Sunday ducks (and turtles)

August 1, 2021 • 1:30 pm

It’s time for an update on Botany Pond and its ducks, and I’ll add a note on the turtles.

The broods of Dorothy and Honey have left (14 total), but Honey is still here. She’s in molt, lacking any primary feathers, and is very irritable, spurning all duck food save mealworms and defrosted frozen corn, which I must toss to her one kernel at a time, as it sinks. She is clearly once again the alpha duck of Botany Pond after a long period of lying low and being timorous after she was repeatedly chased by a nasty drake.

We have two other broods remaining here: that of Shirley Rose, which hatched on May 30 with 12 babies.  One didn’t make it, and one was rehabbed after being attacked. The remaining ten are all grown now, and are leaving one by one. (We had seven this morning.)

The other brood is the tiny one (three ducklings) of Coco, which hatched on June 21, and they are thriving. They are now in the scruffy teenage stage, and we estimate they’ll be able to fly by the end of August, though they often hang around for a while after they can fly. 

There are also about seven “itinerant” ducks, including Honey. We think that several of these are wannabee moms whose nests failed this year (we had at least four nests that had eggs but were either destroyed or didn’t produce offspring).  Several of these ducks are molting, and since they can’t fly for 2-4 weeks during the molt, we take care of them.

This week we’ll concentrate on Coco’s brood, since they’re young, and I’ll say a few words about the turtles, which appear to be mating and nesting by the pond for the first time.

Below: a video of the Duckmeister (me) arriving at the Pond with food for the gang. One bag is for me, the other for one of Team Duck. Shirley Rose’s brood of adults, newly minted ducks, are waiting for their lunch. My jeans are rolled up because they were irritating the lesions from swimmer’s itch that I got when I went into the pond to rescue 6 ducklings dumped there without a mom. The ducks know me and my food bags, and come running when I appear. Shirley Rose is to the right, supervising her brood.

Shirley Rose and her full brood of ten. Three of these babies have now departed for other places. They were a tight band and always stayed together. I think they’re a bit discombobulated now that they’ve lost some of their number and Mom isn’t with them all the time.

If they’re still hungry or want other treats besides duck pellets, they do what they normally do—dabble:

Coco’s babies have grown rapidly from fluffballs to scruffy ducklings. As of today, there’s very little down left on them.

Here they are not all that long ago:

Going up the duck ramp (I’m proud of myself for having devised this, but it was built and bolted to the pond wall by the good people at Facilities). Coco is a great mother and is always supervising her brood, even letting them eat first before she touches a morself.

Napping on North Duck Island. Note the nictitating membranes over the eyes of the sleeping ducklings.

Coco is a very elegant hen with a long, graceful neck:

The adorable down-covered babies have become scruffy teenagers!

Here’s one having a neck and wing stretch:

When they’re on the grass on “Duck Plaza”, I tossed them dry pellets to help teach them how to forage. Here’s a video of that “enrichment feeding,” though, truth be told, they learned it on their own—from watching Mom:

Oy, are they scruffy! Feathers plus down are not a lovely combination.

All the ducks begin practicing diving, preening, and zooming along the water when they’re very young. These are skills that will help them keep clean, evade predators, and learn to fly. Here are two videos by Jean Greenberg  showing these nascent behaviors:

Baby ducks can swim unbelievably fast, which of course they must do to escape predators and to keep up with Mom. Here Mom keeps up with them, having to fly after them as they zoom away.

Here’s Honey, who’s in full molt. She has no primary feathers (the white area is where those feather should be. She’s therefore flightless for a few weeks, and is irritable and picky with her food. But of course I still love her. She’s regaining her status as Alpha Duck by randomly chasing other ducks around the pond (she doesn’t hurt them):

For comparison, here’s a duck with full primary feathers—the big flight feathers sticking out above its rump.  This one is standing on one leg, as some ducks are wont to do:

Finally, we mustn’t forget the turtles. The pond is home to several dozen red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), the only turtle we have. Since Chicago is north of their breeding range, all the turtles are individuals that have been dumped into the pond, likely by owners who don’t want them. Nevertheless, they can still survive the winter by remaining quiescent at the bottom of the pond. Their tenacity is amazing.

This year we saw mating and breeding for the first time. I’ve described mating before, but in the last two weeks we’ve seen two large females digging nests next to the pond edge, laying eggs, and then covering up the eggs—all using their rear feet. Here’s a video of one of them laying eggs in a freshly-dug hole. (I don’t know why they don’t use their front feet.)

They cover up the holes well, packing the dirt down with their rear feet. Here’s a finished nest to the left of the six-inch ruler. Greg is coming down next week to check on the nests, and may excavate them a bit. (The eggs will not hatch in Chicago temperatures.)

Finally, one of the most frequent questions I’m asked at the pond is, “Do the turtles and ducks bother each other?” And the answer is “No, they pretty much ignore each other.”

Occasionally a duck will be startled when a turtle bumps it in the water (turtles will eat duck food), but they do have an amusing mutualism.  Sometimes a hungry duck will nibble the algae off a turtle’s back. I regard this as beneficial for both species since the duck gets its vegetables and the turtle gets a haircut (algae probably impede swimming).

Algae-nibbling doesn’t happen often, but in this video I managed to capture it.

And that’s the latest report from Botany Pond, where the drama and fun never cease.

Discussion thread

August 1, 2021 • 9:15 am

Once again there’s nothing I see that stimulates me to write; am I running dry, is there no news of note, or is everything happening just a reprisal of what I’ve commented on before? At any rate, there’s no need for me to write when I am not compelled to say something, so perhaps we can have a discussion instead. (I’ll put up a photo-and-video post of Botany Pond’s ducks and turtles later.) But there are things we can discuss.

Here are a few subjects, but you needn’t limit yourself to these.

A lot of people, and not just right-wingers, are complaining about the rapid changes in recommendations by the CDC about how to behave during the pandemic. While the vaccination recommendation remains strong and in place, lockdown and especially mask recommendations seem to change daily. Is this just what happens when what we know about the new variants and about science changes over time, or is the CDC itself conflicted about what to do and say, perhaps because there’s a conflict between their medical opinions and how Americans would react against more restrictions? On the NBC Evening News yesterday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky was asked if she thought there should be the “government should mandate the vaccine on a federal level”.  They were asking her opinion, but she punted, saying that the administration was looking into it, and later issued the following “clarification”:

Even so, I don’t know what she’s talking about. My own view is to act like I did last year and earlier this year: wear masks indoors, stay 6 feet away from people who I don’t know are vaccinated, and wash my hands a lot. And I’ll get a booster. I am less fearful than I was last year, as we know the vaccine strongly protects you against death or hospitalization. But all over America, people are resistant to new lockdowns. Given the data on the delta variant, and the claim that it can accumulate in the nasal passages of those who have been fully vaccinated, and that those people can infect other people—even other vaccinated people—is the federal government acting properly? (I assume people will agree that some state governments have their heads in the sand.)

After missing a vault and falling on her back in practice, gymnast Simone Biles has apparently pulled out of all team and individual events. This is surely wise, as she seems to have lost either her confidence or sense of where she was in the air. She said she had the “twisties”. Apparently this is not uncommon among gymnasts. As Time Magazine reports:

And every gymnast can relate. Biles has since said that the combination of mental stress and pressure leading up to the Olympics have affected her confidence. But, more importantly, she felt a disconnect between her mind and body; her body was no longer doing what she wanted it to. Whatever the trigger, gymnasts call this the “twisties.”

“If you say ‘twisties’ every gymnast knows what you’re talking about,” says Jordyn Wieber, member of the 2012 Olympics gold medal team and now head women’s gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas. “It’s something all gymnasts experience at one time or another.”

. . .What causes the twisties varies from gymnast to gymnast—sometimes, they can be triggered if the gymnast is training different twisting skills at the same time, for instance going back and forth between double twisting elements, one-and-a-half twists, and triples. Stress could contribute to them. Or they can just descend out of the blue for no reason.

For Biles, they occurred on the world’s biggest stage, and the look of concern everyone saw on her face makes sense. “She is doing some of the most difficult skills in the entire world, and if you’re not mentally in a great place, or have the twisties, then that can be a matter or life or death,” says Wieber. “One wrong landing, or landing on your neck, could be really, really dangerous.” Biles has four skills named after her on the vault, floor and beam, including the daring triple-twisting double back flip on floor exercise.

Biles has been answering questions on Instagram about the twisties, and it’s clear she is experiencing the classic signs. “Literally cannot tell up from down. It’s the craziest feeling ever, not having an inch of control over your body,” she wrote. “what’s even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air, I also have NO idea how I’m going to land. or what I’m going to land on. Head/hands/feet/back…”

It’s clearly laudable that Biles pulled out of competition, as gymnasts with the “twisties” who haven’t done so have wound up as quadraplegics. And her personal behavior has been exemplary, supporting her teammates down the line. Likewise with her coaches and teammates, who fully support her decision and have shown her a lot of affection.

What worries me is not Biles’s or her teammates’ behavior, but the reporting that has analogized the “twisties” with serious mental illness: the kind of depression, for example, that still affects swimmer Michael Phelps and perhaps Naomi Ozaka. Biles in fact seems to be receiving support for going public with being mentally ill, something that she hasn’t done!

What’s good about the Phelps/Ozaka cases is that they’ve led to the de-stigmatization of mental illness and the recognition that it’s more frequent than people think. But is there a downside with conflating nerves, “twisties”, or a loss or proficiency with mental illness? I think so, but want to hear from readers.

Finally, speaking of the Olympics, is there too much jingoism evinced in the coverage? Every night on the reports, nearly all the coverage is about Americans, with the inevitable chart showing how the countries rank in terms of medals, like this one:

I know you can’t get rid of patriotism completely, but it seems that this concentration on countries is inimical to the spirit of the Olympics, where politics isn’t supposed to matter. And I suspect there are a lot of fantastic athletes from other countries with stories as compelling as, or more so, than those of athletes like Katie Ledecky and Sunisa Lee. Where are their stories?

Well, those are three suggestions, but any topic is open. As always, I regard such discussions as failures if we get fewer than fifty comments (it’s a peccadillo of mine), so weigh in.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 1, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today is Sunday, meaning that we get a themed bird post from biologist John Avise. John’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. John’s post is a sequel to his series last week on sexually dichromatic birds (link below).

Avian Sexual Monochromatism

Last week’s post showcased several birds with pronounced plumage color differences between males and females.  However, not all birds are sexually dichromatic; in many species it is nearly impossible for us to distinguish the sexes based on plumage coloration alone.  Perhaps sexual selection is weak or ineffectual in such species, or perhaps females use other cues when choosing partners.  For example, Northern Mockingbird males with more varied songs tend to be more successful in attracting mates.  Also, at least some sexually monochromatic species have a monogamous mating system that presumably lessens the degree of sexual selection (and, hence, of sexual dimorphism).  In any event, this week’s post offers several photos of Passeriformes species in which it’s difficult or impossible to specify an individual’s sex simply by the visible color of its feathers (but remember too that birds, unlike us, can also see in the ultraviolet end of the light spectrum, so perhaps they might use some UV plumage cues).  I took all of these photographs in Southern California.

Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii):

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos):

California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis):

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus):

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopyeryx serripennis):

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia):

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis):

Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus):

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya):

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon):

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans):

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus):

Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli):

Cassin’s Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans):

Black-throated Sparow (Amphispiza bilineata):

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos):

Sunday: Hili dialogue

August 1, 2021 • 6:30 am

It’s August! Summer is waning, and it’s Sunday, August 1, 2021: National Raspberry Cream Pie Day, a dessert I can’t say I’ve ever tried. But August is also these food months:

National Catfish Month
National Panini Month
National Peach Month
National Sandwich Month

It’s also Homemade Pie Day, Woman Astronomers Day, Sisters’ Day, American Family Day, Friendship Day, National Girlfriends Day, National KidsDay (yes, one word), Respect For Parents Day, World Lung Cancer Day, and, honoring specific locales, it’s Yorkshire Day in England and Swiss National Day. I’m not sure exactly what trait of the inhabitants of Yorkshire inspired the Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch (someone inform me), but here are four of them competing to have had the most deprived upbringing:

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) is an animated drawing that, when you click on it, takes you to various sources of information about Turkana Boy, a skeleton of Homo ergaster from a boy 7-11 years old who lived 1.5-1.6 million years ago. (The connection with August 1 is uncertain, though the remains were discovered in August.) The skeleton (below), discovered in 1984 in Kenya, it constitutes the most complete set of early human remains ever found.

Turkana Boy, cast at the American Museum of Natural History

Wine of the Day:

I don’t remember buying this 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, nor what I paid for it, but I buy all my wine from Vin Chicago, so at least I know where I got it. If you bought it now it would seem to cost about $50 per bottle, which at present is cheap for a ten year old Châteauneuf, but I remember the good old days when you could get a very good one for less than half that. (Good Rhone wines are my favorite reds, even better than Bordeaux, though I have little experience with good Burgundies.) Made from 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, with scores of 95 from Robert Parker and 93 from Jeb Dunnuck—both with reliable palates that jibe with mine—I had it on a “meat day” ribeye steak (rare), heirloom tomatoes, and a baguette.

It was a very good example of the genre—not the best, mind you, but like encountering an old friend.  The “black olive” flavor I associate with Rhones was missing, but this was an almost off-dry wine with appealing flavors of raspberry jam. It is by no means over the hill at 11 years old and kept at suboptimal (70ºF) storage. It was so tasty that I drank more than my share, usually a tad less than half a bottle (I stretch a bottle out over three days, with a smallish glass the last day), and will finish it off tomorrow. Rhones rule!

News of the Day:

Three Jamaicans took all the medals in the women’s 100-meter dash, and the New York Times has a long photographic and graphic exposition of the race, showing how the running speed rises from zero, peaking at about 24 mph at roughly 50 meters, and declining by 3-4 mph at the finish. The winner was Elaine Thompson-Herah, 29, who also took the 100 m gold in the last Olympics; she set an Olympic record of 10.61 seconds—a bit behind the world record for this distance (10.49 seconds set in 1998 by Florence Griffith-Joyner).  Thompson-Herah’s top speed was 24.2 mph, considerably slower than the world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah, timed at between 68 and 75 mph.

And have you noticed all the tattoos on view during the Tokyo Olympics? I don’t ever remember seeing any tattooed athlete in previous games, but now everybody seems to be inked. The Associated Press has a series of photos of tattooed athletes, some of them over the top. (below)

It’s ironic because being tattooed makes you somewhat of a pariah in Japan: as the article notes, “Tattoos remain stigmatized in Japan, where those with them are commonly banned from beaches, gyms, pools and elsewhere around Japan.” Also in onsen, hot springs resorts. I believe the reason is that tattoos in Japan are associated with criminal gangs. Here’s one from the AP piece:

(From the AP): Adam Peaty, of Britain, swims the men’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

There has to be a physiological limit to the times of such races, because, after all, nobody can run it in 5 seconds, so, given human morphology and physiology, there’s a speed that cannot be exceeded. But we don’t know what it is.

(From ABC News): Elaine Thompson-Herah, center, of Jamaica, celebrates after winning the women’s 100-meter final with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, of Jamaica, second place, and Shericka Jackson, of Jamaica, third, at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, July 31, 2021.

You all know about the delta variant of Covid-19, and how it’s playing hob with the world’s desire to return to normalcy (there were just protests in France at proposed new lockdowns), but we’ve already talked about that. Wear your masks, plan for a booster (I assume all readers are vaccinated), and try to socially distance yourself, even if you are vaccinated.

In a NYT op-ed, authors Jon Haidt and Jean Twinge report  that loneliness among Generation Z young adults (those born after 1996) rose since 2012 in 36 out of 37 countries surveyed, and that depression is going up as well. Why? The authors blame smartphones, which reduce social interaction. Humans are social primates, and, deprived of one-on-one interaction, they suffer. The solution: keep kids away from their phones, like locking the devices up during the school day. I see this at the duckpond all the time: people ignore the wonderful things the ducks are doing because they’re so fixated on getting that one iPhone shot or selfie.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 612,918, an increase of 308 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,234,090, an increase of about 8,600 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on August 1 includes:

  • 1620 – Speedwell leaves Delfshaven to bring pilgrims to America by way of England.
  • 1774 – British scientist Joseph Priestley discovers oxygen gas, corroborating the prior discovery of this element by German-Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele.
  • 1834 – Slavery is abolished in the British Empire as the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 comes into force, although it remains legal in the possessions of the East India Company until the passage of the Indian Slavery Act, 1843.
  • 1893 – Henry Perky patents shredded wheat.

Here’s the patent, though the submission is dated August 2, 1895. What Perky did on this date in 1893 is patent a machine that could process cereal, possibly enabling the making of biscuits. After that I’ve put an amusing 1909 ad for shredded wheat touting its health advantages:

I guess the British equivalent, Weetbix, would be just as good for you:

The conventional wisdom is that that U.S. track and field star was snubbed by Hitler, as Owens (who won four gold medals in Berlin) was black. The Encyclopedia Brittanica, though, says that this is not true.  But Owens did foil Hitler’s plans for a German-dominated Olympics. Here’s Owens on the podium after the long jump:

From history.com: The gold, silver and bronze medal winners in the long jump competition salute from the victory stand at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. From left, Japan’s Naoto Tajima (bronze), American Jesse Owens (gold) who set an Olympic record in the event and Germany’s Luz Long (silver) giving a Nazi salute, August 8, 1936. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
  • 1944 – World War II: The Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi German occupation breaks out in Warsaw, Poland.

The largest organized resistance action during the war, this was the attempt of the Polish resistance to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. After several months, the resistance lost. Here they are surrendering to the Germans on October 5, 1944; many were sent to POW camps. And then the Nazis proceeded to nearly obliterate the city.

  • 1965 – Frank Herbert‘s novel, Dune was published for the first time. It was named as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel in 2003.

A first edition and first printing of Dune with slipcover will cost you between $4000 and, if signed, $10,000.

  • 1966 – Charles Whitman kills 16 people at the University of Texas at Austin before being killed by the police.

On autopsy Whitman was shown to have a serious malignant brain tumor, but medical experts have no consensus about whether the tumor prompted or contributed to the murders.

  • 1966 – Purges of intellectuals and imperialists becomes official China policy at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

A “struggle session” during the Cultural Revolution. Look familiar?

Here’s one whole concert (there were two of them in one day):

Finnbogadóttir served from 1980-1996: here she is in 1995

Bezoek president IJsland, mevrouw Vigdis Finnbogadottir inspecteert met Koningin Beatrix erewacht op Rotterdam Airport
*19 september 1985

In his mid-20s, some time between 2 BC and 119 AD, Lindow man died violently: (throat cut, strangled, and struck on the head—probably a ritual sacrifice. Here’s his freeze-dried body, which you can see in the British Museum:

Notables born on this day include:

Mocked by many biologists for being wrong about how evolution worked, Lamarck was nevertheless the first naturalist to propose a comprehensive theory of evolution. Where he went wrong is in assuming that the environment itself, or use and disuse of a feature, could change the hereditary material, giving rise to the characterization of “Lamarckism” as “the inheritance of acquired characteristics.” He could have been right, but he wasn’t, and, with the exception of a few epigenetic modifications that are inherited for a few generations, the change in the hereditary material comes first, via mutation, and those mutations that leave more copies come to predominate in the population. Darwin didn’t get genetics right either, and came close to Lamarck in some places, but he thought of natural selection and Lamarck didn’t.

  • 1770 – William Clark, American soldier, explorer, and politician, 4th Governor of Missouri Territory (d. 1838)
  • 1819 – Herman Melville, American novelist, short story writer, and poet (d. 1891)

Do you know what Melville looked like? Here’s a picture of him in 1861, ten years after he wrote Moby-Dick. He was a seaman from 1841-1844.

Here’s his obituary notice from the New York Times in 1891, misspelling the title of his famous book and leaving out the hyphen:

  • 1907 – Eric Shipton, Sri Lankan-English mountaineer and explorer (d. 1977)
  • 1931 – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, American singer-songwriter and guitarist
  • 1936 – W. D. Hamilton, Egyptian born British biologist, psychologist, and academic (d. 2000)
  • 1942 – Jerry Garcia, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 1995)

Those who decamped from life on August 1 include:

  • 30 BC – Mark Antony, Roman general and politician (b. 83 BC)
  • 1903 – Calamity Jane, American frontierswoman and scout (b. 1853)

The frontierswoman and scout’s real name was Martha Jane Cannary. She often wore men’s clothes, as below:

(From Wikipedia): Cabinet photograph captioned in the negative, Calamity Jane, Gen. Crook’s Scout. An early view of Calamity Jane wearing buckskins, with an ivory-gripped Colt Single Action Army revolver tucked in her hand-tooled holster, holding a Sharps rifle.
  • 1966 – Charles Whitman, American murderer (b. 1941) [See above]
  • 1977 – Francis Gary Powers, American captain and pilot (b. 1929)
  • 2007 – Tommy Makem, Irish singer-songwriter and banjo player (b. 1932)

Makem singing “Will You Go, Lassie Go?“:

  • 2015 – Cilla Black, English singer and actress (b. 1943)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, there were troubles getting the Hili Dialogue today as the Internet and electricity are largely down in Dobrzyn again (there were storms). But phone wireless succeeded! Hili is, as usual, antitheist:

Hili: I see the Messiah.
Andrzej: What does he look like?
Hili: LIke the previous swindler.

In Polish:

Hili: Widzę mesjasza.
Ja: Jak wygląda?
Hili: Tak jak ten poprzedni oszust.

From David: A poem on Sean Hannity written by John Cleese:

Another superfluous sign from David:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Stephen Fry: be sure to enlarge the screen and turn the sound up (not too loud!) as a Tunisian’s swimmer’s family watches him win the gold in the 400m freestyle.

Two tweets from Ginger K.. First, an artwork made from willow rods:

This one comes with a famous video:

Tweets from Matthew. I assume the first one is true, so that all cats have webbed toes like this Sphynx. There’s also a reply:

Speaking of felids, this young bobcat needs to learn to be a bit more wary:

Translation from the Dutch: “Yes, then you are a boss.”

Cat wins! Cat wins!

Is now the winter of our discontent?

July 31, 2021 • 12:15 pm

I was talking to a friend last night who told me how worn out she was from the pandemic—and she has family all around her, including two grandkids. That made me realize how worn out we all our from our more-than-a-year sequestration. Nobody has been immune.

And now the specter looms of yet another lockdown and mask festival, this time caused by the delta variant of Covid, which can not only infect those who are doubly vaccinated, but can live in huge numbers in their nasal passages and infect other vaccinated people.  A huge number of Americans are resisting not only getting vaccinated, but also to wearing masks. Some yahoo governmental officials have declared that they won’t even consider mask mandates. All of this this presages another tough time this fall and winter. These are my predictions, and I dearly hope I’m wrong.

a.) There will be another surge in infections, which in fact is starting now, and breakthrough infections will start happening with the vaccinated. Other variants may arise even more dangerous than the delta. Kids will start getting the virus.

b.)  Booster shots will be instituted by the fall, and the smart folks will get them. In fact, I think we’ll need at least an annual COVID shot because immunity is wearing off faster than many thought.

c.) Perhaps more Americans will start wising up about vaccination and masking, but not enough of them. On Thursday heard four healthcare workers on the NBC Evening News explain why they didn’t want to get vaccinated. Healthcare workers! One said she didn’t trust the CDC. Another, confronted with the “facts” about vaccine efficacy, said she didn’t believe them.

d.) We will start having more lockdowns and mask mandates, and people, worn out from the last ones, will be even more resistant than before. Eight of the fifty states have indoor mask mandates. As of now, only two of of them (Nevada and Hawaii), as well as Washington, D.C., include the vaccinated. But of course we know now that the vaccinated can not only get infected, but spread the virus. (The just don’t get as sick as the unvaccinated.)

d.) As schools start to open, and the concert/entertainment festivals start, superpreader events will occur.  (The giant Lollapalooza Music Festival is going on right now in Chicago. You can get in if you wear a mask, but if you’re unmasked, you’re required to show a negative Covid test in the last three days or your vaccination card. But which masked people will  be keeping them on in the huge crowd?)  This all will lead to more lockdowns and other restrictions.

e.) Schools will open soon. Many kids have not been vaccinated, and nobody under 12 is even eligible. What with the Delta variant about, which makes younger people sicker than the previous variants, proper social distancing, air filtering, and mask wearing are essential for live classes. Everybody connected with school is sick of virtual teaching, so schools will desperately try to stay open “live”. This will cause problems, and many schools may go back to virtual classes.

The upshot: the “Summer of freedom” we all expected is dissolving fast, and I suspect we’re facing another wearing Fall and Winter of Restrictions. Many more people in the U.S. will die than would have had they gotten their jabs, and we’re all in for more restrictions, masking, and travel bans.

In short, it’s going to be tough until well into 2022. Such is my prediction, which is mine. It’s depressing. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see it coming.

 

The Delta variant of COVID-19 (caption from NPR), which is more dangerous because it proliferates faster in the respiratory tract and reaches higher numbers: 1,000 times higher than previous variants.

The numerals in this illustration show the main mutation sites of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which is likely the most contagious version. Here, the virus’s spike protein (red) binds to a receptor on a human cell (blue). Juan Gaertner/Science Source

Matt Taibbi on the decline of NPR

July 31, 2021 • 10:45 am

NPR is the station I always have playing on my car radio, but I pay little attention to it save when I yell and rant when Krista Tippett comes on at 7 a.m. Sunday morning as I’m on my way to buy groceries. And of course Tippett is woke as hell, not to mention unctuous and lachrymose, but I rarely listen to other shows as I use my car infrequently.

In my post on NPR’s new ethics policy yesterday, a couple of readers took time to complain about how dire NPR has become, focusing obsessively on race and gender. Well, that’s what the New York Times and Washington Post do as well, so I’m not surprised, but I can’t vouch for NPR myself. One reader, though, called my attention to a new piece by Matt Taibbi about the decline of the station. Although Taibbi was described as a “center left journalist”, he really does a number on the lefty NPR—a column as funny and scathing as any I’ve seen lately. I’d reproduce it in its entirety, but that wouldn’t be fair, so click on the link below to read his short demolition of the station. I’ll give a few quotes to show the tenor of the piece.

Taibbi begins by showing how NPR denigrates conservative Ben Shapiro in its recent article “Outrage As A Business Model: How Ben Shapiro Is Using Facebook To Build An Empire”—not for being fake news, but for polarizing the media AND being too popular. Here’s a graph from NPR of Facebook engagement (monthly likes, shares, and comments per article) of Shapiro’s “The Daily Wire” site compared to five mainstream media (The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, and Fox News, along with four conservative sites (Shapiro’s Daily Wire, Breitbart News, The Blaze, and the Western Journal).  The Daily Wire tops them all by far. That doesn’t sit well with the liberal folks at NPR.

Here’s a quote from the NPR piece followed by Taibbi’s ascerbic remark:

“. . . by only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as negative reports about socialist countries and polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues) and only including certain facts, readers still come away from The Daily Wire’s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.”

NPR has not run a piece critical of Democrats since Christ was a boy. Moreover, much like the New York Times editorial page (but somehow worse), the public news leader’s monomaniacal focus on “race and sexuality issues” has become an industry in-joke. For at least a year especially, listening to NPR has been like being pinned in wrestling beyond the three-count. Everything is about race or gender, and you can’t make it stop.

Taibbi notes that now even progressive people in the media can’t stand the nonstop wokeism on NPR (and please, readers, don’t tell me that the Republicans are worse than the Woke, as I already know that). Taibbi gives a list of recent NPR reports, accompanied by his own ascerbic comments:

Billie Eilish Says She Is Sorry After TikTok Video Shows Her Mouthing A Racist Slur.” Pop star caught on tape using the word “chink” when she was “13 or 14 years old” triggers international outrage and expenditure of U.S. national media funding. [JAC The article doesn’t mention the c-word, so Taibbi either has inside information or sussed it out.]

Black TikTok Creators Are On Strike To Protest A Lack Of Credit For Their Work.” White TikTok users dance to Nicky Minaj lyrics like, “I’m a f****** Black Barbie. Pretty face, perfect body,” kicking off “a debate about cultural appropriation on the app.”

Geocaching While Black: Outdoor Pastime Reveals Racism And Bias.” Area man who plays GPS-based treasure hunt game requiring forays into remote places and private property describes “horrifying” experience of people asking what he’s doing. [JAC: preferential questionins of blacks is a real problem, but there is article after article about the problem occurring in specific instances, like geocaching and birdwatching. How many more of these do we need?]

Broadway Is Reopening This Fall, And Every New Play Is By A Black Writer.” All sevennew plays being written by black writers is “a step toward progress,” but critics “will be watching Broadway’s next moves” to make sure “momentum” continues.

She Struggled To Reclaim Her Indigenous Name. She Hopes Others Have It Easier.” It took Cold Lake First Nations member Danita Bilozaze nine whole months to change her name to reflect her Indigenous identity.

Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.” Tom Hanks pushing for more widespread teaching of the Tulsa massacre doesn’t change the fact that he’s built a career playing “white men ‘doing the right thing,’” NPR complains. [JAC: This gets the Pecksniff Award for the lot.]

One more comment by Taibbi:

Mixed in with Ibram Kendi recommendations for children’s books, instructions on how to “decolonize your bookshelf” and “talk to your parents about racism” (even if your parents are an interracial couple), and important dispatches from the war on complacency like “Monuments And Teams Have Changed Names As America Reckons With Racism, Birds Are Next,” “National” Public Radio in the last year has committed itself to a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of the most moralizing, tendentious, humor-deprived, jargon-obsessed segment of American society. Yet without any irony, yesterday’s piece still made deadpan complaint about Shapiro’s habit of “telling [people] what their opinions should be” and speaking in “buzzwords.”

Oy gewalt! I’m going shopping in a few minutes so I’ll listen for myself, but the drive is only ten minutes. Taibbi concludes, not mincing words, that “NPR sucks and is unlistenable, so people are going elsewhere. And they’re jealous of Ben Shapiro!

I”ll have to investigate this Taibbi fellow. . .

And NPR just had the news.

Caturday felid trifecta: How to befriend a misanthropic cat; Instagram “influencer” cat banned for being too young; cats smell durian fruit for the first time; and lagniappe

July 31, 2021 • 9:15 am

From Mathew Inman’s The Oatmeal we get “10 ways to befriend a misanthropic cat“. Many of you will recognize the techniques. I’ll show a few of the ten ways.

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Ernie is a three-legged cat in Vallejo, California with an Instagram account called @erniezjourney. Here’s a photo:

But Ernie got in trouble according to this post on ABC 7 News in the Bay Area (click on screenshot):

From the story:

Ernie is no ordinary feline. The feral cat has more than 8,000 followers on social media under the account @erniezjourney. He came into the lives of Irene Wong and her father Joe Zwetsloot of Vallejo when they found Ernie purring underneath their parked car. . . .

Ernie paw was badly injured, and so they had to amputate his leg.  But then Ernie found himself in Instagram Jail:

. . . .At the beginning of the pandemic, Wong decided she would launch an Instagram account just for Ernie. Then, almost a year later, she thought it would be fun to list Ernie’s birthday on his account.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it would be cute to put his birthday in his setting so that when people look at his account, they would see when his birthday is,'” she said. That was a mistake.

You see, Ernie is 9… and the minimum age to open an Instagram account is 13. Instagram promptly shut down Ernie’s account for being underage.

“So I had to say, ‘This is my cat’s account and I handle, I’m the manager, of the account and I’m 50. So you know, come on,'” she said, laughing.

Irene launched a #FreeErnie campaign. She pleaded and pleaded, but nothing seemed to work. Through it all, Ernie seemed to love the attention.

“He’s like a baby too. He’s very needy. He needs people,” Zwetsloot said.

So they got the television station involved, and, after 36 days of banning, Ernie was released:

. . . Wong contacted 7 On Your Side. We contacted Instagram and even Facebook, the parent company. A few days later, Ernie got out of Instagram jail. The company admitted its mistake, saying, “It was a false positive which lead to their account being disabled. The account owner is back to posting normally.”

Ernie is now back mugging for the camera for his 8,000 plus followers

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Durian, which you can buy fresh in Southeast Asia, is the world’s stinkiest fruit: it smells and tastes like a combination of onions and smelly feet. But many people love it! I tried it in Singapore and absolutely couldn’t stand it, but my friend’s mom wolfed it down. It’s so odiferous that in Singapore you’re not allowed to carry it on public transportation.

It turns out that cats recognize its odious qualities too.

Here’s a video of cats smellin durian for the first time. They are reacting properly, and several of them gag.

This is what the fruit looks like when you buy it and then open it. There are many cultivars (two are shown in the second picture):

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Lagniappe (from reader Terrance): a Chevy Truck commercial featuring Walter the Adventurous cat. He even fetches a stick from the water!  The YouTube notes:

Meet a truck guy whose best friend isn’t a dog — it’s a cat. Onlookers are amazed by this cat who acts just like a dog, but this Silverado owner thinks that his Multi-Flex Tailgate — with six different configurations — is way more amazing.

h/t: Ginger K., Terrance

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 31, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from reader Jim McCormac of Ohio. He has a “massive photo website” here, and a blog here. Jim’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

A showy snarl of partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) lines the sidewalk to my front door. This native member of the pea family (Fabaceae) is an annual, and easily grown. My yard – front and back – is full of native flora, as natives greatly spike the fauna, especially insects. Partridge pea is an especially interesting case of coevolutionary relationships between plants and insects. All of these images were shot in the patch of pea shown in this photo, in about a half hour.

A bumble bee in the genus Bombus approaches a partridge pea flower. Bumbles are certainly the most noticeable and probably most numerous insect pollinator, at least in my flower patch. It’s interesting to listen to them “buzz pollinate” the flowers by rapidly and noisily vibrating their wings to cause pollen to fall from the stamens.

There is another less obvious and arguably more interesting way in which partridge pea lures insects into its foliage. This is an extrafloral nectary, located near the base of leaf petioles. Extrafloral nectaries are like tiny cups that constantly exude a rich sugary secretion. This substance, which is about 95% sugar, is irresistible to certain insects, especially those in the Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps).

An ant (species unknown to me) drinks from an extrafloral cup. Ants may be the best known visitors of partridge pea extrafloral nectaries, and I learned about this relationship about a decade ago. But many other insects visit the sugar cups, on partridge pea and the other 2,000 or so plants in over five dozen families worldwide. One theory is that by enticing predatory insects, as many ants and wasps are, into the foliage via extrafloral nectaries, they will discourage herbivory and flower damage by attacking insect herbivores such as caterpillars.

A beetle bandit (Cerceris ssp.) sips from a nectary. Various beetles such as weevils can be major floral consumers, so perhaps beetle bandit wasps – well known to prey on weevils – pay the plant back by controlling these insects.

 

This Mexican grass-carrying wasp, Isodontia mexicana, is looking a bit tattered. Isodontid wasps are one of the more frequent visitors to my partridge peas. They prey on tree crickets and other small Orthopterans, and this group feeds on foliage.

A spider wasp in the genus Auplopus stuffs its face. Many spider wasp species are high strung and edgy, habitually twitching their wings and moving about rapidly as they hunt prey.

 

A personal favorite and a spectacular wasp, the yellow-legged mud dauber (Sceliphron caementarium). The insect is the very definition of “wasp-waisted”. They make mud nests which are attached to walls, rocks or other structures. These adobe crypts are provisioned with paralyzed spiders for the wasp larvae to nosh on.

I have seen many other insect species visiting the extrafloral nectaries, and hope to spend some more time photo-documenting them. Oh, one might wonder why someone like me would wish to entice wasps and bees into close proximity to my front door and walkway. It’s not a problem. These insects are non-aggressive, quite busy with their activities, and pay us no mind. In many years of sticking my camera in the faces of stinging insects, I have only been stung a few times – and those were by bald-faced hornets after apparently approaching their large paper nests a bit too close.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

July 31, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Cat Sabbath and the last day of the month, July 31, 2021: National Cotton Candy Day (I believe it’s called “candy floss” in the UK and “fairy floss” in Australia and New Zealand).  It’s pure sugar (one cone has about the calories of a can of Coke), sometimes with a bit of coloring, and here’s how it’s made:

It’s also National Avocado Day, Shredded Wheat Day, National Raspberry Cake Day, National Jump for Jelly Beans Day, and National Mutt Day, celebrating the canid equivalent of moggies.

News of the Day:

The only news I wanted to hear about Trump after he left office was that he was in court being tried for malfeasance.  But the news reveals tells us that Trump pressured the Department of Justice to declare the 2020 election “corrupt“. As the NYT reports:

The exchange unfolded during a phone call on Dec. 27 in which Mr. Trump pressed the acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and his deputy, Richard P. Donoghue, on voter fraud claims that the Justice Department had found no evidence for. Mr. Donoghue warned that the department had no power to change the outcome of the election. Mr. Trump replied that he did not expect that, according to notes Mr. Donoghue took memorializing the conversation.

“Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” and to congressional allies, Mr. Donoghue wrote in summarizing Mr. Trump’s response.

“Leave the rest to me.”  Clearly that meant that Trump was going to press Congress to nullify or change the election results, and oy, did he try. To quote Big Daddy, Trump is surrounded by the odor of mendacity.

Oh, and speaking of the Department of Justice, they’ve just declared that Trump has to turn over his tax returns to Congress, which can use them to see if he violated tax law. Remember during the campaign when he promised to turn them over? Now he’s fighting their release tooth and nail. He will appeal, and he will lose. Most readers here don’t think he’ll ever go to jail.

Perhaps stung by criticism of the recent sharp rise in immigration from the south and the administration’s handling of it (court cases can take months or years to resolve), President Biden announced yesterday that the government would begin what they call “expedited removal”, the deportation of immigrants without requiring a hearing before an immigration judge.  The Washington Post notes:

Authorities carried out the deportations using a procedure known as Electronic Nationality Verification that allows them to determine migrants’ country of origin through biometric information-sharing programs. The procedure, also known as “no-doc flights,” allows ICE to deport migrants who cross the border without passports or identification.

Sadly, Statler, the geriatric fruit bat who had to be “flown” by hand, and became an Internet favorite (and an animal I loved), has passed away at the ripe old age of 34. HuffPost notes:

Statler suffered from arthritis, could no longer fly and had only one eye, but he still enjoyed an active routine.

He spent his days lounging with two other elderly bats in the “geribatric ward,” munching fruit salad, getting warm sponge baths and, most famously, going out for his daily simulated flight. Statler would spread his wings as his caretakers carried him through the air around the facility.

(h/t Barry).  Here’s the announcement on Instagram:

Inspired by the visit of reader Simon to The Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan, reader James, passing through the area, also went there yesterday, sending a picture of the restaurant (with its mascot, “Cherry Jerry”) and his large piece of cherry pie (sadly, without vanilla ice cream). He also pronounced the lunch special of grilled cheese sandwich and tomato/basil soup excellent. If you’re on the west coast of Michigan, near the lake, be sure to visit this place for homestyle cooking and the best cherry pie around. And tell them that (non Cherry) Jerry said hello.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 612,775, an increase of 301 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,225,434, an increase of about 10,300 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on July 31 includes:

After he died, his paramour, Cleopatra, also killed herself. Here’s a Romantic painting in earlier and happier days, with the Wikipedia caption, “Antony and Cleopatra (1883) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema depicting Antony’s meeting with Cleopatra in 41 BC.”

  • 781 – The oldest recorded eruption of Mount Fuji (Traditional Japanese date: Sixth day of the seventh month of the first year of the Ten’o (天応) era).
  • 1492 – The Jews are expelled from Spain when the Alhambra Decree takes effect.
  • 1588 – The Spanish Armada is spotted off the coast of England.
  • 1790 – The first U.S. patent is issued, to inventor Samuel Hopkins for a potash process.

Here’s U.S. Patent #1, and it’s signed by George Washington:

Well, that sentence is a bit misleading. Healy, who was only 1/16 black, self-identified and passed for white his whole life and was widely recognized as the black president of Georgetown only after his death. As Wikipedia notes, “Though he himself identified as White, knowledge of his mixed race background would not be a secret while he served as president of Georgetown University. His fellow Jesuits knew of his mixed race, but it is unlikely that this was widely known outside of Jesuit circles.”

Here’s the letter from Göring to Heydrich about the Final (really “Overall”) Solution of the Jewish question (“die Gesamtlösung der Judenfrage”). What they meant by the “final solution” was the deportation of all the Jews to Poland, where they would be exterminated. Click photo to enlarge:

A photo from Ranger 7, with the caption “Last picture by Ranger 7, taken about 488 m above the Moon, reveals features as small as 38 cm across. The noise pattern at right results from spacecraft impact while transmitting.”

I couldn’t find a picture of the actual Black Tot Day, but here’s a photo of British sailors lining up for their daily rum ration: one-eighth of a pint. Note the traditional “God Save the King” rum barrel.

How many medals? 28!: 23 Gold, 3 Silver, and 2 Bronze. Look! (The runner up is the Russian woman gymnast Larysa Latynina, who won 18 medals (9 gold, 5 silver, and 4 bronze).

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1800 – Friedrich Wöhler, German chemist and academic (d. 1882)
  • 1912 – Milton Friedman, American economist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2006)
  • 1919 – Primo Levi, Italian chemist and author (d. 1987)

Levi, a Jewish chemist, spent a year in Auschwitz before he was liberated. He wrote two great books: If This is a Man, about Auschwitz, and The Periodic Table, about chemistry. Here he is:

  • 1932 – John Searle, American philosopher and academic
  • 1965 – J. K. Rowling, English author and film producer [I’m surprised they didn’t say “transphobe”]

Those who checked out on July 31 include:

  • 1556 – Ignatius of Loyola, Spanish priest and theologian, founded the Society of Jesus (b. 1491)
  • 1784 – Denis Diderot, French philosopher and critic (b. 1713)
  • 1886 – Franz Liszt, Hungarian pianist, composer, and conductor (b. 1811)
  • 1966 – Bud Powell, American pianist (b. 1924)

Powell was a fantastic pianist as you’ll hear in his rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s song “A Night in Tunisia” below.  Sadly, like many jazz musicians, Powell died young of tuberculosis: he was only 41. Charlie Christian, Jimmy Blanton, and so on. . .  we’d have a lot more jazz without that bacterium.

  • 2012 – Gore Vidal, American novelist, screenwriter, and critic (b. 1925)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili has become a woke penitente:

A: Aren’t these stones too hard for you to lie on?
Hili: They are, I’m trying to atone for my cat privilege.
In Polish:
Ja: Czy nie jest ci twardo na tych kamieniach?
Hili: Jest, próbuję odpokutować za mój koci przywile

Another superfluous sign from David:

 

A rock alphabet from Bruce. Some poor schmo had to find all these stones!

From Jesus of the Day, and this is pretty much right.

Titania has started tweeting more regularly now:

From Ken, who notes, “Does this man strike anyone as telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”:

From Ginger K., a kid after my own heart:

Tweets from Matthew. First, a thread with lots of lies told to kids. I’ll show only two:

An art joke captcha. If you don’t get it, brush up on your Magritte:

I was feeling low yesterday morning, and Matthew sent me this tweet, adding, “This will cheer you up, momentarily.” He knows me!

But look at that face and those bottle-green eyes!

No comment needed:

Gutsy impala evades wild dogs, crocodiles, and angry hippos

July 30, 2021 • 1:30 pm

It’s been a frustrating day: I spent an hour writing a critique of a Scientific American op-ed on “sex isn’t bimodal” only to discover the piece was several years old (and I probably wrote about it before). Into the trash can it went.  The good news, though, is that, through meticulous photographs of duck bills on Botany Pond, and matching them with others, I’ve discovered that Honey is still here although her four babies flew away a while back. She’s more timorous than she used to be, and I worry that she’s getting to be a Senior Duck. I hope she returns next year, as they’re going to revamp and dredge Botany Pond this fall.

So here’s a scary but ultimately heartening animal video, and I have to admit that I saw this video on HuffPost, which gives a bit of background. I tell you, this is one lucky antelope! First it gets away from a pack of wild dogs by swimming across a lake, evading a hungry crocodile and then charging hippos. But it survives!

HuffPo notes:

The footage was filmed at Thornybush Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger, South Africa.

National Geographic reported that the impala’s speed and ability to jump meant it was not as easy a target as it might appear, not even for the wild dogs in this video, which are known for their ruthless ability to take down prey.

“They have a reputation for being Africa’s most effective hunters, with, they say, up to 80% of their hunts ending in a kill,” wildlife photographer Nick Dyer told the BBC in 2019. “Personally, I think that’s a bit high, but it’s definitely well above that of a lion or a cheetah or a leopard.”

But wild dogs don’t swim, which the impala used to its advantage.

“For the impala to escape the wild dogs and then not got taken down by the crocodiles in there and get past the hippos was quite amazing,” ranger Daniel Hitchings told Kruger Sightings. “Sometimes luck is on your side and sometimes it isn’t. It was this impala’s day.”