Another reason why modern pop and rock suck

The link to this video came from reader Andrea, who said,

This may be one reason why you can’t stand today’s music… an insane overuse of the supertonic… the second note on the scale. BTW, the guy in this video has a cool keyboard.
Combine supertonic obsession with autotuning, and you get a bunch of songs that not only all sound alike, but are also boring, turgid, and unoriginal. This video by Andrew Huang gives a bunch of examples. If you think this kind of music is as good as the great rock and soul of the Sixties and early Seventies, you’re just wrong. Rock music is circling the drain, and survives solely because young people have to have some kind of music to call their own.

John McWhorter talks to Sam Harris

It’s supposed to be my day off, so I’ll save the braining for other days. But here’s a nice listen if you have an hour to spare.

If you click on the screenshot below, you’ll get to hear an hour and eleven minutes of linguist and writer John McWhorter chatting with Sam Harris on Harris’s podcast “Making Sense.”  McWhorter’s topic is, as the title indicates, “The New Religion of Anti-Racism,” which I believe is the subject of his next book. You don’t get to listen to the entire conversation (I’m not sure how long the whole thing is) unless you subscribe to Sam’s podcast series.

Here are Sam’s notes on the podcast:

In this episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with John McWhorter about race, racism, and “anti-racism” in America.

They discuss:

    • how conceptions of racism have changed
    • the ubiquitous threat of being branded a “racist”
    • the contradictions within identity politics
    • recent echoes of the OJ verdict
    • willingness among progressives to lose the 2020 election
    • racism as the all-purpose explanation of racial disparities in the U.S.
    • double standards for the black community
    • the war on drugs
    • the lure of identity politics
    • police violence
    • the enduring riddle of affirmative action
    • the politics of “black face” and other topics

I’ve listened to all but the last ten minutes or so, as I fell asleep—not because it was boring, but because I was exhausted from lack of sleep.

If you’ve read or hear McWhorter, or read about him on this site, you’ll know he doesn’t take the Black Lives Matter party line, even though he’s black. In fact, he’s highly critical of that line, which he calls “the Critical Race Theory-infused way of looking at things”, assuming a “nation of identities”.  McWhorter’s call is a strong one: telling us that the whole dialogue with BLM/CRT advocates “is something that enlightened people have to learn to stand down” (he loves that last phrase). In other words, don’t engage with these people; just “work around them.”

Normally I’m not an “ignore the other side” person, but, as McWhorter says, “don’t engage the woke,” as “they can’t be reasoned with”: something that we’ve all learned through experience. It’s like trying to engage any zealot convinced that they’ve got the absolute truth. Although Sam tends to bang on a bit too long in a conversation that should highlight the guest, it’s not too obtrusive, and McWhorter does get his say in.

I’m also not a podcast kind of guy, as I can read much faster than I can listen, but I think you’ll enjoy this 71 minutes. Click just below (not on the photo):


Alan Dershowitz, in Newsweek, decries the University of Chicago’s adherence to Groupthink

Say what you will about Alan Dershowitz, but in his new piece in Newsweek (below) he’s right—and by that I mean he agrees with me. Dershowitz’s article is about the University of Chicago, and in particular the English Department’s new Statement of RightThink, along with its announcement  that grad students in the next year’s class will be taken only in Black studies (see my posts here and here). Ben Schwarz wrote a related piece that appeared yesterday in Spiked.

Now that this travesty has made more “mainstream” media, it’s going to pose a difficulty for our administration, which prides itself on Chicago’s unique freedom of speech and thought, and in fact touts these features to sell the school to prospective students and their parents. If every department in Chicago goes woke, not only endorsing the Black Lives Matter platform but admonishing everyone to join in, it’s going to dissolve our reputation for free and untrammeled discussion.

As I said yesterday, I don’t mind so much that the English Department is funneling new students into Black Studies, for that’s a curricular matter—presumably temporary—that has no effect on freedom of thought (Schwarz disagrees, and I think he made a good point). But I do think that the English Department, along with about five or six other units in the University, has trodden hard on our principle of taking no official stands on matters of ideology, politics, and morality. In fact, Law Professor Geoff Stone, former Dean of the Law School and Provost of the University, agrees that units of the university must also also abide by this neutrality, as he wrote in 2007 on the Law School Blog. When Stone was a student here, he demanded, along with many others, that the University make a statement against the Vietnam War (it didn’t).

In 2007, Stone, a professor, was buffeted by Law School students demanding that the University divest itself of all investments in Darfur. Stone said his mind had changed from when he was a student, and now he espoused neutrality according to the Kalven Principles, implying that the Law School (a unit of the University equivalent to a department) must also adhere to those principles:

Now, almost forty years later, I understand. In 1973, I joined the faculty of the Law School as an Assistant Professor. In 1987 I became Dean of the Law School, and from 1994 to 2002 I served as Provost of the University. I suppose I have become an organization man. My current views may perhaps be dismissed as those of one who has sold out to the “establishment.” I prefer to think of my change of mind as the product of understanding, experience, and even wisdom. I now know what my professors knew then.

The Kalven Report has it precisely right. Universities – most especially this university – exist for a very special reason. They exist to create a forum in which students, professors, and researchers may explore every issue from every side without fear of official condemnation or judgment. They exist to enable talented and committed individuals to seek the truth. They exist to serve as a safe haven in which even the most controversial and despised views may be aired, confronted, and considered. They do not exist so students, faculty, researchers, and administrators can vote to determine the truth. They do not exist to proclaim the truth. For a university, it takes much more courage to stand silent, then to yield to the pressure and temptation to take sides. But once a university takes sides, it is no longer a university.

. . .What the Kalven Report forbids, however, are decisions of the University designed expressly or symbolically to proclaim “right” moral, political, or social positions. That is the issue presented by those who insist that the University should divest from Darfur. The University’s investments in corporations that may do business in Darfur cannot in any meaningful sense be said directly and materially to have caused the tragedy in Darfur. Those who demand divestment want the University to make a statement about what is morally, politically, and socially “right.” And that is precisely what the University should not do.

Lawyers know all about slippery slopes. If the University divests from Darfur, then others will surely insist that the University must then divest from corporations that manufacture cigarettes, perform abortions, sell arms to Israel, and pollute the environment. Of course, there are degrees of right and wrong and degrees of evil. But it is not the role of the University to take positions on such questions. Indeed, the University should no more divest on the basis of these sorts of issues than it should prohibit students and faculty from speaking freely on campus in support of tobacco subsidies, the moral legitimacy of murdering abortionists, the right of Palestinians to destroy Israel, or even the morality of genocide. The role of the University is not to “decide” such questions, but to create and nurture an environment in which we may freely and openly debate them, without fearing that the University has already resolved them on our behalf.

Or, as the Kalven report states, “[The University] is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.”

But I digress. I wanted to make the point that our University is bound to take no official position on such issues, even in departmental and divisional statements, though of course individuals are permitted and encouraged to express their views qua individuals. And this principle was recognized by our former Provost.

On to Dershowitz (click on screenshot):

Like me, Dershowitz is less concerned with the temporary (I think) funneling of all English grad students into Black studies, and more with the strong admonition to adhere to a Critical-Race-theory style platform.

The University of Chicago’s English department, which has been ranked nationally as top in its field, has declared a set of beliefs to which its faculty is “committing.” Its announcement began with the following mea culpa: “English as a discipline” has encouraged “colonization, exploitation, extraction and anti-Blackness.” It then expressed the faculty’s collective belief: “In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere.” Finally, it announced that “for the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle” it will accept “only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies.” It is this last restriction that has generated the most interest—and criticism. But it is the formal declaration of a collective creed by a university department that is most troubling.

Any individual faculty member is entitled to commit him or herself to what the English Department calls “the struggle of Black and Indigenous people and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality,” but no department has the right to compel its faculty, staff or students to subscribe to any set of beliefs or commit to any “struggle.” Universities, and departments within universities, must be open to all points of view, beliefs and struggles. In totalitarian countries around the world, universities are required to be aligned with governmentally approved values. And when I was in college, some universities required teachers to take loyalty oaths against Communism.

But in the United States today, professors and students must remain free to come to their own conclusions, to arrive at their own beliefs and to decide for themselves which struggles are most important. That is what real diversity requires—diversity of thought, belief and commitment, not imposed uniformity.

Not in the English Department (or in Human Genetics, in the School of Social Service Administration, in the History and Physics Departments, and in the Smart Museum, all of which have published their own official versions of the English Department statement (see the English Faculty Statement here; it’s given as an official faculty statement, not the views of several individuals).

Why is it wrong to strong-arm faculty and students into swearing fealty to a specified ideology? It’s a no-brainer, really. As Dershowitz says:

Allowing a university department to impose its collective beliefs on all professors and students is a core violation of academic freedom. It threatens freedom of speech and conscience. It coerces compliance by dissidents who fear cancelation and discrimination. It risks turning great universities into propaganda mills for political correctness. Most frighteningly, it threatens to produce a generation of leaders who have not been taught how to think for themselves, but instead have been indoctrinated into a groupthink reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984—a book which I doubt will ever be assigned by the University of Chicago’s brave new English curriculum.

Nor does the Chicago English department want to limit its imposed beliefs only to its own faculty and students. It insists that “all faculty, here and elsewhere” commit to its “struggle” and follow its lead. I hope they don’t. It’s the road to conformity and tyranny of the mind, even if well intentioned. As Justice Louis Brandeis cautioned a century ago: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men [and women] of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.”

Caturday felid trifecta: Traveling with cats; Japan and its cats, ancient Chinese poet becomes cat slave

From Smithsonian Magazine, a history of traveling with cats. Click on the screenshot:

The article is mainly historical, showing how cats moved around with humans, usually taken on ships. And there are a few modern traveling moggies, too, like the one in the photograph above. Have a read: here are a few photos and excerpts from the article.

Earlier this summer, Laura Moss, a human at the center of a community helping introduce housecats to the outdoor world, published a book, Adventure Cats, bringing awareness to some remarkable cats who are out there hiking, camping—even surfing.

Moss, who also runs a website by the same name (, explains that this kind of cat is far from a new phenomenon. “People have been doing this with their cats long before social media existed,” she tells But in recent years, the community has received new recognition, she says, in large part thanks to people sharing photos and videos of their furry friends on various media accounts.

A painting of a cat on a leash seated near food circa 1504–1458 B.C. was discovered in the tomb of May. (Rogers Fund, 1930/Public Domain)

While evidence of domestication dates back at least 9,500 years (originating from the wild cat Felis silvestris lybica), it wasn’t until the Egyptians got their hands on the felines that they became intensely documented. As early as 2000 B.C., Egyptian-made images of cats offer evidence that some of the earliest domestic cats were put on leashes. (Ancient Egyptians used cats to control their vermin population, and likely, these leashes were used so that their valuable pest control solutions wouldn’t escape.)

Cats proved so apt at their duties that the Egyptians linked the ratters to their religious deities. By 525 B.C., cats were so revered that legend has it the Persians were able to invade Egypt in part by having soldiers bring cats to the battlefield. The Egyptians, the story goes, chose to flee rather than harm the animals.

Other ship cat stories abound. Viking sailors took cats with them on long journeys, and if Norse mythology is any indication, Vikings enjoyed a healthy respect for their cat companions. (Freja, considered the greatest of all goddesses, employs two cats, Bygul and Trjegul, to pull her chariot. In her honor, it even became tradition among Vikings to gift a new bride with cats.)

And there’s Blackie:

During the Second World War, one of many cat tales involved Winston Churchill, who famously took a shine to Blackie, the ship cat aboard HMS Prince of Wales. The large black cat with white marks, who was later renamed Churchill, kept the prime minister company across the Atlantic on his way to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Newfoundland in 1941. (Controversially, some cat fans took issue with a shot snapped of the two, however, where the prime minister is pictured patting Blackie on his head: “[Churchill] should have conformed to the etiquette demanded by the occasion, offering his hand and then awaiting a sign of approval before taking liberties,” opined one critic.)

Churchhill was a great cat lover.

The “adventure cats” that [Moss] chronicles, like a black-and-white feline named Vladimir, who is on his way to traveling to all 59 U.S. national parks or a polydactyl Maine Coon named Strauss von Skattebol of Rebelpaws (Skatty for short), who is sailing the Southern Atlantic ocean, show another kind of cat – one that nods back to the fierce felines of history who sailed the world, survived Europe’s crusade against them and made it all the way to Memedom.

Here’s Skatty.  Look at those mittens helping him hold onto the ship!


More cat history, also from Smithsonian Magazine but about Japan. The “love-hate” thing is about the Japanese love of pet cats, but also how they figure in mythology as figures of terror.

Take the fact that cats exist in Japan at all. No one knows exactly when and how they got there. The “best guess” is that they traveled down the silk road from Egypt to China and Korea, and then across the water. They came either as ratters guarding precious Buddhist sutras written on vellum, or as expensive gifts traded between emperors to curry favor. Most likely both of these things happened at different times.

Japan’s first known cat!

But for our first confirmed record of a cat in Japan—where we can confidently set a stake in the timeline and say “Yes! This is unquestionably a cat!”—we must turn the dusty pages of an ancient diary.

On March 11, 889 CE, 17-year-old Emperor Uda wrote:

“On the 6th Day of the 2nd Month of the First Year of the Kampo era. Taking a moment of my free time, I wish to express my joy of the cat. It arrived by boat as a gift to the late Emperor, received from the hands of Minamoto no Kuwashi.

The color of the fur is peerless. None could find the words to describe it, although one said it was reminiscent of the deepest ink. It has an air about it, similar to Kanno. Its length is 5 sun, and its height is 6 sun. I affixed a bow about its neck, but it did not remain for long.

In rebellion, it narrows its eyes and extends its needles. It shows its back.

When it lies down, it curls in a circle like a coin. You cannot see its feet. It’s as if it were circular Bi disk. When it stands, its cry expresses profound loneliness, like a black dragon floating above the clouds.

By nature, it likes to stalk birds. It lowers its head and works its tail. It can extend its spine to raise its height by at least 2 sun. Its color allows it to disappear at night. I am convinced it is superior to all other cats.”

Sawaki Sushi Nekomata (Wikimedia)

There were also bakneko: shape-shifting cats.

Around 1781, rumors began to spread that some of the courtesans of the walled pleasure districts in the capital city of Edo were not human at all, but rather transformed bakeneko. The idea that passing through the doors of the Yoshiwara meant a dalliance with the supernatural held a delicious thrill to it. Eventually, these stories expanded beyond the courtesans to encompass an entire hidden cat world, including kabuki actors, artists, comedians, and other demimonde. When these cats left their homes at night, they donned kimonos, pulled out sake and shamisen, and basically held wild parties before slinking back home at dawn.

These stories proved irresistible to artists who produced illustrations featuring a wild world of cats dancing and drinking late into the evening hours. The cats were depicted as anthropomorphic human-cat hybrids (although the bakeneko were capable of shapeshifting into fully human forms, too). They smoked pipes. Played dice. And got up to all kinds of trouble that every hard-working farmer wished they could indulge in. Artists also created works replicating cat versions of popular celebrities from the world of the pleasure quarters.

Bakneko in an onsen (hot spring resort):

Perhaps the most persistent of the Edo period supernatural cats is the maneki neko, known in English by the sobriquet “Lucky Cat.” While truly a creature of commerce, this ubiquitous waving feline has folkloric origins—two of them, in fact. Gotokuji temple tells of a fortuitous cat that saved a samurai lord from a lightning strike during a terrible storm. The lord gave his patronage to the temple, which still exists today and happily sells thousands of replica cats to eager tourists. The other origin is of a poor old woman whose cat came to her in a dream and told her to sculpt a cat out of clay to sell at market. The woman marketed both her cat and her story, selling more and more cat statues until she retired rich and happy. These same cat statues are still sold worldwide today as the Maneki Neko.

Maneki neko (Wikimedia)

Me with my office maneki neko, which I bought in Hong Kong:



This new post at For Reading Addicts is great: a Chinese history buff documents how, 800 years ago, a Chinese scholar became a slave to his cat.

Sci-fi and fantasy author, and Chinese history buff, Xiran Jay Zhao explained how life back then wasn’t so different to now, especially when it comes to the life of a person and their cat. Or, to be more accurate, a cat and their slave.

The young writer explains that even 800 years ago cats were brought into the home for whatever reason (in this case to stop rats munching on the poet’s books) and they end up as masters of the household. No cat accepts position as a mere pet or mouse hunter- they are to be adored and fed fish at the very least!

The poet and scholar Lu You falls in love with their new friend, and expresses his contentedness through poetry.

Support the young writer at her website

Here are a few of Zhao’s tweets showing the poet succumbing to the cat’s mystique (there are more at the site), with the transformation all expressed in Lu You’s poetry (I assume it was translated by Zhao):

h/t: Barry, Dom, Ginger K.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Doug Hayes from Richmond, Virginia, sends regular installments of birds he sees in his yard or nearby. This is “The Breakfast Crew” series, and we’re up to part seven. Doug’s captions and IDs are indented:

This Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is an honorary member of the Breakfast Crew, as I have been photographing it for about three years now. It lives in Forest Hill Park and can be seen almost every day stalking fish and frogs. The presence of people does not bother it much. In fact, I once saw it land next to a fisherman when it spotted him reeling in a nice size bass (catch and release fishing is allowed at the lake). The heron was obviously waiting for the man to give it the fish. I have a feeling that in the past others have shared their catch with the heron.

This was the first time I had been down to the lake in a couple of months as the crowds of people and their dogs had driven off most of the birds. The heron seems to have recently molted, giving it a very dinosaur-like appearance.

A Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) at the feeder. They are “hit and run” feeders. They will land, grab a choice seed and fly off with it to eat in the trees.

A mob of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). These are mostly juveniles. There was a population explosion among the Starlings this year. They sometimes show up by the dozen.

Another juvenile European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

A Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura). There are quite a few of these birds living a few blocks away from our yard. Two or three have been showing up regularly, scavenging seeds and suet off the ground. They will sometimes perch on the the shepard’s crook holding the seed feeders.

“The Big Boss”. This Ruby throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) spends a lot of his time chasing other Hummingbirds out of his territory, then perching in the branches of the pomegranate tree, where the feeder is located, to guard against intruders. He also chases larger birds, especially cardinals, which is quite funny to see.

A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) grabbing some suet. These little guys are a common sight in the backyard and quite fearless. Sometimes, when they spot me at the window, they will come over for a closer look at what’s going on.

This is one of the four Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) that hatched earlier this year. The three females are regulars at the feeders, but I don’t see the young male member of the brood as often. The four of them are the only Cardinals who eat at the seed and suet feeders. All of the adult Cardinals scavenge seeds that other birds knock to the ground.

The House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) will hang around all day eating at the seed feeders. They are quite picky (and messy), discarding all the other seeds except their favorites—the sunflower seeds.

The rain brought out the Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus). This was only the second time I have seen two out scavenging at the same time. One of them is a relative newcomer to the yard. The new guy or gal is a bit lighter in color and has more pointed ears than the “old timer”. The cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) had been trying to drive off one of the chipmunks, finally giving up when the chipmunk refused to move away from the pile of seeds beneath the feeder.

A Common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) showing some of its iridescent feathers.

The new chipmunk (Tamias striatus) striking a pose.

Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) have become quite pesky lately, sometimes knocking the suet feeders to the ground in their efforts to get into them. Water guns and foam Nerf darts don’t bother them anymore. This little guy was hit with a Nerf dart and he just stood up and looked at me as if to say, “Really dude? Is that all you got?”

Camera info:  Sony A7RIV mirrorless camera body, Sony FE 200-600 zoom lens + Sony 1.4X teleconverter (The camera is set to crop sensor mode for an additional 1.5X magnification), no tripod was used – the camera’s in body image stabilization and the lens’ image stabilization eliminated any shake caused by hand-holding the heavy lens.

Saturday: Hili dialogue


More on the late esteemed justice below, and see the thread from yesterday evening.

Back to business. Arrrrrr, maties! It’s Caturday: September 19, 2020, and National Butterscotch Pudding Day. It’s also International Eat an Apple Day, International Red Panda Day, National Gymnastics Day, and (ayyyyye!) International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Kiss the black spot!

I get my old people’s flu shot today (Fluzone), and I saw six Eastern Cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) during my 12-minute walk to work today. That’s a record; the bunnies are proliferating this year with the reduction in people traffic.

Today marks the first whole day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which started last evening and ends Sunday evening.  This is the holiday when the shofaror ram’s horn, gets sounded as per instructions in the Torah. Which reminds me of a non-family-friendly joke:

A Jewish girl tells her Catholic college roommate that she’s going home for Rosh Hashanah.
The Catholic girl asks the Jewish girl, “Is that the holiday when you light the 8 candles?”
“No,” the Jewish girl replies. “That’s Hanukah.”
The Catholic girl then asks the Jewish girl,  “Is that the holiday when you eat the unleavened bread?”
“No,” the Jewish girl replies, “That’s Passover. Rosh Hashanah is the holiday when we blow the shofar.”
The Catholic Girl replies. “That’s what I like about you Jews. . . you’re so good to your help. “

I’ll be here all year, folks!

News of the Day: Yes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Indestructible Justice, finally succumbed yesterday at 87, taken by metastatic pancreatic cancer. It’s very sad; I’d gotten used to the idea that nothing could do her in. Now the Republicans, forgetting their March, 2016 argument (against Merrick Garland) that no Justice should be appointed in an election year, are about to demonstrate consummate hypocrisy. Farewell, RBG, you had a great run.

The second tweet (h/t Matthew) shows people reciting the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead, outside the Supreme Court last night. Ginsburg was a practicing Jew her whole life:

Now Mitch McConnell has vowed to go ahead with a vote to confirm whatever right-wing nominee Trump puts forward. Say hello to Justice Ted Cruz, and say goodbye to Roe v. Wade. All we can hope for is that some sensible Republicans say they won’t vote on any nominee until after the election. But that would be too much hope..

From WaPo:

Days before she died on Friday, Ginbsurg told her granddaughter that she felt strongly that her Supreme Court seat not be filled until after the presidential election, according to NPR.

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she dictated in a statement to her granddaughter, Clara Spera.

It’s too much to expect that the Republicans would respect that wish, much less respect their own dictum that Justices should not be confirmed in an election year. The GOP is beneath contempt. At long last, they have left no sense of decency.

If you want to hear all the sordid details about Jerry Falwell, Jr., his wife Becki, and Pool Boy, the Washington Post has your read. I don’t know how many religious leaders have been brought down in my time by engaging in activities that they told their flock were immoral. There’s also a report that Becki performed a sex act on a Liberty University undergraduate in 2008.

And here are the 2020 nominees for the National Book Award, though I prefer reading Booker-Prize-winning novels. I haven’t read any of the American nominees.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 198,475, an increase of about 900 deaths over yesterday’s report. We’ll pass 200,000 in about three days. The world death toll now stands at 951,340, an increase of about 5,700 deaths from yesterday. And we’re approaching a million deaths worldwide., which might happen in about ten days.

Stuff that happened on September 19 include:

  • 1778 – The Continental Congress passes the first United States federal budget.
  • 1846 – Two French shepherd children, Mélanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud, experience a Marian apparition on a mountaintop near La Salette, France, now known as Our Lady of La Salette.
  • 1881 – U.S. President James A. Garfield dies of wounds suffered in a July 2 shooting. Vice President Chester A. Arthur becomes President upon Garfield’s death.
  • 1940 – World War II: Witold Pilecki is voluntarily captured and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp to gather and smuggle out information for the resistance movement.

What a brave man! Pilecki was a Polish officer who volunteered to infiltrate the camp and send messages to the outside. He eventually escaped but, sadly, was caught and killed by the Communist regime in Poland, charged with  illegal border crossing, use of forged documents, not enlisting with the military, carrying illegal arms, espionage for General Władysław Anders, espionage for “foreign imperialism” (government-in-exile), and planning to assassinate several officials of the Ministry of Public Security of Poland. (His real crime was not being a Communist.) He was killed with a shot to the back of the head in 1948.  Here’s his picture as an inmate in Auschwitz:

  • 1952 – The United States bars Charlie Chaplin from re-entering the country after a trip to England.
  • 1982 – Scott Fahlman posts the first documented emoticons 🙂 and 😦 on the Carnegie Mellon University bulletin board system.

Here’s Fahlman’s original message, recovered in 2002:

19-Sep-82 11:44    Scott E  Fahlman             :-)
From: Scott E  Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways.  Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends.  For this, use

  • 1985 – Tipper Gore and other political wives form the Parents Music Resource Center as Frank Zappa and other musicians testify at U.S. Congressional hearings on obscenity in rock music.
  • 1991 – Ötzi the Iceman is discovered in the Alps on the border between Italy and Austria.

Ötzi lived betweem 3400 and 3100 BCE, was about 45, and apparently died from an arrowhead found embedded in his shoulder.  You can see him and his possessions at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

Here’s a photo of Ötzi and a reconstruction of his clothing worn when he died:

  • 1995 – The Washington Post and The New York Times publish the Unabomber’s manifesto.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s an Arthur Rackham kitty, with the Wikipedia caption, ” Arthur Rackham illustration of Tomasso the black cat and Loretta the parrot appeared in Eleanor Gates‘s 1907 children’s book Good Night.”  

Others born on September 19 include:

  • 1907 – Lewis F. Powell, Jr., American lawyer and jurist (d. 1998)
  • 1911 – William Golding, British novelist, playwright, and poet, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1993)
  • 1941 – Cass Elliot, American singer (d. 1974)
  • 1949 – Twiggy, English model, actress, and singer

Those who cashed in their chips on September 19 include:

  • 1881 – James A. Garfield, American general, lawyer, and politician, and the 20th President of the United States (b. 1831)
  • 1942 – Condé Montrose Nast, American publisher, founded Condé Nast Publications (b. 1873)
  • 1965 – Lionel Terray, French mountaineer (b. 1921)

Here’s Terray, one of the great climbers of our time (he was on Herzog’s Annapurna expedition in 1950 but was not one of those who reached the top. He died while rock climbing:

  • 1973 – Gram Parsons, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1946)
  • 1990 – Hermes Pan, American dancer and choreographer (b. 1910)
  • 1995 – Orville Redenbacher, American businessman, founded his own eponymous brand (b. 1907)
  • 2004 – Eddie Adams, American photographer and journalist (b. 1933)
  • 2004 – Skeeter Davis, American singer-songwriter (b. 1931)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili hears the call of the wild. At cooler times like these she often stays up all night prowling or sleeps on the veranda:

Hili: The Nights are getting colder.
A: You can sleep in a warm bed.
Hili: I know but do I want to?
In Polish:
Hili: Noce są coraz chłodniejsze.
Ja: Możesz spać w ciepłym łóżku.
Hili: Wiem, ale czy ja tego chcę?

Little Kulka is exploring under the apple tree:

From Going to Hell in Every Religon.  Free the relish!

From Jesus of the Day. I have no idea whether this was a real Yahoo! answer:

From reader Charles:

From Andrea, an albino squirrel. (I had one living near my home in Maryland.) They are easy prey because of their bright color and poor eyesight, so I always worry about them.

From Barry. Look at this adorable baby gator! All it wants is some love.

From Simon, who says, “This should make anyone smile.” Well, as long as you’re not averse to being covered with d*gs!

Tweets from Matthew who, along with me, truly appreciates the diversity of fly heads:

This is bittersweet: a man who has dementia but retains his musical acumen:

Look at this mess of moths (is that the right word for a big group?):

The obligatory Trump mishigas.

Why are these ducks breeding in the fall? It isn’t right!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg dead at 87

This is bad news for so many reasons, and also unexpected given that RBG, as she was called, seemed too tough to die. The news is in the New York Times, which says she died of metastatic pancreatic cancer, always fatal.

Condolences to all who admired her, and especially to her family.

And of course you’ll all be thinking, “Okay, what will Trump do now?” There’s nothing he’d like better than to replace a liberal with a conservative, but when Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Court, the GOP wouldn’t have it, saying that one shouldn’t nominate a Justice in an election year. That was in mid-March of 2016. Now it’s mid-September, and the GOP would look pretty bad trying to nominate someone this late in the game. But, as the NYT says:

The development will give President Trump the opportunity to name her replacement, and Senate Republicans have promised to try to fill the vacancy even in the waning days of his first term. The confirmation battle, in the midst of a pandemic and a presidential election, is sure to be titanic.

. . . and hypocritical.

RBG was an excellent Justice, and there’s now a hole on the Court, both intellectually and physically. Let it remain unfilled until next year.

A lovely video about making a ring

I find this video, in which jewelry-makeer Pablo Cimedvila (also a champion paralympic swimmer) manufactures an intricate and beautiful diamond ring, mesmerizing. (His YouTube channel, with many fascinating videos, is here, and his online store is here.) I had no idea how much skill goes into this wearable art. At least I think the centerpiece is a yellow diamond.

Ben Schwarz on the University of Chicago’s new grad-school admissions policy

I’ve written several posts about the dissolution of The University of Chicago’s commitment to free expression, embodied in the Kalven Report‘s mandate that—except in exceptional circumstances involving University operation—our school should take no official stand on any issues of morality, ideology, or politics (see, for instance, here, here, and here). And up to now it hasn’t, even during calls for the school to take stands against Communism, against the Vietnam War, and for civil rights in the Sixties. But now it has begun violating these principles, as department after department makes clear political and ideological statements.

I’ve also called attention the English Department’s violations of Kalven Principles in its own official statements, as well as its new policy of ensuring that all graduate students accepted in the next year will be in Black studies only. While the English Department’s new statement is guaranteed to chill free speech in that department, I couldn’t object to their curricular decision to accept students in only one small area of English, for that’s a departmental matter that seems to have no bearing on an official commitment to a political or ideological position. After all, shouldn’t the Department, or any department, be able to construct its own curriculum?

Ben Schwarz disagrees.

Schwarz, former national and literary editor of The Atlantic, has taken to the pages of Spiked to protest not only the repeated violations of University principles by its own official departments and units, but the decision that all incoming grad students (for a year at least) will be in Black studies only. He sees that decision as part and parcel of an ideological commitment that not only violates Kalven, but dictates the direction of study, itself guaranteed to chill speech.

Click on the screenshot to read the piece.

I won’t repeat Schwarz’s argument of how our University is quickly dismantling the principles that made us unique among American colleges, as I’ve said similar things before. Rather, I’ll just show you his argument about why deciding to take only Black studies graduate students is a de facto violation of University policies. I’ve added one link. And the emphasis is mine.

. . . While the Kalven report asserts that only the individual within the university is the proper ‘instrument of dissent’, the English department demands that ‘all faculty’ participate in ‘undoing anti-Blackness’ – a mandate for collective responsibility and for collective political action. While the Kalven report argues for the importance of institutional neutrality and for ‘maintain[ing] an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures’, the English department has defined its identity and purpose according to those fashions, passions, and pressures.

Because it is so fundamentally irreconcilable to the Kalven report, the English department’s manifesto is illegitimate. Moreover, that manifesto demonstrates that the department’s academic programme – its curricular and investigative priorities and its concomitant priorities in student and faculty recruitment – is plainly defined by, and emerges directly from, the department’s political commitment, its views on social justice, and its advocacy of anti-‘anti-Black’ activism. By the university’s own lights, the department should not be adopting a political stance or committing itself and its members to a programme of advocacy and activism in the first place; therefore, the academic priorities and programme that flow from and express that political commitment are, themselves, irreconcilable with the Kalven report’s insistence on official neutrality, and are also illegitimate.

Although a university spokesman, perhaps wishing to defuse the current imbroglio, stated that ‘as with other departments in the university, the [English] department’s faculty will decide which areas of scholarship they wish to focus on for PhD admissions’, that explanation is at best obtuse and at worst disingenuous. Certainly a history department, say, could legitimately define its academic priorities by privileging Marxian analysis. But if that department declared that, in pursuit of its conception of social justice, it was committing all its faculty to the workers’ struggle and to the concomitant project of squashing the workers’ class enemies, and was therefore prioritising scholarship informed by dialectical materialism in its curricular and recruitment decisions, then, plainly, the department’s academic programme would merely be a creature of its political advocacy.

I think Schwarz has a point here, and his analogy with Marxist studies is a good one. (There’s little doubt that “Black studies” in our English Department will align with Critical Race Theory. It’s by no means an area of open and free-wheeling discussion.)

Although I won’t go as far as Schwarz does in calling this a blatant violation of the principles of our University, it comes close to that line. The English Department really needs to examine whether it is creating an intellectual climate that impedes free discussion (of course they are!), while our Administration needs to decide whether the Department Manifesto itself is a violation of the intellectual neutrality that our university not only prides itself on, but also uses heavily to sell itself to potential students and their parents as a unique attraction of the University of Chicago.

Words and phrases I detest

It’s time for your host—now even more peevish than usual because of the pandemic—to vent about his most-despised words and phrases. And you can add yours in the comments, or perhaps you’d like to inform me that language changes and these neologisms are fine. In that case, take a number and get in line.

As usual, my examples come from HuffPost, which is the fastest way to find examples of odious jargon. Click on the screenshots to read the articles.

Back in the day“.  Yes, everybody says this, but it annoys me because of its lack of precision. Exactly what day are you talking about? Back in WHICH day? If you mean “during the 1950s”, or “in my youth,” then why not say that? You will never find that phrase coming out of my mouth.

Bigly” marks the user as a clever person—supposedly. Actually, it marks that person as a sheep who follows ridiculous speech trends. “Bigly”, of course, means “copiously” or, as in the case below, simply “well”. If we’re going to use “bigly”, how about “smally” to mean “not much” or “not very well”?

I do have a “Yo Semite” tee-shirt thanks to a kind reader, and I enjoy it a lot, but I don’t enjoy it “bigly”.

“Sorry not sorry”.  Now this one really burns my onions.  What it means is that you’re not sorry at all. I suppose that someone who was clever (and that doesn’t include those who use this phrase) could construe it as “I’m sorry, but I’m not apologizing for what I said/did.” But it’s used, like the phrase just above, to mark yourself as a clever speaker, which it doesn’t do at all.

“Slay”.  This means “amazes” or “wows”, but it’s both overly cute and macabre at the same time. A classic use would be “Beyoncé slays with new album,” but here’s an article from Huffpost that I found in about five seconds. In so doing, I discovered something new to me: “slay” can be used as a noun as well as a verb. And that’s even worse!: