Advocacy for women is a sign of racism?

Emailed to me by the MIT Powers that Be… “Women in mathematics aim for an equal sign” (MIT School of Science news):

“It is crucial to recruit and attract more women at all levels in the department, but also that more of our women math majors consider going into graduate school in mathematics,” says Michel Goemans, department head and professor of mathematics. “Last year only 13 percent of our graduate applicants were women, and this is clearly not enough. The department is happy to support the activities of the MIT Women in Mathematics, and this group helps create a vibrant, supportive community in which more and more female students might pursue or continue a career in mathematics.”

[Let’s ignore the issue of whether this say-gooder is guilty of promoting gender binarism. Let’s also ignore the issue of why the say-gooder does not use MIT’s massive endowment to become a “do-gooder” and hire the women that he/she/ze/they says he/she/ze/they wants to hire.]

I wonder if the focus on female victimhood is a sign of antipathy toward mathematicians of color. Why not focus on the underrepresentation of black and Hispanic mathematicians, for example? Could the motivation be that the white/Asian mathematicians would rather share an office with a white woman from a wealthy family than share with an African-American from the ghetto?

Advocating for “women” is less likely to expose the advocate to ridicule for not having any friends or relatives who are in the featured victim class. Since even the most hidebound human who identifies as a “man” is likely to have a mother and/or sister, there won’t be the awkward search for a friend of color with whom to attend Black Panther and get a selfie.

The article is also fun for revealing the existence of gender traitors:

Staffilani recalls that when she invited female mathematicians to speak with MIT women, sometimes the offer was declined. Invited academics preferred to be seen as “mathematicians” rather than be singled out as “female mathematicians,” separate from men. It’s a dilemma Staffilani says she understands; gaining extra notice as a woman — or any underrepresented group in a particular field — doesn’t feel like “equality,” she says. … she was surprised when a female physicist asked the room, “Why do we want diversity?”

Speaker of diversity, let’s have a look at the folks MIT has selected to teach subjects featured on the “Women’s Studies” poster board in the Infinite Corridor (if you visit the teachers’ biographical pages, you’ll find them referred to using “her” and “she” as pronouns):

Another initiative of the Women and Gender Studies Department:

Within the same poster board, some tips on organizing your bookshelf:

Nearby, a poster remembering MIT’s most famous donor:

There is room in the Infinite Corridor to provide the biography of one MIT graduate:

(See also “RPI alumni stop donating amid concerns over leadership, campus climate” (2018) and “America’s Highest Paid College President is Dragging Her School Into Crippling Debt” (2014).)

Unrelated… a poster regarding procrastination:


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Economic value of a Victimhood Studies degree

Common sense and economic data have tended to diverge when looking at the value of a college degree. In unionized government jobs, such as teaching, the degree credential has obvious value. But what about learning “business” from professors whose only business experience is depositing checks from an employer? Or learning about victimhood from PhD victims? How do these things make a person more valuable to an employer than a smart high school graduate? And how can this learning make up for 4+ years out of the workforce?

The St. Louis Fed addresses the Great American College Fraud in “Is College Still Worth It? The New Calculus of Falling Returns”:

Among families whose head is White and born in the 1980s, the college wealth premium of a terminal four-year bachelor’s degree is at a historic low; among families whose head is any other race and ethnicity born in that decade, the premium is statistically indistinguishable from zero. Among families whose head is of any race or ethnicity born in the 1980s and holding a postgraduate degree, the wealth premium is also indistinguishable from zero. Our results suggest that college and postgraduate education may be failing some recent graduates as a financial investment.

This is consistent with the test results described in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, which notes that the college students who are good at writing and thinking, as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), are mostly those who were already good at this before they matriculated. The college courses that common sense suggested would be unhelpful were, in fact, unhelpful in moving their CLA scores.


  • Malcolm Gladwell video (hurts my fingers to type that) discussing research that students who go to elite schools are more likely to drop out of demanding majors, such as science, when they compare themselves to the geniuses in the classroom (i.e., don’t bribe your child’s way into an elite school if you want that child to graduate with a STEM degree)
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Diversity at MIT

In a “fun lunch” presentation of photos from Oshkosh in our FAA Private Pilot ground school at MIT (videos linked from the course home page), the next slide contained the following images:

(Bo 105 aerobatic helicopter in a custom Trump 2020 paint scheme)

Before the slide appeared I asked the 75-person class “Raise your hand if you support Donald Trump.” Guess how many supported America’s leading citizen and were willing to own up to it?

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Nobel Literature wrap-up: Peter Handke and Olga Tokarczuk

In “Americans don’t read the world’s best literature?” I wondered about why so few Amazon shoppers were reviewing Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke, Nobel Literature recipients for 2018 and 2019.

Olga Tokarczuk was slightly less unpopular on Amazon so I read Flights first. The book mixes modern travel with some imagined old corpse preservation techniques related to modern-day plastination. A sampling:

Anyone who has ever tried to write a novel knows what an arduous task it is, undoubtedly one of the worst ways of occupying oneself. You have to remain within yourself all the time, in solitary confinement. It’s a controlled psychosis, an obsessive paranoia manacled to work, completely lacking in the feather pens and bustles and Venetian masks we would ordinarily associate with it, clothed instead in a butcher’s apron and rubber boots, eviscerating knife in hand.

Wikipedia: As far as I can tell, this is mankind’s most honest cognitive project. It is frank about the fact that all the information we have about the world comes straight out of our own heads, like Athena out of Zeus’s. People bring to Wikipedia everything they know. If the project succeeds, then this encyclopedia undergoing perpetual renewal will be the greatest wonder of the world.

Every human body deserves to last. It is an outrage that it’s so fragile, so delicate. It is an outrage that it’s permitted to disintegrate underground, or given to the mercy of flames, burned like trash. If it were up to Blau, he would make the world differently: the soul could be mortal—what do we need it for, anyway—but the body would be immortal. We will never learn how diverse the human species is, how unique each individual, if we are so quick to condemn bodies to destruction, he thought. In the past, people understood this—but they lacked the means, the methods to preserve. Only the wealthiest could afford embalming. But today the science of plastination was developing very fast, perpetually perfecting its methods. Anyone who wanted to could save his body now, and share its beauty, its mystery, with others. Here is the wondrous system of my muscles, the sprinter would say, the 100-meter world champion. Look, everyone, at how this works. Here is my brain, the greatest chess player would cry. Ah, these unusual two grooves, let’s call them “bishop twists.” Here is my stomach, two children emerged from here into the world, the proud mother would say. So Blau imagined it.

The book was published in Polish back in 2007. Sex between professor and student was not something that would be front page news:

He arranged his personal life neatly, unproblematically. He felt decidedly better living alone; he quelled his sexual urges with his students, whom he would first feel out by inviting them for coffee. He knew it wasn’t allowed, but he was operating on the sociobiological premise that the university was his natural hunting ground, and that these women were, in the end, adults who knew what they were doing. He looked good—he was handsome, clean-cut, clean-shaven (from time to time he let his beard grow out, keeping it neat, of course)—and they were curious as magpies.

On what it means to be born into the world’s default language:

There are countries out there where people speak English. But not like us—we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetics bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people. It’s hard to imagine, but English is their real language! Oftentimes their only language. They don’t have anything to fall back on or to turn to in moments of doubt. How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the buttons in the elevator!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them—they are accessible to everyone and everything!

On humans who imagine that they can “make a difference”:

In Australia, everyone in the environs would come out onto the seashore when the news was circulated that yet another disoriented whale had run aground. In shifts, people would charitably ladle water over its delicate skin and try to convince it to go home. Older ladies dressed like hippies would maintain that they knew what they were doing. Apparently all you had to do was say, “Go, go, my brother,” or, if need be, “sister.” And, with your eyes shut tight, transfer some of your energy into it.

All day, little tiny figures would mill about the beach, waiting for high tide: let the water take it back. Attempts would be made to fasten nets to boats and drag it out by force. Yet the great beast would soon become dead weight, a body indifferent to living. It’s no surprise people would begin to call it “suicide.” A small group of activists would appear in order to argue that animals ought to be allowed to simply die, if they so wished. Why should the act of suicide be the dubious privilege of mankind? Maybe the life of every living being has its own set limits, invisible to the eye, and once those have been crossed, life just runs out, on its own. Let that be taken into consideration for the Declaration of Animal Rights being drafted in Sydney or in Brisbane at just that moment. Dear brothers, we give you the right to choose your death.

Suspicious shamans would come down to the dying whale and perform rituals over it, followed by amateur photographs and thrill-seekers. A teacher from a village school brought her whole classroom, and the children were tasked with drawing “The Whale’s Farewell.”

… Although there have been instances of people managing to save the whales. In response to the great and dedicated efforts of dozens of volunteers, these whales would take deep breaths and head back into the open sea. Their famous fountains could be seen springing joyfully up toward the sky, and then they would dive down into the depths of the ocean. The crowd would break into applause.

A few weeks later they’d be caught off the coast of Japan, and their gentle, pretty bodies would be turned into dog food.

She loves airplanes almost as much as we do:

The plane takes off painlessly, on time; so once more the miracle has happened, of a machine as big as a building slipping gracefully out of earth’s grasp, soaring gently up and up.

The author was 45 years old in 2007. That’s a young mother in wealthier U.S. neighborhoods, but Tokarczuk was writing about the experience of middle age:

In the last few years she has realized that all you have to do to become invisible is be a woman of a certain age, without any outstanding features: it’s automatic. Not only invisible to men, but also to women, who no longer treat her as competition in anything. It is a new and surprising sensation, how people’s eyes just sort of float right over her face, her cheeks and her nose, not even skimming the surface. They look straight through her, no doubt looking past her at ads and landscapes and schedules.

On the death, from head injury and stroke, of a college professor leading a tour in the Mediterranean:

But the crimson inner ocean of the professor’s head rose from the swells of blood-bearing rivers and gradually flooded realm after realm—first the plains of Europe, where he’d been born and raised. Cities disappeared underwater, and the bridges and dams built so methodically by generations of his ancestors. The ocean reached the threshold of their reed-roofed home and boldly stepped inside. It unfurled a red carpet over those stone floors, the floorboards of the kitchen, scrubbed each Saturday, finally putting out the fire in the fireplace, attaining the cupboards and tables. Then it poured into the railway stations and the airports that had sent the professor off into the world. The towns he’d traveled to drowned in it, and in them the streets where he had stayed awhile in rented rooms, the cheap hotels he’d lived in, the restaurants where he’d dined. The shimmering red surface of the water now reached the lowest shelves of his favorite libraries, the books’ pages bulging, including those in which his name was on the title page. Its red tongue licked the letters, and the black print melted clean away. The floors were soaked in red, the stairs he’d walked up and down to collect his children’s school certificates, the walkway he’d gone down during the ceremony to receive his professorship. Red stains were already collecting on the sheets where he and Karen had first fallen and undone the drawstrings of their older, clumsy bodies. The viscous liquid permanently glued together the compartments of his wallet where he kept his credit cards and plane tickets and the photos of his grandkids. The stream flooded train stations, tracks, airports, and runways—never would another airplane take off from them, never would another train depart for any destination.

She’s a little more interested in dead bodies and plastination than I am, but I think that I can understand why she was awarded the Nobel Prize and would read more of her work.

Peter Handke, quoted in the Guardian:

I am a writer, I come from Tolstoy, from Homer, from Cervantes. Leave me in peace and don’t ask me questions [about political views]

After struggling to get through two of his books, I don’t see the parallel with these earlier authors (and don’t forget that Homer is not the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey; it was another Greek with the same name). Tolstoy, Homer, and Cervantes packed in a lot of plot and action. Handke’s books are short, but nonetheless the ratio of words to plot is high. Maybe they are more engaging in the original German, but there does not seem to be anything beautiful or clever about the language. The righteous attack Handke for his political heresy (e.g., PEN America), but I haven’t seen anyone say “Unless you have a Ph.D. in German literature you probably won’t enjoy these books.”

Readers: Were any of you brave enough to try out these authors?

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Fight climate change by paying people to have fewer children?

One point from a geology class (previous post) was that the Black Death resulting in global cooling due to agricultural land (roughly 37 percent of Earth’s non-glacier-covered land) being returned to forest (see also “Immigration is the Reverse Black Death?”). So if the climate change alarmists are right that there will be a catastrophic loss of human life, the result should be an Earth that quickly returns to equilibrium state.

What about avoiding a sudden catastrophic reduction in human population?

The geologist teaching the course steps back from 40+ lectures and concludes towards the end that humans are currently the world’s biggest agent for geological change, perhaps dominating even the Milankovitch cycles that formerly got us into and out of ice ages. Considering all of the Earth’s resources, he thinks that a human population of around 2 billion is the sustainable number.

(Having seen what the Chinese are able to do with infrastructure and the latest “Crazy cheap solar power plant”, I think this estimate of the Earth’s carrying capacity might be low.)

We’re close to 8 billion right now. What are the governments and non-profit organizations that say they’re concerned about climate change doing? Paying people to have children! In the U.S., we have tax credits for the middle class who have kids, free housing, health care, and food for low-income Americans who have kids, free K-12 education to replace what used to be a parental expense (and soon, thanks to Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, free college). (see birth rate versus family income for how effective these programs are and also for how eventually most Americans will be descended from those who don’t work) In poor countries, various non-profit orgs are especially keen on providing services to “families” (i.e., adults who have chosen to have children). Traditionally, people in poor countries had children as a form of retirement financial security.

[In the U.S., there are also people having kids in order to harvest child support. Recent example from the news: Lunden Roberts is pursuing the unlimited child support profits available in Arkansas via a lawsuit against Hunter Biden, the former VP’s son (Biden is married, though, so this is really a financial tug-of-war between two women, the plaintiff former stripper and the Trump-hating previously-married wife). Would the plaintiff have been enthusiastic about populating the Earth with this additional CO2 source if not for the cash incentive? As noted in “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage,” there are plenty of Americans who are happy to sell an abortion at a discount to the net present value of the expected child support cashflow, indicating a fondness for cash rather than children.]

What if we took the scientists seriously on the subject of human population being the main source of climate change? Wouldn’t a good first step be stopping the cash incentives to have more children? After that, why not actually pay people who refrain from having children? World median household income is roughly $10,000 (Gallup). A $1,000/year payment would therefore provide a significant bump. What about paying adults with no kids $1,000/year and those with one child $500/year? We’d have to continue the payments into retirement to make up for the fact that children might otherwise provide retirement security.

Since it is tough to track the number of children that a human identifying as “male” might have, we can look at only those identifying as “female”. Assume roughly 2 billion “women” of childbearing age currently on Planet Earth (2011 source says 2 billion out of 7 billion, but they use an age range of 15-49). Let’s say that roughly 1 billion have fewer than 2 children and that we need to pay an average of $750/year to these 1 billion. That’s a total annual spend of $750 billion that will perhaps trend up to $1.5 trillion over the coming decades. World GDP is roughly $80 trillion (and will grow quite a bit as the cost of payments rises). So this is less than 1 percent of GDP to save the planet from the climate change and other environmental damage that scientists say is inevitable when human population is above 2 billion.

How does this compare to other ideas for mitigating climate change? Morgan Stanley estimates a $50 trillion cost for a combination of solar panels, wind, electric cars, carbon capture, etc.

Readers: What do you think? Is it inconsistent to bemoan climate change and simultaneously encourage population growth?


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Boston Museum of Fine Arts establishes a ghetto for female artists

If you’re looking to escape the Boston winter, our Museum of Fine Arts is showing “Women Take the Floor” currently.

The entrance sign explains that “[the underrepresentation of female artists in museums] is not because great women artists did not exist–they did, and they do. Rather it is the result of systematic gender discrimination… The MFA itself has had an inconsistent history in supporting women artists. We acknowledge the fact and seek to remedy it. …. we are dedicating this entire floor to work by women-identified artists…” A sign further notes that only 5% of acquisitions by the MFA in the past ten years have been “by known female-identifying artists”.

If there are so many “great women artists,” why the need for a female ghetto floor? If other museums and collectors don’t yet recognize these artists as “great,” why not sell off some of the insanely valuable work by male-identified artists throughout the museum and use the profits to buy currently undervalued work by “great women artists”? When other museums gradually shake off their sexism, the overall value of the MFA’s collection and endowment would vastly increase and visitors would see an organic mixture of male-identifying and female-identifying work throughout the museum.

The female art ghetto includes artists who explicitly stated that they did not want to be in a female art ghetto, e.g., Louise Nevelson (“I am not a feminist. I am an artist who happens to be a woman.”; she also rejected alimony, a pillar of modern feminism)

An artist who lived for 105 years is quoted as saying that there was a single time during which she felt discriminated against because of her sex:

There is a book section:

A poet speaks truth about power:

Canteloupe + video camera = art:

Elizabeth Warren’s cousins are depicted:

There are a lot of ways to be a “woman”, but if you’re not in a wheelchair you have to wear a dress or a diaper:

The largest special exhibition space, underneath the American Wing, is showing “Nubia: A Black Legacy”

Exercise for readers: What’s missing from the “Black Legacy” exhibit? (The photos above are not a biased selection.)

A reminder from Yoshitomo Nara that it might be time to go home and walk the dog:


  • “Baltimore Museum of Art will only acquire works by women in 2020” (Washington Post): “Over the past decade, only 11 percent of art acquired by America’s top museums for their permanent collections was by women, according to a recent survey. … The researchers found that to truly correct the canon, curators will need to rethink not just their exhibitions but their permanent collections.” (but how do they know which artists actually did identify as “women”? And in a country plagued by inequality and racism, how does a rich white female artist get priority over a poor black artist who has the misfortune of identifying as male?)
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What folks at Harvard are reading

A recent selection from the Harvard Book Store

For the kids…

Lying to children:

(I don’t know how many people over age 50 would agree with “It feels good to be yourself” and certainly many of us would need a week to recover from sitting on the ground in those positions.)

The books popular with shoppers in Cambridge do not suggest a high degree of self-doubt, but just in case:

What about the #1 example of wrongness in our society?

On the unfortunate fact that not every American voter follows the lead of the coastal elite and the required “nonviolent rebellion” that is necessary to erase the illegitimate votes:

A 1973 book on now-discredited second-wave feminism (also known as “equality feminism”):

(In the 50-year interval since this was published, the term “Woman” now needs a definition!)

Without women (assuming the term “women” can be defined), we would not have Mickey Mouse (perhaps the Nine Old Men actually identified as women?):

More gender binarism on parade:

For those who don’t know where to start…

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Californian takes in a homeless couple

Whenever someone tries to get me to share his/her/zir/their enthusiasm for helping migrants, I offer to pay all of the expenses to bring a migrant to the say-gooder’s house. So far, this hasn’t cost me anything, but apparently sometimes this kind of offer is accepted.

“They were homeless. I took them in. Would you?” (Los Angeles Times):

This June, I participated in Safe Place for Youth’s Host Home Program, short-term “interventions” for unhoused young people, ages 18 to 24. In December, stuck in L.A. traffic, my ears had pricked up. Marlene and Michael Rapkin were on the radio describing an inspiring three months they’d spent as two of Safe Place’s initial cadre of hosts.

“Welcoming the stranger” is one of my core Jewish values, and I’d helped with the annual homeless count.

[See “White men correctly perceive American Jews as their enemies?” for my take on this last expressed statement.]

But could I take in someone off the street? What with a recent divorce, my kid’s stint in rehab and college expenses, I’d been renting out a guest bedroom to make my monthly nut. But when a tenant canceled, and I learned that Safe Space offered a small stipend to offset hosts’ household expenses, I challenged myself to “walk the walk” of my social justice values.

If she is enticed by the “small stipend” handed out by the homeless industry, this divorcée perhaps should have planned her foray into California family law more carefully…

I offered to house any of the youths I’d met except that heavily tattooed couple. She had the word “cured” in bold block lettering on one cheek and “More Love” above her brow; his forehead read “Less Hate”; alas, a skater beanie obscured “Less.” … Then I learned that Keyawna and Jesse had been living — sweltering — in their 2008 Kia. I’ve complained that my marriage broke up because my spouse and I shared a bathroom.

How much do multi-color tattoos over a substantial portion of a human body cost? Would the homeless couple have had a decent nest egg if they’d stuck with their factory skin color?

But if the city can’t accommodate artists from economically diverse backgrounds, then only the privileged will get to create. I was also certain face tats were job killers, until Keyawna explained that they fit their “brand,” and most were Jesse’s designs. He’s a visual artist; she’s an aspiring rapper and soul singer. … She told me later they’d hidden their valuables from me too.

If they have “valuables”, why are they homeless?

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