Category Archives: Uncategorized

I just informed on myself to The Professor Watchlist. My US teaching colleagues, consider doing likewise

trumpI just took action with the American Association of University Professors and if you are a  Professor at a US University I think you should too. Read the rest of this entry

FBI’s Comey admits there never was any new evidence against Hillary

fbiletterSo there never was any new evidence against Hillary (nor old evidence worth discussing either); and meantime hundreds of thousands have voted.

Meantime, we STILL haven’t seen Trump’s tax returns

Trump campaign using false flag “Hillary” ads, tweets to suppress, mislead, demotivate

This is new. We know about simple intimidation, lying about voter eligibility, and Republican State administrations making it physically difficult for people in Democratic-leaning areas to cast their vote.

What is new is the production of false flag “Hillary” material, lying in order to put people off voting, or to make them imagine that they have voted when they haven’t. There is the scandal of the “Vote by text” ads; of course you can do no such thing, and if you do what the ad says you will end up not voting at all. Even more contemptible are the ads, hashtag #StopThePot, targeted at marijuana supporters, that pretend to be approved by Hillary, and in memorable soundbites completely mis-state her position.

How anyone with any decency can continue to support a campaign that uses such tactics is beyond me.

The “Vote by text” scam:

The fake ad scam:

Natural selection in our species during the last two millennia

Evolution science in action

Why Evolution Is True

A question I’m always asked in popular lectures on evolution is this: “Are humans still evolving?” The answer I give is “Yes, but we have good evidence for such evolution in only a handful of traits: evolution of earlier reproductive maturity in females, later menopause, and selection for reduced blood pressure and a few other traits related to heart disease.” That is based on longitudinal studies of human health over decades, observing changes in these traits and presumed estimates of the genetic basis of their variation.

Now, however, we can, by DNA sequencing, look at DNA directly, and with some fancy statistical footwork, get an idea of which genes have changed in frequency so fast that they must have been due to positive natural selection. That’s the subject of a new paper in Science by Yair Field et al. (reference and free download below).  The authors conclude that several…

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Trump boasts of genetic superiority, German blood

I have great genes and all that stuff, which I’m a believer in

All men are created equal – that’s not true. When you connect two race horses, you usually end up with a fast horse. Secretariat doesn’t produce slow horses. I have a certain gene. I’m a gene believer. Do you believe in the gene thing? I mean I do. I have great genes and all that stuff, which I’m a believer in.

I have like a very very high aptitude

Read the rest of this entry

US absentee election registration made easy: tell US expat friends

trumpI don’t think this man wants you or your friends to see this: absentee voting in US election is easy now, even for expats. My own absentee ballot just arrived by email. I can return it on line as well. I needed social security number, and address of last US voter registration: details at

Spread the word

[Problem now solved?] For truth’s sake, pro or anti Corbyn, please complain to the BBC

CorbynUpdate, 11 p.m.: good news. The running headline now says “High Court rules Jeremy Corbyn has right to remain in Labour leadership contest without nominations from MPs.” This is accurate. Thanks to all who complained. It may have made a difference – we will never know.

Pro- or anti-Corbyn, or just interested in truth, please complain to the BBC. The running News Channel headline at 6 pm reads “Jeremy Corbyn welcomes stay High Court decision to throw out the bid to overturn his automatic inclusion in the Party’s leadership ballot DESPITE LACKING THE REQUIRED SUPPORT OF HIS MPs.” (emphasis added). The whole point is that under the rules, such support is not required, and this is spelt OwenSmithout in the court judgement itself, fairly reported on the BBC News website. I cannot believe that the BBC political staff are unaware of this. It is easy to complain on line; link here.

The challenger, Owen Smith, welcomed the Court’s decision.

7 p.m: not only do we still have this running headline (it persisted throughout the evening, but Laura Kuenssberg has just told us that the High Court had made its decision on the basis of the ruling of Labour’s National Executive Committee, whereas the website report makes it clear that he decided on the basis of the unambiguous meaning of the rules.

What do I think of Corbyn myself? I feel very strongly both ways. I admire his principles, ability to energise the base, and the bulk of his policies which his challenger is now scrambling to adopt. On the other hand, I would prefer the Party to be led by someone less ready to accept Brexit as a done deal, and was surprised at Corbyn’s decision to continue in post despite losing the confidence of so many of his own MPs. I have been utterly disgusted at the factual distortions coming, mainly, from the Blairite wing of the parliamentary party, whose rabid opposition to Corbyn from the outset was a disgrace. The outcome of the contest is bound to leave many disappointed, but I continue to hope that it will be generally accepted, so that Labour can get on with its job. And that is something that matters to all of us.

Corbyn image from The Spectator. Owen Smith image from BBC website

The REAL problem with Melania Trump’s speech


First, the fun stuff. Direct comparison of what she said,and what Michelle Obama had said eight years earlier, according to the BBC, which provides both text and overlapping videorecordings:

Trump: My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect.

Obama: And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

Trump: And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow, because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Obama: and pass them on to the next generations. Because we want our children, and all children in this nation, to know that the only limit to the height of your achievement is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Let’s notice the words that got dropped: that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. … Because we want our children, and all children in this nation …

Is there a message here?

Meanwhile, the BBC tells us, “Mr Trump himself described her speech as ‘absolutely incredible’.” I concur.

But that’s not the real problem.

Nor does the problem here lie in the huge gap, in both speeches, between the promise of unlimited opportunity and the brutal realities of economic and social inequality.

The real problem is that when the people of the world’s most  powerful nation are preparing to elect its most powerful executive,  we have speeches like this in the first place. It may well be that Michelle Obama wrote her own speech; surely no one over the age of 10 imagines that Melania Trump wrote hers. Nor does either speech address, even tangentially, the massive responsibilities that fall upon a US President. And yet, as far as the delegates in Cleveland were concerned, and millions of supportive viewers, the speech was a triumph. For a time, at least. It was helped them believe in a kinder, gentler Donald Trump, simultaneously Strong enough to Protect Us, but humane enough to want to offer limitless opportunities to America’s children.

And we tolerate such speeches, and seriously debate their merits, even though we know that (in Melania Trump’s case, at least) they were concocted by a cabal of policy strategists and admen simply in order to produce a particular kind of emotional response.

The real problem, in other words, is the divorce of politics from reality.

Epictetus on suicide: the open door policy

Let me commend Massimo Pigliucci’s “How to be a stoic” series, from which this is reblogged, to all of my friends who choose to ponder what it is to live well. One excerpt will give the flavour: “I love the image of life as a festival, to be enjoyed, but also from which one eventually has to take leave, either when the party comes to a natural end, or when the circumstances are such that the occasion is no longer worth one’s time and effort.”

How to Be a Stoic

Epictetus“And what does it matter to you by what way you descend to Hades? All roads are equal. But, if you want to hear the truth, the one that a tyrant sends you along is shorter. No tyrant ever took six months to cut someone’s throat, but a fatal fever often lasts a year.”

So says Epictetus in Discourses II.6.17-19, while discussing the kind of death that one does not choose, but is imposed by external events. (The reference to Hades is a concession to then popular culture of the time, since the Stoics did not believe in an afterlife.) Because death is a (dispreferred) “indifferent,” Epictetus is arguing that it doesn’t matter, really, deeply, how one dies. What makes us fearful of the event is the (inaccurate) judgment that it is a bad thing that one’s consciousness cease existing.

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In whose interest? Denominational schools in Scotland

You may think that all Scottish schools are conducted in the interests of their pupils, and of the wider society in which they will be participating. But as a recent report shows, that is not how Scots law is worded.

When assumptions are ripe for challenging, the first step is to examine the words that embody them. And in Scottish educational law, the following words occur repeatedly (emphasis added):

“the church or denominational body in whose interest the school is conducted”

Many readers will know that here in Scotland there are two kinds of school; so-called non-denominational schools (which may nonetheless strongly reflect the religious views of their community, or even of their own senior teaching staff), and denominational schools. The latter are overwhelmingly Catholic, and arose historically from the 1918 merger of the Catholic schools with the general state system. My purpose here is not to question the existence of these schools, but to draw attention to a toxic assumption built into legislation under which they are run; the assumption that the Church has an interest in the schools, over and above the interests of its pupils.

The language dates back to the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act, which established denominational schools. It is repeated in the 1980 Act, in 2006 legislation regarding Parent Councils, in 2010 UK legislation exempting denominational schools from some provisions of the Equalities Act, and in current (2011) Scottish governmental guidance.

Over the coming years, there will be much discussion of the institutionalised role of religion in Scottish public life, and particularly in education. Defenders of existing privileges will claim that the the language of the law implicitly accepts the special interests of the Churches. But where the interests of the Churches and the interests of the pupils coincide, there is no need to invoke the Churches’ interests. And should they conflict, there can be no doubt as to which deserves priority. Pupils are not property, and the appeal to the interests of the Churches as a separate consideration should be exposed for what it is; morally corrupt special pleading.

Appendix: citations

Data from the 355-page Glasgow University report, Callum G Brown, Thomas Green and Jane Mair, Religion in Scots Law: The Report of an Audit at the University of Glasgow: Sponsored by Humanist Society Scotland (Edinburgh, HSS, 2016), published February 2016, on which I will be reporting in more detail shortly.

The 1918 Education (Scotland) Act itself specifies (c 48, section 18(3)) that teachers in denominational schools must be “approved as regards their religious belief and character by representatives of the church or denominational body in whose interest the school has been conducted”.

This same language appears word for word in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, section 21: (2A). Current (2011) governmental guidance on how the 1980 act is to be interpreted regarding school closures refers to “any church or denominational body in whose interest the school is conducted other than the Roman Catholic Church, by a person authorised for that purpose by that church or denominational body and, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, by the Scottish Hierarchy of that Church”.

Schedule 11 Para 5 of the UK 2010 Equality Act specifically exempts “a school transferred to an education authority under section 16 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (transfer of certain schools to education authorities) which is conducted in the interest of a church or denominational body. Such a school is allowed under UK law to discriminate in employment on grounds of religion; it would be interesting to see if European Human Rights law allows such discrimination.

In addition, the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006, section 7, requires that Parent Councils in denominational schools “must provide for at least one of the council’s members to be so co-opted and to be a person nominated by the church or denominational body in whose interest the school is conducted”.

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