Corpus Juris Canonici for academic cancellations (MIT)

From a Johns Hopkins professor, “Why the Latest Campus Cancellation Is Different” (Atlantic):

Following a Twitter outcry, a scientist was stopped from giving a lecture at MIT for reasons that had nothing to do with the lecture itself.

For although most outlets have covered [Dorian] Abbot’s disinvitation as but the latest example of an illiberal culture on campus, it is qualitatively different from other recent instances in which invitations have been rescinded—and suggests that the scope of censorship is continuing to morph and expand.

Is Abbot a climate-change denier? Or has he committed some terrible crime? No, he simply expressed his views about the way universities should admit students and hire faculty in the pages of a national magazine.

In other words, cancellation is often a good idea. Suppose, for example, Professor Dr. Dorian Abbot, Ph.D. (colleague of Professor Dr. Jill Biden, M.D., Ph.D.) had expressed skepticism about the latest 100-year simulations. Perhaps Dr. Professor Dorian Abbot, Ph.D., might have noted that his field is one in which the experts rejected plate tectonics and continental drift until the late 1960s. That would have been tantamount to climate-change denial and, therefore, it would make sense to nail Dr. Dorian, Ph.D. to a cross of #FollowTheScience.

On the other hand, the Corpus Juris Canonici does not provide for cancellation, at least according to this Hopkins professor, for the particular infraction of which Professor Dr. Abbot, Ph.D. was guilty (questioning the skin-color-based university admissions systems that have been implemented across the U.S.).

The subtleties are fascinating!


  • “The Diversity Problem on Campus” (Newsweek), the hate-filled article that generated the Tweetstorm leading up to MIT’s cancellation: The new regime is titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” or DEI, and is enforced by a large bureaucracy of administrators. Nearly every decision taken on campus, from admissions, to faculty hiring, to course content, to teaching methods, is made through the lens of DEI. This regime was imposed from the top and has never been adequately debated. In the current climate it cannot be openly debated: … [MIT proved Abbot right on that last point!] … DEI compromises the university’s mission. The core business of the university is the search for truth. [??? Harvard spent all of its time searching for truth and just incidentally acquired $42 billion?] We propose an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone. Crucially, this would mean an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants, … [an athlete does not have more “merit” than someone who watches TV all day?] Viewed objectively, American universities already are incredibly diverse. [because all possible human ages are represented in the range from 18 to 22?]
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MIT uses the butterfly effect to heal our planet

Dr. Jill Biden, M.D., Ph.D.’s colleague Dr. Jeff Goldblum, Ph.D. explains the Butterfly Effect, i.e., that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could change the weather weeks later in the U.S.:

MIT is taking advantage of Dr. Goldblum’s theoretical result. Here’s a recent email from president Rafael Reif:

Dear MIT Alumni and Friends,

As we mark the successful finale of the MIT Campaign for a Better World, I find myself thinking back to where we started.

As a community, we began the Campaign with bold aspirations — and a passionate belief that the work of MIT can have broad and lasting value for the world. In the years since, I have been deeply moved to see the global MIT community embrace this Campaign, grounded in our shared mission and values, and I could not be more grateful for your willingness to answer its call to action.

The Campaign’s closing milestone speaks to the breadth of its appeal: 112,703 donors collectively raised $6.2 billion.

MIT transformed

But most impressive and indelible are the ways that the Campaign is transforming MIT and will advance our mission. Because of your gifts and volunteer service, MIT’s magnetic ability to attract the world’s finest talent and to help every member of our community flourish has never been stronger. Hundreds of new scholarships, fellowships, and professorships across the Institute have been complemented by extensive new funding for labs, learning spaces, innovation and entrepreneurship, and discovery research. And unrestricted gifts made during the Campaign were crucial in helping MIT adapt to the unexpected challenges of Covid‑19.

Because of your support of the Campaign, MIT’s physical campus and academic landscape are humming with new potential. Just a few examples: Kresge Auditorium, the Hayden Library, the Chang Building, and the Simons Building have all been renewed. The Samberg Center offers an exhilarating new place for our community to gather. Before long, the members of our School of Architecture and Planning will come together in a first-rate new hub, the Earth and Environment Pavilion will unite our research communities focused on environmental and climate questions, the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing headquarters will rise as a new intellectual center of gravity on campus, and the MIT Museum will have a brand-new roost in Kendall Square to welcome the world in. We’ll soon have a new wind tunnel and, as a wonderful coda, the Institute will have a worthy new home for music, right where it should be, at the center of student life.

And of course — in keeping with the Campaign’s aspirations — your support has helped position the Institute to take on humanity’s great challenges, from climate change, environmental degradation, water and food scarcity, and cancer, to economic, educational, and health inequality around the globe.

In other words, nearly all of the money was spent on gold-plating some buildings in Cambridge. How can that lead to the “better world” that headlines the fund-raising campaign? Maybe it could be a “better campus” for those privileged enough to be on campus, but the whole world? Answer: chaos theory tells us that gold-plating a building in Cambridge could result in the entire Earth being gold-plated/healed.

Separately, “an exhilarating new place for our community to gather”? How is that responsible in the Age of Corona? MIT says it is “standing with the science”, so maybe “science” is different from “#Science”, followers of which would refrain from gathering, even if equipped with saliva-soaked cloth face rags that the media refers to as “protective”. Open a big new indoor museum to attract visitors during the peak Maskachusetts respiratory virus season (winter)? Doesn’t that give SARS-CoV-2 a chance to spread along paths that would otherwise have been denied to it?

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Follow-up on the Coinbase corporate version of Florida

A year ago, the CEO of Coinbase paid employees who were the most passionate about social justice and political causes to leave. See “Coinbase is a mission focused company” and also “Taking a Stand Against Social Stances” (NYT, 9/29/2020). (If he’d been a Southerner he might have said “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the butt on your way out.”)

In other words, he was trying to create something like the Florida that we’ve experienced. After nearly two months here, I have seen exactly one Black Lives Matter message (bumper sticker on a black (not “Black”) Toyota Prius as we were on an excursion to Miami (IKEA, Guitar Hotel, and Marlins baseball game)). Supposedly there are a lot of people here who voted for either Trump or Biden, but there is no evidence of that from lawn signs or bumper stickers. Bumper stickers are display at perhaps 1/200th the rate compared to in Maskachusetts and the most common type of bumper sticker is school-related.

What happens at a company without on-the-clock activism? Discrimination against those who identify as Black, according to the NYT… “‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at the King of Crypto Start-Ups” (11/27/2020):

One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black.

The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said.

One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about how he and others excluded her from meetings and conversations, making her feel invisible.

“Most people of color working in tech know that there’s a diversity problem,” said Ms. Butler, who resigned in April 2019. “But I’ve never experienced anything like Coinbase.”

(Wikipedia says Coinbase is “remote-first”, so how do employees know anything about the race IDs of other employees? See Achieve college student skin color diversity via image processing? as well)

How did it go for Coinbase from Management’s perspective? The CEO who wanted people to fight their social justice and political battles on their own time followed up with a Twitter thread:

It’s been about a year since my mission-focused blog post. It wasn’t easy to go through at the time, but looking back, it turned out to be one of the most positive changes I’ve made at Coinbase, and I’d recommend it to others.

We have a much more aligned company now, where we can focus on getting work done toward our mission. And it has allowed us to hire some of the best talent from organizations where employees are fed up with politics, infighting, and distraction.

One of the biggest concerns around our stance was that it would impact our diversity numbers. Since my post, we’ve grown our headcount about 110%, while our diversity numbers have remained the same, or even improved on some metrics.

Several people told me this would never happen when I circulated the original draft internally. It turns out that there are people from every background who want to work at a mission focused company.

If he is putting employees into buckets based on skin color in order to get “diversity numbers”, isn’t he himself engaging in a social justice cause at work? There was no legal requirement for Coinbase to gather these data, right? (Let me guess right now that age is not one of the axes of diversity for which Mr. Armstrong is anxious to get numbers!)

In other diversity news, the guy who stirred up hatred at University of Chicago (see “Geophysical Sciences Grad Students Call on Faculty to Denounce Videos By Department Member” 12/2/2020) got literally canceled at MIT, where he had been scheduled to give a lecture. From the Daily Mail:

…. after outraging ‘totalitarian’ Twitter mob by arguing that academic evaluations should be based on merit not racial ‘equity’

Dorian Abbot was denied the opportunity to give the Carlson Lecture, which is devoted to ‘new results in climate science’ and hosted by MIT’s Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

The lecture was scheduled to be delivered on October 21, but Abbot learned over the weekend that EAPS would be canceling his talk.

In August, things took a turn when Abbot co-wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek in which he argued that the ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ (DEI) initiative embraced on many college campuses nationwide ‘violates the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment.’

DEI, according to Abbot and co-author Professor Ivan Marinovic, ‘treats persons as merely means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.’

Abbot and Marinovic instead proposed ‘an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone.’

(But who decides “merit”?)

It is kind of exciting for alumni when MIT can share a newspaper with Joe Biden’s $2.5 million granddaughter.

What would Dorian Abbot have talked about? He seems to be at least a little interested in Snowball Earth, one of my favorite geology subjects ever since reading an awesome book on the subject. He’s also interested in exoplanets, which fascinate everyone far more than how their Windows 11 computer or iPhone work. Maybe if Professor Abbot can get Elon Musk to blast him off to Gliese 273b (shouldn’t take that long to go 12.2 light-years in a Plaid Edition rocket), his critics will forget about him?


  • “Tesla must pay $137 million to a Black employee who sued for racial discrimination” (NPR, 10/5/2021), in which we learn that the article doesn’t match the headline. The now-rich elevator operator worked for a contractor to Tesla and was never directly employed by Tesla. (electrek has a more accurate headline: “Tesla is ordered to pay ex-worker $137 million in racial abuse lawsuit, releases blog about verdict”: Mr. Diaz never worked for Tesla. He was a contract employee who worked for Citistaff and nextSource. Mr. Diaz worked as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory for nine months, from June 2015 to March 2016. There was no witness testimony or other evidence that anyone ever heard the n-word used toward Mr. Diaz. Even though Mr. Diaz now complains about racial harassment at Fremont, at the time he said he was being harassed, he recommended to his son and daughter – while they were all living together in the same home – that they work at Tesla with him.)
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Harvard and MIT: Love Asians, but don’t let them into your school

My inbox has been filling up lately with emails regarding purported hate crimes against Asian-Americans. Somewhat curiously, these emails are coming from institutions that explicitly discriminate against Asian-Americans (see “A Ceiling on Asian Student Enrollment at MIT and Harvard?”, for example, and Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard).

Harvard graduate Tom Lehrer wrote about this in his song “National Brotherhood Week“:

it’s Fun to eulogize the
People you despise
As long you don’t let them in your school.

From Larry Bacow, President of Harvard:

For the past year, Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders have been blamed for the pandemic—slander born of xenophobia and ignorance. … Footage of individuals being targeted and assaulted has driven home a rise in aggression and violence across the nation. Today, we continue to reel in the wake of eight murders in Georgia—six of the victims of Asian descent—and to contend with events that shock the collective conscience.

(If only six of the victims were of Asian descent, what’s El Presidente’s theory for how this was an anti-Asian hate crime? The murderer hated Asians, but was not intelligent enough to distinguish between Asians and non-Asians?)

Harvard must stand as a bulwark against hatred and bigotry. We welcome and embrace individuals from every background because it makes us a better community, a stronger community.

I long for the day when I no longer have to send such messages. It is our collective responsibility to repair this imperfect world. To Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders in our community: We stand together with you today and every day going forward.

(Is there, in fact, anyone who blames “Pacific Islanders” for COVID-19 or coronapanic? Readers: Have you heard someone curse Samoans, Fijians, or Tongans for causing the deaths of 82-year-olds in Maskachusetts?)

From Martha Tedeschi, director of the Harvard Art Museums, where the paychecks keep coming despite the museum being closed.

I am reaching out to the extended museum family of the Harvard Art Museums in the face of Wednesday’s breaking—and heartbreaking—news of the deadly shootings and violence against women of Asian descent in Atlanta. I want to state my own shock and horror—sentiments I know so many of you share—that once again we are confronted by a wave of racist violence that makes it impossible for so many communities in this country to feel safe. Anti-Asian hostility has a long history in the United States. … want to say emphatically that the Harvard Art Museums stand firmly against Anti-Asian racism. It feels only moments ago that I was writing to you about the murder of George Floyd and so many others and the importance of banding together in support of our black and brown communities.

(Do we think that George Floyd, with his minimal employment history, would have been a likely customer for a $20 ticket to Martha Tesdeschi’s museum? If not, what qualifies Martha Tedeschi to talk about those in Mr. Floyd’s socioeconomic stratum?)

What if we go downmarket and down the river? From L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT:

This message is for everyone. But let me begin with a word for the thousands of members of our MIT family – undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and Corporation members – who are Asian or of Asian descent: We would not be MIT without you.

(But, as noted above, “we also don’t want too many of you”?)

Bizarrely, for a school that claims credentials are important enough to spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars acquiring, the president of MIT, with no credentials in criminology or political science, claims expertise in criminology and political science:

Across the country, a cruel signature of this pandemic year has been a terrible surge in anti-Asian violence, discrimination and public rhetoric. I know some of you have experienced such harm directly. The targets are very often women and the elderly.

These acts are especially disturbing in the context of several years of mounting hostility and suspicion in the United States focused on people of Chinese origin. The murders in Georgia Tuesday, including among the victims so many Asian women, come as one more awful shock.

Lumped in with the discussion regarding spa workers, because she happened to have identified (maybe?) as an Asian female:

Earlier this month, we lost an extraordinary citizen of MIT, ChoKyun Rha ’62, SM ’64, SM ’66, SCD ’67, a professor post-tenure of biomaterials science and engineering, at the age of 87. Raised in Seoul in a family that expected her to become a doctor, she came to MIT because she wanted to be an engineer. In 1974, she joined our faculty; in 1980, she became the first Asian female faculty member to earn tenure at MIT. Dr. Rha went on to build a remarkable career as a teacher, a mentor and a scholar.

It is difficult to imagine how alone she must have felt in her early years at MIT, when women students and Asian students numbered in just dozens. But the trail she and so many others blazed helped lead to the rich diversity of MIT we treasure today.

Is this an example of “All Look Same”? In the context of killings of spa workers in Atlanta, what’s the relevance of someone who defied her family by becoming an engineer rather than a doctor and never lived in Atlanta?

(Also, Rafael Reif says that she must have felt alone (how can he know?). If so, given that she stayed at MIT for four degrees and to work as a professor, isn’t that equivalent to calling her stupid? An intelligent person would have left MIT, presumably, and gone somewhere where she didn’t feel alone.)

Circling back to the title of this post… if the presidents of Harvard and MIT love Asians so much, why won’t they let them into their respective schools?

(If the answer is, “we just can’t find enough Asians whose personalities we like, notwithstanding their superb academic achievements,” here are some numbers from “The Rise of Asian Americans” (Pew, 2012): “The modern immigration wave from Asia is nearly a half century old and has pushed the total population of Asian Americans—foreign born and U.S born, adults and children—to a record 18.2 million in 2011, or 5.8% of the total U.S. population, up from less than 1% in 1965.”


Readers: Are you getting a lot of email from bureaucrats expressing their new-found love for Asians?

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MIT takes credit for the mRNA vaccines

“The MIT scientists behind the Moderna vaccine” (Technology Review) appeared in my mailbox:

In the 1970s, at MIT’s Center for Cancer Research, Phil Sharp discovered RNA splicing and revealed the potential of mRNA. … In the 1980s, Moderna cofounder Bob Langer, PhD ’74, was pioneering new ways to deliver medicines, including RNA—work that ultimately contributed to the development of the new vaccine. .. Noubar Afeyan, PhD ’87, another cofounder of Moderna and its chairman, got into biotech after earning his doctorate in biochemical engineering.

One thing that is awesome about the Moderna vaccine, at least for computer nerds, is that it comes from the building formerly known as “545 Technology Square,” the home of the MIT Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science labs. Awesome thing #2 is that production happens with the help of Ginkgo Bioworks, founded by Tom Knight, a titan of AI/CS research at MIT (also helped by a $1.1 billion loan to Ginkgo from the Trump administration).

As with previous issues of MIT’s alumni news (see COVID-19 and the MIT community), the March/April 2021 edition suggests that American elites aren’t been substantially harmed by either COVID-19 or coronapanic. There are many reports of deaths among the roughly 140,000 living MIT alumni, for example, but none mention COVID-19. MIT alumni die “peacefully at home” or succumb to cancer. Nobody seems to have lost a job or money as a result of coronapanic shutdowns.

Faculty at the 1998 graduation…

See also this New York Times story on how the elites managed to stay home, have everything delivered, keep their jobs, etc. Excerpt:

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COVID-19 and the MIT community

The January/February 2021 MIT News reports on 140,000 living (and recently dead) MIT alumni, 11,000+ current students, and thousands of faculty and staff members.

Alex Meredith reports on her final semester on campus:

The Class of 2021 was given just 12 weeks in the dorms, stretching from the end of August to mid-November. … I spent all spring and all summer 3,000 miles from MIT, attending virtual classes from my parents’ basement in Seattle. … I would finally close Zoom and immediately open FaceTime to talk to a pixelated version of my girlfriend… This fall, after spending one week in quarantine at the start of the semester, MIT allowed me to see a small group of five friends, called my “pod,” without physical distancing. As long as our dorm isn’t on a “pod pause for public health,” we can hang out in each other’s rooms without masks, and we can ride in each other’s cars. … Beyond my pod, I can p-set with my friends outdoors on a terrace, and it’s a major upgrade over our usual p-set Zooms. I can see my girlfriend, who recently graduated from MIT and lives in Somerville, for picnics in a local park; we have to sit on separate picnic blankets, but six feet is nothing compared to 3,000 miles.

I hope that Ms. Meredith is never sentenced to prison here in the Land of Freedom (TM), but if she does become part of the world’s largest imprisoned population, it sounds as though she has the right attitude for life in the Big House.

What’s happening with the alums? George Kossuth of the Class of 1965 (age 77?) is a hero of optimism. He reports getting married and having heart valve replacement surgery. Frank Helle, Class of 1971, is a straight up hero. He reported losing 20 lbs. during the pandemic.

Roughly half the news regarding these earlier classes relates to the deaths of alumni. People were killed by cancer (e.g., “four-year, well-fought battle with pancreatic cancer”), heart disease, “a long illness”, Parkinson’s disease, “peacefully at home”, etc. Alumni write about losing wives to cancer (nobody describes being in an LGBTQIA+ relationship or having lost a same-sex spouse). What’s missing? Out of 140,000 alumni, I learned of two killed by or with COVID-19. One was 62-year-old Peregrine White Jr., SM ’84, who “was 62” and “died from complications of cancer that had impacted his brain, slowly causing a significant cognitive deficit over the last year. He also had covid-19.” The other was of Myron Kayton, PhD ’60 (87 years old?) who was an inertial guidance expert and “deputy director for guidance and control for the lunar module that landed man on the moon.”

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Diversity and Inclusion Training for MIT Students

One of my MIT undergraduate moles shared with me a September email from the Administration:

We are writing to you regarding the important topics of sexual assault prevention and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Two Required Trainings: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Sexual Assault Prevention Ongoing: Healthy Relationships (see instructions below)

The trainings will be available starting October 1, 2020 and must be completed by November 2, 2020. Instructions to access the courses are below. You will have a registration hold placed on your account and will be unable to register for IAP and/or Spring 2021 classes if you do not complete both trainings by the November 2 deadline.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion starts with a survey that contains unanswerable questions:

How is Student X supposed to know what Students Y and Z are trying to do in forming friendships? (especially given that everyone is dispersed and interacting only via Zoom) The student is also supposed to know what 1,000+ classmates value:

The survey is at least 40 gender IDs short of a complete list:

Department of Flexible User Interface:

The local Federal appeals court got it wrong!

“ageism” is not an “oppression”:

A confusing one:

(If Cian is a student at an engineering university, why do his friends expect him to be sexually active?)

Any time is a good time for a gender transition? No!

Whoever designed this survey does not seem very familiar with the American public housing, Medicaid, SNAP, and Obamaphone programs!


After the baseline quiz, it is time for the welcome video, which features seven students, none of them apparently identifying as “white male,” and with no apparent age diversity.

The next video introduces José, a double-victim: Afro-Latino. He says that both of his parents are doctors and that’s why he’s pre-med: “it’s in my DNA”. Is the learner supposed to consider the possibility that academic ability, conscientiousness, and other aspects of intelligence and personality are also in students’ DNA?

“Living our Intersectionality” features the following folks:

  • “I identify foremost as a very, like, spiritual queer person of color.” (a microaggressive person would say that this person appears to be an Asian female)
  • “I identify as ABC: African Black Caribbean. Female. I also have ties with the indigenous.” (She’s big enough that a chandler would likely recommend that any “ties” be at least 1/2″ in diameter, double braid, and secured with a cleat hitch.)

(nobody identifies at the intersection of “white” and “male”!)

Next slide:

“Many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice.” … We can’t just look at a person’s race or gender (or any of their individual identities) as separate categories. It’s the intersections that truly shape a person’s experience and influence both their opportunities and their challenges. This concept is especially helpful when thinking about issues of fairness and how people are treated in the world.

Let’s hope that President Harris deports anyone who answers “I agree”!

Another remake of Sybil is around the corner:

Heading out to exercise can be just as dangerous as sitting next to the fridge in governor-ordered shutdown for 8 months:

For example, student athletes who identify as women may face conflicts between their identities as women, athletes, and students. They may face pressures to be more aggressive and practice-focused, based on their athletic identity, more feminine and nurturing, related to gender expectations, and more studious and intellectual, based on their student identity.

Student POV: A student who identifies as black says that being black is “incredibly challenging” and “I am constantly in fear for my life”.

We find José again being victimized by his white roommates and their friends. The LGBTQIA+ guy with a stereotypical lisp is fine, but the white girl pressures Jose to go to the BLM rally. The white guy says he expected Jose to look different (i.e., more Latinx and less Black) and that “No offense, but it seems that All Lives Matter would be a better way to bring people together. You’re saying that your [Latinx] dad’s family matters less than your [Nigerian] mom’s?”

What to do about the near-Deplorable?

You can’t proceed until you select the last one.

White people, even those who appear to identify as “women”, make a lot of stupid assumptions:

All Look Same rears its ugly head:

Math is hard:

Will this section be about charging $53,000+ for a few months of streaming video?

“Sometimes equality isn’t actually fair.”

Perceptions can be misleading…

Even the lowliest worm may have power:

Even if you think you personally don’t have power, you may still be participating in structural systems of power where you receive advantages or are considered the norm, while others are disadvantaged or considered outside the norm.

White males reappear in order to define privilege:

(Looks as though he is loving the phone that was developed for him by white and Asian engineers, but white male privilege won’t entitle him to a mobile data signal if he’s in the Boston suburbs!)

Did 9 out of 100 students go into the “wrong” bathroom by mistake or because it was actually the “right” bathroom?

But maybe the ASPCA should be called when a dog is forced to walk on three paws (the fourth being held by the human companion):

Not everyone is unhappy about our new all-virtual world:

There will be a lot of worries when students come out of Shutdown Joe’s multi-year shutdown, having raided the fridge every 15 minutes and never having exercised!

If God exists and is powerful and benevolent, why is it ever unsafe to pray?

Everyone can breathe easier starting January 20, 2021:

Who is oppressed? Someone who has made the mistake of not identifying as a white male…

If you’re morbidly obese and have sex with a different partner every night, you’re at risk of becoming a victim of “internalized oppression”:

One example from the Isms, Phobias, and Microaggressions section:

(Would it be okay to respond “Engagement? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to pay back your student loans by having sex with your already-married dermatologist?”)

Some definitions on the topic that has consistently enriched this blog:

Transphobia is prejudice against transsexual or transgender people. Transantagonism includes hostility, aggression and violence towards trans people. Bathroom harassment is a form of discrimination that is experienced by many trans people, gender nonconforming people, and cisgender people who don’t fit stereotypical ideas related to their gender presentation.

There is no “I” in “Team” and there is no “I” (or “T”) in “LGBTQIA+”:

Know that LGBQA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and asexual (plus many other associated identities).

Understand that asexuality is a sexual orientation. Asexual people generally do not feel a sexual attraction to others, though they may feel romantic attractions.

Be sensitive when talking with people about coming out stories. Remember that for some people these are traumatic experiences.

Language can create exclusion. Using identity-related words like “gay” to indicate that something is negative reinforces stereotypes.

If you have religious, political, or cultural objections to certain sexual orientations, remember that our community values include treating everyone with dignity and respect.

If a virtuous immigrant student follows a religion that condemns particular sexual acts, how can the community be said to be respecting this religion and the virtuous immigrant by covering hallways with posters celebrating those particular sexual acts?

The longest video is “How do you think about anti-blackness?” Maybe the problem wouldn’t exist if white people kept to themselves?

There is great diversity of experience among people of color. The term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) is used to highlight some of these differences in history and experience. Respect spaces that are reserved for BIPOC people to discuss issues privately and safely.

At a minimum, white people should refrain from observing Halloween:

Usually marked by a sense of disrespect or superficiality, classic examples of appropriation include wearing the traditional clothing of a racially marginalized group as a Halloween costume, or using a group’s symbols of religious or spiritual significance as decorative accessories. Inclusive spaces reject cultural appropriation.

José returns to be victimized for 1:04 by a white professor who says, on the first day of class, “we don’t get many people like you in pre-med” (certainly a true statement at MIT, since there is no pre-med major!).

Now it is time for Communications and the Stupid White Man reappears to offer an opinion regarding Navajo jewelry:

The software won’t allow the learner to proceed until this answer is corrected. (American universities own vast amounts of land, all of it stolen from Native Americans. If they care about Native Americans, why not pay rent on the stolen land?)

The software reminds students at private universities that they don’t have a right to free speech:

Speech has a special role in higher education and in the United States. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects a person’s freedom of speech and expression from government interference (so it typically applies only to state institutions, though some states create additional legal protections that apply to private institutions).

Most colleges and universities consider freedom of speech and expression to be a critical part of the pursuit of higher education, and are also committed to creating a learning community where students from all backgrounds feel welcome and can concentrate on their studies without facing hostility and discrimination.

This is followed with a bunch of links explaining the difference between “free speech” and “hate speech”.

The next screen has some great drawings:

White men do bad things even before the party starts:

The learner cannot proceed without calling off the “Salsa and Sombreros” party (were Goya-brand products going to be served?). Correct answer:

By thanking Luca for calling out his behavior and dedicating himself to learning more about cultural appropriation, Tanner is respecting Luca’s perspective and behaving as an ally. Everybody makes mistakes — part of being an ally means being open to acknowledging when you’re wrong, and taking the necessary steps to continually check your privilege and your behavior in the future, even when it’s uncomfortable.

(see this 1993 story about a fraternity at University of California that scheduled a “South of the Border” party)

There is a video tutorial on how to apologize after using the wrong pronouns. This is followed up with some text:

Be sensitive to the situation and any histories of inequality. A great apology focuses on the harm that was done and not on the person who is apologizing.

The key to apologizing well? Remember, it’s about acknowledging your actions, not focusing on the other person’s interpretation.

Here’s the 2-minute Self-Care video:

José returns to be abused during a pickup basketball game by a white man who claims to have been fouled: “maybe that’s okay where you come from.” Bad White Man calls José a “thug.”

José considers leaving school, but he is rescued by brave student services staff and other administrators. He decides to stay and says “I’m going to make a difference.” (Like the med students that I teach! None say that they want to go into lucrative specialties and treat patients who have money and/or private insurance. It is a mystery to me where plastic surgeons and dermatologists come from.)

There is a final exam, with pretty much the same questions as the pre-exam:


With 16 wrong answers out of 16, the undergraduate is qualified to join the Delta Tau Chi fraternity:

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Festschrift for Mike Hawley

A more-interesting-than-usual collection of folks celebrate the life and work of Mike Hawley, currently suffering from cancer. Mike was an early application developer at NeXT, then an early faculty member at the MIT Media Lab, before branching out into a wider world.

Annotations on the video, with my favorites in bold:

  • 2 minutes in: Nicholas Negroponte talks about the early days of the Media Lab, followed by some other MIT insiders (probably not interesting for non-MITers)
  • about 20 minutes in: fountain of Trump-related discourse from law school professor Larry Tribe (maybe not the best choice to teach Harvard’s “A Few Good Points About the Donald Trump Presidency” course)
  • 25 minutes in: the great architect Moshe Safdie shows how to celebrate someone’s life
  • 30 minutes: Alan Kay is introduced as the inventor of the PC (no credit to William Shockley for the transistor, Jack Kilby for the IC, Federico Faggin, Marcian Hoff, Stanley Mazor, and Masatoshi Shima for the first commercial microprocessor, George H. Heilmeier for the LCD, Waldemar Jungner for the NiCd battery (good argument for not shutting down Sweden if we want the next invention from these creative folks)); mostly this is about Mike playing the piano
  • 38 minutes: Bran Ferren talks about the intersection between technology and art
  • 41 minutes: Leonard Kleinrock respects the tradition by talking about Mike instead of himself! (Kleinrock helped build the foundations of the software that enables the Internet, which enabled this virtual festschrift)
  • 46:45: Bob Metcalfe, rounding out the tech foundations (he is the co-developer of the Ethernet local-area standard; also spectacularly wrong about Internet capacity! Coronapanic has proved that 100 percent of Americans can stream high-def simultaneously!), and tells a good dog story
  • 52: Peter Cochrane. Dull and confusing; skip.
  • 57:35: Stewart Brand, looking good and sounding sharp at 81! (He’s a righteous advocate for impeaching Trump; if only the Senate had listened!)
  • 59:45: Tod Machover, no longer an enfant terrible of the music world, but still interesting and he has a good clip of Mike playing.
  • 1:07:07: Gloria Minsky, widow of Marvin Minsky, gives a clear-eyed tribute informed by her background as a physician.
  • 1:11:20: Jill Sobule, singer-songwriter plays and sings, marred by terrible sound quality
  • 1:16:00: Rob Poor, Mike’s first Ph.D. student, talks a bit about the famous/infamous Media Lab Mt. Everest Base Camp assault
  • 1:19:20: Reed Jobs, son of Steve Jobs. Touching; seems like a sweet kid.
  • 1:23:00: George Hawley, Mike’s father. (at 1:27:00 an interesting discussion about how to decide whether to pursue professional music as a career) Sad to think about being told about a child’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis.
  • Mike himself comes on at the end. He was always at his best graciously thanking people with a public speech and does not disappoint.

If I had been asked to speak, I would have highlighted that, despite being late to appreciate the impact that World Wide Web protocols and standards would have, Mike was early to appreciate how digital cameras and Internet would democratize photography. Then he acted on this idea by working with Bhutanese children, putting advanced digital cameras into their hands to see what would happen (a lot of great pictures and a big heavy paper book!). Mike’s most impactful work while at MIT was in the area of photography: he supervised the Master’s thesis of Robert Silvers, whose photomosaics have been hugely popular.

(I also would have had to bite my tongue to avoid noting that Mike spent a tremendous amount of energy over the last four years being upset regarding the candidacy for and then the American Deplorables’ election of Donald J. Trump. Searching through his Facebook posts now… Before the election, Mike was paying attention to women who said that they got paid to have sex with Trump and to investigations by Eric Schneiderman (later in the news because the young women he was paying to have sex with him complained about the specifics of the sex). Even before Trump took office, Mike was #resisting by investigating ways in which the Electoral College could undo the illegitimate vote. In July 2017, Mike was trying to get Twitter to de-platform @realdonaldtrump (“posts constitute frequent abuse and harassment and promulgate outrageous lies”). In the fall of 2018, Mike was poring through the details of the people who claimed to have knowledge of an interaction between Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. Despite his cancer diagnosis, Mike was following the Impeachment of Trump closely.

Certainly Trump’s election has been regrettable from a coastal elite point of view (“they forgot to take away their right to vote,” is my Dutch friend’s summary), but cancer proved to be Mike’s enemy, not Trump. Other than the corporate tax law change that made Mike’s stock market investments more valuable, there was never a single Trump policy that had any effect on Mike’s life. A good reminder to all of us not to get upset about what happens in Washington, D.C. We can’t do anything about it, so why rage at the political weather?)

Mike turned the concept of being a professor on its head. Ask a tuition-paying parent what a “college professor” is. Answer: a professor is someone who puts a huge effort into preparing lectures, handouts, and problem sets. Make sure that the students learn Signals and Systems in a logical progression, for example. Mike realized that modern research universities did not reward this Herculean effort in any way, shape, or form. The whole idea of teaching specific knowledge areas or skills was for chumps. Let the Media Lab students go learn whatever traditional material they needed from the dull-witted professors in other MIT departments who hadn’t figured out that they were wasting their time. To discharge his “teaching” responsibility, Mike set up a class that was one day per week, three hours per week, thus giving himself four free days per week. MIT is in session for 13 weeks so he had to prepare 13 three-hour lectures? Hah! Each week Mike would give a thoughtful introduction and provide some context for one of his famous friends, who would then proceed to hold the students spellbound with a guest lecture. He used a slush fund to order pizza in the middle of the class. Students wrote papers and then graded each other’s papers.

Mike contributed a lot to the early exploratory phase of the MIT Media Lab, that’s for sure. As the lab converged toward a more conventional academic engineering grand-seeking enterprise, which would have required him to pick a project and stick with it for 10-20 years, he wandered off to keep learning about new subject areas with some of the world’s most accomplished people in each area. When your interests are that wide you can never become a true expert in any one area. Thus, Mike’s biggest post-Media Lab achievements will not be reflected in conventional academic journals, but in the connections that he facilitated among some of the world’s most creative and original people.

Assuming that coronaplague does not get me first, I will miss him when he is gone. He has been a fun person to know and he added a lot of color to a university that has a reputation for being colorless.

Sad update: “Michael Hawley, Programmer, Professor and Pianist, Dies at 58” (NYT, June 24, 2020)


Mike’s student Rob Silvers and Alex in front of the Media Lab circa 1995:

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MIT tells us how to predict a coronavirus-free future

MIT Technology Review, the alumni magazine for what is regarded by people worldwide as the finest engineering and science school… in East Cambridge, titled its March/April 2020 edition “The Predictions Issue.”

There are ten breakthrough technologies presented for 2020 and a multi-futurist section regarding “How to predict what’s coming in 2030 and beyond.”

The breakthroughs circa 2020 include “hyper-personalized medicine” in which a single individual with a unique genetic defect can be patched up with heroic multi-disciplinary effort. We have purportedly made breakthroughs in anti-aging pills and AI-discovered molecules. We have more AI in general. The most important breakthrough is “Climate Change Attribution” in which we can figure out which unpleasant weather events are due to climate change: “If we choose to listen, they can help us understand how to rebuild our cities and infrastructure for a climage-changed world.”

Seven pages are devoted to the saddest emotional event of the 21st century, i.e., the failure of pollsters to warn us that the United States was packed with stupid, sexist, and racist Deplorables who would consider voting for a candidate who “appeals to the worst in us.” (Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon for this year. If election prophets don’t predict a certain Biden victory then enough of the righteous will be motivated to go to the polls and defeat Hate.)

The most interesting section, in light of recent events, is the collection of predictions regarding our world through 2030. The folks whom the magazine tapped (which happens to include one person of color and an LGBTQIA+ novelist, as well as a gender ID balance in favor of people with typically female-associated names) worked from the following assumptions: (1) the Earth will be warmer; (2) computers and Artificial Intelligence will be more powerful.

What did the best futurists that magazine could find miss entirely? That a human population of 8 billion on Spaceship Earth is an incredibly tempting target for a novel virus and that the virus would arrive in a lot of readers’ lungs on the same day as the magazine itself.

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Mining Oxygen on Mars

From a Valentine’s Day talk by Jeffrey Hoffman, an astronaut-turned-professor who is now part of an effort to mine oxygen out of the Martian atmosphere…. If the MOXIE system works and Blue Origin gets humans to Mars, they can come back without having had to pack 80 percent of their rocket fuel for the trip home.

Professor Hoffman explained that, though there is plenty of water in the Martian crust it takes too much energy to extract it. Thus, the plan is to “mine” the atmosphere, which is 96 percent CO2 (should be toasty warm from the greenhouse effect, except that atmospheric pressure is comparable at the Martian surface to what we have at 100,000′ above sea level).

Hoffman and collaborators’ experiment will launch in July 2020 and land in February 2021. The Mars journey will also be 7 months for humans, kind of like being on a cruise ship in Asia right now. The shocking news for movie fans is that The Martian is not scientifically accurate. The dramatic wind that forces an evacuation and is blowing stuff around would have to move at 1,000 mph to have enough force, given the thin atmosphere. In fact, the highest recorded winds on Mars are roughly 60 mph.

As with other astronauts I’ve talked to recently, Hoffman is not a fan of centralized government-run rocketry. Regarding the SLS, which promises to cost taxpayers $20 billion at least: “Maybe they will launch it a few times. It is Saturn V technology.” In his view, SpaceX and Blue Origin are where the innovation happens. The government “monopoly” had cost us decades of potential progress.

One thing I learned: this next Mars mission will include a helicopter! Also, landing on Mars is a combination of the worst features of the Earth and Moon. There is the friction from entering the atmosphere, as on Earth, but not enough atmosphere to slow down with wings or a regular parachute.

Sidenote: Hoffman first came to MIT because of Walter Lewin, whose physics lectures are now securely in a memory hole due to #MeToo issues.

Hoffman flew on five Shuttle missions, logged 1,211 hours in space, and did multiple spacewalks, including one to fix the Hubble telescope. An example of “bravery”? Perhaps not. There’s a talk on real bravery today at 4 pm:

What else do we find in the corridors at MIT? “The Trump administration is the noxious product of the capitalist system” (but didn’t most of the Wall Street capitalists support Hillary?)

A poster on “ethnomathematics”:

(If these “traditional and indigenous societies” are doing interesting stuff, why isn’t it just “mathematics”? Why do they need a special numbers nerdism ghetto?)

We crashed a Valentine’s Day party for a group of PhD students in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Hollywood-style background:

The future engineering PhDs pour themselves coffee:

Circling back to Professor Hoffman… As with other retired astronauts I have met, this guy is incredibly fit and sharp at age 75. Makes one wonder why humans age at all. If we can live to 75 with hardly any deficits accumulating, why can’t we live to 750? If nearly all of us drop dead by 100, why don’t we drop dead at 10? Most of our cells have to go through at least one replacement cycle by age 10, right?

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