Accomodationist physicist: Why science can’t disprove God

February 26, 2021 • 1:30 pm

If you read the title below, you’ll probably guess that the answer will be “no”. And you’d be right. Grady, a credentialed physicist, but also a believer, uses her Conversation piece to ponder several questions, one of which is: “If God created the laws of physics, and thus is infinitely powerful, can he break the laws of physics?” (Answer: Yes, of course he could. But we wouldn’t know that.)

Click the screenshots to read:

It’s all a bit of a mess. For example, Grady asks “Can God go faster than the speed of light?” She responds that some phenomena already do, referring to quantum entanglement, but that’s still a mystery and, at any rate, cannot be used to send information faster than the speed of light. Why this is relevant to her question is unclear. Then she asks whether the anthropic principle is evidence for God. She calls our universe “fine tuned for life”, but evokes the multiverse as the reason why this could happen: we just happen to be in one universe where the laws of physics (which may differ among universes) permit life to exist and evolve. Yet according to her God created not just the multiverse, but the different laws of physics that may apply among them.

In the end, Grady admits that science and religion are different, for science uses evidence while religion uses faith. But that itself gets her into a dilemma. For example:

I have this image of God keeping galaxy-sized plates spinning while juggling planet-sized balls – tossing bits of information from one teetering universe to another, to keep everything in motion. Fortunately, God can multitask – keeping the fabric of space and time in operation. All that is required is a little faith.

Has this essay come close to answering the questions posed? I suspect not: if you believe in God (as I do), then the idea of God being bound by the laws of physics is nonsense, because God can do everything, even travel faster than light. If you don’t believe in God, then the question is equally nonsensical, because there isn’t a God and nothing can travel faster than light. Perhaps the question is really one for agnostics, who don’t know whether there is a God.

little faith? But put that aside and look at the bit in bold above (my emphasis). Here’s her admission that God is omnipotent: he/she/it can do anything. Okay, we’ve established that, and we can’t ask Dr. Grady why she knows that God is omnipotent—after all, some religions have gods that aren’t all-powerful—because she takes that on faith. She simply has an intuition or revelation that God can do anything.  But then look at this:

This is indeed where science and religion differ. Science requires proof, religious belief requires faith. Scientists don’t try to prove or disprove God’s existence because they know there isn’t an experiment that can ever detect God. And if you believe in God, it doesn’t matter what scientists discover about the universe – any cosmos can be thought of as being consistent with God.

Well, as the late Victor Stenger said, “Absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence if that evidence should be there in the first place.”  Stenger was referring to the fact that in fact we have evidence against a theistic god since such a god, either on purpose or inadvertently, should have provided evidence since that god interacts with the world. Presumably, Dr. Grady would respond that evidence or lack thereof is irrelevant, for religion is a matter of faith. But remember that her faith has told her that God is omnipotent. 

In that case, since God can do anything, how you deal with the question she raises (but doesn’t answer) at the beginning of her piece:

 “. . . . tragic events, such as pandemics, often cause us to question the existence of God: if there is a merciful God, why is a catastrophe like this happening?”

She never answers that question or even addresses it further. Yet if she knows that God is omnipotent, presumably through faith alone, why can’t faith also tell her why an all-powerful God allows such suffering? Is he malicious, or simply indifferent? You can’t say that you know God’s characteristics from faith, but then plead the Fifth when asked about why God kills so many kids who could not possibly deserve it—especially when he could stop the harm. In other words, if faith tells you that God is omnipotent, then it should also tell you whether God’s a nice being or a callous one.

Such is the selective ignorance of the theist.

h/t: Robert

A new President for the University of Chicago

February 26, 2021 • 12:15 pm

This morning we received an email from the Chair of our Board of Trustees, announcing that, as of September 1, Bob Zimmer, who’s been President since 2006, will be stepping down in favor of another STEM person, Paul Alivisatos (Zimmer is a mathematician), now the 14th President of the University of Chicago.  Alivisatos, 61, is a very well known chemist, covered with honors (including the National Medal of Science), and, as Wikipedia notes, “In 2016 he was named U.C. Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Research. As of July 1, 2017, he became University of California, Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, and then acted as as Vice Chancellor for Research on an interim basis.”

I don’t think the University would mind if I reproduce the bona fides of Alivisatos as passed on to us in the email. You can read more about him at the Wikipedia link above.  I note that, like me, he was born in the U.S. and moved to Greece as a child, which gave him the opportunity to learn Greek (most of mine has disappeared). I’ve highlighted one sentence, which speaks—but not clearly—about one of my main concerns.

Reader George just pointed out that Alivisatos has his own photography website and is a very good amateur photographer with striking images of India, the Arctic, Africa, and Hong Kong, among other places. This is off to a good start! I’ve stolen one of his images to put below (it’s from the Arctic):

From the Chair’s email:

I am very pleased to announce that the Board of Trustees has elected Paul Alivisatos as the 14th President of the University of Chicago.

An accomplished leader in higher education and a world-renowned scientist, Paul is currently Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a Professor and the Samsung Distinguished Chair in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Research in the Department of Chemistry and the former Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Following an extensive international search, Paul was elected President at a meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees on February 25 and will assume his role on September 1. The Board acted on the unanimous recommendation of the 12-member Trustee Search Committee, which has worked closely with the 10-member Faculty Advisory Committee over the last six months.

Paul will succeed Robert J. Zimmer, who has served as President since 2006. Bob will transition into a new role as Chancellor of the University on September 1.

A native of Chicago, Paul is also a proud University of Chicago alumnus, having received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1981.

Throughout his distinguished academic career, Paul has demonstrated the skills and imagination needed to be an inspirational leader, confront the challenges of our time, and guide the University of Chicago during a period of enormous opportunity. He has the vision to further elevate the University’s eminence, uphold its rich traditions and enduring values, and make an impact on higher education and the lives of University students, faculty, and staff, as well as enrich the South Side community.

As Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Paul has been responsible for the planning, development, implementation, and improvement of campus academic programs and policies. Since taking the role in 2017, he has supported new initiatives to increase diversity in the undergraduate and graduate student body and achieve greater faculty and leadership diversity. He also has been deeply engaged in issues of free speech and social justice.

Paul also spearheaded efforts to transform undergraduate education—leading a campus-wide initiative that created immersive learning projects and discovery experiences for students, while starting a series of forums that promoted mentoring between faculty and graduate students. During his tenure, Berkeley also launched a new division focused on data science, creating opportunities for students in the humanities and the social sciences to join the fast-growing field.

Paul oversees a significant development portfolio as Provost. Annual giving to Berkeley exceeded $1 billion in 2020, with Paul stewarding more than $450 million in gifts from 2016 to 2020. As Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 2009 to 2016, Paul guided the U.S. Department of Energy lab through a period of transformational change, creating new programs in biosciences, renewable energy, and entrepreneurship. From 2016 to 2017, he served as Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for research, fostering greater interdisciplinary faculty research and strengthening opportunities for undergraduate research.

A preeminent scientist and entrepreneur, Paul has made pioneering research breakthroughs in nanomaterials. His inventions are widely used in biomedicine and QLED TV displays, and his scientific advances have yielded more than 50 patents. He also founded two prominent nanotechnology companies: Nanosys, Inc. and Quantum Dot Corp. (now part of Thermo Fisher).

Among his more than 25 awards and honors, Paul has received the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, and the Priestley Medal. It also was announced this week that Paul will share the prestigious international BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, Paul earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1986. Paul joined the Berkeley faculty in 1988 as Assistant Professor, was appointed Associate Professor in 1993 and Professor in 1995.

Zimmer did a terrific job as President, not only raising tons of dosh for the University (the main job of a President these days), but also holding the line on free speech, for which our University is famous. He also appointed yours truly as an Essential Duck Worker, allowing me to take care of the waterfowl at Botany Pond. Zimmer will start a new position as Chancellor of the University, which is said to involve “focus[ing] on high-level strategic initiatives, stewardship and development of key relationships, and guiding high-level fundraising.”

Given Alvisatos’s record, I think he’s a very good choice (I’m biased towards scientists), and of course I hope to Ceiling Cat he isn’t woke.

Our new Prez:

And a fond farewell to Bob Zimmer:

Biden administration withdraws from lawsuit banning transsexual males from competing in women’s sports

February 26, 2021 • 11:00 am

Here is the obligatory disclaimer: I approve of the Biden administration’s attempt to undo many of the changes or executive orders handed down by the Trump administration: immigration, Covid relief, the damn border wall, equality for people of all genders, and so on. But, relative to the last issue, there’s one thing that the Biden administration just did that deserves criticism.

As reported by NBC News, Biden’s Justice Department, as well as its Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, have withdrawn their support of a federal lawsuit in the state of Connecticut seeking to overturn a state law requiring any high school student who identifies as a women to be allowed to compete in women’s sports. Click on the screenshot to read.

Now we’ve discussed at length the problems with allowing transgender women to compete against biological women, for their strength, muscle, and bone advantage is already largely set right after puberty, and persists even with hormone treatment and surgery. How we deal with medically or surgically treated transgender women is a contentious issue bearing on biology and ethics, and will have to be resolved subjectively.

But that’s not the most debatable part of Connecticut’s law.. The law “requires that all high school students be treated according to their gender identity.” That means that if you identify as a woman, you are a woman and can compete against women, even if you have never undergone medical treatment for “transitioning.” And, as the article reports,

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere. Former president Donald Trump had rolled back protections for transgender people while in office.

Now Trump was clearly catering to his base, and I’m in favor of Biden’s strengthening protections for people of all gender identities. But to me, that “protection” stops when pure biological men who take the identity of women are allowed to compete against biological women. You know what the results will be: the death of women’s sports. Here’s one example from Connecticut; as far as I know, neither Miller nor Yearwood had undergone any form of medical transition, at least when this competition took place:

(From NBC): Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, far left, and other runners in the Connecticut girls Class S indoor track meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven on Feb. 7, 2019.Pat Eaton-Robb / AP file

Previously, William Barr had submitted a “statement of interest” in the Connecticut suit, a statement that supported the girls who brought the suit. and said that allowing such competition might violate Title IX’s provision that women should be given equal opportunity in all high-school endeavors. The matter is described this way by The Hill:

The Justice Department’s withdrawal came ahead of a Friday hearing in the case over the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The families of three high school girls sued Connecticut officials in 2020, arguing that allowing transgender athletes to compete in girls’ sports forced athletes “to compete against boys.”

“Forcing them to compete against boys isn’t fair, shatters their dreams, and destroys their athletic opportunities,” an attorney for the plaintiffs, Christiana Holcomb, said last year. “Having separate boys’ and girls’ sports has always been based on biological differences, not what people believe about their gender, because those differences matter for fair competition.”

Former Attorney General William Barr agreed, arguing in court documents at the time that the state’s current policy runs afoul of Title IX, which guarantees girls equal access to sports and other school activities.

Now the government has withdrawn its support, saying simply that “The government has reconsidered the matter.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), of course, is supporting the state, representing Miller and Yearwood, the two athletes shown above, and agreeing with Connecticut’s misguided law.

From NBC:

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said Tuesday he was pleased with the Justice Department’s decision to withdraw Barr’s statement.

“Transgender girls are girls and every woman and girl deserves protection against discrimination. Period,” he said in a statement.

Transgender girls are not girls for purposes of competing against biological girls, especially if they’ve had no medical treatment. Period.

Lest the Pecksniffs descend, I affirm again that the right of anybody to have their gender identity respected and supported by morality and law should hold in almost every area of human endeavor. But there are a few exceptions, and sports is one. Once again, there’s a reason why men’s and women’s sports are kept separate.

World criticizes Israel for not giving vaccines to Palestine, even though they do (and aren’t obligated to)

February 26, 2021 • 9:15 am

The universal claim that Israel is evil for abnegating its supposed moral and ethical duty to provide Covid vaccine to the Palestinians is an example of total misunderstanding as well as of a duplicitous  Palestinian campaign to demonize Israel. It also shows how Israel haters, many on the Left, never let facts get in the way of their prejudices. Read on.

Bernie Sanders is just one among many chastising Israel for not giving coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians. This was also implied the other night on the NBC Evening News, which reported that although Israel was perhaps the country with the highest proportion of vaccinated citizens in the world (it’s small and efficient), “Palestine had not received much vaccine.” Accusations that Israel was either legally or morally obliged to give vaccine to Palestinians have also come from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, The Guardian, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the BBC.

Here’s Bernie’s “J’accuse”:

Now this accusation is wrong on two counts and misguided on another.  The first error is the claim that Israel is “responsible” by international accords to give vaccines (or provide healthcare) to the Palestinians. That is not true at all. In the first Oslo Accord of 1993, the Palestinian Authority agreed to take responsibility for its own healthcare, as well as other issues. Here’s the exact extract from that accord:

Despite this agreement, which is recognized even by Wikipedia, none of the media sources above—save the BBC, which finally admitted it was wrong—have even noted that it is the Palestinians’ responsibility to secure their own vaccine and their own healthcare. The Palestinians, early on in the Covid crisis, even asserted that they didn’t want any help from Israel in this crisis. But they said this sotto voce, and were quite willing to go along with the world’s claim that Israel was remiss in not providing the Palestinians with vaccine. (It goes without saying that Israel is vaccinating all its citizens, Arab and Jew alike, as well as Palestinians who work in Israel and Palestinian Arabs who are residents in Israel, the latter mostly in East Jerusalem. Some apartheid state!) And they quietly asked Israel for vaccine (see next point):

Wrong assertion #2: It’s not hard to discover that Palestine did (quietly) ask Israel for Covid vaccine early on, supposedly for healthcare workers but also probably for Palestinian leaders. In fact, we don’t know where the donated vaccine went, but Israel has already given Palestine 3,000 doses of vaccine when they were not required to. And now Israel has volunteered to set up a free Covid vaccine clinic on the Temple Mount, where Palestinians and other Arabs gather en masse and it would be easy to give them jabs (see the article below).  Such mass gatherings can also create superspreader events.

The Palestinians have refused Israel’s offer (click on screenshot):

As the report notes:

Channel 11 reported Wednesday that PA President Mahmoud Abbas opposed the initiative, saying it would give Israel a “foothold” in the Al Aqsa compound. (Jerusalem had suggested the idea of putting a discreet vaccination unit inside a pharmacy on the Temple Mount.)

Israel also tried to soften the Palestinian rejection by proposing that only Arabs would administer the immunizations, and that they would be dressed in regular clothes, with nothing identifying them as coming from Israeli health organizations. The PA remained adamantly against the idea.

No dice; Abbas thinks that Israel (which owns the Temple Mount land, though agreed to allow the area to be administered by Palestinians and other Muslims) is trying to claim that Israel is using the vaccination offer as a ploy to gain more control of the Temple Mount. There is no evidence for this, and the fact that Israel promises that the vaccinations would be administered by Arabs supports that. So the Palestinians have missed a chance for thousands of them to get vaccinated.

One more thing: Israel is under no obligation, via the Oslo Accords, to give hospital care to Palestinians. But they do: in spades! The only Palestinians who aren’t given permission to be treated in Israeli hospitals are known terrorists. Israel even treats the relatives and offspring of terrorists. In 2010, 180,000 Palestinians received medical treatment in Israel. Recently, a top Palestinian leader was treated for Covid in an Israeli hospital, where Saeb Erekat chose to go instead of checking into a Palestinian hospital. (Unfortunately, he died, for he had multiple comorbidities. Of course people then accused Israel of killing him!). Why does Israel do this for its sworn enemies: residents of a territory that teaches Jew hatred and is sworn to eliminate the state of Israel? Because the Israelis are being charitable. This is hardly an apartheid state!

As for the ethical obligation, in what world is a country obligated to care for the health of citizens of a territory that attacks them, fires rockets at them, and is determined to wipe out that state? Would any country in the world other than Israel do this? I can’t think of any. And yet, despite all this, Israel is still demonized by the world. Let me add here that among all the Arab territories and countries in the Middle East, the Palestinian territories are way ahead in ordering and now procuring vaccines. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and other places? Forget about it: they’ve barely begun. But it’s Palestine the world is concentrating on for its supposed lack of vaccine. Are people not concerned with other Middle Eastern states? Of course not, and you know why.

Finally, it’s ironic that Bernie Sanders, who, if he lived in Israel, would be considered a Jew deserving of being murdered by Muslims, is such a good friend of Palestine. Regardless of the irony of a secular Jew—I think Bernie’s really an atheist—extolling people who would cut his throat if they could, he seems to know nothing at all about the Oslo Accords, the vaccines Israel has already given to Palestine and offered more, or about the healthcare Israel regularly gives to thousands of Palestinians.

It’s odd: I never thought much about Israel or was a gung-ho supporter of Israel, but the way the world, and especially my beloved Left, demonizes that country on completely bogus grounds has turned me into a defender of Israel. I don’t defend everything about it, of course: I don’t like occupation of the West Bank, and I have always favored the now moribund “two state solution” (it’s moribund almost entirely because the Palestinians have refused that solution several times). But the hypocrisy of the world, the UN, and the Left when it comes to Israel, and the willingness of these folks to completely ignore facts in favor of prejudice when it comes to this one tiny country, seems to me understandable only in light of a legacy of anti-Semitism.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 26, 2021 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from Dom, who’s spent the lockdown in Cromer, a seaside town on the east of England. Dom’s notes are indented, and you can click on his photos to enlarge them.

Here are some snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, in the Cromer woods. Not a native species in the British Isles, they have however become naturalised. They hang their flower heads- I suppose it protects the flower from precipitation…

This is a mass of hornwrack, not the same as horned wrack which is a seaweed, but a form of sea-mat and a Bryozoan or Polyzoan. With the iPhone it is hard to get a good close-up, but you can see the spaces individuals live in—a bit like a honeycomb. They live below the tideline & presumably dead ones get thrown up on shore in storms. This mass of hornwrack was 2-3 feet deep, & full of bits of shore crab; and I found part of a lobster shell. There was a dead black-headed gull, probably the victim of one of the peregrines that nest on the church tower, also remains of 6 dead woodcocks – wings & breastbones- possibly  also eaten by the peregrines.

There were also masses of Whelk eggs – Buccinum undatum – astonishingly large compared with the size of the whelk. They look like bubble-wrap. Apparently of all the eggs in each bubble, only one hatches, after consuming its fellows! Common Whelks, found on shores of the North Atlantic as far south as New Jersey and France, do not tolerate waters warmer than 29° C. They are also affected by marine pollutants, like the coatings used on ships to inhibit growth of marine life – Tributyltin or TBT.  These can cause female whelks – they have male/female sex unlike some molluscs – to develop male gonads, which is called ‘imposex’.
Photo attached is a rather bashed whelk shell. I threw the egg cases in the sea – some eggs were still unhatched – but they could easily have been washed up again. I imagine whelks attach them to something. I cannot understand how one whelk can produce so many eggs!

Some pictures from Cromer this week. The only visible flowers are on the gorse which can be seen with some flowers every month of the year, though I wonder what insects would take advantage of that—perhaps winter flying gnats Trichoceridae? But they tend to be in the woods rather than heath-like habitat.

 A couple of pictures show snow showers blowing in from the north-east.

We have unusually had snow lying here for over a week – one of the crab fishermen said he’d never seen it last this long. Usually being by the sea moderates the cold, but that means it is often cooler in summer of course.

Friday: Hili dialogue

February 26, 2021 • 7:31 am

Well, we’ve arrived at the week’s end, and the last Friday in this month: Friday, February 26, 2021. It’s National Pistachio Day, one of the Holy Trinity of Nuts along with cashews and macadamias. It’s also the Jewish holiday of Purim, a day to eat hamantaschen, even if the recipe is goyische.

It’s also Levi Strauss Day, named after the inventor of blue jeans (his real name was Löb Strauß [he was Jewish] and he was born on this day in 1829).

Löb Strauß

When looking at the history of this garment, I found a court case that will anger you:

In Rome, Italy, in 1992, a 45-year-old driving instructor was accused of rape. When he picked up an 18-year-old girl for her first driving lesson, he allegedly raped her for an hour, then told her that if she was to tell anyone he would kill her. Later that night she told her parents and her parents agreed to help her press charges. While the alleged rapist was convicted and sentenced, the Italian Court of Cassation overturned the conviction in 1998 because the victim wore tight jeans. It was argued that she must have necessarily had to help her attacker remove her jeans, thus making the act consensual (“because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them… and by removing the jeans… it was no longer rape but consensual sex”). The court stated in its decision “it is a fact of common experience that it is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them.”

The ruling sparked widespread feminist protest. The day after the decision, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans and holding placards that read “Jeans: An Alibi for Rape”. As a sign of support, the California Senate and the California Assembly followed suit. Patricia Giggans, the executive director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (now Peace Over Violence) soon made Denim Day an annual event. As of 2011 at least 20 U.S. states officially recognize Denim Day in April. Wearing jeans on that day has become an international symbol of protest against such attitudes about sexual assault. As of 2008, the court has overturned its findings, and there is no longer a “denim” defense to the charge of rape.

From the Denim Day website in the U.S.; the date for last year was April 29.

News of the Day:

Former USA gymnastics coach John Geddert, who helped the team secure a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, committed suicide yesterday after he was charged with a number of crimes involving sex with his charges, including two counts of sexual assault against children between ages 13 and 16, and 20 counts of human trafficking vis the use of “force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him.” He was an associate of the team physician Larry Nassar, now serving three life sentences for criminal sexual assault, child pornography, and related charges. One of his victims, Sarah Klein, said this:

“John Geddert’s escape from justice by committing suicide is traumatizing beyond words,” wrote Klein, now a lawyer specializing in sexual-abuse cases. “He tortured and abused little girls, myself included, for more than 30 years and was able to cheat justice. Geddert was a narcissistic abuser. His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can now see.”

I can see why she’d be angry that the facts wouldn’t come out but, in a rough way, justice has been done. Geddert will never molest anyone again, and the evidence can still be revealed (at least, I think so).

Oy! Florida governor Ron DeSantis has ordered that all flags in the state be flown at half mast in memory of Rush Limbaugh’s death. Limbaugh was a long-time resident of Palm Beach. Democrats are appalled, and Palm Beach itself will not obey (h/t: Ken):

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay tweeted late Tuesday that the flag at the courthouse would not be lowered on Wednesday. Other Palm Beach County and Town of Palm Beach officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Say goodbye to “Mr. Potato Head”! Hasbro, the company that makes the beloved toy (I had one) has announced the arrival of a gender-netural potato, even though there was already a “Mrs. Potato Head”. From the Associated Press (h/t: Jez):

Hasbro created confusion on Thursday when it removed the gender from its Mr. Potato Head brand, but not from the actual toy.

The company, which has been making the potato-shaped plastic toy for nearly 70 years, announced Thursday morning that it was dropping Mr. from the brand in an effort to make sure “all feel welcome in the Potato Head world.” It also said it would sell a new playset this fall that will let kids create their own type of potato families, including two moms or two dads. The announcements set off a social media frenzy over the beloved toy.

Later that afternoon, Hasbro clarified in a tweet that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will still exist, names and all, but the branding on the box will say “Potato Head.”

To come:  Tater Tot has Two Mommies. And there will be associated pronouns.

I just found that Titania beat me to the punch:

The black-browed babbler has been rediscovered after 180 years! (h/t Matthew) A live specimen of this beautiful bird was captured in Borneo. The single stuffed specimen differs from the real bird in eye, leg, and bill color, but these features are often “adjusted” by taxidermists.

Finally,  today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 508,107, an increase of about 2,500 deaths over yesterday’s figure  The reported world death toll stands 2,521,018, a big increase of about 10,400 deaths over yesterday’s total. Look at the big drop in new cases in the U.S:

Stuff that happened on February 26 includes:

  • 1606 – The Janszoon voyage of 1605–06 becomes the first European expedition to set foot on Australia, although it is mistaken as a part of New Guinea.
  • 1616 – Galileo Galilei is formally banned by the Roman Catholic Church from teaching or defending the view that the earth orbits the sun.
  • 1815 – Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from Elba.
  • 1909 – Kinemacolor, the first successful color motion picture process, is first shown to the general public at the Palace Theatre in London.

This process was crude, putting red and green filters, alternately, in front of a black and white movie. Here’s an example:

  • 1919 – President Woodrow Wilson signs an act of Congress establishing the Grand Canyon National Park.
  • 1929 – President Calvin Coolidge signs an executive order establishing the 96,000 acre Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
  • 1971 – U.N. Secretary-General U Thant signs United Nations proclamation of the vernal equinox as Earth Day.
  • 1993 – World Trade Center bombing: In New York City, a truck bomb parked below the North Tower of the World Trade Center explodes, killing six and injuring over a thousand people.
  • 2012 – Trayvon Martin was shot and killed at the age of 17 in Sanford, Florida.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1802 – Victor Hugo, French author, poet, and playwright (d. 1885)
  • 1829 – Levi Strauss, German-American fashion designer, founded Levi Strauss & Co. (d. 1902)

The world’s oldest dated pair of Levis, below, is from 1879, and is kept in a locked safe at the company’s archive for which only two people know the combination. Forensic examination of wear patterns suggests that at least three people wore this pair.  The garment is worth at least $100,000; read more here.

Note the cinch at the waist:

“Buffalo Bill” Cody was mostly a showman though, participating in and running successful “wild west” shows in the U.S. and Europe. Here’s Buffalo Bill in 1875:


Did you know that corn flakes were created as an “anaphrodesiac,” designed to kill the libido? Here’s the puritanical inventor, who was a Seventh Day Adventist:


  • 1916 – Jackie Gleason, American actor and singer (d. 1987)
  • 1918 – Theodore Sturgeon, American author and critic (d. 1985)
  • 1928 – Fats Domino, American singer-songwriter and pianist (d. 2017)
  • 1932 – Johnny Cash, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (d. 2003)
  • 1954 – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish politician, 12th President of Turkey

Those who checked out on on February 26 were few, and include:

  • 1989 – Roy Eldridge, American trumpet player (b. 1911)

Eldridge’s nickname was “Little Jazz,” and he’s an unappreciated trumpet player. Here’s my favorite of his works, “After you’ve gone” (1937). His solo work after the vocals is superb. There are only 298 views of this on YouTube.

Oh hell, here’s another great Eldredge solo: “Rocking Chair” with the Gene Krupa orchestra (1941). I can’t choose which of the two I like better.

Wapner below was the first of the “mean judge” reality arbitration shows. Here comes the judge:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is full of braggadocio today:

Hili: Sometimes I’m pleased with my achievements?
A: Which achievements?
Hili: All of them.
In Polish:
Hili: Czasem jestem zadowolona z moich osiągnięć.
Ja: Z których?
Hili: Z wszystkich.

Little Kulka, like her possible relative Hili, enjoys climbing the cherry and apple trees.

Caption: Kulka on the tree, Paulina on the ground.

In Polish: Kulka na drzewie, Paulina na ziemi.

From Ebaum’s World:

From Nicole: The latest photo from the Mars rover Perseverance:

From Jesus of the Day:

Andrew Doyle, Titania’s creator, has a new book out about free speech. Has anyone read it?

From Simon, a response to that loon Boebert demanding that flags be flown at half mast for–get this–Rush Limbaugh:

From reader Mark: an Orthodox Jewish cat kisses the mezuzah!

Tweets from Matthew. We still don’t know why woodcocks walk this way, and it’s plenty weird (If you want two papers that give theories, write me.)

Matthew says that some people in the thread didn’t get this:

I owned a skunk for several years, and the girth of this one is more like that of a pet skunk than a wild one:

A glittery salticid:

I may have put this up before, but if so, well, here it is again. It’s a Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra), found in the Himalayan foothills. The males grow their wattles and feathery horns only during the mating season (be sure to watch the mating-dance video):

Ice ducks and other things

February 25, 2021 • 2:15 pm

The weather has warmed up, and the ice is slowly melting on Botany Pond. And so we’ve acquired ducks: up to six during the last three days. It all started with a pair of ducks I didn’t recognize, but they were probably our own since they came toward me and knew exactly what to do with the duck pellets I tossed them.  These photos were taken three days ago when a small “spa” of water opened up around the bubblers. And open water = ducks!

The lovely hen (not Honey):

And her handsome drake:

Of course I fed them, because it was cold. They can’t walk very well on the thin ice, and it’s comical when they slip (they don’t hurt themselves, though, as they have great balance).

Right now there are five (three drakes, two hens), and I have to decide whether to feed them or not. I do want Honey to breed here this year, and that means not luring other hens to the pond:

There was a lovely sunset that night, with the disappearing light burnishing the skyscrapers with gold highlights:


Glenn Greenwald excoriates Dems for assailing free speech

February 25, 2021 • 12:30 pm

As I’ve said before, I find Glenn Greenwald a mixed bag, but it’s worth checking his Substack site to see what he has to say. This week’s column is a critique of the Democrats’ new drive to single out media venues as a possible way of suppressing conservative speech. The fight between government and social media/regular media is not something I follow regularly, but Greenwald does, and he’s angry about the use of government to intimidate those who provide news. He’s not particularly concerned about regulating news as being “fake” because, he says, authoritarians have always used the excuse of “fake and harmful news” to suppress their opponents.

Click on the screenshot to read: (it’s free, but you should consider subscribing if you read often):

Democratic intimidation, says Greenwald, has taken several forms: calling people like Zuckerberg before Congressional committees (three times in less than three months), a hearing that started yesterday before part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called “Fanning the flames: disinformation and extremism in the media,” and the fact of House Democrats sending letters to the nation’s largest cable companies (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and to distributors like Amazon, Apple, and Google, with a list of demands. I have to say, this list is pretty heavy-handed:

But you say that these companies are damaging the country by promulgating “fake news” (invariably conservative news)? Here’s Greenwald’s response:

The way Democrats justify this to themselves is important to consider. They do not, of course, explicitly acknowledge that they are engaged in authoritarian assaults on free speech and a free press. Not even the most despotic tyrants like to think of themselves in that way. All tyrants concoct theories and excuses to justify their censorship as noble and necessary.

Indeed, the justifying script Democrats are using here is the one most commonly employed by autocrats around the world to silence their critics. Those they seek to silence are not merely expressing a different view, but are dangerous. They are not merely advocating alternative ideologies but are destabilizing society with lies, fake news, and speech that deliberately incites violence, subversion and domestic terrorism.

In her boastful posting, Rep. Eshoo says her efforts targeting these cable outlets are necessary because “misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse.” This is the rationale invoked by virtually every repressive state to imprison journalists and ban media outlets.

The Democrats sound a great deal like the Egyptian regime of Gen. Abdel el-Sisi. Just two weeks ago, Sisi’s regime finally released an Al Jazeera journalist who had been imprisoned for four years based on accusations that he had “spread false news” and was guilty of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos.” Sound familiar? It should, since that is precisely what House Democrats are saying to ennoble their multi-pronged assault on free expression.

And, avers Greenwald, it’s not like liberals don’t pollute the waters with fake news:

Are there conspiracy theories and disinformation sometimes found on the conservative cable outlets which House Democrats want taken off the air? Of course there are: all media outlets disseminate conspiracy theories and fake news at times. MSNBC and CNN spent four years endorsing the most deranged conspiracy theory imaginable, one with very toxic roots in the Cold War: namely, the McCarthyite script that the Kremlin had taken over control of key U.S. institutions through sexual blackmail over the President, invasions into the nation’s heating system and electric grid, and criminal conspiracy between Moscow and the Trump campaign to hack into Democrats’ emails.

He shows a screenshot:

So what’s Greenwald’s solution? Let the companies say whatever they want? (This would be close to my solution, so long as what they say doesn’t transgress the First Amendment.) But he offers another palliative, and one that, if you’ll forgive me, doesn’t seem very workable:

. . . as much as I loathe so much of what those outlets do, it is not the role of the government to regulate let alone silence them. The corrective is for journalists to rebuild trust and faith with the public by exposing their misinformation and proving to the public that they will do accurate and reliable reporting regardless of which faction is aggrandized or angered.

He’s right about the government keeping its hands off the press, but do journalists really have any desire or incentive to rebuild public trust and faith by exposing information? I don’t see that happening with either the Right- or Left-Wing media (I’m not as familiar with the Right, as I don’t read them so much, but who at the New York Times is policing the paper? Not the executive editor, that’s for sure!)

Some readers won’t like Greenwald’s comparison in the last paragraph, but, like Rod Serling, I submit it for your approval:

But corporate media outlets and Democrats (excuse the redundancy) who spent the last four years posturing as virulent defenders of press freedoms never meant it. Like so much of what they claimed to believe, it was fraudulent. The proof is that they are now mute, if not supportive, as Democrats use their status as majority party to launch an assault against press freedoms far more egregious than anything Trump got close to doing.

As I said, this isn’t exactly an area I follow, so I’d be especially interested in readers’ comments. Are the Dems hypocrites in this respect?

Smith meltdown: NYT reports honestly, for once (but Rolling Stone doesn’t)

February 25, 2021 • 10:30 am

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve reported on the case of Jodi Shaw, the employee of Smith College who was driven out for making YouTube videos about Smith’s climate of toxic racial divisiveness—a climate that affected her personally.  Shaw turned down Smith’s offer of a financial settlement in return for Shaw’s silence, and started a GoFundMe campaign to keep her and her two kids alive since she doesn’t have a job. The money will also go for a lawsuit against Smith and to help other Smith students.  The campaign has raised nearly $241,000—$90,000 over its original goal (Smith says she’ll use any excess over $150,000 “to help others exercise their right to be free from a hostile work environment”).  To me, this quick and generous response means that there are a lot of people out there (not all of them Republicans!) who share Smith’s worries about the infusion of Critical Race Theory into colleges. Smith College appears to be a particularly toxic example of that infusion.

Rolling Stone published a snarky attack on Shaw, which is short on facts (it completely neglects the atmosphere of Smith reported in detail in the New York Times article below), and paints Shaw as a “cancel culture martyr.” The hit piece, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below, ends this way:

Fortunately for Shaw, she appears to have gotten her money’s worth: a fundraiser to help her with living expenses has raised more than $214,000, proving that one of the quickest routes to success in the age of social media is to publicly and dramatically claim you’ve been canceled.

I highly doubt that Shaw went through all this tsouris to become a martyr and to gain “success in the age of social media.” Rolling Stone‘s reporting is both inaccurate and execrable, and we’ll move on.

I’m amazed that the New York Times covered the story not just of Jodi Shaw, but of the fulminating racial toxicity at Smith, which of course was the reason Shaw was exposed to the “racial sensitivity training” that started the whole incident. And the Times’s story is long, complete, and fair. It pulls no punches when it comes to describing Smith’s toxic atmosphere. But it also paints a dire picture of Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s President, who is wedded to Critical Race Theory, apparently out of fear of pushback from the students. I’m not going to call for McCartney’s resignation, as that is something I have no power over, but I think that the present furor, including a letter in the Paper of Record about what’s really going on at Smith, might hasten her departure.

Read the longish NYT article by clicking on the screenshot.

This is the story’s dramatic “lede”:

This is a tale of how race, class and power collided at the elite 145-year-old liberal arts college, where tuition, room and board top $78,000 a year and where the employees who keep the school running often come from working-class enclaves beyond the school’s elegant wrought iron gates. The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.

Facts versus “personal truths”—but the “personal truths” turned out to be empirical falsities!

As I thought, and as Shaw has said repeatedly, Smith is ridden with racial tension. And it didn’t have to be that way. It all went back, as the article describes, to a 2018 claim of racism by Ouou Kanoute, a black firstfirst-generation student whose parents immigrated from Mali. In the summer of that year, Kanoute went to get lunch in a cafeteria that was restricted to participants in “a summer camp program for young children.” Kanoute wasn’t supposed to be using the cafeteria because she was a student worker—a teaching assistant. One cafeteria worker

. . . mentioned that to Ms. Kanoute when she saw her getting lunch there and then decided to drop it. Staff members dance carefully around rule enforcement for fear students will lodge complaints.

“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone,” said Mark Patenaude, a janitor.

Kanoute then took her lunch and went into the lounge of an empty dorm closed for the summer. Nobody was supposed to be in that dorm, and janitors and others were told to call security if they saw anybody there. A 60 year old janitor saw Kanoute and made that call. A security worker came, recognized Kanoute, and left. And that was it. No mention of race was made by anybody, including the janitor reporting Kanoute’s presence.

It would have ended there had Kanoute not used social media to claim that she was persecuted because she was black. (Kanoute’s behavior over the past few years makes her seem a tad unhinged.)  And then things went to hell.  The janitor was put on leave, the cafeteria worker persecuted and harassed by both President McCartney and the students, and McCartney, stung by her own missteps in the past, put the campus on Full White Supremacist Alert:

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

. . .Ms. Blair [the cafeteria worker] was reassigned to a different dormitory, as Ms. Kanoute lived in the one where she had labored for many years. Her first week in her new job, she said, a female student whispered to another: There goes the racist.

Anti-bias training began in earnest in the fall. Ms. Blair and other cafeteria and grounds workers found themselves being asked by consultants hired by Smith about their childhood and family assumptions about race, which many viewed as psychologically intrusive. Ms. Blair recalled growing silent and wanting to crawl inside herself.

The faculty are not required to undergo such training. Professor Lendler said in an interview that such training for working-class employees risks becoming a kind of psychological bullying. “My response would be, ‘Unless it relates to conditions of employment, it’s none of your business what I was like growing up or what I should be thinking of,’” he said.

That’s exactly what Jodi Shaw experienced, and also thought was “none of anybody’s business.”

Note that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) stepped in to defend Kanoute. But then Smith College hired a law firm to produce an independent report on the incident, and it came up with. . . no evidence of racism:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN picked up the story of a young female student harassed by white workers. The American Civil Liberties Union, which took the student’s case, said she was profiled for “eating while Black.”

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.

A similar conclusion—no racism involved—was reached by the Boston Globe‘s investigation.

You’d think that would be the end of the story, right? Wrong!  For now there is a narrative of racism, as John McWhorter points out, and it’s a narrative that has to be kept going regardless of whether there is real racism at all. And so President McCartney hasn’t done a thing to foster reconciliation or healing. Instead, she just brings up the “feelings versus facts” trope, as well as the discredited trope of “implicit racial bias”:

Still, Ms. McCartney said the report validated Ms. Kanoute’s lived experience, notably the fear she felt at the sight of the police officer. “I suspect many of you will conclude, as did I,” she wrote, “it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias.” [JAC: If you can’t rule it out, because it’s impossible to dig into someone’s unconscious, then it must be racism!]

The report said Ms. Kanoute could not point to anything that supported the claim she made on Facebook of a yearlong “pattern of discrimination.”

Ms. McCartney offered no public apology to the employees after the report was released. “We were gobsmacked — four people’s lives wrecked, two were employees of more than 35 years and no apology,” said Tracey Putnam Culver, a Smith graduate who recently retired from the college’s facilities management department. “How do you rationalize that?”

(Remember, this is from the New York Times!) Smith’s and McCartney’s behavior is reprehensible. Were I a Smith alum, or a donor, I’d be appalled at how McCartney’s acted. What kind of President is this?

But the ACLU has behaved just as badly. As we know, the ACLU is going off the rails these days, and when an organization like that can’t even admit the truth, and has also has bought into a racial narrative that it must defend, you get something like this:

Rahsaan Hall, racial justice director for the A.C.L.U. of Massachusetts and Ms. Kanoute’s lawyer, cautioned against drawing too much from the investigative report, as subconscious bias is difficult to prove. Nor was he particularly sympathetic to the accused workers.

“It’s troubling that people are more offended by being called racist than by the actual racism in our society,” he said. “Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailbox, is not on par with the consequences of actual racism.”

That is, let three lower-middle-class people be thrown to the wolves by Smith. What does it matter if the narrative of structural racism at Smith (which does NOT exist) be kept alive? There’s always that “subconscious bias” that is “difficult to prove”!

A few Smith faculty are quoted as opposing what McCartney and the College have done, but they are crying in the wilderness. It’s up to the College’s trustees and alumni to let President McCartney know that “lived experience,” if it doesn’t correspond to the truth, cannot be allowed to ruin people’s lives or to create a toxic climate in a formerly respected college.  In the end, Kanoute’s acts and false cries of racism have come down to ruin Jodi Shaw’s life as well.

The miscreant President is acting notably un-Presidential.

Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s President. Appointed 2012, miscreant since 2018.


Readers’ wildlife photos

February 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

I’m seriously low on photos; you don’t want this feature to disappear, do you? (I have about a week’s worth left.) Please send in your good ones!

Today’s batch comes from reader Bob Fritz. His captions are indented, and click on the screenshot to enlarge the photos:

Here are some bird photographs taken at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, California. The reserve has a mix of salt and freshwater marshes with many hiking trails, and hosts a wide variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia):

The Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) struts and spreads its wings while hunting for fish. In the first picture the left leg is bent back, causing it to appear like a pole behind the bird.

The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) flies low to catch its prey, with its narrow beak gliding through the water.

Bolsa Chica at sunset.  View facing north-west, with Pacific Coast Highway on the left.