It’s Fat Bear Week!

September 28, 2021 • 1:45 pm

It’s that time of year when the Alaska peninsular brown bears (Ursus arctos), a population of the grizzly bear, are fattening themselves up on spawning salmon to lay on the fat for winter hibernation. As Wikipedia explains:

Brown bears on the Alaska Peninsula usually feed on spawning salmon, and use many different ways to catch them. These include waiting at the bottom of the falls for the fish to jump, or standing at the top of the falls waiting to catch the fish in midair (sometimes in their mouths). Bears also have much experience at chasing fish around and pinning the slippery animals with their claws. After the salmon runs, berries and grass make the mainstay of the bears’ diets, after which they put on sufficient fat reserves and go into hibernation

You can see them hunting on this live bear cam at the classic site of Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska. Someday I will go there to see this amazing spectacle for myself!

But for our purposes it is (click on screenshot). . . . . . wait for it. . . . .

It starts tomorrow and extends through October 5. The goal is to choose the bear who has gotten the fattest on salmon, and you do this by voting for one bear out of each pair per day. You vote for the fatter one, and that’s put up against another porker on the next day. At the end of the week, the Fattest Bear is crowned. (And remember, the more fat, the more likely you are to get through hibernation in good condition, so FATNESS IS FITNESS!)

Go to the link [it will be the “vote” button on the page above], start voting tomorrow, and follow these instructions:

Download your blank bracket. Fat Bear Week is from September 29th to October 5th, your vote decides who is the fattest of the fat. Matchups will be open for voting between 12 – 9  p.m. Eastern (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Pacific). Click the bear you would like to vote for. That bear will then be outlined in blue.  Then enter your email in the space and hit enter. You know that you have successfully voted if you see the total votes for each bear.

Click to enlarge and see the contenders. You can get more information at the “Meet the Bears” site here. There’s also a junior bear contest for the young ‘uns, but you can suss that out for yourself.  Remember: it’s Survival of the Fattest! Here are the brackets so far:

I’m partial to “Chunk”, as he looks as if he’s prone to getting in scraps. He’s HUGE!

Chunk (Bear 32) is a large adult male with narrowly-set eyes, a prominent brow ridge, and a distinctive scar across his muzzle. Even at his leanest, Chunk carries substantial fat reserves, especially on his hind quarters. In early summer he tends to shed much of the fur around his shoulders and neck. This gives him a two-toned appearance and exposes numerous scars and wounds. By late summer, his newly grown fur is dark brown.

Biography

Chunk was first identified in 2007 as an independent, chunky-looking two and half year-old bear. Since then, he’s grown to become one of the largest adults at Brooks River. He was estimated to weigh more than 1,200 pounds (544 kg) in September 2020.

Chunk ranks among the most dominant bears at Brooks River. This allows him greater access to mating opportunities and fishing spots. Like most large bears, Chunk is not hesitant to challenge and displace others from the resources he wants. However, his behavior can also be enigmatic. He may wait patiently to scavenge leftover salmon and even play with other bears. These are two uncommon behaviors for a dominant bear to display. Due to his size and strength, Chunk is poised to take advantage of opportunities not available to most other bears. Yet, it is only by observing his full range of behaviors that we can get a true sense of his individuality.

Look how fat he’s getting:

There’s a Hall of Champions of the Pudgiest Bears for each year since 2014. Meet last year’s champion, a male named “747”. Look at the belly on that porker!

So start voting tomorrow (you must enter your email address). Good luck to all ursines, and may the fattest bear win. (They don’t weigh them; victory is determined by our looking at before and after pictures.)

h/t: Laurie

When commitment to diversity outweighs teaching and research in a biology job

September 28, 2021 • 12:00 pm

A reader wishing to remain anonymous sent me this job ad, which is genuine. It’s for a biology position at the University of Hartford, though you can’t even see what area they’re hiring in until you wade through the DEI stuff at the beginning. And after that there is more DEI material. I reproduce the whole ad because I wanted to count words devoted to academic effort versus diversity effort.

Assistant Professor of Biology, Tenure Track (2022-2023)

Please see Special Instructions for more details. 

The University of Hartford employs full-time faculty who bring significant skills, experience, knowledge and empathy to recruit, inspire, support and retain our diverse student body now and in the future.  At least 34% of our undergraduate students are from minority groups who are U.S. citizens, an increasing number of these students are the first in their families to attend college, and all of our students need to be prepared to thrive in and contribute to a diverse society.  Candidates for faculty positions should include in their materials a short essay demonstrating that they are conversant with some of the literature on inclusive pedagogy, culturally responsive teaching, and so on, and describing how their teaching practice could meet the needs of the diverse population of students at the University of Hartford, focusing, in particular, on pedagogical approaches that support student success for those who are new to college and/or whose cultural background includes experience with systemic oppression due to race, gender, or other factors.  If relevant, candidates should also comment on research, scholarship, or creative activity that will contribute to the diversity, equity and inclusion goals to which the University of Hartford is committed.  In addition, since the University is committed to anti-racism, candidates should demonstrate in their statements knowledge of what it means to be anti-racist and, if possible, to provide example of their own anti-racist values and actions.  It is recommended that candidates approach this statement thoughtfully and use specific examples to illustrate their diversity statement.  A review of applicant diversity statements will precede that of any other application materials.

The entire first section is about diversity and the prospective candidate’s commitment to it, demonstrations of it, and philosophy of antiracism.

I’ve put the last sentence in bold because, as with the University of California, if you don’t make the cut with your diversity statement, your application won’t be considered further.  That already shows the University’s overweening priorities. I’ve already pointed out the problems with this, including that extracurricular activities that benefit society—like outreach, writing popular books, lecturing, like T.H. Huxley, to people from lower socioeconomic classes, and so on—don’t count. You must have a record of their commitment to race and gender diversity, a track record of activism in these areas, and, most bizarre, a “knowledge of what it means to be anti-racist”.  In fact, there are many ways to construe “anti-racist”, one of which is Kendi’s definition that you actually have to be engaged in antiracist activism and/or expression. If you don’t speak or act, you’re a racist.

“I define an antiracist as someone who is expressing an antiracist idea or supporting an antiracist policy with their actions.”

I suspect that if you don’t conform to the University’s preexisting views on diversity and the nature of anti-racism, no soup for you!

Below the long introduction you finally find what the job is about (the only academic requirement is a Ph.D. and the ability to teach Anatomy and Physiology).

Posting Details

Job Title Assistant Professor of Biology, Tenure Track (2022-2023)
Rank Assistant Professor
Tenure Information Tenure Track
Job Description
The Department of Biology at the University of Hartford has an opening for a tenure track Assistant Professor starting in August 2022.
Responsibilities
The candidate is expected to be a broadly trained Biologist who can specialize in teaching the Anatomy and Physiology sequence. Additional teaching responsibilities will depend upon the candidate’s specific area of expertise. There will also be opportunities to teach in our innovative Interdisciplinary Studies (UIS) curriculum.
The candidate is expected to develop an independent research program that can involve undergraduate students and will lead to publications. Service activities including advising and participation in recruitment and retention efforts are expected. The candidate is also expected to demonstrate a commitment to working with a diverse student population.
Required Qualifications
Applicants should have a Ph.D. (advanced ABD will be considered) in Biology or related fields. Prior teaching and post-doctoral experience are preferred.
Preferred Qualifications
Diversity Statement

 EEO/AA/M/F/D/V.

University Information
The University of Hartford offers the personal attention associated with a small college enhanced by the expertise, breadth and intellectual excitement of a university.  Students at the University of Hartford find success in a learning environment that both challenges and mentors them.  Our academic mission is to engage students in acquiring the knowledge, skills, and values necessary to thrive in, and contribute to, a pluralistic, complex world.  The full text of our academic mission can be seen at http://www.hartford.edu.  The University of Hartford is located within the greater Hartford area, which is rich in cultural and recreational activities, and is a short drive from metropolitan Boston and New York.
College Information
The College of Arts and Sciences is the University’s largest college with 23 undergraduate majors, 29 minors, 5 graduate programs, and many interdisciplinary offerings. The College includes a faculty of 110 teachers and scholars, 22 staff, and a student body of 1,000 undergraduate and 400 graduate students.
Posting Number F113P
Open Date
Close Date
Open Until Filled Yes
Special Instructions to Applicants
The University of Hartford employs full-time faculty who bring significant skills, experience, knowledge and empathy to recruit, inspire, support and retain our diverse student body now and in the future.  At least 34% of our undergraduate students are from minority groups who are U.S. citizens, an increasing number of these students are the first in their families to attend college, and all of our students need to be prepared to thrive in and contribute to a diverse society.  Candidates for faculty positions should include in their materials a short essay demonstrating that they are conversant with some of the literature on inclusive pedagogy, culturally responsive teaching, and so on, and describing how their teaching practice could meet the needs of the diverse population of students at the University of Hartford, focusing, in particular, on pedagogical approaches that support student success for those who are new to college and/or whose cultural background includes experience with systemic oppression due to race, gender, or other factors.  If relevant, candidates should also comment on research, scholarship, or creative activity that will contribute to the diversity, equity and inclusion goals to which the University of Hartford is committed.  In addition, since the University is committed to anti-racism, candidates should demonstrate in their statements knowledge of what it means to be anti-racist and, if possible, to provide example of their own anti-racist values and actions.  It is recommended that candidates approach this statement thoughtfully and use specific examples to illustrate their diversity statement.  A review of applicant diversity statements will precede that of any other application materials.

In total, there are 1153 words in the ad. Of these, 377 are devoted to the university’s commitment to diversity and the diversity requirements the candidate must meet.  (I have not counted the “Special instructions to applicants” at the bottom, since it reprises what’s at the top.) There are 119 words devoted to the academic qualifications for applying. The ratio of diversity requirements to academic requirements is thus 377/119 or 3.17 to 1. (If you include the duplicated “special instructions”, the ratio becomes 5.36 to 1.)

Does this somehow reflect the weight that universities are putting on diversity over academic aims or requirements?  Perhaps not, but the imbalance between academic and diversity qualifications does tell me that the University of Hartford values the latter more than the former. And this reflects the increasing tendency of American universities to adopt a mission of social engineering rather than of teaching and promoting learning and the ability to think.

ACLU admits it screwed up by changing RBG’s words; Michelle Goldberg explains why the changes were misleading

September 28, 2021 • 9:15 am

A week ago I called attention to a tweet by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that quoted but redacted some words by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG). The ACLU made six changes in just one short quote, including an omission. Here’s what they tweeted:

Here are her real words, which according to Michelle Goldberg’s NYT article below, were uttered during RBG’s 1993 Senate confirmation hearings. As usual, RBG didn’t pull any punches!

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.”

― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I added this in my post:

There are six changes, five in brackets, getting rid of “woman” and “her” (substituting “persons” and “people” for “woman” and “they” or “their” for three “hers”).  The missing part of the quote, which is “It is a decision she must make for herself”, could have been altered to “It is a decision they must make for themselves,” but that would add two more sets of brackets and make the whole quotation look really weird.

The explanation is simple and obvious; they are removing RBG’s reference to women having babies since the ACLU, whose mission now includes a substantial amount of transgender activism, is onboard with the idea that transmen, who are now given the pronouns “he” and “men”, can have babies. And indeed, transmen have given birth.

The ACLU is heavily into transsexual rights, which is fine since those are civil rights, but they’ve gone overboard on this before (one of their staff attorneys called for the censorship of Abigail Shrier’s book, and did so again by drastically changing RBG’s words. They’re also slowly but surely removing themselves from defending the First Amendment.  Here’s the tweet (now removed) by their chief attorney for transsexual issues:

I’m pretty fed up with the ACLU, though they’re still doing some good work. But back to the RBG redaction. In her op-ed, Michelle Goldberg (click on screenshot below) puts her finger on two reasons why the alteration of RBG’s words was misleading and invidious.

While Goldberg bends over backwards to approve of gender-inclusive language, she criticizes the ACLU’s changes for two reasons. The first one I raised in my post; the second is one that is more likely to be spotted and raised by a woman.

This was a mistake for two reasons, one that’s easy to talk about, and one that’s hard.

The easy one is this: It’s somewhat Orwellian to rewrite historical utterances to conform to modern sensitivities. No one that I’m aware of used gender-neutral language to talk about pregnancy and abortion in 1993; it wasn’t until 2008 that Thomas Beatie became famous as what headlines sometimes called the “First Pregnant Man.” There’s a difference between substituting the phrase “pregnant people” for “pregnant women” now, and pretending that we have always spoken of “pregnant people.”

What’s more difficult to discuss is how making Ginsburg’s words gender-neutral alters their meaning. That requires coming to terms with a contentious shift in how progressives think and talk about sex and reproduction. Changing Ginsburg’s words treats what was once a core feminist insight — that women are oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capacity — as an embarrassing anachronism. The question then becomes: Is it?

Goldberg clearly thinks “no, it’s not an embarrassing anachronism”, but for a reason that some trans-activists might oppose. (Bolding below is mine.)

A gender-inclusive understanding of reproduction is in keeping with the goal of a society free of sex hierarchies. It is one thing to insist that women shouldn’t be relegated to second-class status because they can bear children. It’s perhaps more radical to define sex and gender so that childbearing is no longer women’s exclusive domain.

Yet I think there’s a difference between acknowledging that there are men who have children or need abortions — and expecting the health care system to treat these men with respect — and speaking as if the burden of reproduction does not overwhelmingly fall on women. You can’t change the nature of reality through language alone. Trying to do so can seem, to employ a horribly overused word, like a form of gaslighting.

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. You can interpret this to support the contemporary notion of sex and gender as largely matters of self-identification. Or you can interpret it as many older feminists have, as a statement about how the world molds you into a woman, of how certain biological experiences reveal your place in the social order, and how your identity develops in response to gender’s constraints.

Seen this way, a gender-neutral version of Ginsburg’s quote is unintelligible, because she was talking not about the right of all people to pursue their own reproductive destiny, but about how male control of women’s reproductive lives makes women part of a subordinate class. The erasure of gendered language can feel like an insult, because it takes away the terms generations of feminists used to articulate their predicament.

The way I would answer this myself is that childbearing remains the domain of biological women (i.e., people who, when born, fit into the biological definition of “female”), even if they’ve become transsexual men.  This is what I think Goldberg means by saying, slyly, that “you can’t change the nature of reality through language alone.”

Her real objection, which I’ve put in bold, is that reproduction is but one of women’s “biological experiences” (I suppose menstruation is another, though I don’t see oppression as a “biological experience”) that cannot be had by biological men, and by “women” she means the term as it was used by earlier feminists. By saying that a man can become pregnant, the oppressor then gains membership in the class (“men”) that many feminists saw and still see as oppressors.

Although Goldberg doesn’t say so, the problem is the failure to distinguish between biological men and women on one hand and men and women who identify as members of the other sex on the other. Importantly, to activists, transmen are considered men in every respect, just a stranswomen are considered full woman.

But to Goldberg, “full” neglects history. What really irks her (and I can understand and sympathize with her position), is that biological women can not only be called “men”, but assumed to be men in every respect, including, thinks Goldberg, in their historical position as oppressors of women. (By the way, I don’t think that the ACLU quote “erased” gendered language, which it didn’t, but erased sexed language.)

Goldberg’s contortions to avoid seeming “transphobic”, I think, has obscured her point, which is a semantic one. (Or so I think: I may have misinterpreted her point.)

And regardless, I think that she’s still going to be demonized for writing this column.  But to her (and the ACLU’s) credit, the organization seems to go along with her. She reports:

On Monday, Anthony Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., told me he regrets the R.B.G. tweet, and that in the future the organization won’t substantively alter anyone’s quotes. Still, he said, “Having spent time with Justice Ginsburg, I would like to believe that if she were alive today, she would encourage us to evolve our language to encompass a broader vision of gender, identity and sexuality.”

This may very well be the case. It’s also the case that she spoke specifically about women for a reason.

The problem is that the activists who approve of this redaction don’t care about altering history, even “for a reason”.  They just want to make historical language conform to modern norms.

Reader’s wildlife video

September 28, 2021 • 8:00 am

Tara Tanaka is back with a lovely bird video, which she posted on Vimeo on September 26. It’s of a peripatetic Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor), part of whose nonbreeding range is in Florida.  Be sure to enlarge the video (click the start arrow and then the four arrows to the left of “Vimeo”) and turn on the sound.

Here are Tara’s notes:

Two days ago I saw what I thought was our first Prairie Warbler, but I didn’t have binoculars and never got a clear view of the bird’s face. This afternoon I spotted him again, and managed to get some very close video in good light. I haven’t been shooting much video lately, and videoing a fast-moving warbler with manual focus really tests rusty focusing skills. I’ve slowed the video down to half-speed to give viewers a better look at this little beauty. Never having seen one before, I was surprised at how bright his colors were in the fall.

 

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

September 28, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on the cruelest day of the week, Tuesday, September 28, 2021: National Strawberry Cream Pie Day.

It’s also National Drink Beer Day, World Rabies Day, Freedom from Hunger Day, and International Day for Universal Access to Information.

News of the Day:

Lots o’ news today.

*When Will They Ever Learn Department: The Washington Post reports that, according to the FBI, the U.S. murder rate in 2020 rose 29.4% over the preceding year. And more of the killing is done with guns:

The FBI data also shows how much killing in America is fueled by shootings. Guns accounted for 73 percent of homicides in 2019, but that increased to 76 percent of homicides in 2020. Houston saw a 55 percent increase in gun killings, which jumped from 221 in 2019 to 343 in 2020. Overall, the city saw more than 400 killings last year.

The good news is that overall crime is down, and what’s below is also touted as good news:

Overall, however, crime is still well below the historic highs reached in the early 1990s. And in many cities, including Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago, the number of killings is still far below the record-high tolls from nearly 30 years ago.

The reasons given by a criminology professor for the murder increase: “the pandemic and what he called a ‘police legitimacy crisis’ brought on by the videotaped killing last year of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.” Last night the NBC News added two more factors: a larger number of people staying home and a rise in firearm sales, presumably to protect those people staying at home.

So far this year, murders in many places are already above the 2020 record, so stay tuned.

*Will the government shut down on September 30? That may be likely since Republicans in the Senate blocked a House-originated bill to raise the debt limit and avert a shutdown at least until December. (It would take 60 votes of approval in a Senate divided down the middle.)

*A three-judge federal court in New York City ruled unexpectedly early that the City can indeed enforce its vaccination mandate for school teachers and staff, which thus began at midnight last night. Now the opponents are finagling for a weekly testing option. I’m amused by the sentence I put in bold:

An attorney representing Department of Education employees says opponents of the mayor’s school mandate just want a weekly test option scribed into the rule for those who, for whatever reason, do not want to be inoculated against COVID.

“Quite many of them are not anti-vaccination. They’re anti-mandate,” attorney Louis Gelormino said of city education workers who oppose de Blasio’s shot requirement.

*Also in New York, singer-songwriter R. Kelly was found guilty of all nine charges leveled against him, charges of racketeering and sex trafficking. many involving underage girls and boys. On this conviction alone, Kelly faces 10 years to life, and given that he’s 54, he’ll not see freedom again. But it isn’t over yet; the NYT adds that “Mr. Kelly also faces charges in at least two other states, including federal child pornography and obstruction counts in Chicago.” He’ll be sentenced on the NY conviction on May 4.

*From NYT columnist Charles Blow, a piece called “The mendacity of Joe Biden.” Blow is a black writer, and deplores the administration’s handling of the Haitian immigrants:

The latest offense was the administration’s disastrous mishandling of the Haitian migrant crisis at the southern border.

Yes, there were the outrageous images of agents on horseback herding the migrants like cattle, and there was also the administration aggressively deporting the migrants back to Haiti.

When I see those Black bodies at the border, I am unable to separate them from myself, or my family, or my friends. They are us. There is a collective consciousness in blackness, born of the white supremacist erasure of our individuality.

. . . As a justification for many of the deportations, the Biden administration invoked Title 42, which allows deportations based on supposed health risks. The Associated Press pointed out, “The Trump administration invoked it in March 2020 to sweeping effect, prohibiting entry by virtually anyone from Mexico and Canada and essentially sealing the northern and southern borders.” Isn’t that ironic.

I wasn’t aware that many of the Haitians, as Blow reports, haven’t been in Haiti in years, but have presumably been in Mexico or Central America. But that doesn’t explain their attempted egress now, for they weren’t there during the recent weather and political troubles occurring in Haiti.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 690,558, an increase of 2,052 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,771,343, an increase of about 8,300 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on September 28 includes:

Here’s the platinum-iridium meter bar standard used in the U.S. until 1960, when the meter was redefined as “the distance traveled in a vacuum by light in 1/299,792,458 second”.

  • 1928 – Alexander Fleming notices a bacteria-killing mold growing in his laboratory, discovering what later became known as penicillin.

Matthew found a tweet with a link to a BBC show, and a picture of Fleming.

  • 1941 – Ted Williams achieves a .406 batting average for the season, and becomes the last major league baseball player to bat .400 or better.

Williams went into the last day of the season with a .3996 average, which, if he sat out the game, could have been rounded up to .400 and give him that benchmark. But as he recounts in the video below, he didn’t even think of that. He went 3 for 4 in each of two games of a double-hitter, and wound up with the solid .406. (Remember, that’s over 4 hits for every ten times at bat—a fantastic average.)

  • 1995 – Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat sign the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 551 BC – Confucius, Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. (d. 479 BC)
  • 1836 – Thomas Crapper, English plumber, invented the ballcock (d. 1910)

Remember, Crapper (photo below) didn’t invent the flush toilet—a longstanding joke, but close to the truth—yet he made several improvements in plumbing, including the floating ballcock for toilets which you’ve seen (#1 in diagram below). He had a royal warrant for toilets since he provided privies for Prince Albert and George V.

  • 1901 – Ed Sullivan, American television host (d. 1974)
  • 1909 – Al Capp, American author and illustrator (d. 1979)

Remember Capp’s invention of he schmoo, a bowling-pin-shaped animal that was delicious to eat and “eager to be eaten”?

Here’s one:

Three lovely actors were born on this day.  One is gone: Sylvia Kristel (“Emmanuelle”) died of throat and esophageal cancer at 60. She had been a heavy smoker since age 11. Bardot and Sorvino are with us, but I haven’t seen Sorvino in a film in a long time.  Sorvino won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995).

Those who went beneath the loam on September 28 include:

Melville in 1861:

  • 1895 – Louis Pasteur, French chemist and microbiologist (b. 1822)

Discovering the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurization (he’s immortalized that way), as well as definitively disproving spontaneous generation, a scientist could hardly accomplish more in one lifetime. Here’s a studio portrait that’s been restored:

  • 1953 – Edwin Hubble, American astronomer and scholar (b. 1889)
  • 1964 – Harpo Marx, American comedian, actor, and singer (b. 1888)
  • 1970 – John Dos Passos, American novelist, poet, essayist, and playwright (b. 1896)
  • 1991 – Miles Davis, American trumpet player, composer, and bandleader (b. 1926)

Here’s one of my favorite Davis songs, “Boplicity“, from his “Birth of the Cool” album.

  • 2000 – Pierre Trudeau, Canadian journalist, lawyer, and politician, 15th Prime Minister of Canada (b. 1919)
  • 2016 – Shimon Peres, Polish-Israeli statesman and politician, 9th President of Israel (b. 1923)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili sees herself as an agent of natural selection:

Hili: I have to have a rest.
A: What were you doing?
Hili: I was teaching mice the art of survival.
In Polish:
Hili: Muszę odpocząć.
Ja: A co robiłaś?
Hili: Uczyłam myszy sztuki przetrwania.

From Anne-Marie:

From Divy:

A caracal from Facebook. Look at that ear-twitching!

Do send in one or two good tweets every once in a while. My contributions from readers (about 3 per day) have fallen to nearly zero.

I may have already posted this one from Titania; if so, here it is again:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one qualifies for Tweet of the Month:

Two tweets showing the harpist Naomi SV entertaining herself and the deer. Ineffably sweet. Sound up on both, and watch till the end of both:

I guess it’s Heartwarmer Day. A teenager gets a surprise gift of a ginger kitten:

I am that kind of doctor, but I don’t know the answer:

Nuff said:

John Oliver on duck stamps

September 27, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Here’s John Oliver this week on Federal Duck Stamps, an American tradition and a requirement for duck hunters (oy!) Oliver seems to be under the impression that all ducks have long corkscrew willies, but he’s wrong. But this is pretty funny, though, describing mutual animosity between duck artists and even submitting his own designs (there’s an annual contest for the stamp’s design, with the latest one required to be in the possession of all duck hunters).

 

Oliver is actually auctioning off his four designs for duck stamps, and you can see the designs and make your bid here.  First watch the video, then make your bid! (Click screenshot below to enlarge.) One of them is already up to $20,000!

 

By the way, the Post Office has also issued regular postcards this year (with the “forever” stamp that doesn’t go up in price), and they feature a beautiful mallard drake. But where’s the hen?  A kind reader sent me a fistful of these:

 

h/t:  Steve, Paul

Pastor Warren compares pro-choice views with anti-vaxers ( touts the benefit of religion in helping us making sacrifices for society

September 27, 2021 • 11:30 am

In her weekly New York Times column, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren makes two arguments. It’s not as bad as her other columns, as there’s actually some material for thought here, but, as usual, she winds up making bad arguments, and then touting the benefits of believing in God. Click to read:

Warren makes two arguments. The first is to point out what seems like hypocrisy when one considers “pro choice” people who don’t oppose abortion with “anti vaccine” people who object to getting shots. In both cases, says Warren, one is being asked to curtail one’s personal freedom (“my body, my choice”) for the benefit of society as a whole—or so she says. The implication is that this is doublethink:

At a protest against vaccine mandates, a hospital worker told New York’s Livingston County newspaper: “If you want it? Great. If you don’t? Great.” She continued: “Choice is where we stand. If you want it, we’re not against it. That’s your choice.” Those I know who have refused to get vaccinated or wear masks have echoed this same idea. They assure me that they aren’t telling anyone else what to do but that this is a matter of personal choice. They are doing what they think is best for themselves and their families.

“My body, my choice,” the rallying cry of the pro-choice movement, has been adopted by those opposing mask and vaccine mandates. People who are pro-choice have voiced outrage that their phrase is being co-opted, which in turn thrills those on the right who are using it.

In Vogue, Molly Jong-Fast said that the phrase, when used by conservatives who oppose vaccine mandates, shows that “for Republicans, it’s a case of government regulation for thee but not for me.” Of course, critics would accuse her of the same hypocrisy for being pro-choice but also favoring vaccine mandates.

What’s useful here is the inspiration to think about her premise: how far must we curtail our freedoms to help society What’s not useful—and she does say that “the complexities of abortion and Covid prevention are different”—is that the situations are not at all comparable in the nature of the “freedoms” curtailed. Unmasked and unvaccnated, you might be endangering strangers you come in contact with, and the masking will last only the duration of the pandemic. Shots are even less onerous, and protect more people than do masks.

Pregnant, you do not endanger society as a whole—unless, and this may be true of Warren—one thinks an abortion is committing murder. Further, you are bringing an unwanted child into the world who will require years of care, as reader Mike pointed out yesterday.

I’m pretty much in favor of unrestricted abortions, as I don’t see it as the equivalent of murder. Further, I also favor the termination of the lives of already-born infants who have invariably fatal conditions like anencephaly and will suffer horribly until the inevitable end. (Peter Singer has been demonized for holding this view.)

But you can think on your own about whether there is any “hypocrisy” in favoring vaccine mandates and also being pro-choice. It is food for thought.

The other argument is that only Christianity (she singles it out, but would probably add “religion in general”) gives us a moral basis for making self-sacrifice for the good of society.

Christian ethics call people to ideas of freedom that are not primarily understood as the absence of restraint, but instead as the ability to live well, justly and righteously. In Galatians, after an extended meditation on liberation, Paul says: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Freedom, for him, had a purpose and end, a “telos.” We are freed not to do whatever we feel is best for us individually, but instead to love our neighbors.

. . . .Over the past year as we’ve asked people to go into lockdown, cancel their travel plans or family gatherings, close or curtail their retail businesses, wear masks and get vaccinated, we are asking them to assume some level of financial and personal risk for the greater good — for strangers, for the elderly, for the immunocompromised, for the medical community. We can and should enact legislation like paid family leave, no-cost health care and other measures to support mothers, just as we support economic relief for those affected by Covid prevention. But we cannot deny that even if we seek to lessen the load, we are asking people to bear a burden.

How do you call a society committed to personal freedom and happiness to bear the burdens of others? Most of us intuitively grasp that there’s more to life than living for oneself and one’s own happiness or comfort. But we lack a positive vision for the purpose of individual liberty.

Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Catholic theologian, gave us the gorgeous and helpful phrase “arduous good.”

. . . . Consumer capitalism is not going to teach us about how to pursue arduous goods, nor is technological progress, nor is either American political party. Theoretically, religious communities are places that train us toward ends other than individual autonomy. They point us to something bigger and higher than ourselves, calling us to love God and our neighbors. However, this is unfortunately not always the case. Many religious communities have lost their ability to articulate an alternative to the sovereignty of personal choice and individual autonomy.

. . . But as a culture, we desperately need religious communities that do not parrot the predictable ethical arguments of the right or the left. We need a rooted and robust call to love our neighbors, our families and the marginalized, the needy, the weak and the afflicted among us.

But the arguments she makes apply to secular humanism even more than to Christianity. After all, it is conservative Christians who “parrot the predictable ethical arguments of the Right” against abortion because it’s seen as murder, usually because the fetus is ensouled.  Secular humanists have a diversity of views on abortion, and often considered ones. They don’t need the buttressing of ancient scripture and authority to arrive at a position.

As for “a rooted and robust call to love our neighbors, our families, and the marginalized, the needy, the weak, and the afflicted among us,” what about that comes from religion? Was it Christianity that gave us income taxes, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the other institutionalized forms of our sacrifices for those needier than we?  And wasn’t it Jesus who said this (Luke 14:25-27)?:

25 Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, 26 “If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! 27 Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.

But let me admit that yes, studies have shown that Christians give more to charity than do nonbelievers. What I don’t know is whether how much of Christian charity goes to tithes or Christian organizations.  And countering that, let me say once again that the countries of Northern Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, are largely atheistic societies whose members give much more per capita to help their societies than do Americans. That’s one reason taxes are so high, and why state does what private organizations must take over in America.

No, what we don’t need is more love of God to spur us on to be more socially conscious. We need governments like those of Denmark and Sweden.

I wonder how longer the NYT will allow Warren to continue spoon-feeding us pabulum. At least she has a bit of a point in this week’s column. But surely there are pastors or theologians out there who can give us more food for thought, even if they’re victims of the God Delusion.

The fallacy of using observational study to guide medical treatment: about 40% of medical procedures and drugs reported as not useful

September 27, 2021 • 9:15 am

Apropos of yesterday’s post on the unproven efficacy of ivermectin for Covid-19, I talked to my GP, Dr. Alex Lickerman, about the drug (he’s read the studies). I learned not only that there is no publication of high-quality controlled double-blind tests needed to show that ivermectin is effective against Covid-19 (there’s a big one that should be published by the end of the year), but also, surprisingly, nearly half of the medical drugs and procedures we use have not been subject to these tests. Very often the outcomes of clinical practice are just assumed to be efficacious without any rigorous tests with placebos and so on. Sometimes some people improve, but there is no randomized control group to compare them to. This is also true for some operations, in which “sham operations”—procedures that mimic real operations without the real surgical manipulation—have shown to be no better than the placebo procedures.

This is all summarized in a 2015 book shown below (click screenshot to go to Amazon link), and in a 2011 paper below that written by the same two physicians (Vinay Prasad and Adam Cifu, the latter from University of Chicago Medicine). What they mean by “medical reversal” is that later and better tests often show that drugs or procedures are either not helpful or could be harmful, so there’s a reversal of opinion and—if doctors are aware of this!—the procedure is abandoned or modified. We will soon know whether ivermectin is such a case.

Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

If you want a shorter read on medical reversal (I haven’t read the book), see the paper below by Prasad and Cifu from the Yale Journal of Biological Medicine.  It gives lots of examples, including both drugs and surgery, and describes why medical reversal is important. It’s not detected as often as it should be because double-blind randomized tests with controls are time-consuming, expensive, and hard to do for surgery. Neverthetless, I was surprised to find out that roughly 40% of procedures or drugs prescribed by doctors have been shown to be either unnecessary or harmful.  Now I’m not a doctor, but I recommend you at least scan the paper below (click on screenshot) or listen to the audio link below that.

If you prefer listening to reading, you can find an hourlong conversation with Dr. Cifu on econtalk in which he summarizes “medical reversal” and gives examples.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the paper:

The second phenomenon is reversal: A medical practice falls out of favor not by being surpassed, but when we discover that it did not work all along, either failing to achieve its intended goal or carrying harms that outweighed the benefits. Although this phenomenon should be rare in the age of evidence-based medicine, it is ubiquitous. Common use of avandia [], ezetimibe [], atenolol [], hormone replacement therapy [], and the class 1C antiarrhythmic agents [] all stopped when trials showed they were either ineffective or harmful. Reversal not only affects medications. Previously accepted indications for surgical and medical procedures also have been abandoned. In 2009, stenting for renal artery stenosis was shown to be ineffective for many patients by the Angioplasty and Stenting for Renal Artery Lesions (ASTRAL) trial [], and in 2007, the Clinical Outcomes Utilizing Revascularization and Aggressive Drug Evaluation (COURAGE) [] trial found no benefit to support percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) (versus optimal medical therapy) in most patients with stable coronary artery disease. In these cases, reversal does not mean that for every indication and purpose the therapy in question was shown not to work, but simply that it was contradicted for key indications.

. . . Reversal differs from replacement in that it produces three perils. First, reversal implies mistake or harm to patients cared for under the old model. The abandoned practices were ineffective or harmful. The cases of CAST and Avandia demonstrate harms, while COURAGE and Atenolol suggest only the harm of misplaced financial and social resources.

. . . Second, removing a once-commonplace practice can be more difficult than imagined. Adherence to the contradicted claim furthers malfeasance. The idea that beta-carotene could diminish cancer gained popularity in the early 1980s []. By the mid-1990s, however, three randomized controlled trials overturned the claim [,,]. However, nearly a decade passed before counterarguments were uncommon in the literature [].

. . . Third, reversal undermines trust in the medical system. In the case of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) — once thought to be beneficial for reducing a woman’s risk of heart disease while treating menopausal symptoms and contradicted by the Womens’ Health Initiative — patients report feeling “furious” with doctors who “pushed” therapy upon them [].

I asked my doc about hormone replacement therapy (HRT), as of course it’s still being widely used (check the internet). However, it was long thought, without any real tests showing it, that HRT, among other benefits, would also help postmenopausal women prevent the development of heart disease. A controlled test of that claim showed it was wrong: if anything, HRT increases the risk of heart disease. The problem may have been, as Cifu mentions in the podcast, that women seeking HRT could have been younger, thinner, and healthier (conditions that help prevent heart disease) than those who didn’t seek HRT. The “control” group was the latter, but it wasn’t a randomized trial: the “controls” may have been a nonrandom sample more likely to develop health disease. The upshot is that HRT, which used to be given to all symptomatic post-menopausal women, is not given to women with heart conditions, and patients are (or should be) informed about the slightly increased risk of heart disease.  (See the Mayo Clinic’s advice here.)

Dr. Lickerman added this (quoted with permission):

If you’re a post-menopausal woman with post-menopausal symptoms and known heart disease, you probably shouldn’t get it. If your risk of heart disease is otherwise average and your post-menopausal symptoms are severe, it’s a tool that can be used. Think of it like using Advil to treat arthritis. There are definitely risks, but we judge them against the benefits in each individual case. What we no longer do is give HRT to all post-menopausal women because our original thinking was it would benefit them all as a preventative. Now we know better. We no longer use it for prevention; only for treatment when benefits outweigh risks.
Most of what we do in medicine is done based on observational studies. Prospective, placebo-controlled randomized trials are very expensive and time-consuming. My colleague, Adam Cifu, co-wrote a book called Ending Medical Reversal in which he did a survey of the literature and estimated that ultimately 35-40% of medical practices, when finally prospective studies are conducted, are found to be useless or even harmful. It’s quite shocking. This is why I focus so much on evidence.

The lesson, as Cifu says in the podcast, is to interact with your doctor, and ask for evidence if you’re dubious or unclear, for a patient doctor relationship is just that—a relationship. A doctor who is imperious or who won’t even talk about evidence isn’t worth having.

Finally, a couple of quotes from the New York Times‘s 2015 review of Ending Medical Reversal:

The incremental progress of ordinary science is one thing, as individual treatments are progressively replaced by better variants. We all happily accept that kind of revision. But medical reversal, the authors’ sober term for sudden flip-flops in standards of care, unnerves and demoralizes everyone, doctors no less than their patients.

Dr. Vinayak K. Prasad and Dr. Adam S. Cifu, of Oregon Health & Science University and the University of Chicago, have set themselves the task of figuring out how often modern medicine reverses itself, analyzing why it happens, and suggesting ways to make it stop. If this short list of objectives explodes into a breathless and somewhat unwieldy critique of all of Western medicine, you still have to appreciate both their ambition and their argument.

An old saw has long held that 50 percent of everything a student learns in medical school is wrong. Actual calculations suggest that number is not too far off base — Dr. Prasad and Dr. Cifu extrapolate from past reversals to conclude that about 40 percent of what we consider state-of-the-art health care is likely to turn out to be unhelpful or actually harmful.

Recent official flip-flops include habits of treating everything from lead poisoning to blood clots, from kidney stones to heart attacks. One reversal concerned an extremely common orthopedic procedure, the surgical repair of the meniscus in the knee, which turns out to be no more effective than physical therapy alone. The interested reader can plow through almost 150 disproved treatments in the book’s appendix.

. . . What could make more sense, after all, than finding some cancers early, fixing a piece of torn cartilage, closing a hole in the heart, and propping open blood vessels that have become perilously narrow? And yet not one of these helpful interventions has been shown to make a difference in the health or survival of patients who obediently line up to have them done.

. . . Dr. Prasad and Dr. Cifu offer a five-step plan, including pointers for determining if a given treatment is really able to do what you want it to do, and advice on finding a like-minded doctor who won’t object to a certain amount of back-seat driving. Of course, there are no guarantees that their tips will endure forever, but they probably have a longer shelf life than most medical advice.

h/t: Alex Lickerman

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 27, 2021 • 8:00 am

Where are those photos you accumulated during my vacation? Send ’em in!

Here are some bird and plant photos from Jim McCormac of Ohio, whose blog is here and whose “massive photo website” is here. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

A Fringe-tree (Chionanthus virginicus) heavily laden with ripe fruit. This shrubby (small treelet, at best) member of the Olive Family (Oleaceae) is a close relative of ashes. It flowers in spring, and produces pleasing bouquets of stringy white-petaled flowers. Come fall, the blue drupes (as the fruit are called) also create an aesthetically pleasing appearance. With the added – and more important – benefit of feeding long-haul migratory songbirds.

While the somewhat similar Chinese Fringe-tree (C. retusus) is sometimes used in landscaping, the one featured here is the native. In the interior, it occurs as far north as southern Ohio. The trees in my images were planted at Inniswood Gardens, a metropark in Westerville, Ohio, only 15 minutes from where I live. This site is probably about 80 miles north of Fringe-tree’s native range, but who are we to split hairs? The tastiness of its drupes are certainly well known to songbirds engaged in long migrations between Neotropical wintering regions and northern breeding grounds. These birds have undoubtedly long known and utilized this plant’s autumnal bounty.

A Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) with a freshly plucked drupe. Larger birds like this swallow the drupes whole. Many of these speckle-bellied thrushes were present on this mid-September day. Swainson’s Thrush is the most common of our highly migratory thrushes, and they breed across the great expanse of North American boreal forest, from Alaska to Newfoundland, and south at high elevations in the west. Most birds winter from Central America south to western South America, all the way to Peru.

A Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) perches briefly in a nonnative Norway Spruce (Picea abies) near the Fringe-trees. This warbler is another boreal breeder, and intimately linked to spruce on the breeding grounds. Even migrants seek out spruce, including the nonnative species. Cape Mays breed in a fairly narrow belt of boreal forest, from Alberta to Nova Scotia, and most winter in the Caribbean and the western coast of Mexico and Central America.

Come fall, Cape Mays often become frugivorous, plundering the bonanza of berries to be found in autumn in the eastern deciduous forest region that blankets much of eastern North America, as far north as southern Canada. Unlike the larger thrushes, warblers such as this typically puncture the skin of fruit with their sharp bills. They then drink the juices and perhaps eat some of the pulp. Many Cape May Warblers regularly visited this small Fringe-tree planting.

The most frequent frugivorous warbler at the Fringe-trees was the Tennessee Warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina). This one strikes a pose amongst some drupes, all of which bear the tell-tale evidence of feeding warblers.

While warblers are highly insectivorous during the breeding season, some add much vegetable matter in migration and winter. Tennessee Warblers winter throughout the Caribbean, much of Central America, and well into South America. I have seen them by the score in winter in Guatemala, where they avidly take nectar from the flowers of various trees. So much so that their faces are often stained bright colors courtesy of the nectar.

As a bonus, a stone’s throw away was a gorgeous Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) loaded with ripe fruit. Birds galore were taking advantage, including many Swainson’s Thrushes, occasional thrushes of other species, especially American Robins (Turdus migratorius), Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), and most surprisingly to me, lots of Red-eyed Vireos (Vireo olivaceus, pictured).

Vireos are notorious for the number of caterpillars they take. The raptor-like hook at the bill tip is an adaptation for seizing and tearing open larvae, or so I assume. Vireos are closely related to shrikes, which are highly predatory songbirds and sport even more of a hooked raptor-type bill. In the case of the vireo, this bill also works well when plucking fruit.

A Red-eyed Vireo, caught in the act of fruit plundering. This does not take long. As soon as a bird freed one, it quickly swallowed it. Something about Sweetbay Magnolia fruit is very attractive to this species, which I did not know before this experience. At times there would be perhaps a half-dozen vireos in the tree together, and a few times they were joined by a Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus). As with the Fringe-tree, Sweetbay is a southerner not occurring until 100 miles or south of central Ohio. But in the south and in the Atlantic states it can be common and birds have undoubtedly long used it as a food source.

A juvenile Red-eyed Vireo (brown eyes) watches a pugnacious Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). A number of hummingbirds had staked claim to the nearby gardens and flowering plants. When they weren’t trying to drive each other away, they’d occasionally fly high into the magnolia to have a go at the vireos.

The Red-eyed Vireo is a true long-haul migrant. They breed over a massive swath of eastern North America and extend into northwest Canada and the U.S., mostly using caterpillar-rich deciduous forests. The wintering grounds encompass most of the northern half of South America. Some vireos probably fly 5-6,000 miles, one way. It is fascinating, to me at least, to learn about the intimate connection migrant songbirds have with plants, and to think about the role of native plants and their fruit in helping to stoke these long, hazardous journeys.

Monday: Hili dialogue (and Mietek monologue)

September 27, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning at the start of a new week: Monday, September 27, 2021: National Chocolate Milk Day (my drink of choice at elementary school and junior high school lunch).

It’s also National Corned Beef Hash Day, Family Day, Ancestor Appreciation DayNational Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and World Tourism Day.

Today’s animated Google Doodle celebrates its “retroactive claim” that it’s 23 years old today (see below). Click on gif to go to the link.

News of the Day:

*All you covid-watchers should read a NYT op-ed that will surely be widely criticized (not by me, as I haven’t read the research and have nothing to lose by masking): “We did the research: Masks work, and you should choose a surgical mask if possible.” The three authors include a professor of economics at the Yale University School of Management, an assistant professor in environmental health sciences at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, and a professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division at Stanford University. A summary of the trial:

. . . we ran one of the largest and most sophisticated studies of mask wearing, using the “gold standard” of research design, a randomized controlled trial, to evaluate whether communities where more people wear masks have fewer cases of Covid-19.

Many people live in countries where vaccines are not yet widely available. Even in the United States, vaccines are available but used unevenly, and the weekly death rate from Covid-19 remains high. In both of these environments, masks are a critical and inexpensive tool in the fight against the coronavirus.

Our research, which is currently undergoing peer review, was conducted with 340,000 adults in 600 villages in Bangladesh and tested many different strategies to get people to wear masks.

The results of this test of voluntary mask-wearing?

Let us put this in concrete terms. Our best estimate is that every 600 people who wear surgical masks in public areas prevent an average of one death per year given recent death rates in the United States. Think of a church with 600 members. If a congregation learned that it could save the life of a member, would everyone agree to wear surgical masks in indoor, public areas for the next year?

Well, do you think they would? Probably, since it’s a church and everybody is part of the “family”, but perhaps not if you ask a random stranger in a city. Read for yourself.

*More on the pandemic: big trouble in New York City and New York State. On Friday, a federal appeals-court judge overruled a vaccine mandate for teachers, staff, and employees of NYC schools, where 82% of the subjects have been vaccinated.  The order was to go into effect today, with employees required to show at least one vaccination. I don’t know why the judge suspended the mandate, except that this could lead to a severe shortage of teachers. On the other hand, a three-judge court could rule on the issue by the end of the week.

*As for New York State, the same mandate goes into effect today for hospital and nursing home employees. Between 77% and 84% of workers in these categories have had at least one vaccination. Here again we could have a massive worker shortage, which could lead to a declaration of a state of emergency in New York, including the use of medically trained National Guard workers.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 688,157, an increase of 2,031 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,763,052, an increase of about 4,068 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on September 27 includes:

  • 1066 – William the Conqueror and his army set sail from the mouth of the Somme river, beginning the Norman conquest of England.
  • 1540 – The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) receives its charter from Pope Paul III.
  • 1590 – The death of Pope Urban VII, 13 days after being chosen as the Pope, ends the shortest papal reign in history.
  • 1822 – Jean-François Champollion announces that he has deciphered the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone, now behind glass at the British Museum. What Champollion deciphered was the hieroglyphics on this stone, which has the same message in demotic (ancient but non-hieroglyphic Egyptian) and Greek.

The plant (below) is now a Museum, described by Wikipedia as “The oldest, purpose-built car factory building in the world open to the public.”  It could make over 100 Model Ts per day.

  • 1956 – USAF Captain Milburn G. Apt becomes the first person to exceed Mach 3. Shortly thereafter, the Bell X-2 goes out of control and Captain Apt is killed.

Here’s Apt about to embark on his first (and last) flight in the plane. He ejected the nose capsule when the plane was out of control, but the large parachute failed to open and he was killed. He had gone 3.196 times the speed of sound.  This terminated the X-2 program.

The X-2 in flight showing “shock diamonds” in the exhaust, proving that it had gone supersonic:

  • 1962 – Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring is published, inspiring an environmental movement and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • 1998 – The Google internet search engine retroactively claims this date as its birthday.

Note that at least six days have been claimed as Google’s birthday, though it was founded on September 4, 1998. Here’s where Google stands in Kantar’s list of most valuable brands:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1924 – Bud Powell, American pianist and composer (d. 1966)

Bud Powell was one of the best jazz pianists ever. I usually put up “Night in Tunisia” to commemorate him, but here’s 4.5 minutes of his live playing. He died at only 41 of three classic maladies of jazz musicians: tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism.

  • 1927 – Red Rodney, American trumpet player (d. 1994)
  • 1934 – Wilford Brimley, American actor (d. 2020)
  • 1947 – Meat Loaf, American singer-songwriter, producer, and actor
  • 1957 – Peter Sellars, American actor, director, and screenwriter
  • 1972 – Gwyneth Paltrow, American actress, blogger, and businesswoman

She’s still selling her jade egg, a bargain at $66. You know what you’re supposed to do with it.

  • 1984 – Avril Lavigne, Canadian singer-songwriter, actress, and fashion designer

Those who shot their bolt on September 27 include:

  • 1590 – Pope Urban VII (b. 1521)
  • 1917 – Edgar Degas, French painter and sculptor (b. 1834)

Degas didn’t draw cats, so here’s Manet’s “Woman With a Cat” (1880):

Woman with a Cat c.1880 Edouard Manet 1832-1883 Purchased 1918 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03295

Wagner-Jauregg won his Prize for one of those advances that was a bit dubious: giving those afflicted with neurosyphilis malaria, with the fever designed to eliminate the bacterium. Surprisingly, it worked a bit, but also killed 15% of the patients. It’s no longer used, as we have antibiotics now. (These won’t reverse damage already done.)

The main work pursued by Wagner-Jauregg throughout his life was related to the treatment of mental disease by inducing a fever, an approach known as pyrotherapy. In 1887 he investigated the effects of febrile diseases on psychoses, making use of erisipela and tuberculin (discovered in 1890 by Robert Koch). Since these methods of treatment did not work very well, he tried in 1917 the inoculation of malaria parasites, which proved to be very successful in the case of dementia paralytica (also called general paresis of the insane), caused by neurosyphilis, at that time a terminal disease.

Sister Aimee. If you don’t know about her, find out:

Here she is in full swing, surrounded by choirs (1929):

  • 1956 – Babe Didrikson Zaharias, American basketball player and golfer (b. 1911)
  • 1960 – Sylvia Pankhurst, English activist (b. 1882)

Pankurst was an activist for many causes, the most famous being women’s suffrage. Here she is in 1932, giving a speech in Trafalgar Square about British policies in India.

  • 1965 – Clara Bow, American actress (b. 1905)

The “It Girl”:

  • 1993 – Jimmy Doolittle, American general, Medal of Honor recipient (b. 1896)
  • 2003 – Donald O’Connor, American actor, singer, and dancer (b. 1925)
  • 2017 – Hugh Hefner, American publisher, founder of Playboy Enterprises (b. 1926)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s irritated by Andrzej’s foolish question:

Hili: I’m going to check out what’s under this walnut tree.
A: What can be under it?
Hili: But I’m saying that I’m going to check it out.
In Polish:
Hili: Idę sprawdzić co tam jest pod tym orzechem.
Ja: A co tam może być?
Hili: No przecież mówię, że idę to sprawdzić.

And in nearby Wloclawek, Mietek is lazy:

Mietek: To get up or not to get up, that is the question.

In Polish: Wstać czy nie wstać, oto jest pytanie.

From In Otter News. It’s true, too: Mary Somerville is on one side, and two otters on the other.

I’ve always thought that candy corn, a noxious mixture of paraffin and sugar, was the worst candy ever invented, but this version, from Facebook, is even more dire:

From Jesus of the Day: Either this is anatomically correct or someone’s tumescent:

From Titania, who’s always ahead of the wave:

Ricky Gervais’s cat (I think his name is Pickle):

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. The goalie didn’t look behind himself, a rookie move, and this was the outcome:

Two little cuties!

These look like bat wings:

Check out the expression on that cat’s face!

Call me superstitious (as well as the U.S. gub’mint), but I retweeted this because I have at least ten days’ worth of sleep deficit.