Black Cat Appreciation Day

August 17, 2022 • 1:45 pm

As I announced yesterday, today is Black Cat Appreciation Day. Readers were invited to send in photos of their black cats, and here they are, complete with captions (indented).  Note that in 2015 I had a similar request to celebrate Halloween, and got 72 photos, which you can see here.

From Reese:

Woodford Reserve White (his litter was named after bourbons) assists with the NYT Spelling Bee.

From Mark Kautzmann:

For Black Cat Appreciation Day, here’s this:

Noodles never did understand that the printer on my computer does not make a copy of her.

From Laurie and Gethyn:

The sisters: Alcestis Jerry (named for her noted uncle JAC) and Octavia Sadie.

From James:

This is Mia, a Bombay rescue I’ve had for just over a year. She’s a bundle of energy and wants to play all the time, much to my discomfiture.  I even have to remind her to eat.

“What’s that smell?”

From Beth:

Hillary Rotten Kitten (DemoCAT) thinks of herself as the dark load. (She’s all black but sports lighter fur for a while after a shave.)

From Reese:

Woodford (black cat): Has an affectionate relationship with an 80 lb. d*g.

From Erik, an unnamed rescue cat (Erik calls it “Porch Panther”). Erik sent several photos, but I’ll post only one.

The background. I guess this is my black cat now, as he is now living on my porch and his previous people– not owners, as he is rather feral– left him when they moved. I understand why, as taking a feral cat from the northeast down to Florida is probably not best for the cat, but I ended up being his caretaker as no other arrangement was made.He really is a handsome boy, though he also has a persistent upper respiratory infection, so he has constant sneezing and discharge.He has become comfortable enough to lay on the chair near me. His sense of betrayal only lasted a day or so after the vet.

In the cool grass in back, where you can see the one white spot he has:

From Irene:

Here is a picture of my black cat, Londo.My husband was actually on his way to feed our friend’s dogs when he nearly hit Londo as Londo was crossing the road. He picked up Londo, who fit in the palm of my hand, and brought him home. His eyes were covered in goo, which was conjunctivitis. We believed he was probably abandoned either by his mom or another human and accepted we might have a blind cat joining our family. We took Londo to the vet, who cleaned his eyes and gave us some eye drops. The vet estimated he was six to eight weeks old. He’s now four years old. Londo joined our house, which already had one black cat, a flame-point Siamese and a blue-point Siamese. Londo loves to play fetch and follows me everywhere around the house. If we cook bacon, he always steals a slice to eat for himself. He will only sit on my husband’s lap and hates blankets. We suspect this is because I had him wrapped in a blanket to hold him while we gave him his eye drops.

Andrée sends us a photo of the late Zorro:

He’s no longer with us but led an exciting life: mouser (there is a mouse in the thatch), Vermont tree panther, and philosopher.

From Nama:

Attached is a pic of Alice the majestic.

From Jacques:

Well, here is Domino, who doesn’t answer his name, but does along with either “Monsieur chat” or, more frequently “Couillon” (because he was deprived of this important part of his anatomy in his early youth). 17 years old, but still in good shape. I do not know why, where and how he lost his upper right canine. iPhone photo taken by my daughter.

From Susannah:

We love black cats.  This is Mason; he is 7 years old and joined our family 5 years ago.  He is a character and loves playing with the boys, stealing legos and puzzle pieces.  And he also likes to give himself NSFW baths while Jake is on a zoom meeting.

From JC in Taos, New Mexico:

Per your request,  an image of Pilgrim, our beefiest moggy. While not uniformly black, he was a representative of the shelter’s “Black Cat Discount” program in 2010, arriving at our house the day before Thanksgiving in this white-trimmed garb,  hence his name. We had no idea he’d get so large and obstreperous.

Hope the white trim doesn’t disqualify him.

From Don:

Sheba, petite and playful, was a fine cat, shy of strangers but always content with her long life indoors, even in rural Vermont.  She was a shoulder cat, preferring to recline draped across a shoulder rather than to be cradled or curled in a lap.
Happy Black Cat Day!  (Also, as it happens, my birthday).

From Stephen:

She is called Moonlight. I know it doesn’t make sense, but my daughter Charlotte liked the name, associated with a white cat in a children’s story.

From Alister:

Our much loved black boy, Toby, age 4yo.  He’s awesome, strolls around like a total dude. A miniture black panther.

From Ursula we have black cat Boris. I allowed two photos because we have him as a kitten and an adult:

From David:

Jasper.  He used to live in Toronto, but has now retired to Nova Scotia.

From a reader who posts as “Quadrival”:

This is my cat George, reclining in his usual elegant posture.

From Tanya:

The attached photo is of our beloved little black kitty, Fledermaus, which means ‘bat’ in German. He was named by our 12-year-old daughter, who takes German in school, and appreciated his resemblance to the caricature of the flying mammal. Fledermaus is a delightfully playful and curious boy, unhampered by his knobby, kinked tail (present at adoption). He’s known for jumping at moving objects on the TV, climbing our window screens, and leaving us dead rodent gifts when he has the chance.

From Elizabeth:

This is Samantha. Photo is from 1998. It’s the only one I have.

From Stephen:

Here is a photo of my black cat Pepper.

From Bruce:

Per your request, here’s a photo, taken in 2020, of three Burmese cats.  Left to right – the late Java Cat (she left us about six months after this was taken), Rommel, and Mothra.

From Jeffrey:

Here’s my favorite animal in the world, Binx!

From Jeremy:

 In honor of black cat appreciation day, I have included pictures of our two black cats, Bella and Baloo. Baloo is sitting in a halloween candy bowl, while Bella is lying nervously on the couch.

From Ruth:

In response to your request for black cat photos, please meet Lizzie. She came to us on Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee ten years ago, so she is named after her. Like all black cats she is also, of course, immensely regal in her own right. She lives in Glossop in the Peak District in England, with her two humans, her brother Pip (named for the late Prince Philip), and three other female cats. She is a lovely softie to us but is an Old Meanie to the other girls, and sulks for exactly nine months when a new cat is introduced to the household.

From reader James in the UK:

This is our cat Hixxy (and his brother Dougal). He is a rescue cat and we appreciate him very much.
A few weeks ago, out of the blue, he started having seizures. Turns out he has a very large brain tumour on the right side of his brain. So large, it is apparently squeezing his brain down and out of his neck. He’s been in surgery today and just an hour ago we heard from the surgeon saying she was very pleased about how the surgery went, as she managed to get the whole tumour out and there was no bleeding at all. We’re now waiting for him to come around. Fingers crossed he pulls through. Relatedly, medical science and its practitioners are fuxxing awesome.

Good luck, Hixxy!

From Lance:

Here is C.K. Dexter Haven (Dexter), our current, lone rescue kitty who has taken charge of the house. Did you know it’s tough to get a good picture of a black cat?

From Heather:

Here is Shadow. She loves her heated bed even in the summer.

From Mike:

Bugsy is a feral cat who adopted our dog (she ate his food and slept with him). She eats bugs and this influenced her name. She likes to pet people by rubbing your legs. Her favorite holiday is Halloween and she greets Trick or Tweeters indiscriminately.

From Paul:

This is Apollo.   He is a 7 year-old rescue cat who is very friendly and gets along great with our greyhound.

From Rachel:

Thank you for the reminder/extension, Professor Ceiling Cat! I’m attaching a photo of my Lloyd. This is from Halloween a couple of years ago. Lloyd is 15, but still spry. He loves treats, snuggles, and interrupting Zoom meetings.

From Erin:

This is Friday. He was adopted on the day after Thanksgiving and is a bundle of mischief, as you can see here.

From Greg:

This is Chester settling in for his first nap of the day right after breakfast #1.

From Charles:

The black cat (Spot) and his brother, the dark tabby (Timmy), with the polydactyl newcomer (Paws).

From Douglas:

Jasper, the black cat.

From Merilee:

Freddy accompanied by a tiny bit of pooch tush

From biologist John Losos, a photo of his sister’s black cat, Allie:

From Rik:

This is my Mom’s cat Bella, and she lives in St. Germain, Wisconsin. She must be seven or eight years old by now and she’s always been a mellow little cat. I’m looking forward to visiting her. next week!

From Mike:

Ma’ii is not really black, he has a small white spot on his shoulder and random white hairs elsewhere. He has lost those three white whiskers since this picture was taken. He and his fellow terrorist rule the house of course.

From Peter:

Can a tuxedo cat be an honorary honoree on Black Cat Appreciation Day? This is dear, departed Augustus (Gus to his friends) (1999-2017), who was my loyal companion and best friend, and who has been seen on these pages.

From “J”:

Her name is Pumpkin, and she is among her fellow pumpkins.  She enjoys eating, sleeping, playing, and waking me up at the buttcrack of dawn.

From Joe:

Here is my granddaughter’s black cat, inexplicably named “Ginger”.  Her favorite toys are plastic soda straws.

From Suzanna:

This is my son’s cat, Lance. Adopted as a kitten from a shelter, now about 3 years old but still likes to hang out in places he used to fit as a kitten!

From Janis:

OTHELLO:  Nearly 12 years old now…and 24 lbs of affectionate laziness.  He’s part-Siamese and smart as a whip.  He’s our best cat. (Shhhhhh….don’t tell the others I said that!)

From Lou:

My cat is Martin Brisby (from the “Secret Of NIMH”), his friend is Ricky, who he pays no attention to. Happy Black Cat Day!

From Stephanie, we have Lulu:

I have a cat who is mostly black.  Don’t know if she counts but she does to me!

From Patrick:

This has a messy background, but it’s still one of my favorite pictures of Kiki, who crossed the rainbow bridge last year at the age of 19.

From Kira:

Cat Gitel and her henchdog in Chaos Corridor

From John:

The photo is of “Babs”. She is my daughter’s cat. This photo shows off the typical deep yellow eyes of black cats, which is due to the excess of melanin pigment, which also accounts for the blackness of their fur. I’m sure there is some interesting genetics here, but I just haven’t looked it up.

From Sebastian:

Hope it’s not too late to send in my Perseus. I’ve included a couple different shots to choose from.

I chose one in which Perseus was wearing cat earmuffs.

From Jon:

This is my Lucy, pensive. She very nearly almost entirely black!

From Linda:

The first picture of Billy and Jose is as young adults, and the second is from shortly after we got them, at about ten weeks old.

From Arantxa:

I attach one photo of my dearest black cat named TIZÓN.

From Rico:

This is Clark. He’s 9 yrs old and the youngest of three cats here at home.

.

And the last submission, from Ricky:

This is Butters from Portland, OR.  She just turned 11 and is extremely vocal. She is an indoor cat but loves to hang out in the backyard most of the day when the weather’s nice.

The deadline for submission has passed. Thanks to all the readers who submitted their Midnight Moggies, and here’s a final tweet from Matthew:

The ignorant and misguided demonization of a behavior geneticist

August 17, 2022 • 11:30 am

I don’t usually look at Twitter unless a reader sends me a tweet, and I never engage in Twitter battles. But I’ve heard enough about these squabbles—particularly when connected with someone’s “cancellation”—that I know that they’re rancorous, full of ignorance and hatred, and the participants are often anonymous, which is cowardly.

Today we’re going to look at one attempt at cancellation that particularly galled me, for the charges against the accused—genetic researcher and paleoartist Emily Willoughby—are not only unfair, but bespeak the profound ignorance of her critics.

This piling on is what happens when someone studies the genetics of IQ, but doesn’t even mention race.  It’s enough that one studies the genetics of this trait to bring out a pack of howling morons denying that there is IQ, that it has a genetic component, and then you claim that the student is a horrible person who must be a eugenicist or Nazi.

That kind of tirade, of course, derives from the empirical demonstration that ethnic groups differ in IQ, which has become taboo to mention. You don’t even have to mention race: all you have to say is the undeniable scientific fact that IQ (whatever it may be) is highly heritable within a group—that is, about 60% of the variation in IQ among, say, Europeans, is due to variation in their genes—and the Blank Slate Police come knocking. The implication is that if you deny this simple empirical fact, you must also think that variation among groups has a big genetic component (this is a faulty conclusion), and therefore must be a eugenicist hoping to sterilize or kill members of groups with lower IQs.

I wouldn’t have believed this kind of stupid extrapolation had I not seen it for myself.

As I said, Willoughby is a geneticist: a postdoctoral researcher in personality, individual differences, and behavior genetics at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She is also a paleoartist, known for depicting extinct creatures. I gave a positive review in 2018 to one of the books she illustrated, a pro-evolution book called God’s Word or Human Reason?: An Inside Perspective on Creationism.

Here’s Emily’s bio from her research webpage (there’s another on her art webpage).

 

Emily is also engaged in the new genome-wide association mapping (GWAS) of various human traits, a technique I described in my review of a book by Kathryn Harden on the method. It’s a new way to find small regions of the genome that contribute to variation among people in behavioral and physical traits. One of the most well-known papers describing its results is the paper below published in Nature Genetics. As you see, Emily is an author (click to read).

Using a huge sample (1.1 million people), and one “race” (Americans of European ancestry), the authors found fully 1271 variable regions of the genome (“single-nucleotide polymorphisms”, or SNPs) associated with differences in educational attainment (how far you go in school) and cognitive performance (how you perform on tests). These SNPs accounted for about 10-13% of variation among “Europeans” (i.e., U.S. whites). Because the “heritability” of the trait measured by standard methods (parent-offspring correlation, twin studies, and adoption studies) is substantially higher than this (around 0.6), the GWAS results imply that there are a ton of variable regions in our genome that affect academic and cognitive performance within an ethnic group, but have effects to small to measure. Other studies give similar results.

Now this isn’t IQ per se, but these traits are highly correlated with IQ. Whatever IQ measures, there’s no doubt that it’s strongly correlated with various measures of “conventional” success in life, including academic achievement, financial success, income, socioeconomic status, educational attainment (one of the traits measured in the paper below) and occupational level attained. There is no controversy about this, or about whether IQ itself has substantial heritability within a population.

Now, what does someone bent on stirring up trouble and besmirching a genetic researcher’s reputation do with the fact that Emily works on stuff like the above? Here’s what—they issue a defamatory tweet, full of misrepresentations.

Where does one start hacking through this thicket of nonsense? First, how can a measurement be a “pseudoscientific myth”? It is an estimate, and one that is not only highly heritable, but highly correlated with conventional measures of success in life. (Note: I am not saying that people with higher IQ’s are “better”: many of them are jerks, and there are lots of valuable human qualities, like empathy, not measured by IQ. All I’m saying is that IQ measures something that correlates with academic, occupational, and financial achievement.)

“Prehistorica”‘s deliberately misleading slurs go on.  Emily’s research, as you can see by reading her c.v., is NOT “directly tied to eugenics, racism, and classism.” Yes, in the past bigoted researchers have made those ties, but to imply that Emily is doing that is simply a lie. She works on genetic analysis and heritability of behavioral traits within populations.

And saying that Emily is “indifferent to the myth that intelligence is a racial component” is a way of implying that she knows this is true, but doesn’t pay attention to it. In fact, we don’t know whether it’s a myth, because we have very few data. But at any rate, Emily does not deal with the issue of racial differences in cognitive abilities. This is just a smear.

Below is some approbation for one of her papers, which measures the heritability of IQ using correlations between parent and offspring in both adoptive and biological families. (This is one of the better ways to measure heritability, since family environment is presumably similar among the groups but genetic relatedness differ drastically.)

In the graphs below, notice the difference in the heritability using IQs of parents correlated with biological offspring (0.42, or 42%), versus that between parents with their adoptive offspring. (Parents and biological offspring were almost all whites of European ancestry, while adoptive children were 21% white but with 66% Asian and 13% adoptees of other groups. Heritabilities are the slopes of these regression lines.) In contrast to biological parents and their offspring, the heritability of IQ using parents and adopted offspring was much lower: either 10% or 6%, depending on how it was measured. This shows a small “common environment” effect, but a much larger effect of genes—a finding in line with that of previous studies.

These are respectable studies in peer-reviewed journals, conducted using standard protocols, and giving results that are in line with previous work or, in the case of GWAS studies, with contemporanous work.

But that doesn’t matter. Watch the yahoos go to town on Twitter! We start again with Prehistorica, as all the another tweets are responses to his tweets.

The tweet above is hilarious. The correlation (as instantiated through the regression line) is evident to anybody who has studied statistics, yet “magpie” can’t believe that this is a correlation. Magpie is an idiot.

All these people are shocked by the misguided tweet of Prehistorica, though they clearly know nothing about Willoughby’s research. This is how someone’s reputation is taken down by ignoramuses. Note the people who completely write Willoughby off because of what Prehistorica says, yet what he says is ignorant gibberish. Still, all the Twitterites, ignorant of modern behavioral genetics, fall in line like lemmings. (Willoughby does have a few defenders.)

“Vile, spiteful person.”  How did they divine that from Willoughby’s work?

The one below is even funnier in its stupidity than the one about correlations.  My response is “YES, THIS IS HOW PHENOTYPES WORK.” A phenotype is any measurable trait of an organism, and it can be morphological, physiological, and yes, behavioral. For any measurable trait (“phenotype”) you can calculate a heritability, assuming you do the work right and control for common environment, nongenetic inheritance (wealth) and the like.  So, “Lost Ovis”, take a course in biology for crying out loud!. The fact is that every “behavior” in “Lost Ovis”‘s table is a phenotype that one can use to figure out how much variation among individuals in the behavior is due to variation in their genes.

Here’s a graph from one of Emma’s papers showing estimates of heritability in many “phenotypes”, including behavioral ones.  The scientific estimates are on the Y axis, but do correlate pretty well with laypeople’s off-the-cuff estimates. Note that “intelligence” is estimated by both groups to have a heritability (or, for laypeople, “estimate of genetic influence”) of about 0.6.

Now one attacker above mentions a picture commissioned by Willoughby and her boyfriend in 2009. Here’s the “Nazi” picture that was commissioned, used above to further denigrate Emily. I wrote her and asked her what that was about, and she replied (with permission to quote):

The explanation for the drawing of dinosaurs in Nazi uniforms is just that my boyfriend and I were feathered dinosaur artists and chess fans, and thought it was funny to be offensive 13 years ago. We would never think of asking someone to draw something like that nowadays, nor expressing humor about it in public.

Emily has grown up since she drew it, and, truth be told, I don’t find it so offensive myself. Raptors dressed as Nazis is a trope of comparison, and it doesn’t make fun of any group except raptors. But Emily thought it was necessary to explain it.  I, for one, am satisfied with her explanation and regret, but the trolls will never be.

Emily, distressed that she was being taken apart on Twitter for no good reason save ignorance, decided to write a series of tweets in response. I’ve put the ten of them below.

Although it’s clear from Emily’s final tweet that she certainly does not condone eugenics, she decided to email me further to give a clearer statement about her beliefs. Here it is, unsolicited by me.

I unequivocally denounce eugenics and those who advocate for it. I cannot control those who follow me and argue in favor of ideologies I abhor. I did not invite them. The checkered history of my field is part of why I care about improving it by doing good research and methodology commensurate with our modern notions of human rights. But if people start believing behavioral genetics is a racist field of research, only racists will conduct it. Please don’t let that happen.

Good enough for you trolls? Can you see Emily as a good researcher and a human being again?

I didn’t think so.

This has been an object lesson to me on Twitter, and has further confirmed my unwillingness to read comments on my own Twitter posts (they go directly to the site from my WordPress account) as well as my refusal to engage in Twitter fights.

Yes, Twitter can be useful in scientific communication by publicizing new papers or results quickly. But it can also be used by scientific know-nothings to smear researchers. And that was what was done to Dr. Willoughby here. Both Prehistorica and his/her vicious acolytes should be ashamed of themselves. They won’t be, of course, because, being Woke, they think they’re doing God’s work. Ignore them.

Sex is not “assigned” at birth

August 17, 2022 • 9:15 am

Even I have been guilty of saying that “male” and “female” are the two categories of “sexes assigned at birth”, while at the same time maintaining that there are two observed biological sexes in humans (and in nearly all mammals), and it’s that way because of evolution.  That, and empirical observation, shows that sex is almost completely binary. In contrast gender, a self-assigned adjective referring to one’s sexuality (or nonsexuality) is more of a continuum.

I’m not going to use the phrase “assignment at birth” any longer. It’s hypocritical to hold an empirical view of sex as a nearly complete binary and yet to also imply that somehow doctors slap on a newborn a label that’s more as a social construct than a biological fact. Make no mistake about it—”assigned” is meant not as simply “recorded”, but is now used to imply that sex is more or less arbitrary: an elusive social construct.

Sex is not “assigned” at birth, it’s determined at birth (or, to  be more accurate, at conception)—just as the number of limbs you have is determined at birth (or a ways into fetal development). Yes, there are exceptions to both normal limb number as well the apparatus for producing big or small gametes, but those exceptions are vanishingly rare. Individuals who deviate from the males-make-small-gametes and females-make-large-gametes binary constitute less than 0.02% of the population.

I realized this when I saw this article in the Associated Press about rugby champion Elia Green (born a female), who has decided to transition to the male gender. Since he’s retired from rugby, there’s no discussion about his participation in the sport (I believe men’s rugby banned transsexual males anyway), but that’s not the issue here. My point involves the implications of the article’s first paragraph:

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Ellia Green realized as a young child — long before becoming an Olympic champion — that a person’s identity and a gender assigned at birth can be very different things.

Two things are wrong here.  Neither sex nor gender are assigned at birth. Sex is determined at birth, usually based on phenotypic traits that are correlated with biological sex but don’t define biological sex (gamete size does that). Second, genders, being a person’s self-assigned role in the spectrum of sex, cannot possibly be “assigned at birth”. That must wait until the child is old enough to choose a gender or gender role—or is forced to adopt one by some authority.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 17, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today Mark Sturtevant graces us with a passel of dragonfly photos. His IDs and captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are pictures of late summer dragonflies from eastern Michigan, taken two years ago. Most are males, for some reason, and several are focus stacked by hand. Taking hand-held pictures for focus stacking is actually a rather simple procedure, so long as one aims to just take, say, 2-5 pictures for the stack. Benefits of this is that one can get more of the subject in focus, and it’s possible to arrange for a softer and less distracting background.

First up is a twelve-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella). Mature males like this develop white patches on their wings. 

Next up is a new species from the clubtail family. This is the riverine clubtail (Stylurus amnicola). I still have about four more species of clubtails in my area that I’ve never photographed. It’s one of the things that keeps me going out there! 

Next is a species that vies to be photographed by EVERYBODY in North America at one point, as they are colorful, common, and easy to photograph if you have a long-ish lens. This is the blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). But here I chose a new angle on it. From the link you can see what they look like, and if you are in North America you’ve likely seen lots of them near any lake or pond. 

The remaining dragonflies are “mosaic” darners in the darner family, and these large dragons could easily eat that blue dasher. Mosaic darners have similar markings, and many are difficult to tell apart so some IDs are a bit tentative. The first two species commonly sit in tall grasses. One pretty much has to flush them out to see them, and then they might, after a time, land nearby where they can be photographed. First is a female lance-tipped darner (Aeshna constricta). Females of this species can be marked in green, but many like this one are “andromorphs”, meaning that it has blue markings like a male. 

Andromorphy is a pretty common thing among Odonates, and the speculation around this is that it saves females from being constantly harassed by males. If you watch male dragonflies and damselflies, you will soon appreciate this benefit since males are randy most of the time! 

The next mosaic darner dragonfly was photographed on the same day as the previous one, but this one flew up and landed in the trees nearby. This (I think!) is a male green-striped darner (Aeshna verticalis). 

The next mosaic darner was a pretty big thrill for me, since I seldom get a chance to photograph it. This is a shadow darner (Aeshna umbrosa). Shadow darners tend to perch in tree canopies, and I’ve probably walked past many of them without even knowing they were there. I was lucky here, since this one flew past me and landed practically under my nose! I had to back away (slowly) for the picture. 

The last picture features my favorite mosaic darner, the gorgeous spatterdock darner (Rhionaeschna mutata). Dragonflies have different behaviors, according to their species, and this big dragonfly seems to be the type that will fly along their territory all day without landing, as if to taunt you. But spatterdocks will then suddenly land and you can get very close to them for pictures.  

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

August 17, 2022 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Hump Day, or, as they say in Czech, Hrbový Den: it’s August 17, 2022, National Vanilla Custard Day.

It’s also National #2 Pencil Day (the ONLY pencil to use), Baby Boomer’s Recognition Day (I am one!), World Calligraphy Day, and, most important, Black Cat Appreciation Day.

Later today, around 1:30 pm Chicago time, we’ll have a selection of photos showing readers’ black cats.

Stuff that happened on August 17 includes:

Driscoll is circled in the photo below. The car was going 4 miles per hour. Wikipedia adds this: “The coroner, Percy Morrison (Croydon division of Surrey), said he hoped “such a thing would never happen again”. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimated 550,000 people had been killed on UK roads by 2010.”

The girl, Mary Phagan, worked in Frank’s pencil factory, and her body was found in the factory basement. Frank was tried. convicted, and sentenced to death, but the governor commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. That angered the mob (Frank was Jewish), and so he was abducted and hanged. A photo is below, both before and after. Note the crowd posing proudly with the body (pieces of his shirt and of the rope went for a good price after the hanging).

The caption is from Wikipedia:

Leo Frank’s lynching on the morning of August 17, 1915. Judge Morris, who organized the crowd after the lynching, is on the far right in a straw hat.

Many more blacks than whites were lynched, of course, especially beginning about 1900. You can see the statistics here.

A first edition of this puppy will cost you about $9000:

Pakistan was divided into two chunks, as shown below, with the eastern one later becoming Bangladesh. Radcliffe was given just five weeks to divide the Muslim areas from the Hindu ones, and this led to the largest migration in history, accompanied by a tremendous amount of violence (up to a million killed).

This is a horrible story that I remember well. Fechter made it to the top of the wall, but then was shot in the pelvis by East German border guards and fell back into the East German “death strip.” It took him an hour to die, and the East Germans, ignoring his screams for help, refused to fetch him and give him medical care. Fechter bled to death before the eyes of the guards and horrified West Berliners.

Here’s a short video about the killing. Can you imagine not only the lack of help, but the mentality that it’s preferable to kill someone rather than let him leave your country? (Of course this is widespread, viz., North Korea.)

Here’s Clinton’s recorded testimony:

The settlers were Israelis who lived in Gaza and were forcibly removed by Israel. In total, 39 Israeli settlements were removed from both Gaza and Sinai in a month, all as part of the  Disengagement Plan Implementation Law. This was a good-will gesture by Ariel Sharon to push the Oslo negotiations forward. Almost all of Israel objected.

  • 2008 – American swimmer Michael Phelps becomes the first person to win eight gold medals at one Olympic Games.

Da Nooz:

*Biden signed the Build Back At Least a Bit Better bill yesterday, so, like lox, he’s really on a roll.

President Biden on Tuesday signed a long-awaited bill meant to reduce health costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and raise taxes on corporations and wealthy investors, capping more than a year of on-again, off-again negotiations and cementing his early economic legacy.

“This bill is the biggest step forward on climate ever,” Mr. Biden said, after drawing a standing ovation from a White House crowd filled largely with aides and allies.

The bill, which Democrats named the Inflation Reduction Act, invests $370 billion in spending and tax credits in low-emission forms of energy to fight climate change. It extends federal health-insurance subsidies, allows the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for seniors on Medicare and is expected to reduce the federal budget deficit by about $300 billion over 10 years.

The legislation would increase taxes by about $300 billion, largely by imposing new levies on big corporations. The law includes a new tax on certain corporate stock repurchases and a minimum tax on large firms that use deductions and other methods to reduce their tax bills. It also bolsters funding for the Internal Revenue Service in an effort to crack down on tax evasion and collect potentially hundreds of billions of dollars that are currently owed to the government but not paid by high earners and corporations.

My only worry is not about the bill, but about whether the U.S. cutting greenhouse gases drastically by 2030, which is great, will make a dent in global warming. We’re truly in the tragedy of the commons here, and if other nations don’t do likewise, we’ll still be screwed—it will just take a bit longer.

*The Ukrainian elite forces are wreaking havoc behind Russian lines. Today they apparently blew up an ammunition dump in Crimea, reminiscent of the Ukrainian destruction of a number of planes at a Russian airbase in Crimea. This really upsets Putin (who took Crimea a while back from Ukraine), as he sees the peninsula as a “sacred space”:

A series of brazen attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea by Ukraine in recent days — the latest on Tuesday by an elite military unit operating behind enemy lines — come in defiance of dire warnings of retaliation from Moscow. A senior Russian official vowed last month that if Ukraine attacked Crimea, it would immediately face its “Judgment Day.”

The Black Sea peninsula that Russia illegally seized in 2014 is more than a crucial military base and staging ground for its invasion of Ukraine. It holds special meaning for President Vladimir V. Putin, who has told his people that Crimea is a “sacred place” and Russia’s “holy land.” And by repeatedly striking at the territory, which Russia has held for the better part of a decade, Ukraine has posed a fresh challenge to Mr. Putin’s standing at home.

On Tuesday, huge explosions rocked a Russian ammunition depot, as Ukraine tries to counter Moscow’s advantages in matériel and disrupt supply lines by ratcheting up its military tactics and striking deep behind the front. Last week, blasts at a military airfield in Crimea sent beachgoers rushing for cover, and an attack by a makeshift drone in the port city of Sevastopol on July 31 forced Russia to cancel its Navy Day celebrations.

My advice to that elite Ukrainian unit: “Keep shootin’ at Putin.”

*The Washington Post has a long but illuminating article (based on secret intelligence reports) on how the U.S. sussed out that Russia was going to invade Ukraine before it happened, and how they planned to act when it did. Apparently this information was supplied by a network of information from satellites, military judgment, and even spies. (Don’t forget that your genial host also predicted it, though Biden didn’t ask me.) This article is apparently just the first in a WaPo series on the “road to war”.

The U.S. intelligence community had penetrated multiple points of Russia’s political leadership, spying apparatus and military, from senior levels to the front lines, according to U.S. officials.

What was harder was to convince our European allies that the invasion was imminent, and then build a coalition that could oppose it without themselves engaging in battle:

As he absorbed the briefing, Biden, who had taken office promising to keep the country out of new wars, was determined that Putin must either be deterred or confronted, and that the United States must not act alone. Yet NATO was far from unified on how to deal with Moscow, and U.S. credibility was weak. After a disastrous occupation of Iraq, the chaos that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and four years of President Donald Trump seeking to undermine the alliance, it was far from certain that Biden could effectively lead a Western response to an expansionist Russia.

The U.S. gathered remarkably detailed information bout the Russian strategy. I’ll just add one more bit and let you read this fascinating article:

According to the intelligence, the Russians would come from the north, on either side of Kyiv. One force would move east of the capital through the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, while the other would flank Kyiv on the west, pushing southward from Belarus through a natural gap between the “exclusion zone” at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant and surrounding marshland. The attack would happen in the winter so that the hard earth would make the terrain easily passable for tanks. Forming a pincer around the capital, Russian troops planned to seize Kyiv in three to four days. The Spetsnaz, their special forces, would find and remove President Volodymyr Zelensky, killing him if necessary, and install a Kremlin-friendly puppet government.

Separately, Russian forces would come from the east and drive through central Ukraine to the Dnieper River, while troops from Crimea took over the southeastern coast. Those actions could take several weeks, the Russian plans predicted.

And by gum, Uncle Joe did it. Yes, he sort of screwed up our exist from Afghanistan, but you have to give the guy credit (and credit also goes to NATO as a whole) for forming a coalition that has largely stalled the Russians without starting a wider war.

*Liz Cheney election

*Speaking of Republicans running for election, you probably know that Sarah Palin, whom most of us were glad to see leave the national stage, is trying to get before the footlights again. In other words, she’s running for a House seat from Alaska—the only one open this fall. Her election is not a sure thing, though, as Alaskans worry about whether she really cares about advancing the interests of the state or is looking for glory in a bigger venue (that won’t happen!):

In churches and coffee shops, on conservative airwaves and right-wing social media, Alaskan voters have debated Ms. Palin’s motives in staging a political comeback — whether she’s interested in public service or in seeking more fame.

Ms. Palin, the former governor of the state and 2008 vice-presidential Republican nominee, cleared one hurdle in June when she led a field of 48 candidates in a special primary election to fill the seat of longtime Representative Don Young, who died in March as he flew home. But she faces the next test on Tuesday in a complex special election that will allow voters to rank their top choices.

Ms. Palin’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for interviews. In a lengthy interview with The Anchorage Daily News after she announced her run in April, Ms. Palin disputed claims that she was not committed to Alaska.

“The establishment machine in the Republican Party is very, very, very small. They have a loud voice. They hold purse strings. They have the media’s ear. But they do not necessarily reflect the will of the people,” Ms. Palin told the newspaper.

I swear, if she gets elected we’ll have a trio of true loons in the House: Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Sarah “I can see Russia from my house” Palin. (And one of them’s packing heat.) What a tribute to American democracy! (I wonder if Palin can see Russia from the House of Representatives.)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili, the editor, sets the pace of Listy:

A: The break has ended. We are returning to work.
Hili: There is no hurry.
In Polish:
Ja: Koniec przerwy, wracamy do roboty.
Hili: Nie ma pośpiechu.

**************************

Two from Doc Bill; I can’t make out the cartoonist for this one, but it looks like “Bacon.”

And another from Doc, and again I don’t know the source.

From Merilee, a cartoon by Charlie Hankin:

What’s wrong with a little art appreciation? At least nobody’s naked!

And another I found:

From Malcolm. This is a lot of work for 40 seconds of fun! (Sound up.)

From Simon, an alpha cat. Note how the displaced kitty lands on all fours.

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. He’s right about the first one:

Rescue swifts: reared, raised, and released. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Some brave kitties. Cobra and gator kitty are amazing. (Sound up.)

Send in your black cat photos!

August 17, 2022 • 5:22 am

I don’t ask for much, but if you have a black at, I’m asking for one photo and a few words, including the name of the moggy. Today is Black Cat Appreciation Day, and what better way to show your appreciation than sending ME a photo. We have only half a dozen, which is absolutely pathetic.

Email a photo to the address given at the “author website” in the upper right sidebar.

The deadline has been extended until noon Chicago time today (Wednesday). Don’t make me beg; the upshot won’t be pretty!

Words and phrases I detest

August 16, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’m suffering from severe sleep deprivation again, and it’s aggravated because after a night or two, the anxiety that causes insomnia is worsened by the fear you won’t get to sleep when you do wake up (anxiety is a prime cause of insomnia). So it goes, and I have no explanation for why this came on again.  One thing insomnia teaches you—or at least taught me—is how great you feel after a good night’s rest. And when I get such a night lately, I work like a demon the next day to make up for lassitude.

Sadly, today is not one of those days.  You’ll simply have to do with a small post on some of the words and phrases I dislike (yes, some are proper usages), and I can’t even guarantee that I’ve not posted some of these before. But here we go. As always, I’ll take my examples from HuffPost if I can: the examplar of “with it” usage.

1.)  At first blush. 

This phrase is way outmoded. It’s supposed to mean “at first glance” or the like, but if you’re a language originalist, the meaning arose this way (from The Free Dictionary):

Without prior knowledge; at first glance. The earliest use of this expression dates from the sixteenth century, when blush meant not a reddening of the cheeks with embarrassment but “glimpse.” Thus, “Able at the first blushe to discearne truth from falsehood,” wrote Philip Stubbes (The Anatomie of Abuses, 2:7) in 1583.
However, even if you use it without referring to the earliest meaning, the phrase meaningless to someone today. If you ask someone who said it, “what do you mean by blush?”, they won’t be able to answer. In other words, it’s a fancy but shopworn phrase that doesn’t convey anything tangible to modern speakers. “At first glance” or “at first sight” actually means something to people.  An example from HuffPost (click to go to article):

2.) “Dropped”, meaning “came out”, as in “Rihanna’s new album just dropped.”

This is purely “with-it” jargon, meant to show that you speak use the argot of the cool kids.  But when I hear it I always envision a vinyl record falling on the ground and breaking. To me, using it means the speaker is unconsciously seeking approbation through conformity, like saying “fam” for “family.”

From HuffPost, a really cool headline because it mentions not only “drops”, but also Beyoncé (overrated, in my view) and, of course, Twitter. If it weren’t for Twitter, HuffPost would have nothing to write about.

3.) “Bright line” means a hard and fast line that divide things into (usually) two classes without confusion.

The OED’s first meaning, however, is in physics:

 1. Physics and Astronomy. A line of relative brightness in the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation coming from a given source, due to the presence of a particular element or molecule in the source; = emission linen. at emission n. Additions.

The second meaning is the one we, unfortunately, have to hear:

 2. Chiefly U.S. A clear distinction or boundary. Frequently in to draw a bright line and variants. Often used in legal contexts;

Now this is perfectly acceptable usage, but it grates on my ears, perhaps because I think that most people use it without knowing what it means. Further, the adjective “bright” doesn’t mean “hard and fast” or “uncrossable”, making the usage confusing, like “sea change”.

It’s even worse when it’s used below, for there is a mixed metaphor here. “Bright line” is a line of division between objects or ideas, while “line in the sand” means “a line that cannot be crossed.” You can make a sentence that uses this phrase properly, but HuffPost does not, for the headline below refers to Obama’s refusal to back off the Obamacare program. It has nothing to do with a “bright’ line. “Line in the sand” is sufficient.

Now I know that usage changes, and that these phrases aren’t improper usage. They’re here because they grate on me, and if someone uses them in conversation, the laws of physics may compel me to say something like “at first what?”  So don’t bother to comment me that usage changes and the like.

And, of course, you’re invited to add your own choice of the phrases that burn your onions.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 16, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from reader Bruce Cochrane, whose notes and IDs are indented. You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Although my young adult dream, after an incredible year as a VISTA volunteer in Northern Idaho, was to settle in the Pacific Northwest, career demands have taken me elsewhere: Indiana, North Carolina, Florida (26 years) and finally Ohio (15 years and counting).  What I found was that, wherever I ended up, there were natural sites worth seeing and photographing.  In Ohio, it’s been the prairies in bloom.

Adams County is home to the “Edge of Appalachia”, a region of very high biodiversity.  My wife and I were fortunate enough to find a superb vacation rental property there and have stayed there often.  In particular, we go every August to celebrate Alice’s birthday and see the prairie plants in bloom.  A favorite site of ours is Chaparral Prairie, a Nature Conservatory property near West Union, where most of these photos were taken.

One of the most showy plants is the Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), a tall very showy flower that is usually purple but also occasionally shows up as a white (alba) variant (reminds me a bit of Sewall Wright’s classic work on Linanthus parryae).  It is also an excellent source of nectar for butterflies.

Blazing Star in bloom:

Blazing Star in purple and white:

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) feeding on Blazing Star flower:

There are many other flowers to enjoy, including Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), and Ironweed (Veronia gigantea).

Rattlesnake Master.  Its name derives from the use of its nectar by Native Americans as a remedy for snake bites incurred during ceremonial snake handling:

Goldenrod:

Ironweed:

Another common prairie plant is the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), which is also widely used as a landscape plant:

When flowering together, these create a lovely landscape:

Let’s not forget the animal kingdom.  We always set up a moth light at the cabin, and in some years, the results are spectacular.  The most spectacular are Luna Moths (Actias luna), and in 2019, we counted 21 of them on our porch.  Here’s the only one we saw this year:

And finally, our only introduced species – Felis catus.  This is Alexander, a stray who greeted us on the porch last year.  He came home with us and has proven to be a delightful addition to our (rather large) cat family: