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Member since: Wed Jul 24, 2013, 01:10 PM
Number of posts: 2,143

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to my fellow academics in Florida, which has just crippled the tenure system

De Santis just signed legislation in Florida that makes it easier to fire tenured faculty at the stateís public colleges and universities. Iíve pasted a link to a news article about it below.

To my friends at public universities in Florida - please accept my sympathy. I'm sure I speak for a great many academics here. To have such an ignorant loudmouth for a governor is bad enough, but this legislation (which may not survive a court challenge, as I explain below) is a disgusting insult. Your state government may not respect you, but your colleagues do.

I offer a sincere willingness to help in whatever way I can. I know getting another academic position can be difficult, especially for those of us in more senior positions. My wife is at a university in a neighboring state. That means I commute 3 to 4.5 hours, depending on traffic and construction, twice each week. If I wasnít a fifty-something full prof, I might stand a chance at getting a position in her area. Alas, Iím a fifty-something full prof and, thus, not competitive in open searches against younger PhDs who can promise a far longer period of productivity. But Iím willing to bet there will be universities out there delighted to cannibalize the Florida public university system for talent, including mine.

One possible bright side - as implied above, there's a good chance some of this bill will be tossed out by the courts. The law can be applied to new hires, but it probably violates existing faculty contracts. Not an expert on contract law here, and I could be completely misunderstanding the situation, but if I was in Florida, I'd be reaching out to an attorney.

But far more importantly, it reveals yet again how tenure is misunderstood. It can be described as a "lifetime appointment," but only in the way judge appointments are "lifetime appointments." Faculty with tenure are not in bulletproof positions. We can be fired for cause, just like everyone else.

It bothers me that Republicans use this as a wedge issue to divide labor organizations from the Democrats with whom theyíd normally align. Why should professors get lifetime job security when we can lose our jobs any time the economy goes south or some numbskull manager makes a bad business decision? That this derives from a greatly oversimplified understanding of the tenure system hasnít been easy to correct.

(Which brings up a related question Ė where the hell was the business community in Florida when this bill came up? Bills like this come up in my own state all the time. They rarely get out of committee, and the one time it did, businesses across the state mobilized to defeat it. They know the value of higher education when it comes to innovation, and they want educated employees. They want the public higher education system to be strong, and they know that killing tenure would weaken it. Surely businesses in Florida understand this as well as those in the Upper Midwest.)

We often hear that tenure allows freedom to follow what may be unpopular research or pedagogy. It does, but it goes beyond that. What it allows is *consistent* freedom to engage in academic endeavors. If we had to redirect our efforts every time the university's leadership changes, we wouldn't accomplish anything. Can you imagine what would happen if university presidents threatened the jobs of anyone not expressing their personal views on climate science? Human sexuality? Public health? History? Or if they took a dim view of research that didnít have obvious immediate benefits to anyone in particular? Thatís what the tenure system prevents.

Appointed judges are a great analogy. They're given lifetime appointments so they don't all get fired and replaced with ideologues every time the White House or governor's residence changes hands. That would create legal chaos, with previous decisions overturned every few years. We see value in these lifetime appointments because it advances the interest of consistent justice.

And for the upteenth time - no, we professors aren't trying to indoctrinate young adults into leftist ways of thinking. (Most of us arenít, at any rate.)

Some of this "leftist" thinking isn't a matter of opinion. It's physical reality. When I teach about evolution or climate change, I'm not expressing a biased opinion - I'm providing factual information. Those who teach about sexuality may be telling us things that run counter to certain religious beliefs, but they're not telling us these things to advance some sort of "woke" culture (whatever the f-word that means); they're telling us these things because a substantial amount of research is revealing them.

Seriously - if a scientific discovery contradicts your opinion, the problem is with the opinion. Facts can't change to accommodate them. Scientific facts are scientific facts, and we're not going to pretend there's a legitimate fact-based counterargument where it doesn't exist just to create a false sense of "balance."

I've heard the same anecdotes as the rest of you - some conservative student somewhere feels oppressed by the progressive environment at their institution. Opportunities were denied, term papers were graded poorly, opinions were suppressed- stuff like that. Ever wonder why these claims appear in the news media? Partly, it's because cases in which right-leaning students really were mistreated are rare. They're newsworthy when they happen because they're not the norm.
In the vast majority of such purported cases, it's not that conservative students are being bullied or censored. It's that they're encountering diverse communities and people with different political views for the first time in their lives. If their opinions are to the very far right (Q-type stuff), they'll be a minority not because universities shun such students, but because those holding such extreme views are the minority.

Anyway Ė I just want my colleagues in Florida to know you havenít been forgotten.


in defense (sort of) of Will Smith

I do not, in any way, condone Will Smith's decision to strike Chris Rock. At all.

Had the police gotten involved, I would not have been upset. He assaulted someone. That's a violation of the law.

It's also not my place to forgive. That's up to Chris Rock.

But in this case, I'm not going to condemn Smith for this one action. He remains, in my eyes, a great actor, and although I remain somewhat disappointed in him, I don't plan to write him off.

1. That the joke Chris Rock told about Jada Pinkett Smith didn't justify an assault goes without saying. Nevertheless - had I been Will Smith, I'd have been pissed off, and the thought of popping Chris Rock in the mouth would have crossed my mind.

My wife was the target of a focused bullying campaign at her former workplace. I've been in the room while her integrity was impugned behind her back. Although no one was hit, I certainly defended her, usually with language that would have earned the exchange an R rating. So I say all of this having been in situations similar in some respects - not all respects by any means, but some - to what Will Smith encountered.

Does this betray a level of latent toxic masculinity on my part? Maybe. I don't know. I'm not a psychologist. The animals I work on have exactly two emotions - indifferent and enraged - and they behave the same regardless. But I was also bullied very badly until midway through high school, and I react strongly when I see people being needlessly put down, as Jada Pinkett Smith was.

I've also embraced the progressive ideal of condemning jokes directed against people who are dealing with medical conditions, as Jada Pinkett Smith is. Had I been her husband, I'd at least have said something.

I've generally been a fan of Chris Rock, but frankly this particular joke was beneath his talent, and he should have apologized the moment he saw that the joke's target was offended.

It's not a matter of a man assuming women are incapable of defending themselves in situations like this. It's a matter of speaking out against an attack directed toward a loved one.

2. There are "apologies," and there are apologies. What Will Smith has said ever since the incident isn't one of those "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" non-apologies. He acknowledged what he did was wrong and that it caused harm beyond the person he hit. He hasn't shifted any of the blame to anyone else, so far as I can tell. He's taken ownership of the incident and indicated a willingness to ensure it doesn't happen again.

I've seen people try to minimize his apology. "He's only sorry he got caught" and such. Again, not a psychologist here. I cannot assess another person's mindset. But the apologies he's provided in public appear genuine, and at the very least, they're an example others who cross the line should follow when expressing contrition.

3. In general, I'm not a fan of condemning someone for one lapse of judgment. Obviously, there are exceptions. Some acts are so egregious that they cannot be so easily set aside. That, or they reveal a level of internal depravity suggesting that the lapse of judgment may not have been a one-off event.

I'm reminded of the joke about a farmer who complains about not being remembered for the barns he helped built, the leadership he showed when his community was hit with a natural disaster, the willingness he showed to help teach younger farmers, the wonderful and accomplished children he raised, or the prosperity he worked hard to make for himself. "Am I called Fred the Barn-Builder? Fred the Civic Leader? Fred the Dad? Fred the Teacher? Fred the Hard-Working Farmer? No. You fuck one goat, and...."

Like I said, what Will Smith did was wrong. But I'm not willing to set his whole body of work aside because of it.

I'd also like to make a point for those who think this really isn't a big issue worth discussion on DU. First - I, and many others, are capable of following more than one news item at a time. I've kept track of global events beyond this. Second - I'm probably not the only one here who suffered from severe and constant bullying as a kid, nor am I probably the only such bullying victim here who felt a certain level of triggering from the incident at the Oscars. For some of us, this isn't just celebrity gossip.

anyway, my opinions. They're worth exactly what you paid for them, I suppose.

Something I've noticed on social media -

As far as Iím concerned, Will Smith and Chris Rock should both be ashamed of themselves.

I said this on Facebook and immediately noticed something - there was a disparity in the responses. Most of my friends agreed with me, but a handful - all of them high school acquaintances to whom Iím not very close - disagreed. They put the blame all on Will Smith. One of them even stated that he found Rockís joke to be funny. When I pointed out that ge was basically mocking someone for a medical condition, he replied with Ďitís not life-threatening, and she and her husband should lighten up.í

Those who said things like this are all Trump voters.

I hear this all the time from the right - people are too sensitive and should learn to take a joke.

Itís what my teachers told me as I was bullied severely up through mid-high school. Suck it up and all that.

A large part of the voting public now openly condones bullying as a normal approach toward life.

Why I'm not panicking about Dan Patrick's push to end tenure in Texas.

Bills to end tenure at public universities show up in state legislatures with great regularity. They appear in my own state's legislature annually. Only once did it get out of its first committee hurdle, and it didn't go very far beyond that, in spite of having a governor and legislature far enough to the right that they clearly want us to be an exclave of Texas or Florida. And the current lieutenant governor of Texas appears determined to end public higher education tenure in his state.

Such bills allow right-wing legislators to appeal to a lot of people, many of whom aren't necessarily aligned with such legislators in other ways. Why should professors get lifetime guarantees of employment when ordinary blokes don't? Especially when these arrogant, elitist professors are wasting their time and taxpayer dollars on worthless "research" and sticking their noses in the lives of everyone with their liberal indoctrination?

It's actually comparatively easy to debunk such statements. Applied research gets nowhere without basic research that, at first, may seem to have no practical benefit. Our lifetime appointments are similar to those of judges, and the reason is the same - we don't want to see massive faculty turnover whenever the governor's office switches parties. And yes, tenured professors can be fired.

But these points, however valid, don't always seem to take hold.

And yet very few anti-tenure bills even make it to the floor for a vote, much less pass.

There are a couple of reasons for this. So, yes - as a tenured faculty member at a public university, and as an alum of the Texas public university system (MS and PhD from the University of Texas), I am concerned about these bills, but not really panicking.

1. Businesses, by and large, like the tenure system. They want universities to promote innovation. Anything that might drive the best and brightest from the higher education system - which tenure will do (see below) - will be opposed by businesses that rely on what higher education provides.

The reason anti-tenure bills never go far in my own blood-red state is because, as soon as they start picking up any sort of traction, business lobbying groups go apeshit. This is especially true of the tech sector, which is even more important in Texas than in my current digs. It's also true of the oil and gas industry, which relies on research at public universities to improve exploration and extraction technology. (I know this for a fact, because my department at UT-Austin was one of the premier departments for such research. Many of my office-mates were headed for jobs in the oil industry. It's also why tenure is most likely safe in Oklahoma and Louisiana.)

A lot of these businesses are also aware that those they recruit from out of state will want to see a robust public university system for their own kids when they're old enough.

I'm serious about this. Businesses will mobilize to prevent Patrick's social science windmill-tilting from hurting their bottom line.

2. The closest we've come to actually eliminating tenure was in Wisconsin, which didn't end tenure per se, but which weakened it substantially. The result was the loss of several prominent faculty members and massive expenditures to retain faculty who were about to bolt. It's still having an impact on hiring at Wisconsin's public universities. It's a good bet the Texas legislature, no matter how far up the ass of the Orange-Skinned Eater of Other Peoples' Boogers* who occupied the White House until mid-January 2021, won't want to repeat that mistake.

Yes, we've got to be vigilant. This could, indeed, go badly if we aren't. But it's not yet time to panic.

*I've got a very creative 6-year-old daughter. She comes up with the best insults.

editors, reporters, tyrannosaurs, and dirty professional secrets.

Last week, we were all treated to the news that Tyrannosaurus rex, everyoneís favorite dinosaur, was actually three distinct species. This was according to a paper that was published in a peer-reviewed journal, though associated news reports suggested the idea was ďcontroversial.Ē

I think this incident reveals a lot about weaknesses in the peer-review system and the way the media report scientific developments. Iíd like to discuss these with yíallís indulgence.

First, my qualifications Ė Iím a professional vertebrate paleontologist. My career has largely been devoted to crocodyliforms (crocodiles, alligators, gharials, and their extinct relatives), but after finishing grad school, I spent time as a post-doc at a large natural history museum working on a very infamous tyrannosaur skeleton. I wonít divulge much more except to say this particular theropodís common name rhymes with ďdueĒ and that they shouldnít have hired me. They should have hired a priest. I still say it screams when you throw holy water on it.

Anyway Ė

The paper arguing that T. rex is three separate species is terrible. Awful. Laughable. One of the worst papers Iíve ever seen in the peer-reviewed literature. It makes mistakes the average undergraduate with one or two biology or historical geology courses under their belt would know to avoid. There are portions that actually qualify as ďunintentionally funny.Ē It demonstrates nothing, when one considers the actual evidence we have.

A lot of us are still trying to figure out how, exactly, it got through peer-review. I know one person who submitted a review, but the recommendations in that review were ignored. We donít know if the celebrity status of the lead author Ė not an academic, but an accomplished and well-known (if iconoclastic) paleoartist Ė influenced the editors, or if someone on the editorial team knew the authors. It wasnít published in an open-access journal, so the whole ďpay to playĒ scenario is very unlikely to be the case. Itís entirely possible the authors submitted this to multiple journals until they found one willing to run it. But whatever the reason, this was a lapse of editorial oversight. The paper should never have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

This highlights a problem we academics understand, but the general public generally does not Ė that, to corrupt a quote from Winston Churchill, peer review is the worst possible form of editorial oversight, except for all of the alternatives that have been tried from time to time. Peer review is run by fallible human beings. Itís no better than the fallible human beings involved. It's something of a dirty secret that no one's tried to hide, but which hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention.

Iíve heard people equate peer review with censorship, but in fact, itís a whole lot easier to get bad research into the peer-reviewed literature than to prevent something cutting edge and controversial, but prescient, from being published. In fact, itís gotten much, much easier because of the proliferation of journals, and especially of open-access journals in which authors pay a publication fee, in recent years. Some open-access journals are legit, but a lot of them arenít Ė theyíll publish anything just so long as the author pays up.

But even without this, peer review has its limitations. I encounter this all the time in my own little field because of its cross-disciplinary nature. Papers using molecular data to work out the relationships and divergence timing of crocodylians are regularly published. They often make basic mistakes in using the fossil record to calibrate rates of evolution, or they make comparisons between their results and outdated paleontological work. Thereís nothing nefarious about this; the authors, in these cases, were trained as molecular biologists and donít really have the background in paleontology needed to fully grasp the literature. These are honest mistakes, not rhetorical gymnastics. (We paleontologists, by contrast, usually have some training in molecular biology and can swim through their literature reasonably well.)

The problem is with the editors. Papers on molecular systematics are usually reviewed by other molecular systematists. It doesnít dawn on the editors that it might be good to have the manuscript reviewed by a paleontologist. Papers that could have been excellent are diminished because of some honest mistakes a reviewer should have caught.

There are other reasons peer review fails. Sometimes, itís because some of us are assholes. They may feel threatened by something written by a younger scholar that challenges their work. Or they may be sexists, bigots, racists, or some other species of dirtbag. If they have some sort of clout, they can submit an unnecessarily harsh review that kills the manuscript. And because some fields are small, it may be impossible to avoid such fuckwits as reviewers.

Peer-review can, indeed, fail if a manuscript contradicts the consensus. But if it does, this is rarely because it bucks consensus. It's usually because it doesn't have enough support to do so. Wegener's theory of continental drift (which, granted, was presented before peer review was a thing) was rejected not because it ran against common wisdom, but because the evidence he marshalled, though interesting, wasn't enough to shift opinion. That he had no mechanism to drive it didn't help. (He actually thought continents plowed through oceanic crust. In fact, oceanic and continental crust move together.) The consensus shifted when a sufficient volume of new observation met a workable mechanism. Geologists weren't closed-minded; they just didn't see enough to force a revisit of the paradigm.

Some journals use a double-blind system for peer review, but in my experience, it generally doesnít work. Our fields are fairly tight; itís all but impossible to remain anonymous. Most authors can figure out itís my review whether I sign my review (and I usually do) or not. And an established jerk is going to go nuclear on a paper challenging their work no matter who the authors are.

Iím not saying we should abandon peer-review. We need some sort of quality control in science, and this seems to be the best we can manage. But the mere fact that a paper was peer-reviewed doesnít necessarily mean itís reliable. We must all keep this in mind.

The T. rex paper also laid another phenomenon bare Ė the way reporters try to convey what looks like exciting science.

News reports uniformly expressed that this paper had generated ďcontroversy.Ē In fact, the only controversy itís generated is how, exactly, it got through peer review. Scientifically, itís been more or less universally rejected by experts in the field. But news sources canít get much traction from ďbad paper elicits dismay from professionals.Ē

I wasnít contacted about this particular paper, but Iíve been asked for comments before. Reporters are cool with disagreement, but what they want is something like ďthis is so cool! We have to re-write our textbooks!Ē As long as you include something like that, you might get quoted and, just maybe, a qualifier will squeak through.

Iím pretty sure reporters in this case were shocked at what they encountered. Every single person they called for a comment said what I would have said Ė that this is an awful paper, it doesnít demonstrate a damned thing about tyrannosaurs, and it shouldnít be given air time.Ē They were literally unable to get ďcoolĒ or ďre-write the textbooks.Ē So they went with ďcontroversial.Ē

And you know the worst part? Itís entirely possible that T. rex might be divisible. I HIGHLY doubt itís divisible into more than two, and itís extremely unlikely either of these would have co-occurred. That could be a cool study. It would involve a modern approach to variation and a thoughtful approach to the nature of species. Unfortunately, thatís not what happened with this paper. Weíre learning some lessons, but this isnít one of them.

(And no, I'm not going to do that study. Crocodiles are objectively better than dinosaurs - we don't need special effects to see them eat people. I've got plenty enough to do with them.)

What Putin's war will cost Russia

Chechnya. Ingushetia. Dagestan. South Ossetia. Most of the Caucasus, in fact. Some are de facto independent. I'm sure leaders in these regions are paying attention to the effictiveness, or lack thereof, of the Russian Army in Ukraine.

And if I was Russian, I wouldn't get used to Crimea being a part of Russia on a map.

Probably going to get in trouble here (university building names, eugenics, and Nazis)

As many of you know, Montana State University-Billings is going to rename a building named after its first president, Lynn Banks McMullen, because he is now known to have spoken in favor of Nazi eugenics policies.

Although Iím going to add some context around McMullenís statements, I am NOT defending what he said. Not even close. It was bigoted, repugnant, and ignorant. I fully support MSU-Billingsí decision to re-name this building. Adding context, in this case, no more justifies what he said than adding context can justify slave ownership prior to the Civil War. It was wrong then, and itís wrong now.

That being said, some context Ė

Iím concerned that people are focused on only one aspect of what McMullen said Ė namely, that he approvingly acknowledged Nazi German policies in 1935. He did, but leaving it at that oversimplifies the situation, and it does so in a way that prevents us progressives from learning an important cautionary tale Ė that just because anti-scientific attitudes are more closely aligned with the Republican Party today, liberals are not immune to the allure of pseudoscience, and we must remain vigilant to ensure neither we nor our political allies never again follow such a dark path. For we were once leaders on some parts of that trail.

McMullenís comments were directed in support of eugenics Ė the idea that we could improve the human condition and society in general by encouraging people with desirable characteristics to have children and discouraging, or even preventing, those lacking these characteristics from doing so. This arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as acceptance of Darwinís theory of natural selection, followed by its merger with the new science of genetics (the ďmodern synthesisĒ), began to take root in intellectual circles.

This may be a distinction without a value, but although the quotes Iíve seen attributed to McMullen decry what he saw as the mixed blessing of immigration Ė that not everyone who came here was good and virtuous Ė I couldnít find anything explicitly anti-semitic. Iím not saying he wasnít anti-semitic; only that I couldnít find anything demonstrating that in what he said. Itís entirely possible he was, and that I simply havenít found the right quote. But his support for Nazi German eugenics wasn't necessarily anti-semitic, either, because eugenics in Germany in the 1930ís wasnít single-mindedly directed at Jewish people. Sterilization and euthanasia were being applied to those deemed mentally ill and/or physically handicapped. Itís possible McMullen was expressing agreement with this, and not with anything explicitly racist or antisemitic.

The moral repugnance of this idea is self-evident, but it also arose from a very deeply flawed assumption. When it came to such things as criminality, intelligence, mental illness, and anti-social behavior, the nature-vs-nurture pendulum was way over on the nature side. Oneís behavior and intelligence were seen as largely the product of your genes. If you tended toward criminal activity, you were a born criminal. If you want fewer criminals, the reasoning went, make sure those who would pass along criminality-promoting genes didnít contribute to future generations. Fewer children being born to criminals meant fewer criminals and, thus, less crime.

This is, of course, straight-up bullshit. A lot of what was targeted for eugenic elimination had far more to do with poverty and institutional racism than biology. But too many people at the time believed otherwise.

This almost certainly arose from the ambient bigotry surrounding those expressing these thoughts, but it also reflected the newness of evolutionary biology and genetics. They were the Next Big Thing! The internet was supposed to level the information playing field back in the 1990ís. Nuclear power was going to make energy too cheap to meter back in the 1950ís. There was no end to what electricity and magnetism might achieve in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which led Mary Shelley to suppose a collection of sewn-together body parts could be jump-started to life. Same thing.

As a result, many states passed laws intended to further the cause of eugenics. In their extreme, they mandated forced sterilizations for certain classes of people - and these sterilizations actually happened. At least three states that I know of have agreed to pay reparations to those who were forcibly sterilized under these laws.

Given the correlation between race, poverty, and the social problems arising from poverty, youíd suspect that such laws were mostly in the Jim Crow South- but they werenít. They were passed all over the US. And this is because much of the early impetus behind eugenics came not from racists or reactionaries, but from the intellectual left.

Many of these people were operating from a sense of improving society. They either blinded themselves to the inherently racist core of their ideals or found some way to accommodate it. They might argue, for example, that by preventing people of color with criminal histories from having kids, they were promoting the progress of races often thought to be at some sort of lower evolutionary status. Itís scientific bologna, but it wasnít an uncommon perspective for a progressive prior to the Second World War.

By no means was eugenics limited to the left. Those who openly embraced white supremacy obviously werenít interested in improving anything beyond their own goal of keeping the white power structure in place. It also found favor among ardent imperialists and social Darwinists. (Indeed, the seeds of eugenics predate the publication of Origin of Species; Thomas Malthus, whose arguments on reproductive excess influenced Darwin, would have been called a social Darwinist had they not been published 11 years before Darwin was born.)

But it would be intellectually dishonest to pretend that, like the most virulent science denialism of today, eugenics was an exclusively right-wing concept.

Progressives did eventually abandon eugenics. Partly, itís because the nature-nurture pendulum was moving toward nurture. But itís also because the world saw what can happen when eugenics is taken to an extreme when the facts of the Holocaust came to light. The moral consequences of eugenics were shoved in their faces.

I actually cover this point in my large-enrollment undergraduate courses. I state that although there is nothing inherently anti-scientific about conservatism, and although there are certainly anti-scientific attitudes to be found in some liberal circles, the Republican Party is far more beholden to its anti-scientific constituents than the Democratic Party. We donít see too much effort by Democrats to abolish all forms of animal-based research, foods made from transgenic crops, or market-based approaches to conservation and sustainable use that actually work. But laws preventing the teaching of what modern science teaches us about evolution, climate, human sexuality, and public health? From Republicans? All the bloody time.

But I also make the effort to point out that while conservatives have the harder row to hoe these days Ė they have to bring their party away from leaders who deny physical reality Ė us progressives arenít excused from vigilance. The history of eugenics is a big part of that. It happened to us before. It can happen again.

Anyway Ė MSU-Billings is doing the right thing by renaming that building. But letís understand the full context of the reason to ensure dead concepts stay dead.

ADDED ON EDIT: In case anyone accuses me of both-sides-ism, that's nowhere near what I'm saying. In fact, there's a profound difference between the kind of anti-science we see on the left and on the right. Left-wing anti-science is usually expressed as opposition to some sort of application of science. Right-wing anti-science is steeped in denial of the underlying science itself. I might disagree with a fellow progressive over the safety of GMO crops, but we would both agree on how evolution, hybridization, and gene splicing actually work. A right-wing blowhard is likely to deny that evolution even happens.

We also see more concentrated efforts on the right to distort scientific reality to support a policy opinion. Hard-core abortion opponents frequently claim, for example, that abortion increases breast cancer risk. Except that it doesn't.

And like I said, the Republican Party is wholly in the thrall of those who refuse to accept the world around them for what it is.

Ukraine is teaching the world how to do psy-ops.

I don't know if it's coordinated or if it's individual Ukraine servicemen working on their own, but their use of social media to send messages to attacking Russians, while letting the whole world listen in, takes the whole concept to a new level. It's a work of collective art.

Partly, I think it's because Ukrainians understand their enemy. We haven't understood ours since perhaps the First World War.
And Ukrainians certainly understand Russians more than Russians appear to understand Ukrainians.

language question out of curiosity

Something I've wondered for a while - are the Ukrainian and Russian languages mutually intelligible when spoken?

I realize it's not an important question.

scale modelers?

I was unable to find a subforum that seemed appropriate for this. I'd originally posted it in General Discussion, but a couple of people suggested the Lounge. (I've never posted here before.) If thereís something I missed, please let me know and accept my apology.

My primary hobby is birding, but in bad weather, I sometimes make scale model aircraft. Most of the models Iíve built have been First World War era biplanes, but Iíve started moving into other historical periods. Iím building an F-100D Super Sabre right now, partly in honor of my father, who was in Vietnam early in the conflict (1963 or 1964), albeit as a translator in the Navy.

Anyway Ė I semi-completed this one last month:

This is a P-47D Thunderbolt in 1/48 scale. Itís based on Tamiyaís P-47M, which can be converted to the late-version P-47D I wanted to make easily enough. (Much more easily than a kit intended to be an earlier P-47D, in fact.).

The reason Iím showing this off is the markings. They were intended to match the plane my grandfather was photographed flying sometime in 1945.


He was a flight instructor, so he would normally have flown trainers. As far as I know, he and his friends were joy-riding in some Thunderbolts that had arrived at their base in Texas.

This is very much an incomplete experiment. The cowling that would go over the propeller is missing, I messed up on the paint job in a couple of places, and I need to resize some of the decals I printed to match the markings on this particular plane. That, and Iím not really all that talented with this.

Building this did let me use my imagination a little. My grandfather never saw combat. But - what if he had? The plane would be the same, except for armaments (which in this case includes machine guns on the wings that are absent from the plane he was photographed flying, plus a drop tank because I felt like adding one) - but it also meant there might have been nose art.

Much of the nose art of the period was notably bawdy. I obviously wasn't going to put anything like that on the nose of this plane - I really don't want my grandparents going poltergeist on me for the rest of my life. I also wanted to display this at home, where my 6-year-old daughter would see it. (I may also make copies for my cousins, all of whom have small children.). Besides, it just wouldn't be appropriate, given who he was.

I thought about a couple of classical theatrical masks - the comedy and tragedy masks - because he was a professor in theater arts after the war. But I decided to do what many pilots of the time did - put the name of his sweetheart (my grandmother) on the plane. He was absolutely dedicated to her.

The saddest part is that Iíd intended to make one for my uncle. (My mother passed away several years ago.). But he died suddenly late last year, so I didnít get the chance.
Anyway Ė this one means something to me. And the next one will be better.




(As an aside Ė there are web sites that list every single P-47 ever built and its ultimate fate. The plane my grandfather flew ended up in the Chilean Air Force at some point. Iím sure itís scrapped by now.)

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