for me.” This is a sign that distrust of authority in Germany has reached worrisome levels, possibly American ones.

5. Woman Finally Accepts Doctrine Of Total Depravity Now That Daughter Is Two

A humorous and yet, also rather real, article quoted in the sermon at our church this week.

NEW YORK, NY—Mary Eastwood, 29, says she struggled for years to accept the biblical teaching that human beings are innately corrupted by sin, preferring instead to think that people are basically good. However, now that her daughter Charlotte is right in the prime of her “terrible twos,” Eastwood has changed her mind, fully embracing and even espousing the doctrine of total depravity.

6. First Church of Intersectionality

Hard to summarize, but a good long read on the fashion in parts of academia that is quite fair, I think, to advocates of “intersectionality”.

7. Couple Opens Up About Being Banned From Farmer’s Market Over Same-Sex Marriage Views

The East Lansing saga continues.  The city claim that Country Mill somehow violated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell continues to strike me as bizarre.  If that was actually true, they wouldn’t only be having problems with East Lansing, I’m sure.  If that was true, the city would not have had to pass a city ordinance specifically to bar them from the market.  Actually the city’s behavior on the whole, at least as reported, has felt very amateurish to me as regards this case.

This week brought to you by chipmunks in Potter Park Zoo.

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Links from the last week

(Abbreviated because a lot of traveling meant I did less reading – you can always follow me on Twitter for life as it happens.)

1. New studies of ancient concrete could teach us to do as the Romans did

Around A.D. 79, Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbors, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become “a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.”

And it’s true (for Roman concrete)… how about that.

2. I pray to be a “mystic patriot”; I hope you do too.

Your semi-regular reminder that somehow, a century ago, G.K. Chesterton knew everything our modern age would need to hear and wrote it all down.

One must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the world without being worldly.

3. Alistair Roberts on gender-as-given v. gender-as-performance

Just a Twitter thread, sorry, you’ll have to keep scrolling down.  Generally though, if you don’t read Alistair’s blog, perhaps you should.

4. DNR confirms cougar sighting in Clinton County

Mainly a local story for me but – whoa, there is at least one cougar in mid-Michigan.  The article implies there haven’t been cougars here for a century.  Where did it come from?

This week brought to you by fireworks over Lansing, Michigan last night.

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Links from the last week

1. Alaska Air offers charter flight for solar eclipse viewing

Concerned clouds will block your view?  Why not fly above them?  (See also quite neat video from last year, below.)

2. City Emails: Christian Farmer’s Facebook Post Led to Ban From East Lansing Market

The East Lansing saga continues – MichCapCon filed an FOIA request to obtain emails related to the East Lansing / Country Mill interaction.  Not a lot that is brand new here, most remarkable thing I saw actually was EL’s mayor apparently wondering if Country Mill would be willing to *sell apples* to a same-sex couple at market. To be fair it appears to be a question – but it’s also about a distinction that has only been explained a thousand times in similar cases from where I’m standing, anyway. It’s a cultural hot button issue and yet clearly (and this is hardly the only example) people in positions are power are largely ignorant of the thinking of Christians on this topic.

Also – why did MichCapCon have to file this request?  Do genuinely local media outlets care that little?  Maybe I missed it, but it seems not uncommon on stories like this they you get better reporting from non-local courses.  A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown.

3. Our church participated in the Global Hymn Sing last Sunday

Check us out!

4. Helium shortage looms

How many people realize the helium is a non-renewable natural resource, very important for running superconducting magnets (if you’ve ever had an MRI, you’ve probably been in one).  And the blockade of Qatar is restricting the world supply.

5. Leading charity site labels top Christian organizations ‘hate groups’

Reminder that the Southern Poverty Law Center has no credibility left as any sort of non-partisan opponents of hate and the media (and everyone) should stop treating them as if they do.  It is beyond absurd to label the mild-mannered lawyers of Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that has now won 51 First Amendment cases at the Supreme Court, a hate group.  Beyond absurd.

6. How the FAA Killed Uber for Planes

But I want Uber for planes.

7. Seattle’s Minimum Wage Hike May Have Gone Too Far

A widely shared article this past week – Seattle hiked its minimum wage to $13/hr, study finds this caused the take-home pay for low-wage workers to *shrink* by an average of 6.6% because of layoffs and fewer hours worked.

This week’s post brought to you by a new placemaking project in Lansing, Michigan.

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Links from the last week

1. ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ will launch on CBS in September

Have to start out with something fun here as a Star Trek fan… did not find the trailer to be very impressive though, felt like pretty poor writing.  Perhaps reality will be better.

2. It’s so hot in Phoenix, they can’t fly planes

Physics!  Simple Physics but it is often the simple Physics that gets you.  Hotter air = less dense air = more runway needed.  Though you could make a joke here about “that’s what they get for buying Canadian aircraft” (Bombardier).

3. The Challenge of University Evangelism

This profound inarticulacy makes it hard for many students to conceive of anything like a “search for truth” that once marked the university. It also means students can (1) denounce a speaker for his beliefs and views, but (2) then say to their own critics, “No one has the right to tell anyone what is wrong for them,” and after doing both (3) see absolutely no inconsistency in this at all. To call this a conversation-stopper is putting it mildly. How does a Christian evangelist get traction, not just with moral relativists, but with moralistic moral relativists?

Great piece by Tim Keller – Christianity needs more people who take the time to understand how the culture is thinking.

4. All Roads Lead to Exclusion

On a related note…

Saying, “All roads lead to God” may make someone feel more tolerant, but it is just as intolerant as any other religious claim. Saying that is also saying, “Anyone who says only one road leads to God is wrong.”

The “tolerant” religious inclusivist has made themselves feel morally and intellectually superior, but that demonstrates the faulty nature behind those claims. You’re still telling those who disagree with you that they are wrong.

5. Alas, All Societies Have Closets

15. The reason we cannot agree on what sex is for is that we don’t agree on the answer to the question, “What is a human being for?” Meaning, “What is our purpose in life?” Is it to live in harmony with God’s will? Is it to fulfill our desires? Is it something else? Again: traditional Christianity has clear and consistent answers to these questions — and they are not the modern answers.

6. Official Country Mill complaint against City of East Lansing

A very readable 42 pages if you’re up to it – I have read it, and will be writing another post to share what I found interesting shortly.

7. Officer Stabbed in Possible Terror Incident at Michigan Airport

Flint.  Nothing profound to say about this, but just… getting very close to home.

This week’s post brought to you by a Monarch butterfly on the campus of Michigan State University.

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Some randomly-selected impressions of Montréal from a visitor

Just wanted to drop some thoughts, not a comprehensive post, just things that surprised me or I found especially interesting, as regards our recent vacation to Montréal.  Poorly labeled photos from our trip may be found here, and in succeeding albums, if you’re curious.  In no particular order then!:

1. So many beautiful churches.  You could spend a whole trip just visiting churches.  Probably my favorite part of the trip right there – many American cities would love to have just one church of the visual splendor we encountered again and again in Montréal.  A strange thing it must be, though, to be a functioning church and also a tourist attraction.  The Basilique Notre-Dame had a laser and light show one evening we were there, for example (we didn’t go).  Basilique below:

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2. No free soda refills anywhere!  (Hey, I drink a lot… drink soda a lot.)  Not even that nice America-themed diner we ate at where we were informed “the portions are big because we’re modeled after the states”.  You’ll like your soda with a can, and a glass, and when the can is empty you’re done!  Except for the casino – yes, our city passes came with $25 in free credits, so we visited.  Not only free refills, but actually free soda, period, there.  Casino and Bec below.

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3. Some more casino thoughts since I’d never been to one before.  Our city passes gave us $25 in credits – $25 is probably nothing to the casino, the *minimum* bet at Blackjack tables was $10, you could go through $25 in an instant and I’m sure people do.  Slot machines have gotten way more complicated than “line up three of the same and you win” – how about 50 different arrangements that count as some kind of victory?  And finally – a lot of people there just didn’t seem that happy.  The experience was not as glamorous as Oceans 11 might have predicted.  The happiest people we saw were those watching the live music – you know, not gambling.  Below, catching the bus to the casino.

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4. And now some thoughts on language!  People really will greet you with “Bonjour-Hi!” – friendly and a way to figure out your preferred language. We bought some items at a convenience store and didn’t reply to the greeting, so the clerk was forced to say “voulez-vous un sac do you want a bag?”  There was bilingual signage, especially, in “official” places (like the airport), but I was surprised how French the city was in terms of conversations overheard and plenty of French-only signage as well.  Just observing people use French was a lot of fun for me – it was probably especially fun watching the children when we visited the zoo.  “Regarde!  Un ours, un ours!”  Photo below is not the Zoo Ecomusee, which we took a train to, but is the Biodome, a sort of zoo closer to the city center.

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5. The 747 bus was a great way to get from the airport, and the Metro subway system was a great way to get around town too.  I learned that bus stops were “arrêt”, above-ground “real” train stations were “gare”, and subway stations were just “station”, said as you would speaking French.  Below me in a Metro station.

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6. Oh right, other thing about restaurants that struck me was that if paying by credit, they bring the card reader to your table and have you run it.  Makes sense from a privacy perspective, did think it made the experience feel a little less professional/formal as compared to the United States habit of letting the waiter run the card.  Below is Bec at a nice French restaurant with some Quebecois cheeses.

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7. Just a few other French word things that surprised me – saw “patate” for potato almost everywhere rather than “pomme de terre”, which is what I learned in school.  Quotations were indicated by << >> rather than, what I at least, would call quotation marks!  Saw “comptoir” which just means “counter” a lot of places to indicate a food place – we had lunch at “Comptoir 21” one day.  Generally was very pleased with my ability to read-stuff, and say stuff if I had time to think about it, understanding what other people were saying as they were saying it definitely the hardest thing.  Below, eat fresh.

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8. Just one more thought!  If you’re thinking about traveling from the United States, we found that easy-peasy.  The Montréal airport has space for an *enormous* line when it came to processing travelers entering Canada… and, at least mid-day in mid-May, there was almost nobody in it, we went pretty much straight through, had to answer a few questions about where we were staying to the French-accented border agent, a fine experience.  On the way home, the Montréal airport actually pre-processes US travelers so that, when you land in America, you’re just like another domestic traveler, which is nice.  Below, Montreal from the air as we depart.

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Thus ends this random collection of impressions!  To learn more check out the photo link above or, better yet, visit yourself, I highly recommend the trip.

Links from the last week

1. Schmucks Like Us

Woods apparently drinks too much sometimes, and, if the tabloids are to be believed, he has expansive sexual appetites. I wonder how alien those problems really are to the average American man. But the average American man does not have $600 million, an almost universally known name, and a face recognized by 98 percent of the people he encounters. Maybe you haven’t behaved the way Tiger Woods does — but how many Playboy models do you have on speed-dial? How many of them were calling you at the peak of your career or slightly thereafter? Maybe you lead a more virtuous life. Maybe you just lead a smaller one. It is difficult to say without being tested.

2. Why Do Taxpayers Get the Bill for a Union President’s Pension?

By (in part) Jarrett Skorup, whom I’ve gotten to know via social media a bit.  Also a good question.

Mr. Cook became president of the MEA in 2011. He is set to retire later this year. His current salary is more than $200,000. While his pay was determined by the union, his paychecks still came from the Lansing school district. Had Mr. Cook stayed on as a teacher’s assistant in 1993, his annual pension benefit in retirement would be around $10,000, according to estimates by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (which uncovered the scheme). Instead, Mr. Cook is in line to receive an annual pension of at least $105,000 for the rest of his life, at taxpayer expense.

The school district says it didn’t intend for this to happen. But three words in Mr. Cook’s “educator on loan” contract prohibit the district from terminating the arrangement.

3. Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address

A Twitter friend mentioned that he thought that John Calvin and David Foster Wallace drove home the point better than anyone that everybody worships something – David Foster Wallace?  Never heard of him, until now.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

4. Crushing on Crushers: Why do intellectuals fall in love with dictators and totalitarians?

Lot of good articles coming out of City Journal lately.

Though Hollander does not claim that there is a single explanation for intellectuals’ attraction to dictatorships such as those of Stalin, Mao, and Castro (or Khomeini, in the case of Foucault), let alone to have found it, he nevertheless believes, in my view plausibly, that the longing for quasi-religious belief in an age when actual religion has largely been rejected is a significant part of the explanation. The totalitarian dictators were not the typical politicians of democratic systems who, whatever their rhetoric, seem mainly to tinker at the edges of human existence, are ready or forced to make grubby compromises with their opponents, reveal themselves to be morally and financially corrupt, are more impressive in opposition than in office, have no overarching ideas for the redemption of humanity, and make no claims to be panjandrums of all human knowledge and wisdom. Rather, those dictators were religious leaders who claimed the power to answer all human questions at once and to lead humanity into a land of perpetual milk, honey, and peace. They were omniscient, omnicompetent, loving, and kind, infinitely concerned for the welfare of their people; yet at the same time they were modest, humble, and supposedly embarrassed by the adulation they received. The intellectuals, then, sought in them not men but messiahs.

5. How Nationalism Can Solve the Crisis of Islam

Interesting piece. I do think it is basically taken for granted in the American Left that borders and barriers of all kinds generally encourage hate, and that if we just take a bunch of very different people and toss them together, they’ll learn to like and understand each other and we shall have peace and unity. And sometimes something like that happens especially on an individual level… and at least as often, it seems to me, exactly the reverse happens, and “resentments and anxieties” are enhanced. (The mixing ground of social media certainly provides examples of both but especially, dare I say, the latter.)

To wit, for most people everywhere, humanity is ‘too large and too diverse’ to provide meaningful communion. ‘I cannot prove that the nation-state is the only viable form,’ he says. ‘But what I’m sure about is that to live a fully human life, you need a common life and a community. This is a Greek idea, a Roman idea, a Christian idea.’

6. Allan Bloom’s Souls Without Longing, All Grown Up

The unnatural existence that Bloom’s students live is very bad news for the future of our species or, more precisely, the future of our sophisticated way of life. That sophisticated life can’t be sustained by niceness alone, even as a quality of highly productive meritocratic specialists. Safe sex, for example, is detached from the bare act’s natural function for an animal born to die; it serves the highly self-conscious individual and is perfectly contrary to nature. And the cure for niceness—economic collapse and war—is surely around the corner.

Nature can be cast out with a pitchfork, but it’ll always come running back in. Thank God for that.

7. A dissenting opinion in one of the “travel-ban” cases

Via Jacob Gershman on Twitter.  More of a “straight-political” piece than I normally care to share, but the bigger point is – the system ought to be more important than any particular ruling.  A think a lot of anti-Trump folks know full well that these decisions are conclusions-driving-reason rather than the other way around, most starkly illustrated by the concession of an ACLU lawyer that the very same executive order might be perfectly legal if it had been signed by Hilary Clinton.  Courts that strike down rules just because they don’t like them and then search for some justification to do so ought to bother anybody who cares about the rule of law, and all the benefits that flow to a nation that holds to the rule of law.  In truth, a lot of people don’t care at all, and that is unfortunate.

The danger of the majority’s new rule is that it will enable any court to justify its decision to strike down any executive action with which it disagrees. It need only find one statement that contradicts the stated reasons for a subsequent executive action and thereby pronounce that reasons for the executive action are a pretext. This, I submit, is precisely what the majority opinion does.

This week’s post brought to you by the largest church in Canada.

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Links from the last week

Think I will try to start this weekly post up again, again because there are too many interesting articles I come across I’d like to share, and because I myself enjoy so many blogs (including posts that are mainly collections of links).  So here we go…

1. First The Fall Of Alexandria, And Now Fidget Spinners

Via a Facebook friend, a post in which fidget spinners lead to philosophy.  I always appreciate articles that remind us of something obvious Americans like to forget – our ancestors may have lacked our technology, but they weren’t idiots.  If something as simple as a fidget spinner would have produced the dramatic educational benefits some claim, that fact would have been realized a very long time ago.  (I personally have seen a couple in class – and yes, they did seem to enhance distraction, not improve the learning environment.)

If a fidget spinner is no different than spinning a pencil, spin a pencil. The fact of the matter is a fidget spinner is nothing like a pencil, for a pencil is made for writing and a fidget spinner is made for distraction. “It helps me pay attention” is the same manner of specious moonshine I floated back in the fourth grade when I told my mother Nintendo would help me “improve my hand-eye coordination.” The claim is passed from sneaky adults to children so that children can defend themselves with Recent Studies Show balderdash against the common sense of the stodgy adults. Only in America would adults give children amusing, distracting, mind-numbing, addictive, easily-hidden little toys and tell them, “These will help you pay attention in school.”

2. Walker Percy’s Last Self-Help Book

One of many articles making the rounds again because of the recent death of the author, Peter Augustine Lawler.

Darwin was basically right until we showed up. He’s right to say that we’ve been equipped by nature to be who we are, but he slighted or ignored the ways we introduced a fundamental discontinuity into the process of evolution. Darwin was basically right until the creature with a self or soul showed up who could actually discover the theory of evolution and fail to locate himself in it.

Darwin didn’t reflect enough about who Darwin, the being who wonders and wanders, is, and to some extent his theory is a diversion from that personal question. Darwin wasn’t scientific enough when it comes to the strange and wonderful being who can be a scientist, but is never only a scientist.

3. The True Purpose of the University

A nice Heather Mac Donald piece that basically says… the president of Yale says education is about teaching students to recognize “false narratives”, and Yale faculty are a model of stubborn skepticism when it comes to such narratives.  Heather says this is ridiculous because…

  • Like most universities, Yale is hardly a bastion of mythbusting and skepticism when it comes to the important progressive cultural narratives of the day.
  • Education isn’t about recognizing false narratives anyway, primarily.  It’s about spreading knowledge.  Because students arrive at college not knowing much at all in a tremendous range of subjects.  You can’t start arguing about interpretation when you lack knowledge of the bedrock.

So Salovey’s claim that Yale resolutely seeks out and unmasks “false narratives” is itself a false narrative. But is the routing of “false narratives” even an apt description of what a college education should ideally be? It is not, even though that goal, in different iterations, is widely embraced across the political spectrum. The most urgent task of any college is the transmission of knowledge, pure and simple. American students arrive at college knowing almost nothing about history, literature, art, or philosophy. If they aspire to a career in STEM fields, they may have already picked up some basic math and physics, and possibly some programming skills. But their orientation in the vast expanse of Western civilization is shallow; they have likely been traveling on a surface of selfies and pop culture with, at best, only fleeting plunges into the past.

4. The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies

“The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.”

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

Via Michael Shermer, Dr. Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsey craft a totally fake article with the title above, submit it to a peer-reviewed Gender Studies journal… and it gets published.  Lots of lessons here (read the piece), especially:

  • There’s nothing magic about peer-review.  It’s a good thing, it’s just not magic.  Oodles of flawed papers are published every year.  As I sometimes have to tell people, peer-review absolutely does NOT mean that someone reproduced your research and found it valid.  All it means is that someone, hopefully doing work somewhat like your own, read your paper, noticed no obvious flaws, and thought it important enough to publish.  (And perhaps offered some suggestions.)  That’s it.  That’s a good thing to have done, but it’s not magic.
  • Of course another one of the goals here was to poke fun at “Gender Studies” for being unable to distinguish utter nonsense from real work in the field – as I told a friend in the social sciences on Twitter recently, I feel like the social sciences on the whole are much, much less constrained by reality when it comes to what conclusions they may draw.  To me, they often feel much more like “just interpret this thing in some way nobody has interpreted it yet” – boom, publication.  The friend replied that the data in social science fields is just a lot more complicated, and that’s probably true too… but I still say the fields feel much less constrained by reality.  I am wary of commenting outside my field but there you go.

5. University Of Michigan Student Who Insists Wood Paneling Is Racist Gets It All Backwards

OK, I was charmed that this article was written by an undergraduate engineering major.  Also love the middle sentence.

The university describes the union building as “one of the University of Michigan’s most recognizable landmarks,” and if that is racist, sexist, and oppressive, then so is the entire existence of the University of Michigan—and maybe the existence of any college in America today. Civilizational progress is, in many ways, a making available to lower classes what once was available only to the elite. The changes of the modern age are always good when they take a wealthy man’s possession, like comfortable furniture, and allow the poor to have their own version of it.

6. Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

Because I have to have some neat Physics in this line-up.

Dipping a tube into a container filled with water will make the water rise in the tube. This phenomenon is called liquid capillarity. It is responsible for many natural and technical processes, for example the water absorption of trees, ink rising in a fountain pen, and sponges absorbing dishwater. But what happens if the tube is dipped into a container filled not with water but with sand? The answer is – nothing. However, if the tube is shaken up and down, the sand will also begin to rise. Scientists have now discovered the mechanism behind this effect, the so-called granular capillary effect.

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This week’s post brought to you by “au revoir Montréal!”, a city we were vacationing in until yesterday.