Monday, December 11, 2017


Over a dozen years ago I wrote about diversity in a university setting. If I were writing it today I might revisit some of the things I wrote about learning styles.

My bottom line was that "diversity" is not a goal but a means to an end.

Note carefully: I am not saying that invidious discrimination is justifiable. That is a different issue. I am saying that "diversity" as such ought not be made into a goal.

Can you think of a single case in which diversity is not merely a means?

  • A diversity of ethnic restaurants : stimulate a jaded palate.
  • A diversity of research groups in a university department : sometimes you get cross-fertilization. Such groups have finite lifetimes, and if there’s only one group incoming students have no research to join when it dies.
  • A diversity of viewpoints on the jury : look at the question from as many sides as possible to arrive at the truth
  • A diversity of ethnicities in kindergarten : if that's what the neighborhood is—you want everyone to have a basic education
  • A diversity of ethnicities in a church : the church is catholic—everyone God made is called
  • A diversity of peoples on Earth : OK, this one is above my pay grade, but I suspect the reason was to have as many ways to display and share facets of God’s goodness as possible. We've messed the goodness part up.
  • Mandated diversity : full employment for the diversity professionals

Because it is a means and not an end, diversity can fail to accomplish the end, or even prevent it. For example, a completely diverse jury would include Mafiosi, and if you have too many research groups in a department they are too small to do any work.

When you confuse means and ends, you distort the ends and don't do a good job with the means. If "Diversity is one of our goals" in a research group, that tells me that they no longer care wholeheartedly about truth, but want to employ people on the basis of something other than understanding they bring to the table. They try to become a "full employment agency."

Sunday, December 10, 2017


I need to keep an eye out for Pie: A History. From BBC:
The cases, which could be several inches thick, according to Janet Clarkson, author of Pie: A History, were perhaps not even intended to be edible. Even once fat had begun to be added to the dough, bringing us into the realm of modern pastry, a pie crust was still sometimes considered more as a kind of primitive Tupperware.

A well-baked meat pie, with liquid fat poured into any steam holes left open and left to solidify, might even be kept for up to a year, with the crust apparently keeping out air and spoilage. It seems difficult to fathom today, but as Clarkson reflects, "it was such a common practice that we have to assume that most of the time consumers survived the experience".

Saturday, December 09, 2017

I Sleep in Hitler's Room, by Tuvia Tenenbom

I’m glad I read The Lies They Tell first.

I wish Tenenbom had tried to use different fonts to distinguish observations, fantasies, and questions. Other people's responses are in quotations, but he mixes then and later musings together freely.

Early on in I Sleep in Hitler's Room he meets a friendly hardline Nazi in Club 88, who thinks he’s a fellow-traveler. He is appalling. So are the friendly Turks and other Muslims who also hate Jews. So is the willful blindness of the other Germans and the media to the Muslim hatred of Jews. Thus far there's nothing terribly controversial in the book—if you look hard enough you can find Nazis, Muslim attitudes towards Jews are well known, and so is the make-believe about those attitudes.

He "discovers" the equally-well-known connection between leftist politics and detestation of Israel. Since German politics tends left—surprise! Disproportionate condemnation of Israel. (When challenged about Chechnya or other problems, most of those he talks to seem to have no notion of what he's talking about.)

Having read The Lies first, I’m a bit suspicious of his sampling for this book. He claims in the preface that it is representative, and tells the story of how his publisher screamed at him and refused to publish the book without multiple changes and deletions. (The publisher tells a different story.)

This is important, because one claim that crops up over and over is that the Jews run finance and governments. Is the attitude really that widespread?

Tenenbom makes numerous wry references to how he ought to spend his share of this vast wealth Jews allegedly control. It is humorous at first, but after a while I noticed how much he was spending. No, he doesn’t run Goldman Sachs, but a New York theater director doesn't seem to have to make the same hard financial choices as most of the rest of us.

That Jews are disproportionately represented in such positions is well known. It is perhaps less well remembered that they are also disproportionately represented among Nobel Prize winners and other measures of accomplishment (as opposed to control). So perhaps the attitude is widespread. It doesn't appear in the circles I frequent. It does show up in online comment sections--but I've no way to estimate how common it is in the general public.

One scene, in which a family invites him to dinner, ends with him leaving the man crying. Tuvia doesn't come across as the most pleasant of guests.

He finds a staggering number of Germans who allege a Jewish grandparent, and pretty much everybody asserts that either their parents 1) had no idea what was going on or 2) never talked about it. He also finds references to Israel or the Holocaust everywhere, and professes to be annoyed with it.

Two of his favorite opening questions are "Are you proud to be a German?" and "What does it mean to be German?" The latter is probably not answerable, and the former isn't much better.

IIRC, after WWII, the Allied powers had a problem: they could assert (with some accuracy) that the bulk of the Germans were complicit in crimes, and try to punish accordingly. Or they could distinguish Nazis from normal Germans, and blame the Nazis—who were plainly more guilty. What eventually resulted seems to have been a hybrid: officially the Nazis are blamed and ordinary Germans absolved, but unofficially everybody equates WWII Germans and Nazis, and blames Germans in general. The former seems like a recipe for encouraging people to try to hide everything, pretend it didn't happen, and try not to draw attention to themselves—and maybe the poison would decay away with the next generation. In practice it seems to me as though people were asked to take a kind of attenuated blame for something they felt officially absolved for. I wonder if that would encourage ways of "baming the victim." Mix that (especially among the guiltless second and third generations!) with the popular leftist rule of "blame the powerful," and concentrating on Israeli villainy seems to follow naturally.

Back to Tuvia: He concludes that German anti-Semitism has "to do more with the psychological history of the German than with thought-out anti-Semitism." "Polish anti-Semitism, as far as I can tell, is grounded in religion. Germany’s is grounded in psychology and narcissism." (ditto for Islamic anti-Semitism) "It will be much easier to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Arabs and Jews in general, than to uproot the Jew hate of the German. The first two are on the table, no surprises; the third is wrapped in heavy brainy arguments and eye-blinding magical color shows in addition to being hidden behind the many masks so common to our present-day Western culture."

Hold the phone. Jew-hatred grounded in religion is "on the table?" Tuvia was raised Orthodox, but is no longer religious, and it shows.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Tuvia Tenenbom

AVI pointed out a link about antisemitism in Germany. The source for the article is a book by Tuvia Tenenbom, a journalist writing about people he talked to in Germany. I Sleep in Hitler's Room hasn't arrived at the local library yet, but The Lies They Tell was handy.

Tuvia is Jewish, but usually pretends to be German in this picaresque tale of his experiences during a 6-month tour of the US. He likes to go to the strange or dangerous places. And he wants, in particular, to find out how/why people like or dislike Jews. (And why Jews seem to detest Jews.) And whether belief in climate change correlates with dislike for Israel.

He tells the stories well, and professes to have discovered unexpected delight in the American landscape, in driving, and even in shooting. In the end, he determines that Americans are afraid to speak, racist, and rather hypocritical--and, as one rarely finds in the world, ashamed of being tribal.

The problem with his conclusions is that he picked and chose the people he wrote about in depth. I don't believe he met that few people on his trip. Drama and contrast he wanted--that's what he put in.

He might object that the majority of the people along the way were busy with their phones or their netflix and weren't available to interact with him. But seriously--what fraction of the people in the USA own 100 guns? And I generally don't have any difficulty in learning who people voted for--they often volunteer that. (Whatever became of secret ballots?)

In one chapter he interviews Untermeyer, who was unaware of the depth of Jew-hatred in officialdom of Qatar and Saudi Arabia--ambassadors get escorted in, and don't see their documents rewritten to have a birthplace of New York rather than Tel Aviv.

What seems to leave him most aghast is the way people fret over Palestinians without a care for the homeless a few blocks away. That seems a bit overdrawn to me--I know people who are somewhat like that, but there's a little nuance in their attitudes that Tuvia didn't see, or didn't report.

He understands enough to know that you have to visit churches if you want to know the people here, but he's pretty tone-deaf. His "superiority" grates after a while.

Yes, read it--people like them are out there--but don't trust his conclusions.

And when the book on Germany arrives, I'll try to calibrate his reporting on Germany accordingly.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Showing love

Love came to Earth as someone who needed to be loved. His first gift was an opportunity for us (in the persons of Mary and Joseph) to love.

Citizen science

A writer for Aeon is deeply suspicious of "citizen science", judging it to be a scam to get free labor for big businesses.
The very label ‘citizen science’ (as opposed to, say, ‘amateur’ or ‘extramural’) carries the unsubtle suggestion that science should be a participatory democracy, not an unpalatable, autocratic regime. Proponents claim that it has all manner of salutary side-effects. People will get the knowledge they want through direct action, it’s argued, instead of having it shoved down their throats by some Ivy-league elitist. Getting a hands-on appreciation for research will help to dispel the worrisome doubts that certain citizens now possess about the legitimacy of scientific authority. And when it comes to medicine, discoveries of novel therapies are increasingly rare, despite the desperate manoeuvres of the pharmaceuticals industry; citizen participation should speed up research and make it much easier to replicate results. Finally, the retraction and replication crises that have besieged academic journals suggest that ‘proper’ science might not be so proper, anyway. Perhaps it’s time to consider alternatives.

(There are several straw men in that passage. Can you count them?)


But things lose their lustre when you look a little closer. It’s not a coincidence that citizen science lowers the cost of research that requires lots of routinised labour. Thankfully, we’re flush with design tools that manage to transform repetitive, mindless behaviour into something strangely fun and addictive: games. Galaxy Zoo, a non-profit, amateur astronomy project initially set up with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, asks participants to scan millions of celestial images for common galactic morphologies; to keep their attention, players can spell out words with constellations, or win points for certain cute galactic structures. Smartfin, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, gets surfers to attach a sensor to their boards and collect data on salinity, temperature and the like, all of which is pinged back to Scripps once the surfer makes it back to the beach and hooks up the fin to a smartphone. Hundreds of ‘camera traps’, scattered around the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, capture images of creatures that can then be identified by users at Snapshot Serengeti, thus keeping track of animal populations; to amuse themselves, people can attach comments to their favourite photographs (lolgoats, perhaps, rather than lolcats).

And he goes on from there to find what he considers dubious funding sources and worry at length about who benefits from all this.

Do people who participate in these things consider themselves scientists? Or do they think of themselves as assistants? Collecting data is one thing, figuring out how to use it is another.

NSF-funded experiments such as IceCube are required to make their data public, but to get something meaningful out of it requires some disciplines that most people don't pick up on automatically. We're very good at pattern recognition, but sometimes the first pattern you see doesn't actually tell you what you want to know.

A for-instance: you can use the IceCube data to discover that there are seasonal changes in the number of cosmic rays you see. The effect is easy to spot, and someone naively looking at plots might think they'd discovered something new and mysterious. What happens is that at ground level you see the remnants of cosmic ray showers that begin in the upper atmosphere. When the air is warmer (summer), it expands higher, and the cosmic ray showers start higher up. (We keep track of best estimates of upper atmosphere air temperature to go along with our data.)

Or you could use something like those population density maps in the cartoon above to discover that there are more crimes where there are more people. Not a surprise: if you look instead at the number of crimes divided by the number of people (the rate), you'd find that the distribution doesn't look the same--some places with more people have higher crime rates, others not so much. You could see how the violent crime rate varies with the rate of car ownership, or density of bars, or rate of single parent households. It isn't hard to think of things to compare it with, and with a little training you can figure out how to study the problem in one variable. I was going to say "It isn't rocket science," but maybe that's misleading. Keeping track of multiple variable is harder, and figuring out which are correlated with which takes quite a bit of care. (Quiz--if you use the number of schools in an area as one variable, should you also use the number of children as a variable at the same time?)

The basic disciplines that science requires are things I think most people can acquire at some level: how to think about analyzing a problem into its "moving parts," to be strictly honest and willing to challenge your own hypotheses, and so on. Those are good disciplines to have. But studying complex problems is hard enough that most people don't care to invest the time--and some can't manage the math that usually turns up. But so long as I don't delude myself into thinking I'm Rembrandt, I think doing a little drawing myself is good. It can help you see. Likewise, learning to do a little scientific analysis can help you see.

Justin Vandenbroucke developed a cool cosmic ray detector that anyone can carry with them. If enough people use it, the distributed data collected might be useful in discovering patterns in cosmic ray fluxes in the Earth's magnetic field (for example). Right now it is mostly just educational. And most of the people running the app are concentrated in a few places in the US and Europe, so the detectors don't have a lot of planetary coverage.

Spencer Axani designed a little box muon detector that lights up when a charged particle goes through. He had a stack of these in the lab across from my office, and you could sometimes see where several lit up in a line. One of these boxes is a toy. A stack of them is a demonstration system. If there were a way to collect data from them remotely, a hundred thousand spread around would be a cosmic shower detector.

Having a cosmic ray detection app, or a box, doesn't teach me much about science, or how it works. That's a shame. But it helps teach about what's around us that we don't notice--just like the people counting moth populations.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Susu club

I ran across the phrase in Liberia news and looked it up. A Susu club (non-profit variety) is a group with an agreement to bank with a trusted member a certain amount each month, on the understanding that each member receives the total amount one month. (Or week, or whatever.) For example, 12 people get together and each chips in $10. The first month A gets $120, the second month B does, and so on.

So what's the difference between doing this and saving money in a bank or putting it in a mattress? First, there's the chance that you might get the lump payout before the year is out. That's an attractive feature. Second: well, read the complaint in that link: "So, the main reason for paying into a Susu is that the members lack fiscal discipline, and spend whatever money they have on their hands."

That's not a nice way of describing the situation. True, many people are no good at planning for the future. But in Liberia, and many other places, it isn't just you who determines how your paycheck is spent. And family obligations are extremely elastic. If you have $10 extra, your third cousin will explain to you that his child needs school fees. It is very bad form to stiff your family. But if the money is in a susu, it is out of your hands. When the $120 finally comes around to you--well, that's enough to replace the roof, which is what you needed the money for in the first place.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You got it right

We were reading over Isaiah 54 this morning, and one verse stood out for me: "In righteousness you will be established." You don't commonly run across "righteousness" outside of religious discussion, but think about it a moment. People sometimes literally prefer to die rather than admit they did wrong, or even that they were wrong. Confront them with evidence that they've screwed up, or been a jerk, and they double-down on self-justification. There is no way they can not have been in the right all along. (AVI noticed the same thing in an acquaintance). We hunger and thirst to consider ourselves righteous.

A welcome we want to hear from the One who can judge is "Well done!" I think another is "You were right."

Monday, November 27, 2017

Matthew Paris

I'm reading Chronicles of Matthew Paris edited and translated by Richard Vaughan.

It has fascinating details and hints of completely different systems. E.g. "In the time of this abbot the church of Norton was granted to us. Its rector, Lawrence the Clerk, resigned it with spontaneous devotion for the improvement of our beer and to provide supplies for the guests additional to what the abbot had been used to distributing."

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Clubs that play HipHop in Madison tend to have lots more police calls than other clubs. I wondered if the music itself inspired violence, so I went to MetroLyrics for the top twenty HipHop songs. That's not a reliable indicator of what's in the clubs, but it might be indicative.
1Big Shaq Man's not hotUnfamiliar jargon, gun violence, superiority of men, humorous?
2Lil Pump Gucci GangConspicuous consumption, women are disposable toys, sexual dominance, drug use
3CupkKake DeepThroat I do felatio and rough sex
4Jake Paul It's Everyday Bro I'm getting rich and famous
5Quest Walang Hanggan In Tagalog. Why don't you love me anymore?
6T-Pain Apple Bottom Jeans Saw a sexy dancer, threw money at her and had sex with her
7Don Omar Danza Kuduro In Spanish. Dance and move for me
8Eminem Rap GodI'm a way better rapper than you, don't criticize me.
9Post Malone Rockstar I'm living like a rockstar, with disposable women and drugs and fame and people I can call on to kill you.
10Eminem Lose YourselfLive in the music and go for the glory and use the hate, and superstardom isn't so great.
11Cardi B Bodak Yellow I'm rich now, not a stripper anymore, and you women are inferior. Sexual dominance too.
12Snoop Dogg Smoke Weed Everyday I use drugs, hang out with drug dealers, and persuaded my woman to smuggle a 44 into the event.
1350 Cent In Da Club Party in the club, sex with disposable women, I've a small army of fighters with me, survived gunshots, I'm rich, rich.
14Chris Brown Look at Me Now I'm rich now, your women want me, and I will be the top. References to dominance and murder.
15Yo Gotti Rack it Up I'm rich with lots of women.
16Sir Mixalot Baby Got Back I want women with big bottoms.
17Yicki Yohe Because of Who You Are. Worshiping God. Not HipHop as I understood it, but somehow on the Metrolyrics list.
18Miguel Echame A Mi La Culpa In Spanish. You deserted me, but I loved you and hope you will be happy. Blame me if you must.
19Baby K Voglio ballare con te In Italian. I want to dance with you again, till the sunrise.
20Lil Peep Benz Truck Conspicuous consumption, getting closer to dominance, fresh women. Lots of Russia references, possibly because of a large audience there.

Quite a mixed bag: No one club will run all of these. Despising/using women is pretty common in the English works, and lots of "look at how rich I am," but not quite as much implicit violence as I expected. True, a lot of the songs challenge other performers: do their respective fans quarrel about that? I've no clue. But I can easily see expressions of those attitudes towards women evoking both violently possessive and violently protective reactions.

Are there checklists in American HipHop like the stereotypical pickup/booze/jail/dog in country music? Some of the lyrics suggest it...

Friday, November 24, 2017


When I see a persistent problem, I often try to look for what reasonable things might be being twisted to feed it.

I suspect that if you surround a man with deferential women with no other attachments visible, over time the man will tend to gravitate to either the father or the husband model--it's hard to be friends when you're the boss. And if it's the husband model, it may be hard to avoid feeling entitled to take liberties with your "harem" to which you are not actually entitled. The boss chasing the secretary around the desk has been a staple figure for ages.

It gets complicated becuase if the man's position is powerful it is no trick to find women who "will to greatness dedicate themselves." Of course consent by itself doesn't confer entitlement, despite the current philosophical fashion.

Interlude: exhaustive list of observations at work.

The man I ended up working for after Prof. Cline left had a disproportionate number of women as grad students. My memory is iffy, but I know he had three and may have had four. Given how low the fraction of women in particle physics in the US was at the time, this was pretty dramatic. They were all at about the same point in their studies, so I figured they knew each other before, and when one decided they all joined with her. I didn't worry about it--not my business. I was not then, or for most of the rest of my career, involved with mentoring or advising students.

Several years later I learned third hand that two of the profs (since retired and/or died) had been notorious womanizers until some unspecified event (intervention?), and that the prof I worked for had a reputation for treating women well. Another prof (since died) seemed to treat everyone well--seemed to treat students like family--but wasn't on one of the most famous experiments. A few other profs were on experiments that were winding down (and therefore less attractive) or perhaps had less good people skills.

One attractive woman (actually, they all were) set off my "risk, flee" alarms for reasons I never quite pinned down. She ended up suing one of the profs, but I never learned the details.

Once I found myself in a lab with three other men (two senior to me) and a secretary. The conversation was benign, but the vibes were all wrong. It felt like a dominance scenario, and the secretary looked a bit like a deer in the headlights. I figured the best way to break the spell was to announce that I had work to get back to and leave. Dunno if it worked, or if it needed to--maybe my vibe-meter was out of calibration that day.

As a student, and grad student, and post doc, I was on the "less socially ept" end of things--and to this day find parties hard to enjoy. I've not found an unambiguous way to convey a compliment or that I admire someone--and have pretty much given up any efforts in that line unless it is very straightforward.

That's probably a shame. (I do compliment X's work to Y when I can, and try to keep "gossip" positive.)

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems to me now that many women dress to excite admiration but not lust, attention but not interaction. As long as isn't overdone, that seems innocent and proper all around--try to be admirable, and have the good character to recognize and admire the good in others. In a less socially chaotic society there can be rules to buffer the reciprocal contact, which could convey the respect or admiration without requiring commitment. Think of "a tip of the hat"--no demand for a response: unless the tipper happens to be the someone she wants to address.

That's a corner example and not enough even for this simple case--they say women dress for other women, and men certainly want to be admired by men as well as women. But you get the idea, I trust. It represents a more formal society, with more social rules--but who proved that was a bad thing? I've been around Aspies long enough to think it would be a huge improvement.

Some of the harassment and molestation stories say the bosses do more than just take liberties--some of them are into seriously weird dominance patterns. This isn't a kiss or a squeeze he's not entitled to, but things done to prove that you are inferior. I've heard that President Johnson used to have talks with people while he was sitting on the toilet--and probably not because he was so terribly busy that every second counted. The only recent example that seems printable is Franken's mock groping picture. He was pretending to molest his "toy," not for any pleasure he could get out of it but so people could see what he could get away with. I'm not familiar with his humor style, but if that's an example I don't want to be.

Are things better than they were fifty years ago? It's hard to be sure, but I'd guess in some ways yes. It hasn't been socially acceptable to "chase the secretary" and I'd bet that's had at least some impact, though not much at higher levels of money and power. At those levels I'd bet things are worse. And the word I hear is that BFI HR policies tend to hammer the less powerful men who run afoul of someone's ire. It is gratifying to see some of the high and mighty being addressed for the first time.

I've a simple touchstone for what I judge acceptable: How would I want my daughters to be treated in this position?

Permit me to doubt that the solution is to have women as managers. Women are not more virtuous than men and they go in for dominance patterns too. If you haven't seen it already, you probably will.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Notes from Isaiah and Ezekiel

Reading in Isaiah and Ezekiel this week and a few things struck me. “And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” Suppose He had argued?

What happened when He answered Pilate? Or when he confronted those ready to stone the woman? (He wasn’t trying to defend Himself when He spoke to the Sanhedrin, and He didn’t give the entertainment-hungry Herod the time of day.)

Why not speak? The usual explanation is so that what needed to happen would happen, but when God’s involved I look for multiple reasons.

Given what He’d shown He could do with just words or writing in the dust, I suspect He could have argued Himself free from His captors. But would that have changed any hearts? Pilate decided Jesus was innocent, and tried to free Him, but lacked the courage to defend “Roman Justice;” and reports about his later life suggest that there was no conversion. If words were enough, words would have been used instead.

Alternatively, perhaps He had said all that He needed to, and they could pay attention to it or not.

Ezekiel 20 has the well-known warning that God “will not be inquired of” by the idolaters who sacrifice their children, presumably because they justify themselves instead of turning back. It also has the evocative phrase which I’d never noticed before: “and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples.” That’s a good description of the 1900-year diaspora. (It also describes how I feel in great city crowds.) Lots of people, but wild and unfriendly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Neutrino cross sections

It turns out to be very convenient to describe the rate at which particles interact with each other with an "effective area". Think about it a moment--if you two rocks at each other, the wider the target rock is, the more likely they'll hit. And when you work out the dimensions for particle interaction rates, area=="cross section" is what you wind up with.

IceCube just announced its measurement of cross sections for high energy neutrinos interacting with ordinary nucleons. Nobody has been able to measure the rate for energies this high before--and the result looks pretty consistent with predictions.

That rules out some oddball theories--like leptoquark models. Leptoquarks turn up as a consequence of some theoretical models, and every now and then some unexpected signal excess spurs new interest.

You will probably have heard that neutrinos zip right through you without interacting--that you never notice them and never will. That's true for the most common varieties from ordinary radioactive decay. But higher energy neutrinos (very rare) interact more strongly, until at the level discussed in this paper, it is possible to tell the shadow of the Earth's core from the shadow of its mantle--with enough events. They're not quite so "ghostly" at these energies.

No, I am not on the author list