The problematic Thomas Jefferson

October 23, 2021 • 12:04 pm

What do we do about Thomas Jefferson? He wrote the Declaration of Independence, served the new United States government in several capacities, including Vice-President and Secretary of State, was our third President, founded the University of Virginia as a secular school, and wrote the Virginia Declaration of Religion Freedom—the model for America’s First Amendment. All that would commend him to our approbation, but for one ineluctable fact. He kept slaves: many of them. More than that—he had a relationship with and impregnated one of those enslaved people, Sally Hemings, and fathered at lest a couple of her children. That relationship, because of the power imbalance, is considered rape.

Because of the slave issue, Jefferson’s star has sunk very low (see my piece here). A statue of him at my alma mater, the College of William and Mary, has been repeatedly defaced, a statue of Jefferson in front of a Portland, Oregon high school has been pulled down, Jefferson Elementary School in San Francisco is to be renamed, and, as I reported this week, as gleaned from the New York Times, a statue of Jefferson in the council chambers in New York’s City Hall has been relocated elsewhere.  All of this for the same reason: Jefferson was a slaveholder.

I’ve been conflicted about this legacy for a while, for how do we balance the good with the bad (more on that below).? And I was influenced by the comment of reader Historian about Jefferson on my post, to wit:

The removal of the Jefferson statute from the New York City council chamber is justified totally. While one can at least make an argument that the statue of a slaveholder need not be removed from some areas because of the “good’ things he did and looking at the statue is optional. In this case the chamber is the workplace of the council members, who have no choice but to look at it. Minority members of the council are forced to look at a statue of a person that may have very well enslaved, whipped, sold, and raped their ancestors. To them, they don’t care that he hypocritically wrote words about freedom, liberty, and equality. They are revulsed by the statue; they should not be subjected to looking at it. It’s as if Jews were compelled to look at a statue of Dr. Mengele because his medical experiments on their ancestors may have resulted in advances in medicine.

There’s food for thought there, though the Jefferson statue can’t really be compared to one of Mengele for obvious reasons: Jefferson did a lot of good stuff, much involving the founding of this Republic. Mengele was an unmitigated horror of a man.

What to do? Must we dismantle the Jefferson Memorial and remove all his statues, including the bronze one in the Capitol Rotunda that was the model for the one in New York? And if he’s canceled for slaveholding, what do we do about George Washington, who had slaves? (So did ten other Presidents.) Do we take him off the dollar bill, remove the Washington Monument from the District of Columbia, and, of course, change the name of Washington D.C. itself?

According to the White House Historical Association, at least 12 Presidents owned slaves:

. . . .at least twelve presidents were slave owners at some point during their lives: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant.

That’s more than a quarter of U.S. Presidents, and several of them were distinguished in various ways. How do we regard them? Should we honor their accomplishments at all in light of the fact that they engaged in one of the more reprehensible behaviors possible: owning other human beings, treating them badly, and making them work without pay? Remember, even during this time slavery was not seen as “business as usual”, for there were many abolitionists, especially in the UK.

While you ponder this conundrum—perhaps the hardest case of conflict between public vice and virtue—have a look at this article in Bari Weiss’s Substack site. It’s by Samuel Goldman, described this way on the site:

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at The Week. He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. His books include “God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America” and “After Nationalism.”

Goldman’s thesis is that removing Jefferson statues isn’t just an attack on the man, but an attack on the ideas he stands for (aside from slavery, of course). Click on the screenshot to read.

Goldman admits at the outset that Jefferson “didn’t live up to his own words, owning more than 600 people in his life, and, unlike Washington, didn’t have plans to free them. He “recognized his own hypocrisy,” but didn’t do anything about it. But Jefferson’s accomplishments, and the good he did, are also undeniable. And so, for Goldman, this brings up the important issue:

The question, though, is whether everyone implicated in slavery is ipso facto ineligible for public celebration. That standard doesn’t only exclude Jefferson but virtually every major figure in American history before 1861. And ruling these out of public discourse doesn’t only affect their personal memory. It also renders speechless the other Americans, like the Levy family, who’ve used their names, words, and careers as symbols to articulate their own aspirations for justice.

That’s why attacks on Columbus Day are as misplaced as removal of the Jefferson statue. The holiday and memorials in many cities aren’t really about the Genoese explorer who served a Spanish king. They are confirmations of the presence of Italian-Americans in public life, to say nothing of the courage and adventuresome spirit that led to the discovery of the New World.

The reduction of American history to an unbroken story of racial oppression comes at particular cost to Jews. Because we have been among the greatest beneficiaries of liberal institutions, we are unavoidably targets when those institutions abandon or reject their liberal mission. A widely despised and persecuted people who thrived in America like nowhere else, Jews do not fit into the sharp distinction between oppressor and oppressed that characterized ideological “antiracism.” Therefore, Jewish experiences must either be ignored or reduced to a monolithic conception of white supremacy.

I’m not sure how relevant the Jewish issue is to the discussion of Jefferson, even though it poses thorny issues for the woke. Goldman does bring up the fact that the original Jefferson statue, sculpted by the French artist David d’Angers, was commissioned by a Jew, Uriah Levy, who was not only repeatedly attacked for his religion but, as a naval officer, helped suppress the slave trade in the West Indies. Yet Levy’s own legacy was mixed. As a Jefferson admirer, he restored a decrepit Monticello—but using more than a dozen slaves.

And you can answer the first question for yourself: is every American who was implicated in slavery ipso facto ineligible for public celebration?

Goldman says “no”. While he’s not absolutely clear about the statue removal, he’s crystal clear that there has to be some celebration of Jefferson’s ideas, and how do you do that without statues or any kind of public memorial? Can we celebrate good ideas completely disconnected from the people who had them?

Goldman’s conclusion:

Jefferson’s far from the first statue to fall, and it won’t be the last. But the plaster and bronze of which they’re composed isn’t the most important thing. What matters is the fate of the ideas in that Declaration in Jefferson’s hand. The ones that Lincoln described as “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” and “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.” That’s what Uriah Levy saw in Jefferson and what we should continue to honor today.

Again, how does one honor abstract ideas without mentioning the people who had them? Should we ignore Jefferson’s positive contributions by shoving his statues into dark corners because of his negative acts? And if you say, “yes,” what do we do about George Washington.?

As I’ve written before, I judge whether or not someone should be honored if both questions below are answered “yes”:

1.) Are we honoring the positive contributions that the person made?

2.) On balance, did the person’s life contribute more good than bad to the world?

#1 was a “yes” for the New York City statue: Jefferson was depicted holding a quill pen, clearly being honored for his writings.

#2 is the hard one. After all, holding down 600 black people as property is no small thing. Against that one must balance that Jefferson helped bring about a Republic that, though it’s denigrated by many these days, I see as the greatest experiment in liberty and democracy of our era. Jefferson wrote the document that helped bring that about, and, though he was in France during the Constitutional Convention, many of his ideas infuse that Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights—most notably the First Amendment. Jefferson kept slaves, and thereby supported slavery, but the net harm was largely to his own slaves.

When you balance America as a refuge for the oppressed, Jefferson’s role in the creation of America, and his role in creating our founding documents, I would judge, subjectively, that his life was on I conclude that we should honor the man as a way of honoring his ideas—the good ones.

Caturday felid trifecta: Cat boogie woogie; woman adopts 12 fluffy Persians; cat positions itself in train station for maximum pets; and lagniappe

October 23, 2021 • 9:30 am

First we have a cat who seems to enjoy sitting on the piano mechanism while its staff plays boogie woogie. This is a very chill cat. At times it looks a bit perturbed, especially during the runs, but it doesn’t go away.

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From Paws Planet we have this story (click on screenshot):

Note that Persian cats need daily brushing, so this is a busy lady. Some excerpts and photos:

If you think the life of a woman who has 3 or more kids is chaos, just look at this cat mom. She has 12 cats but she still feeds them pretty well without someone’s help. Her name is Michelle who lives in Japan and owns 12 Persian cats. She runs the Instagram page 12 Cats Lady where she shares photos of her adorable cats.

It started with one abandoned kitten rescued wet and freezing from the middle of the road. She took Yuki home and then she decided to adopt to two more Persian beauties. But what about the other nine? They are their children from the same litter! The lady assures that the cats are all spayed and neutered now so there’s no chance of having more kitties.

And as you’ll see in the pictures, all 12 are very needy, and have strong personalities. She is completely happy with all her cats, and calls herself a “cat mom” instead. She hopes to break each and every one of the cat lady stereotypes. Scroll down to enjoy and don’t forget to share with your friends and family!

The Fluffsters:

And eating, arrayed by color!

Moar!:

Treats!

Bedtime!

Cat tree with ornaments:

And the staff with her bosses:

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This video is two years old, but I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Chill turnstile cat! What I don’t understand are all the people who fail to pet the cat. (Only three ladies do.)

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Lagniappe: Monkey teaches cat to eat yogurt, and there are other primate/felid interactions. I think the affection goes only one way, though. . .

h/t: John, Ginger K., Barry

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s bird photos come from Paul Edelman, a Professor of Mathematics and Law at Vanderbilt University. Paul’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. We also have two singletons by other readers at the bottom.

Some more bird pictures from our neighborhood pond.

We have a pair of Belted Kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon) that nest in the area.  They make a loud ratcheting sound when they fly. This pair was chasing each other all over the pond.  I was fortunate to get them in flight, something I’ve tried to do many times before.

I had seen a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) during the late winter and early spring, but this is the first time in a while.  This particular one is “yellow-shafted morph” with the characteristic red patch on the back of its head and the yellow tail feathers. 

I also caught this Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in the trees over the pond.  Not sure what he was looking for.

In trees along with numerous titmice and chickadees were a number of Tennessee Warblers (Vermivora peregrine) and a solitary Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).

Warbler:

Kinglet:

I have another picture—the odd hybrid duck with a couple of mallards [Anas platyrhynchos].  [JAC: Neither of us are sure what this duck is, but I think it’s the result of a cross between wild mallards and Pekin ducks, which are the white ones: also mallards but bred for color, docility, and meat. The mallard in the rear is likely a hybrid as well, but could be a wild mallard “greening up” into his breeding plumage.]

From Christopher Moss, a baby American red squirrel:

Our young friend of the Tamiasciurus hudsonicus kind:

And a travel/cat/architecture photo from Nikos Kitsakis:

I immediately had to think of you when I took the picture attached. I took it this morning standing next to the greek flag at the Acropolis in Athens at shortly after 8 in the morning (What to call it? Acropocat? Catcropolis?).

Athens has the owl 🦉 as a symbol since ancient times as you know, but all I see all the time are cats 🐈. I think they ate all the owls… 🙂

Saturday: Hili dialogue

October 23, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to the Sabbath for all eydishe kets (יידישע קעץץ): Saturday, October 23, 2021. It’s National Boston Cream Pie Day, declared the official dessert of Massachusetts in 1996. It’s not really a pie but a cream-filled, chocolate covered cake, and it’s good. It looks like this:

It’s also National Canning Day, National iPod Day, National Pit Bull Awareness Day (it’s always wise to be aware when you’re around them), Swallows Depart from San Juan Capistrano Day, and Mole Day.  Here’s the explanation of Mole Day, which doesn’t involve animals:

Mole Day is an unofficial holiday celebrated among chemists, chemistry students and chemistry enthusiasts on October 23, between 6:02 a.m. and 6:02 p.m., making the date 6:02 10/23 in the American style of writing dates. The time and date are derived from the Avogadro number, which is approximately 6.02×1023, defining the number of particles (atoms or molecules) in one mole (mol) of substance, one of the seven base SI units.

News of the Day:

*This I consider a very bad portent: the Supreme Court, considering the Justice Department objection to Texas’s unconstitutional and draconian new anti-abortion law, and also considering the state’s response, decided to let the Texas law stay in place until expedited oral arguments are heard on November 1. CNN adds:

In agreeing to hear the case under such an expedited time frame, the court said Friday that it would focus specifically on the unusual way in which the Texas legislature crafted the law. It also said it will review whether the US Justice Department can challenge the law in court.

The U.S. has no standing in challenging an unconstitutional law? Do they need a pregnant women to bring suit? This is above my pay grade, but it’s beyond me how the Court can allow a palpably unconstitutional law to stay in effect at all.

*The Democrats are still fractured on Biden’s spending bills, but are slowly easing their way to a consensus. Senator Kyrsten Sinema has thrown up a big roadblock by saying she will not vote to raise taxes on the rich, on corporations or on capital gains, all of which were supposed to be the basis for funding both bills. Where else could they get all that money?

*Actor Alec Baldwin fired what was supposed to be a prop firearm while filming the movie “Rust,” and it turned out not to be a prop. It went off, 48 killing Halyana Hutchins, 42, the director of photography, and injuring director Joel Souza, 48.  The police are investigating what happened, and Baldwin hasn’t been charged with anything. I assume it was an accident, but I doubt that the projectile was a blank, which can cause damage, but couldn’t kill two people at some distance from the gun.

*Reader Ken informs us that The Jan. 6th Capitol insurrections in prison awaiting trial have started their own prison gang.  As Ken comments, “I guess the Aryan Brotherhood is just too damn liberal.” To wit:

At 9 p.m. every night, inmates in the so-called Patriot Wing of the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility reportedly stand at attention and sing The Star-Spangled Banner. You can even listen, if you want, to an alleged recording of it on the website called The Patriot Freedom Project.

. . .The “Patriot Wing” houses the most hardcore perpetrators of the January 6 riot, roughly 40 men in all.

On the outside, they’ve been recast as “political prisoners” by some sitting GOP politicians, while some fans even paint them as heroes—literally.

*The headline of the Washington Post piece says it all: “Otters are taking over Singapore.”  (h/t Paul). What an adorable story!

Pollution and deforestation drove away Singapore’s otter population in the 1970s. But as the country cleaned up its waters and reforested land in recent years, otters came back in full force, integrating into urban spaces and learning to navigate one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Today, to the annoyance of some and the joy of others, the island is home to more than 10 otter romps, or families.

In the Marina Bay area, known for architecturally audacious ­hotels and for one-bedroom apartments that sell for $1.8 million, otters bop in the water and the crunch of fish bones echoes along the boardwalk. Using drainpipes as highways, the carnivorous mammals traverse the city, sometimes popping up in rush-hour traffic, or racing through university campuses.

Otters pushed out of the local rivers and bays by rival families dig homes between buildings. They visit hospital lobbies and condominium pools, hunting for koi fish and drinking from fountains. New families fight for access to food and shelter, in battles that are covered by the local papers and dissected online.

Count me in with the otter-lovers!

*The NYT reviews a new book on the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, titled The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone, by Edward Golnick (Amazon link here). It turns out that two men, one British and the other French, were racing to decode the previously mysterious hieroglyphics. It sounds like a fascinating read.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 735,515, an increase of 1,504 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,955,350, an increase of about 7,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on October 23 includes:

  • 4004 BC – James Ussher’s proposed creation date of the world according to the Bible.

Well, Wikipedia said the creation (calculated by going back through the “begats” and estimating, was actually about 6 p.m. on October 22.  The 9 a.m. on October 23 date, which you often hear, is an error. If you want to see how he made the calculations, go here.  He also calculated that Jesus would return in 2000 AD.  His estimates, and the Bible, are the basis for the assertions of a recent creation by those chowderheaed young-earth creationists. Here’s the document in which he made the bogus calculation.

  • 1707 – The First Parliament of Great Britain convenes.
  • 1739 – The War of Jenkins’ Ear begins when Prime Minister Walpole reluctantly declares war on Spain.

You’ll want to hear why this war has such a weird name.

This was not the first women’s rights convention, which was the famous Seneca Falls Convention that took place in 1848. It was the first national women’s right convention.

Spain didn’t join the Axis because Hitler considered its demands too extreme. Here are Hitler and Franco at the railway station in Hendaye, France:

  • 1955 – The people of the Saar region vote in a referendum to unite with Germany instead of France.
  • 1973 – Watergate scandal: President Nixon agrees to turn over subpoenaed audio tapes of his Oval Office conversations.

Here’s one of the incriminating tape: Nixon and Haldeman discuss whether they can use the CIA to block an FBI investigation of Watergate:

Here’s Selena in 1989 singing tejano music at the Tejano Music Awards. She was only 23 when she was shot, and her killer is still in prison, eligible for parole in 2015:

  • 2002 – Chechen terrorists seize the House of Culture theater in Moscow and take approximately 700 theater-goers hostage.

Here’s a video of part of the siege. Although all 40 of the insurgents were killed, most of the 130 hostages who died were killed by a narcotic gas pumped into the theater by the authorities to knock out the attackers.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1491 (estimated) – Ignatius of Loyola, Catholic priest (d. 1556)
  • 1844 – Sarah Bernhardt, French actress (d. 1923)

Two divine Sarahs:

  • 1905 – Felix Bloch, Swiss physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1983)
  • 1925 – Johnny Carson, American comedian and talk show host (d. 2005)
  • 1940 – Pelé, Brazilian footballer and actor

Here are some highlights of Pelé’s career, though the film quality isn’t great:

  • 1954 – Ang Lee, Taiwanese-American director, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1960 – Randy Pausch, American author and academic (d. 2008)

Pausch, a professor of computer science, human–computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and gave the “Last Lecture” (that’s what the venue was named, but his was almost, but not quite, his last lecture). The lecture was given at CMU on CMU on September 18, 2007; Pausch died on July 28 of the next year.

  • 1984 – Meghan McCain, American journalist and author

Those who lost the last of their nine lives (or however many they had) on October 23 include:

  • 1872 – Théophile Gautier, French journalist, author, and poet (b. 1811)
  • 1939 – Zane Grey, American dentist and author (b. 1872)
  • 1950 – Al Jolson, Lithuanian-American actor and singer (b. 1886)

Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in a Jewish Lithuanian village. He’s infamous for his blackface portrayal in The Jazz Singer (1927), the first “talkie” movie, but he also fought against discrimination on Broadway. As we see so often, his legacy is complicated. Here he is singing in whiteface:

And here’s Mother Maybelle singing her signature song, “Wildwood Flower”, at the Grand Old Opry, accompanied by Flatt and Scruggs.

If you’re an American evolutionist, you’ll have seen Chick’s comics attacking science and evolution in favor of Christianity. He especially hated “professors” and Catholics (Chick was a Baptist). Here’s one of his panels:

And Chick himself:

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast

 

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Andrzej have a deep conversation. Malgorzata explains:

“Rationalism is not valued any more in many circles of many societies. Hili asks whether it has a chance to return to favor, but Andrzej is skeptical because of the irrational opinion of people even in their everyday lives (kitchen talks).”

Hili: Does rationalism have any chance?
A: Lately it’s been in trouble even on the kitchen level.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy racjonalizm ma szanse?
Ja: Ostatnio ma kłopoty nawet na kuchennym poziomie.

And little Kulka on a shelf. Do you think she’s related to Hili?

From Taner. The sign, in Turkish, apparently says, “Entry prohibited to cats who will not let themselves be petted.”

From Nicole:

Bruce calls this a “groaner’ meme, and it is, but it’s also interesting:

Masih reports on women’s protests in Afghanistan. Yes, these women are brave and alive, but perhaps not long for some of them. . .

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew: I showed you the first one yesterday, but look at the second tweet below! What’s wrong with this picture?

A capybara chilling with my favorite wild canid: the fennec fox (Vulpes zerda). They are also the world’s smallest canid, weighing in between 1 and 2 kilos.

WHO’S a bad boy? How did this cat get stuck in a toilet?

Hear the sounds of Mars! Matthew orders you to put your headphones on before listening. But if there’s no microphone on Mars, is there any sound? (Answer: no.)

This population of jaguars on the Brazilian Pantanal lives almost exclusively on fish (see the paper). They even fish cooperatively!

A mysterious tweet from Dr. McAlister that she clarified when Matthew inquired (below):

At long last, the NYT covers the Art Institute of Chicago’s DocentGate

October 22, 2021 • 12:00 pm

That’s right, folks, you can hear all the cultural/ideological news here well before the New York Times gets off its tuchas and decides, well, the uproar over firing and cancellation has reached a point where they’d look overly biased if they failed to cover it. And so, in today’s paper, you finally get to read about the unconscionable firing of 82 active, unpaid, volunteer, highly-trained docents by the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC)—13 days after I called it to your attention. (See also here.)

Why were they let go? Because they weren’t sufficiently “diverse,” being mainly, but not exclusively, older white women of means. They had undergone months of training, had to write papers, and did an enormous amount of work—all for the love of art. But the lack of equity did them in. All that expertise, lost. . .   And you know what? The “consolation prize” the AIC gave the ditched docents was a two-year free membership to the AIC. Nearly all of them had worked at the AIC far longer than that.

They were fired by email, and not even by the head of the Art Institute but by Veronica Stein, the executive director of learning and public engagement for the museum’s Women’s Board. They will be replaced by a smaller, less-well-trained group of paid docents ($25 per hour) who will of course be more “diverse”, and that means racially. If the AIC wanted to diversify its docents, which is an admirable endeavor, there are far better and less divisive and injurious ways to do it, as my readers pointed out in the comments. This reprehensible act by the AIC got a lot of people’s dander up, as you can see from the 183 comments on my original post, as well as in the Chicago Tribune‘s and Wall Street Journal’s scathing editorials about the dastardly act.

Now, well after the news cycle has expired, the New York Times decided to report it. Click the screenshot to read:

Now there’s nothing wrong with diversity in volunteers, though if you can’t get it (the AIC said it tried and failed), you just don’t go firing those people who have the means to volunteer because they’re white and female. There are better ways. Nevertheless, the NYT article (which doesn’t say more than you’ve read here) says that the AIC director and Stein were both blindsided by the public reaction. What kind of bubble are they living in?

Look at this dissimulation by the AID director, “focused only on his mission”:

James Rondeau, the Institute’s director, said in an interview that the docents program had long been viewed as logistically unsustainable, and that the Institute had stopped adding new volunteers 12 years ago. He said that the recent vitriol had taken a severe toll on the institution and its staff.

“Clearly we were not prepared for this to become a discussion of identity politics,” he said. “We are only focused on our mission.”

If they were discussing canning the docents for 12 years, why didn’t they tell the docents in advance? They heard about this only when they got their emailed “pink slip.”

From Stein:

Ms. Stein in an interview said she had been taken aback by the sharply negative reactions. “The violent, weaponizing language an overwhelming number of people are using in letters and emails to describe the museum’s evolution has been startling, and if I’m being honest, scary,” she said. “As a result, the museum now has increased security. Our frontline staff have already experienced erratic and harmful behavior. Our goal now is getting the facts out and keeping our staff safe.”

Again, this woman is clueless, but note how she raises the trope of the “unsafe staff” and the critical emails and letters as a way to deflect criticism of the AIC. When you do something wrong, try to paint yourself and your institution as victims, and if you can work in the word “safe” or “unsafe,” so much the better. Stein has learned the victimhood role well (note also “scary”).

Stein, who has a degree from the University of Mendacity, adds this:

Ms. Stein said that the museum was simply trying to rebuild the program, and complained that the museum’s motivations and plans had been mischaracterized. “We can lose focus on the amazing opportunity we have to pay educators,” she said, “especially when we live in a society where that is not the standard.”

Well WHY DIDN’T THEY PAY THE DOCENTS?

The NYT notes that museums around the country are assessing their volunteer programs with an eye towards diversity, and that’s fine. Let a million kinds of docent bloom! But you don’t go about the revision by creating more racial division, much less throwing a group of dedicated people overboard simply because of their race and/or gender.

The AIC blew this one big time. It’s kind of heartbreaking to hear the polite but saddened response of the docents themselves.

. . . . Gigi Vaffis, the docent council president, said she and her colleagues “were surprised, disappointed and dismayed” by Ms. Stein’s letter.

“Regardless of our age, regardless of our gender, regardless of our income level, we know the Art Institute’s collection extremely well and are highly trained to facilitate arts engagement across diverse audiences,” said Ms. Vaffis, who has worked as a volunteer for about 20 years. “Our goal is to facilitate tour conversations that are as dynamic as the audiences we serve.

“We have such value, knowledge, experience and passion — I wish the museum had recognized what we bring to the table,” she continued. “I wish they would reconsider and bring us back.”

Now that is class!  I hope the AIC does the right thing and reinstates the docents, and then they can pay them while replacing the ones who leave with a more diverse group. But that won’t happen. I hope the AIC pays for its stupidity with a big loss of donations. (I like art, but I hate mendacity.)

One good thing, however, is that this, like the Dorian Abbot affair, is at last being covered by the NYT, so they’re finally paying some attention to the backlash against extreme wokeness.

My stitches are out!

October 22, 2021 • 10:15 am

I had no idea that stitch removal was absolutely painless. I thought they’d have to slide the stitches back through the wound, which might hurt, but no: they just cut the stitch knots and use tweezers to pull out the threads.  So it took only a short while to remove my 18 stitches this morning.

(Earlier posts detail my accident and then the initial stitching.)

Here’s the before this morning, after the dressings were removed. I had two gashes, you might recall, and you’ll see, compared to the earlier shots, they’ve healed up nicely in nine days.

After stitch removal, they lightly covered the gashes with 3M “Steri-Strips,” which I’m to wear until they fall off (a few days). Until then, I still have to shower with a plastic bag over my hand and then apply Neosporin.

I have to say that the two women who took care of me, the physician’s assistant who so carefully stitched me up (she said that good stitching is a work of art) and the nurse-practitioner who removed the stitches, were both very careful and also informative and personable. I had good treatment at the U of C emergency room, even though there was a wait. (Some people have to wait up to 15 hours in the ER, I’m told! I got treated after two hours because I was bleeding like a stuck pig.) Kudos to the stitcher, initials AT, and if she sees this I’d like to thank her by email and show her the outcome.

Texas makes no bones about its new abortion law, asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade

October 22, 2021 • 9:15 am

I received a link to this article in an email from Esquire Magazine, which baffles me because I never read the thing and never asked for alerts. Nevertheless, I read the very short article, in which author Charles P. Pierce shows that the draconian new Texas anti-abortion law is explicitly designed to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. As you know, that law allows abortion in the first and sometimes second trimester of pregnancy. And you may remember that the case was decided in 1973 by a 7-2 vote on the grounds that the the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment confers a “right to privacy” that protects a woman’s choice to have an abortion.

Texas’s law, which protects all fetuses that have a heartbeat, even those resulting from rape and incest, is manifestly unconstitutional (heartbeats start about six weeks in), and yet has been affirmed by appeals courts. (The law also is supposed to be enforced by citizen vigilantes.) It’s now before the Supreme Court, with the Dept. of Justice appealing for the Supremes to strike it down. The Court then asked Texas to answer the DoJ’s filing, which is the subject of Pierce’s column.

You can read his piece by clicking on the screenshot, but also be mindful that there is an antiabortion law from Mississippi scheduled to be heard by the Supremes in December. That case, Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, is explained by BallotPedia:

The newly-enacted [Mississippi] law prohibited abortions after the fifteenth week of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities. The U.S. district court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, holding that the law was unconstitutional, and put a permanent stop to the law’s enforcement. On appeal, the 5th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. Click here to learn more about the case’s background.

This violates Roe v. Wade in prohibiting almost all abortions during the second trimester. If the Supreme Court affirms it, it overturns Roe v. Wade.

Now, about the Texas law:

Pierce quotes from page 49 of Texas’s response to the DoJ, and adds this:

On Thursday, Texas filed its answer to the administration’s request that the Supreme Court block the draconian new Texas anti-choice law. In that answer, toward the end, the kitty comes screeching from the burlap.

The federal government criticized Texas for not “forthrightly . . . asking this Court to revisit its decisions.” Texas has done so now.

Despite the Court’s hope that its decision in Casey would “call[] the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution,” abortion remains a divisive issue. There will always be those who deem abortion “nothing short of an act of violence against innocent human life.” Consequently, there will always be States who seek to protect unborn life through their laws, and there will be those who seek to challenge such laws, unless and until this Court returns the question of abortion to where it belongs—the States.

If the Court decides to construe the federal government’s application as a cert petition, it may also construe this response as a conditional cross-petition on the question whether the Constitution recognizes and protects a right to abortion and whether the Court should reconsider its decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.

Pierce’s interpretation, which isn’t hard to discern, is this:

Texas is saying that if the Court takes up the administration’s case against a Texas law that essentially repeals Roe in practice, it may consider Texas’s response to be a request that the Court repeal its previous decisions on the subject outright. They don’t care about the gender gap anymore. They don’t really see politics that way anymore. Qui audet adipisciturgoes the saying.

I don’t think that Texas has been this explicit before, but of course we all know that although most Americans favor Roe v. Wade, religionists and Republicans in particular (there’s substantial overlap) want that ruling in the dumpster. Below are the latest Gallup statistics on what Americans feel about the 1973 decision. Only 32% think that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, while nearly twice that (58%) don’t want it overturned.

Now of course the Supreme Court is supposed to rule on Constitutionality, not popular support, but given that the Court previously ruled 7-2 in favor of a right to abortion, overturning the law now would be a severe violation of stare decisis. It will be an interesting year for the Supreme Court, but I’m not optimistic.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 22, 2021 • 8:00 am

We continue with the last of the Tree Swallow feeding photos from Emilio d’Alise. I reprise his introduction below (indented), and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Nest Competition,  Feeding, and Hovering

From 2007 to 2013, I lived in Colorado and worked in Woodland Park (8,100 ft. elevation). We had an empty lot next to the office, and we put up a Bluebird house. For the first three years, we had Bluebirds nesting in it, but in 2011, a pair of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) moved in, and returned each year for the next three years. This post from 2011 documents the final weeks before that year’s brood fledged — they all fledged, but a hawk got one of them —and it includes photos and videos.

But, the year that I got serious about photographing them was 2012, and these are some of the photos from those sessions.

As I mentioned, the birdhouse is sized for Bluebirds, which are smaller birds, so the typical Tree Swallows brood of 5-7 makes for a pretty tight fit just before they fledge. Early on, the adults will enter the nest to feed the chicks.

On most feedings, a fair portion of the adult’s head goes inside the beak of the chick (both close their eyelids during contact) to ensure the meal is not lost. Still, occasionally, a few bugs fall out before the chick has a good grasp of it, probably because various parts of the bug may be stuck to the adult’s plumage.

On average, I would say at the peak (when I was shooting), the parents were coming by about every one to two minutes.

As far as I could tell, for a few weeks — from early morning to dusk — both adults did nothing but catch bugs and feed the chicks.

Hovering

Friday: Hili dialogue

October 22, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to the end of the nominal work week: Friday, October 22, 2021. The big news that, barring a medical mishap, I should be getting the stitches in my hand removed at 9 a.m. I’ll report back with photos. Posting may be light today.  Today’s special food celebration is National Nut Day. Nuts are good for you!

Remember that there are three species of wombats, and all of them produce poop that comes out in cubes:

News of the Day:

*As expected, the House voted yesterday to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. There was a squabble as chowderheaded Republican congresspeople still tried to claim that the Presidential election was stolen:

The vote of 229 to 202, mostly along party lines, came after Mr. Bannon refused to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the riot, declining to provide the panel with documents and testimony. The action sent the matter to the Justice Department, which now must decide whether to prosecute Mr. Bannon and potentially set off a prolonged legal fight.

But what was clear on Thursday in the debate before the vote was that nine months after the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries, most Republicans remained bent on whitewashing, ignoring or even validating the mob violence on Jan. 6 in Mr. Trump’s name, based on his lie of election fraud.

If Merrick Garland decides to prosecute Bannon, he’ll face a possible fine of $1,000 to $100,000 and jail time between a month and a year.

*The BBC reports that a 25-year-old man named Ali Harbi Ali, of Somalian descent, has been charged with the murder of Tory MP Sir David Amess, who was stabbed to death while meeting with his constituents. It appears to be religiously inspired terrorism:

Nick Price, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”

*The 400 Mawozo gang, which kidnapped 16 American and one Canadian missionary in Haiti last week, is now threatening to kill them unless the random is paid. As the Associated Press reports,

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that police say is holding 17 members of a kidnapped missionary group is seen in a video released Thursday saying he will kill them if he doesn’t get what he’s demanding.

The video posted on social media shows Wilson Joseph dressed in a blue suit, carrying a blue hat and wearing a large cross around his neck.

“I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” he said in the video.’

That group includes five children. Let’s hope the FBI (which is on the ground in Haiti) finds them before Wilson Joseph fulfills his pledge.

*The Gabby Petito/Brian Laundrie case is almost put to rest, as remains found in a nature reserve in Florida have been identified from dental records as those of Laundrie, a “person of interest” in Petito’s murder. Apparently Laundrie’s remains were badly decomposed because his body was in water, which may make it hard to determine if he killed himself or died in some other way. It also precluded the use of fingerprints to ID the body.

*The 95 year old regent of the UK, Queen Elizabeth II, spent Wednesday night in the hospital for reasons disclosed only as “preliminary medical checks.” The announcement came from Buckingham Palace after she canceled a Wednesday visit to Northern Ireland (she’s remarkably busy for someone of such an age!):

In a statement on Thursday night, Buckingham Palace said: “Following medical advice to rest for a few days, the Queen attended hospital on Wednesday afternoon for some preliminary investigations, returning to Windsor Castle at lunchtime today, and remains in good spirits.”

*A U.S. government initiative to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs—one of the main contributors to the ridiculously expensive healthcare in the U.S.—has been in the works for several decades, embraced by, among others, Democratic Presidents, Nancy Pelosi, and even Donald Trump. But nothing’s happened, and the initiative appears to be on the skids again. The NYT reports that this initiative may be omitted from a House domestic-policy agenda by some of the usual suspects, and by that I mean Democrats:

Senior Democrats insist that they have not given up the push to grant Medicare broad powers to negotiate lower drug prices as part of a once-ambitious climate change and social safety net bill that is slowly shrinking in scope. They know that the loss of the provision, promoted by President Biden on the campaign trail and in the White House, could be a particularly embarrassing defeat for the package, since it has been central to Democratic congressional campaigns for nearly three decades.

“Senate Democrats understand that after all the pledges, you’ve got to deliver,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee.

. . . . But with at least three House Democrats opposing the toughest version of the measure, and at least one Senate Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, against it, government negotiating power appears almost certain to be curtailed, if not jettisoned. The loss would be akin to Republicans’ failure under Mr. Trump to repeal the Affordable Care Act, after solemn pledges for eight years to dismantle the health law “root and branch.”
It’s just NEGOTIATION at this stage. Why would anyone oppose it?

*Jack the Cat has had a wee setback in the healing process. As his staff reports:

Jack has been bothering his wrist wounds, making them bleed, so back to the Cone of Shame. [Photo below, also showing the pins holding together the bones in his paw.]

Poor Jack!:

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 733,385, an increase of 1,509 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,947,528, an increase of about 7,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on October 22 includes:

Here’s part of the Creed emphasizing the dual nature of Jesus:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; blah blah blah. . . .

  • 1797 – André-Jacques Garnerin makes the first recorded parachute jump, from one thousand meters (3,200 feet) above Paris.

Garnerin connect the “parachute” (with a basket, see below) to a hot-air balloon, and then severed the rope connected his device to the balloon. His basket swung back and forth and he was a bit banged up, but landed in the Parc Monceau and survived!

(From Wikipedia): Schematic depiction of Garnerin’s first parachute used in the Parc Monceau descent of 22 October 1797. Illustration dates from the early nineteenth century.
  • 1879 – Using a filament of carbonized thread, Thomas Edison tests the first practical electric incandescent light bulb (it lasted 13.5 hours before burning out).
  • 1883 – The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City opens with a performance of Gounod’s Faust.

Here’s the original building at 1411 Broadway:

Here’s Philomena (remember her?) at Greenwich; she displays the meridian line at 1:28:

  • 1934 – In East Liverpool, Ohio, FBI agents shoot and kill notorious bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd.

Here’s Floyd in his coffin. His pocket watch was found to have ten notches, one for each person he killed:

  • 1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis: President Kennedy, after internal counsel from Dwight D. Eisenhower, announces that American reconnaissance planes have discovered Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, and that he has ordered a naval “quarantine” of the Communist nation.
  • 1964 – Jean-Paul Sartre is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but turns down the honor.

Why? The Nobel organization itself tells us:

The 59-year-old author Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in October 1964. He said he always refused official distinctions and did not want to be “institutionalised”. M. Sartre was interviewed by journalists outside the Paris flat of his friend Simone de Beauvoir, authoress and playwright. He also told the press he rejected the Nobel Prize for fear that it would limit the impact of his writing. He also expressed regrets that circumstances had given his decision “the appearance of a scandal”.

Sartre was the first awardee to voluntarily reject the Literature Prize, though Boris Pasternak was ordered by the Soviet to refuse the Prize when he was the awardee in 1958.

You can see the video of that interview at the link above, though there’s no sound.

  • 1983 – Two correctional officers are killed by inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. The incident inspires the Supermax model of prisons.
  • 2013 – The Australian Capital Territory becomes the first Australian jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage with the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s Liszt, four months before his death, photographed by Nadar. He had some warts.

Douglas, known as “Bosie”, was famous for having a gay relationship with Oscar Wilde, which eventually led to Wilde’s downfall. Here they are in May, 1883 (Douglas is seated):

  • 1887 – John Reed, American journalist and poet (d. 1920)

Reed, a Communist activist, is one of only three Americans honored by being interred in the Kremlin (in a mass grave); the other two are C. E. Ruthenberg, the founder of Communist Party USA and Bill Haywood, a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World. He’s portrayed in the movie “Reds” by Warren Beatty.Here’s the grave marker, with Reed being the second name. He died of spotted typhus in Moscow.

  • 1903 – Curly Howard, American comedian and vaudevillian (d. 1952)

His birth name was Jerome Lester Horwitz, and here’s his grave in Los Angeles (he died of a stroke at only 48):

Annette was The Beautiful Mouseketeer, who made many of us kids feel the first stirrings of amour. Here she is at 14 on the Mickey Mouse Club:

Deepak is 75 today, but has told us that he will not die! He has real diamonds in his glasses:

 

Those who were vetted by St. Peter on October 22 include:

I’ve always thought that there’s something lacking in my taste in art because Cezanne’s work doesn’t move me at all as it does most cognoscenti. (I always thought his repute came more from his place as the premier Postimpressionist rather than from the quality of his work. So sue me!) The one below (“Bathers”) isn’t bad, but he’s no Van Gogh. . . .

See above.

  • 1973 – Pablo Casals, Catalan cellist and conductor (b. 1876)
  • 1986 – Albert Szent-Györgyi, Hungarian-American physiologist and biochemist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1893)
  • 1995 – Kingsley Amis, English novelist, poet, critic (b. 1922)

Here’s a short 1958 interview of Amis, who, I confess, I’ve never read:

  • 2009 – Soupy Sales, American comedian and actor (b. 1926)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Andrzej and Malgorzata had all their windows replaced yesterday, so I was puzzled by today’s dialogue. Malgorzata responded:

The dialogue was written a day before replacement. Our (and your readers don’t know about our window replacement). And Andrzej is paraphrasing a very old joke from the time of our youth (it was an in-joke, for Poles over 70 only):

A young couple with their toddler son are camping at the lake. The boy gets terribly dirty. The husband says to his wife: “Do we wash him or make a new one?”

The dialogue:

Hili: I’m wondering.
A: What about?
Hili: Whether you are going to wash this window or rather replace it?

In Polish:
Hili: Zastanawiam się.
Ja: Nad czym?
Hili: Czy prędzej umyjesz to okno, czy raczej je wymienisz?

From Bruce, a grim prognosis (where’s the apostrophe in the caption?):

From Stash Krod, and this is a nefarious trick. It took me a minute to figure this out:

Speaking of tricks rather than treats, read Stephen sent this:

From Titania. Apparently one of the Netflix protestors who picketed the company grabbed a Chappelle supporter’s placard, broke it, handed the stick back to the protestor, and then beefed that the Chappelle supporter had a weapon. Well, that’s what I heard, but I can’t verify it. If you have a tweet with that video, please email it to me or put it in the comments

From Ken, who calls this “stranger than fiction”. Indeed! The world would be a boring place without loons like this:

From Simon, who saw this at 3 a.m. on Twitter when he couldn’t sleep. Early morning perusal of Twitter, he says, is apparently a bad idea. Kristol does have a good sense of humor, though.

Yep, another loon! Does Wiles mistake messenger RNA for a fertilized parasite egg? Oy!

Tweets from Matthew. Look at this adorable orphaned Tawny Frogmouth. It looks like a cotton ball with a gaping maw!

What an appreciative audience!

This innocuous planthopper is almost certainly mimicking a jumping spider. Have a look at salticids.

Even tiny kittens have wicked points (five of their six ends are pointed):

A rare sight (I think Matthew is feeling sentimental today):