The Skeptic magazine is skeptical about two sexes in humans; a clear thinker sets them straight

April 11, 2021 • 1:15 pm

It seems to be a dirty little secret in biology that most animals, including humans, have two and only two biological sexes. Gender (one’s assumed identity) may fall along a spectrum, but not sex. There are two. Only two. In animals, males make little wriggly little gametes—the sperm. Females make the large immobile gametes—the eggs. It is the capacity to produce one type of gamete or the other that is the biological definition of sex.

But this is a “dirty little secret” because is seems to contravene the view that if gender can take many forms, so can biological sex. In other words, denying the reality of what’s real is seen as politically expedient. And so we see scientific journals, science writers, and scientists themselves deny that there are just two sexes in humans—denying that sex is bimodal. (Yes, there are developmental aberrations and intermediate conditions, but they are vanishingly rare and are not “sexes” in the biological sense: they are the developmental derailing of the two sexes that have been favored by evolution.)

The denial of discrete sexes in humans is an ideological rather than a scientific position. It’s an embarrassment that the Society for the Study of Evolution took this position in an official statement, an embarrassment I highlighted in 2018. Conflating gender and sex, their statement said this:

We, the Council of the Society for the Study of Evolution, strongly oppose attempts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to claim that there is a biological basis to defining gender as a strictly binary trait (male/female) determined by genitalia at birth. Variation in biological sex and in gendered expression has been well documented in many species, including humans, through hundreds of scientific articles. Such variation is observed at both the genetic level and at the individual level (including hormone levels, secondary sexual characteristics, as well as genital morphology). Moreover, models predict that variation should exist within the categories that HHS proposes as “male” and “female”, indicating that sex should be more accurately viewed as a continuum. Indeed, experiments in other organisms have confirmed that variation in traits associated with sex is more extensive than for many other traits. Beyond the false claim that science backs up a simple binary definition of sex or gender, the lived experience of people clearly demonstrates that the genitalia one is born with do not define one’s identity. Diversity is a hallmark of biological species, including humans.  As a Society, we welcome this diversity and commit to serving and protecting members regardless of their biological sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.

Notice the conflation of “sex” with “gendered expression of sex”, the claim that “sex should be more accurately viewed as a continuum”, and the “false claim that science backs up a simple binary definition of sex”. To a sentient biologist, that statement is “not even wrong” except in a very few species of animal.  The ideological motivation for the statement becomes clear in the last sentence above.

Another scientist, Sarah Hearne, writing in the British magazine The Skeptic (motto: “reason with compassion”), makes the same conflation, and also for ideological rather than scientific reasons. You can read her piece by clicking on the screnshot below.  Fortunately, Hearne’s errors about sex have been corrected by a piece at The Quackometer (see further down).

 

Hearne, a graduate student in marine ecology, writes popular science well, and she gets off to a good start by showing that the concept of “species” is a bit slippery. There are intermediate cases, cases where we can’t determine whether two populations are species, and asexual groups in which determining “species” is pretty much subjective. (Allen Orr and I discuss this in our technical book Speciation.)

Hearne then goes on to show that the concept of an “individual” also breaks down in some groups, though is pretty easily definable in humans (of course there are rare exceptions, like conjoined twins). But these two episodes are just the prelude for her big point: that biological sex, like species, is an indefinable concept. Her main point is although we can define sex by gamete type, recognizing sex by other characteristics, like presence of breasts, hairiness, and on so, is much more difficult.  Ergo “nature abhors the clean division” of two sexes.

That her argument is political becomes clear at the end of her piece: one’s sex is a social construct, ergo can be declared at will by anyone. And women are oppressed:

One thing nobody is disputing is that recognising women as a group is important. Women face problems that men do not, and men face problems that women do not. Identifying these problems, identifying their causes, and fixing them is key to making the world a better place.

But we should also bear in mind that women aren’t discriminated against because they have vaginas, or breasts, or even because they have babies. Having babies makes it easier to discriminate against us, but the pay gap still exists for childfree women. It goes back to gender – the “socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities” that have led women to be less valued than men in society.

Those social constructions may have had biological roots long ago, but that’s no reason to continue perpetuating them unquestioningly. If someone says they are a woman and are seen by society as a woman then they experience the same socially constructed barriers and stigmas that all women experience to varying degrees.

Yes, but biological males declaring themselves as women become “trans” in the gender sense but not in the biological sense. (I always wonder, if sexes are not discrete, why there are “trans males” and “trans females.”  What is being transited?) A transgender woman is a “gender woman” but not a “biological woman”. This is clarified by Andy Lewis in the Quackometer piece below, which pinpoints Hearne’s fundamental error (the title gives a clue). Click on the screenshot to read it:

Hearne’s mistake, in Lewis’s words:

But Hearne is making a fundamental error here: she is conflating the ontology and epistemology of sex. That is, she is confusing two different sets of questions…

  1. What is a sex? How many sexes are there? And how do we characterise a sex? (the ontology of sex – what exists?)
  2. How do we recognise the sex of an individual? What features indicate sex? (the epistemology of sex – what can we know?)

Hearne starts off well by explaining the universally accepted biological definition of a female as the sex that produces ova. This is where she could have stopped. There is no disagreement here in the peer reviewed biology. But that would have meant her article failed, as unlike the terms “species” and “individual” in biology, the definition of what a sex is is clear cut and defined by reproductive role associated with a gamete type. The sexes are not like species where evolution has produced a myriad of variants over millions of years. The sexes of male and female appear to be a well conserved and stable reproductive strategy that has existed unchanged for between about 500 million and 1.3 billion years. Sex is a stable biological phenomenon, across vast evolutionary time, that we can easily define.

So, to give the impression that “female” is not clear-cut, Hearne switches from ontology to epistemology. We are not supposed to notice this switch. And to be fair, I doubt she realises she is doing it.

Hearne is trying to convince us that although biologists might have a definition of each sex, our knowledge of an individual’s sex may well be unknown because we cannot use the biologists definition in any practicable way in ordinary circumstance. Therefore – tada – “woman” is an unreliable concept.

That’s really all you need to say to refute her claim (remember, we’re dealing with biological sex, not gender). But Lewis has a few more points to make as well. First, what about the “intermediate” conditions that supposedly efface the binary nature of biological sex in humans? Lewis:

A common objection that crops up here are congenital development conditions. The existence of so-called intersex conditions is often seen as an ontological threat to our understanding of sex rather than an epistemological problem. That is, there is a claim that such congenital conditions lead to a need to redefine what a sex is and its characterisation (often expressed as “sex is a spectrum”). Instead it is a medical/biological problem of knowing what sex someone (or a butterfly) is when the usual secondary sex characteristics may be ambiguously formed. No peer reviewed biology paper has ever attempted to characterise sex as some sort of spectrum of possibilities despite absolute convictions about the matter from ideological positions.

That’s true. The non-binary nature of sex in humans appears only in ideological arguments, like that of the Society for the Study of Evolution. The ideological arguments are, as Lewis notes, the main point of Hearne’s piece:

The purpose of such arguments presented here in The Skeptic magazine is for us to be convinced that sex is arbitrary and not objectively knowable and to abandon objective attempts to define terms like male, female, man and woman. It is a textbook example of postmodernist denialism of science, reason and objectivity, using sleight of hand to undermine understanding. Such arguments are now so common and fashionable, even among those educated in medicine and biology, that recently the Endocrine Society in the US felt it needed to publish a position statement on the fact that sex is real, binary and immutable, and that recording sex accurately was vital in healthcare and research as we should not conflate sex and gender.

The rest of the argument presented in the Skeptic article then goes off on the predictable route of defending gender ideology that the only meaningful expression of sex (or gender) is through self-declaration – that you can be a man or woman only meaningfully though “identifying” as either. We are supposed to ignore the inherent incoherence and circularity here as otherwise we would would not be “kind” or, even worse, horrible bigots. We just have to accept that one can be a woman when the word “woman” has been denied any sort of objective meaning.

The denial of binary sex in humans (and many other animals, like my beloved Drosophila), is as irksome to me as it would be for a chemist to hear that the chemical elements are not discrete but form a continuum from hydrogen up to heavy elements: a continuum between copper, silver, and gold so that you can’t identify an atom as one or the other. That’s nonsense, of course, but no more nonsensical than denying the discreteness of biological males and females. The only difference is that there are no ideological implications of recognizing discrete chemical elements.

University of Oklahoma illegally compels students and staff to give “approved” answers during mandatory diversity training

April 11, 2021 • 11:15 am

Many university faculty and staff have taken mandatory training in human resources during their tenure.  For example, not long ago I took a required module in sexual harassment training, even as an emeritus professor (well, I do interact with other faculty, students, and staff). These modules proceed by giving a didactic overview about how to proceed in various situations, followed by a number of questions to determine if you understood the procedures. I didn’t think anything of it, nor did I think the training was out of line, as sexual harassment is illegal and creates a bad environment on campus for the harassed and everyone else.

But training in diversity issues is different, as you’ll see below. So far, the University of Chicago hasn’t instituted required diversity training, and I wouldn’t be happy if they did—not if it was like what the University of Oklahoma’s (UO’s) mandatory training involves. For, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), OU’s training does not let you pass the required modules unless you give certain approved answers. These answers don’t seem to involve obeying the law, but rather force you to agree with the University’s views on diversity. Click on the screenshot below to see a summary of the issue from the FIRE site:

It came to FIRE’s attention that in these modules, UO was forcing the trainees to agree with certain viewpoints—a form of “compelled speech” which, according to the Supreme Court, is illegal in public universities (these must obey the First Amendment). That’s because it may “compel students, faculty, and staff to agree with concepts that may violate their freedom of conscience”.   FIRE notes the Supreme Court precedent that prohibits compelled speech:

Famously, in ruling that schoolchildren cannot be compelled to salute the American flag, the Supreme Court held in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) that it’s unconstitutional for the government to require a person “to declare a belief [and . . . ] to utter what is not in his mind.” The Court, correctly, held that compelled speech “would strangle the free mind at its sources.”

How did FIRE know that compelled speech was likely taking place in UO’s training? A letter from FIRE to UO last November (pdf of letter here), reports the experiences of Elizabeth Owen, a (brave!) graduate student and staff member who had access to the diversity training materials. Owen was required to take three commercial diversity-training modules, which presented several hypothetical situations and then asked trainees to provide their “best choice”. Here are two examples of how Owen’s “best choice” was not the University’s. This one is from the FIRE article:

In one of these hypothetical situations, Owen was required to communicate with a fictional colleague named Michael. It showed a video of Michael saying he was “tired of all this transgender stuff” and gave Owen options to select in response. When Owen selected the response that she felt was most similar to her feelings (“I agree. Political correctness can be so tiring”), she was told that her opinion was not the “best choice.”

Had the video simply proceeded, there would arguably be no abridgment of Owen’s rights: She had chosen the answer she thought was best, the university disagreed, and the training would continue. That is similar to how an in-person training would likely work. (Assuming, of course, that the university did not find some other way to take adverse action against those giving “wrong” answers.)

Instead, however, the video automatically rewound, forcing Owen to select the answer choice that OU preferred — “You seem upset. What’s the matter?” — in order to continue. Owen was required to select the preferred answer in order to complete the mandatory training. In doing so, the university, an agency of the state, compelled Owen (and who knows how many others) to express a viewpoint with which she did not agree.

The modules are required, remember, so you have to agree with the University’s views to pass them.

And this example is from the letter that FIRE sent to OU.

Another example was a question about accommodations for an employee with fibromyalgia. The question states:

Anya has fibromyalgia and feels drained and in immense pain by the end of a workday. She sneaks in a few breaks when she can, but her work responsibilities can keep her from getting the rest she needs, and sometimes her efficiency suffers. What should Anya do?

Although Owen originally selected the response that most closely reflects what she would do were she Anya (“Nothing. She takes multiple breaks when she can to help with her disability, which is already more than her peers”), the training program required her to repeat the process, giving her an explanation about why OU did not select this as the proper answer. When Owen selected a second response that she believes would also be appropriate (“Talk to her supervisor about switching to part-time, or a less demanding position”), she was again required to repeat the process. Finally, when Owen selected the response that OU has marked as the correct choice (“Talk to her supervisor about what reasonable accommodations can be made for her”), she was permitted to move on.

On these and other questions, Owen disagreed with the mandatory OU-selected answer but was forced to affirm OU’s preferred response rather than the response that reflects her own conscience. Failing to do so would render her unable to complete the mandatory training and thereby subject her to adverse action by the university.

FIRE concluded its November letter this way, drawing an analogy between being forced to salute the flag—at the time a West Virginia law, which violated the conscience of Jehovah’s Witnesses—and to adhere to the University’s views about what is “appropriate” behavior. (Legal behavior is a separate issue.):

OU’s diversity trainings—however well-intended—require students, faculty, and staff to express the “correct” response and profess their agreement with the ideas that the university disseminates. While, as in Barnette, there would be no constitutional issue or burden on the freedom of conscience if the university’s administration simply shared its own views on the correct response to hypothetical situations, the requirement that students and faculty affirm the “correct” view is similar to the requirement in Barnette that students salute the flag.

If forcing schoolchildren to salute the flag with the goal of building national unity amidst the destruction of World War II did not make the cut for an exception, then neither does diversity training, however well-meaning, permit such an exception now. FIRE again calls on OU — and any other public college or university that uses similar training materials — to immediately remove any requirement that faculty or students agree with the university’s viewpoints and to commit to protecting its students’ and faculty’s rights.

Before FIRE can go further, like instituting a lawsuit against OU (which would probably succeed), it needs access to the modules themselves. After asking for them under the Freedom of Information Act, OU said, well, yes, FIRE could see them, but they’d have to travel to the University itself to see them in person!:

The university’s March 23 response — more than four months after our request — said that FIRE would be permitted to view the training materials, but only in person on OU’s campus in Norman, Oklahoma. In other words, in order to view public records, the University of Oklahoma would require a FIRE staff member to fly across the country (FIRE is based in Philadelphia) during a global pandemic. That’s not exactly a transparency-friendly approach to public records, and it all but ensures that public records remain private.

This is ridiculous, for these models could be made available to FIRE online. That is, in fact, how we take them: we register and then are given a code to access the test. OU is trying to prevent FIRE from coming down on the University for violating the First Amendment.

And it is this which made many of us worried earlier when our Provost suggested that the University of Chicago might also institute mandatory diversity training. The objection is that such training, as at OU, is not to determine if you understand your legal obligations, but if your own opinions conform to a preferred point of view—probably the tenets of Critical Race Theory. That would never fly at this school—at least I don’t think it would. At any rate, the University of Chicago seems to have dropped that suggestion.

But the University of Oklahoma, a public university, is digging in its heels. It really should do what FIRE suggested: stop using forms of training that require the trainees to agree with the University’s own views.

Ross Douthat laments the “elite’s” loss of faith

April 11, 2021 • 9:45 am

The answer to Ross Douthat’s title question below is, of course, “no”: the meritocracy, which I suppose one can define as either the rich or the educated, are increasingly giving up religion. And, if history be any guide, they’re unlikely to go back to it. Click on the screenshot below to read Douthat’s elegy for the loss of religion among America’s elite, his reasons why it’s happening, and his straw-grasping about how the meritocracy might come back to God. (Douthat is, of course, a staunch Catholic.)

Last year, by even Douthat’s admission, only 47% of Americans belonged to a church, mosque, or synagogue.  Two years ago, in an article called “In U.S., decline of Christianity continues at rapid pace,” the Pew Research Center presented the following graphs. As American Christianity has declined quickly, the proportion of “nones”—those who see themselves as agnostics, atheists, or holding “no religion in particular”—is growing apace. (remember, this is over only a dozen years).

The fall in religiosity has been faster among the younger than the older, among Democrats than among Republicans, and among those with more education rather than less.

Douthat calls these data “grim.” Here’s his worry:

A key piece of this weakness is religion’s extreme marginalization with the American intelligentsia — meaning not just would-be intellectuals but the wider elite-university-educated population, the meritocrats or “knowledge workers,” the “professional-managerial class.”

Most of these people — my people, by tribe and education — would be unlikely models of holiness in any dispensation, given their ambitions and their worldliness. But Jesus endorsed the wisdom of serpents as well as the innocence of doves, and religious communities no less than secular ones rely on talent and ambition. So the deep secularization of the meritocracy means that people who would once have become priests and ministers and rabbis become psychologists or social workers or professors, people who might once have run missions go to work for NGOs instead, and guilt-ridden moguls who might once have funded religious charities salve their consciences by starting secular foundations.

But this all sounds good to me! Isn’t it better to have more psychologists, social workers, and professors instead of more clerics? At least the secular workers are trained to do their job, and don’t have a brief to proselytize or inculcate children with fairy tales.

But no, not to Douthat. Implicit in his column is the worry that without religion, America would be less moral. (He doesn’t state this outright, but absent that belief his column makes no sense. Unless, that is, he’s interested in saving souls for Jesus.)

As a Christian inhabitant of this world, I often try to imagine what it would take for the meritocracy to get religion. There are certain ways in which its conversion doesn’t seem unimaginable. A lot of progressive ideas about social justice still make more sense as part of a biblical framework, which among other things might temper the movement’s prosecutorial style with forgiveness and with hope. Meanwhile on the meritocracy’s rightward wing — meaning not-so-woke liberals and Silicon Valley libertarians — you can see people who might have been new atheists 15 years ago taking a somewhat more sympathetic look at the older religions, out of fear of the vacuum their decline has left.

You can also see the concern with morality as Douthat proffers two reasons why, he thinks, the elite are prevented from hurrying back to Jesus, Moses, or Muhammad:

One problem is that whatever its internal divisions, the American educated class is deeply committed to a moral vision that regards emancipated, self-directed choice as essential to human freedom and the good life. The tension between this worldview and the thou-shalt-not, death-of-self commandments of biblical religion can be bridged only with difficulty — especially because the American emphasis on authenticity makes it hard for people to simply live with certain hypocrisies and self-contradictions, or embrace a church that judges their self-affirming choices on any level, however distant or abstract.

Again, I’m baffled about why Douthat sees religiously-based morality, particularly of the Catholic variety, as superior to humanistic morality. After all, only religious “morality” prescribes how and with whom you can have sex, the supposed “role” of women as breeders and subservient partners, the demonization of gays, the criminality of abortion, the desirability of the death penalty, and the immorality of assisted dying.  What kind of morality do you expect to get by following the dictates of a bunch of superstitious people from two millennia ago, people who had to posit an angry god to explain what they didn’t understand about the cosmos? You get the brand of religion that Douthat wants us all to have! For he sees religiously deontological morality as better than think-for-yourself morality: the “the thou-shalt-not, death-of-self commandments of biblical religion.”

And it’s clear, as Douthat continues his risible lament for the loss of faith, that he sees no contradiction between rationality and superstition, though the conflict between them, and the increasing hegemony of science in explaining stuff previously within God’s bailiwick, is what is driving the educated to give up their faith:

A second obstacle [to the elite regaining faith] is the meritocracy’s anti-supernaturalism: The average Ivy League professor, management consultant or Google engineer is not necessarily a strict materialist, but they have all been trained in a kind of scientism, which regards strong religious belief as fundamentally anti-rational, miracles as superstition, the idea of a personal God as so much wishful thinking.

Thus when spiritual ideas creep back into elite culture, it’s often in the form of “wellness” or self-help disciplines, or in enthusiasms like astrology, where there’s always a certain deniability about whether you’re really invoking a spiritual reality, really committing to metaphysical belief.

There are two misconceptions in two paragraphs. The first is that professors indoctrinate students with the belief that there is no God—we are training them in atheism, materialism, and scientism. But we don’t do that: the students give up God because, as they learn more, they also grasp that, as Laplace supposedly replied to Napoleon, we “have no need of that hypothesis.” If there were actual evidence for miracles and a theistic god, people wouldn’t abandon their faith.

Further, although some of the “nones” are spiritual in the sense of embracing stuff like astrology or crystal therapy, I see no evidence of a rise in embracing of woo as profound as the decline in religiosity.  The example of Scandinavia, which converted from religiosity to atheism in about 250 years, shows not only that religion isn’t needed to create a moral, caring society (indeed, it shows that religion is inimical to this), but also that religion needn’t be replaced by other forms of woo. As far as I know, the Danes and Swedes aren’t fondling their crystals with alacrity.

Nothing will shake Douthat’s faith in God, nor his faith in faith as an essential part of society—in this he resembles his co-religionist Andrew Sullivan—but he does adhere to a form of intelligent design held by those sentient people who are still religious:

Yes, science has undercut some religious ideas once held with certainty. But our supposedly “disenchanted” world remains the kind of world that inspired religious belief in the first place: a miraculously ordered and lawbound system that generates conscious beings who can mysteriously unlock its secrets, who display godlike powers in miniature and also a strong demonic streak, and whose lives are constantly buffeted by hard-to-explain encounters and intimations of transcendence. To be dropped into such a world and not be persistently open to religious possibilities seems much more like prejudice than rationality.

I don’t seem to have had those hard-to-explain encounters or intimations of transcendence. I must be missing my sensus divinitatis! What Douthat takes as evidence for God, like the tendency of humans to be clever but sometimes nasty, can be understood by a combination of our evolutionary heritage and our cultural overlay. The same holds for “a system that generates conscious beings.” It’s evolution, Jake!

In the end, Douthat is as baffled by we secularists’ rejection of God as I am by his credulous acceptance of the supernatural as the only plausible explanation for the Universe:

And my anthropological understanding of my secular neighbors particularly fails when it comes to the indifference with which some of them respond to religious possibilities, or for that matter to mystical experiences they themselves have had.

Like Pascal contemplating his wager, it always seems to me that if you concede that religious questions are plausible you should concede that they are urgent, or that if you feel the supernatural brush you, your spiritual curiosity should be radically enhanced.

Well, as a scientist one must always give a degree of plausibility to any hypothesis, but when that degree is close to zero on the confidence scale, we need consider it no further. Based on the evidence, the notion of a god is as implausible as notions of fairies, leprechauns, or other such creatures.  And if the plausibility is close to zero, then so is the urgency.  And even if the questions are urgent, which I don’t believe since the world’s well being doesn’t depend on them, they are also unanswerable, making them even less urgent. Would Douthat care to tell me why he thinks the Catholic god is the right one rather than the pantheon of Hindu gods, including the elephant-headed Ganesha? Isn’t it urgent to decide which set of beliefs is right?

But maybe it’s because I never felt the supernatural brush me.

Amen.

 

h/t: Bruce

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 11, 2021 • 8:15 am

It’s Sunday, so we resume our series of themed bird photos by John Avise. John’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Avian Stretches

Much like us, birds can display a wide variety of different poses when stretching.  From stretching their wings, to stretching their legs, to stretching their neck or back, this type of activity can result in many different postures, each typically held for just a second or two.  Some stretches may also be associated with or incorporated into other avian behaviors, such as sunbathing or courtship rituals.  This batch of photos shows a variety of birds captured during diverse stretching exercises.  Except where otherwise noted, all pictures were taken in North America.

Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera:

Blue-winged Teal, Anas discors:

Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis:

American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana:

Another American Avocet:

Marbled Godwit, Limosa fedoa:

Another Marbled Godwit:

Willet, Catoptrophorus semipalmatus:

Another Willet:

 

Western Sandpipers, Calidris mauri:

Black-necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus:

Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna:

Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis:

Blue-footed Booby, Sula nebouxii (Galapagos Islands):

Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens:

Sunday: Hili dialogue

April 11, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on a dreary Sunday, April 11, 2020: National Cheese Fondue Day.  It’s also National Pet Day and Barbershop Quartet Day, celebrating the foundation of  the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. In Canada it’s National Poutine Day, but it should be an International Poutine Day given the deliciousness of this unhealthy dish. Finally, it’s International Louie Louie Day, celebrating the birthday of Richard Berry, who wrote the song in 1955. However, it wasn’t a big hit until the Kingsmen’s version in 1963.

Here’s a poutine I ate in 2016 at the famous “La Banquise” poutine joint in Montreal:

And a sampling of prizewinning barbershop quartets:

I wondered if there were any all-women barbershop quartets. A quick Googling showed what I should have known: of course. Here’s one!

News of the Day:

The NY Times editorial board has an Important Editorial urging us to resume the nuclear deal with Iran. They seem to think that this will put Iran’s acquisition of a bomb on permanent hold.  To quote George Orwell on this matter, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” Iran is going to get the bomb one way or another, and has been cheating like gangbusters since the deal was forged; see here for the grim story.  Although the deal was nixed by Trump, our diplomacy should be conducted not with a view of stopping Iran from getting the bomb, but assuming that it will, and acting with that knowledge. Slowing down its program doesn’t seem to be that useful: how is it better for Iran to have a bomb in 2030 than in 2025?

If you haven’t seen Ken Burns’s and Lynn Novick’s wonderful three-part series on Ernest Hemingway, go to the link below (it may not work outside the U.S.) and watch as much as you can before they take down free access. I’ve read just about everything Hemingway ever wrote, and Carlos Baker’s biography, but there was a lot to learn—and to see—in this six-hour series. It is especially good on his writing, with extensive quotes and expert literary talking heads, and shows how much of a jerk the man could be, especially to his four wives. And it makes me want to go back and reread a lot of his work, the ultimate benefit of such a series.

The HuffPost Personal section was especially intriguing on Friday, especially the piece on RBG and the Satanic Temple.

Reuters reports that the “South African variant” of the coronavirus (“B.1.351”) can infect people doubly vaccinated with the Pfizer jab more easily than other variants. The prevalence of the variant was eight times higher in doubly injected people than in the general population. Not to worry yet, though, as the prevalence of the variant is low, the sample size of the study (400) small, and the research hasn’t yet been peer reviewed.

Speaking of the virus, the Wall Street Journal explores the safety of dining out now that restaurants are reopening everywhere.  Your risk tolerance of course depends on your vaccination status, but if you’ve had your jabs, it’s reasonably safe to eat out with proper precautions. Even in Texas, which lifted mask mandates, every place I ate insisted on your wearing masks as you entered, and when you weren’t at table. It’s not as bad there as people think, and I felt safe.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 561,231, an increase of 700 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll stands at 2,940,679, an increase of about 9,600 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on April 11 includes:

Commemorated in my ring, which has the seal of America’s only college with a Royal Charter:

Elie Wiesel was there; here’s a photo of the barracks on April 16, five days after liberation, with Wiesel circled:

  • 1951 – Korean War: President Truman relieves Douglas MacArthur of the command of American forces in Korea and Japan.
  • 1961 – The trial of Adolf Eichmann begins in Jerusalem.

Eichmann was convicted and hanged in Israel in 1962; here he is in prison. Even a man as odious as Eichmann should, I think, spend the rest of his life in jail rather than being executed.

  • 1968 – President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.
  • 1970 – Apollo 13 is launched.
  • 1976 – The Apple I is created.

Sixty-three Apple 1s still exist, and six of them still work. Here’s one of them (as Wikipedia notes, “As of January 23, 2020, a functioning, registered Apple I is listed on eBay for US $1,750,000”).

Notables born on this day were few, and include:

While confined in an insane asylum, Smart wrote a long religious poem, Jubilate Agno, part of which, a fragment called “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry,” is the best cat poem ever written. You can read it here.

  • 1925 – Viola Liuzzo, American civil rights activist (d. 1965)

We remember Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, the three young civil rights activists killed by Southern bigots, but who remembers Liuzzo? She traveled from Detroit to Alabama to help with the civil rights protests, and was killed by the Klan:

  • 1928 – Ethel Kennedy, American philanthropist

Those who took The Big Nap on April 11 include:

  • 1890 – Joseph Merrick, English man with severe deformities (b. 1862)

Merrick was of course the “Elephant Man”, a gentle person with a tragic disease. It’s not clear what disease: it used to be thought that he had neurofibromatosis, but now some think he had Proteus syndrome. Here’s Merrick’s skeleton, which has been preserved.

Here’s the only surviving letter written by Merrick:

  • 1926 – Luther Burbank, American botanist and academic (b. 1849)
  • 1983 – Dolores del Río, Mexican actress (b. 1904)

Del Rio and Fred Astaire in Flying Down to  Rio (1933):

Here’s a three-minute mini-biography of Vonnegut:

  • 2013 – Jonathan Winters, American comedian, actor and screenwriter (b. 1925)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is doing her job as editor, which in this case is to impede writing:

Hili: I prepared the workplace for you.
Małgorzata: Thank you.
In Polish:
Hili: Przygotowałam ci stanowisko pracy.
Małgorzata: Dziękuję.

From Bruce:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Nicole:

Titania is the Nostradamus of our day:

Tweets from Matthew. Here’s his old cat Ollie, the one who laid open my nose with a deft swipe of his paw:

This moth mimics a wasp not just in appearance (dig those clear wings), but in behavior as well:

Carmen the duck and her 16 ducklings are getting moved to a permanent home tomorrow after a few days on a seventh-floor balcony. (I hope they fed the ducklings!)

A surfing seal catches a wave and rides it well.

A lovely photo:

 

Finally, a rarity:  a picture of Matthew when he was young (13 or 14 according to his caption).  His key: “I am at top left. My brother is an artist, my sister was a teacher (physics), both now retired with grandchildren. My grandmother bottom right, my mother bottom left.”

Harvard issues most self-abasing antiracist statement ever

April 10, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Not enough time has passed for us to understand why the tide of “progressive” political excess has risen so quickly. Yes, it accelerated after the death of George Floyd, but there are reasons why Floyd’s death unleashed what was already waiting to happen. I myself don’t really understand the phenomenon of “Wokeness”, and why so many people seem to have been driven mad.

Nobody wants to think of themselves as racist, but now we are told that not only are we all racists, but that we’re unconscious of that fact, and that the very structures of government, politics, and universities have racism embedded in their bones and sinews. And in this we’re all complicit. Some of this is true, as the voting rights bills suggest, and it behooves us to find the truth in all the shouting around us.

But the excesses—the shaming, the demonization, the self-abasement, the rush to judgment in every act, the drive to efface the past—often make me despair of the whole enterprise of antiracism, at least as conducted according to the Tenets of Critical Race Theory. It’s not so easy to separate the genuine inequalities that need to be fixed with the cries of the “progressive” left that we need to tear down the whole system and hand over political power to them.

But we can pretty much brush off extreme cases of self-abasement, so common in university “declarations” like the following. Harvard’s Medical School has a Program in Global Surgery and Social Change, and its goals are admirable: to extend what progress the “first world” countries have made in surgery to what they now call “the global South”: those countries with lower standards of living and insufficient medical care. Here are the program’s goals:

The Program in Global Surgery and Social Change (PGSSC) is a collaborative effort between Harvard Teaching Hospitals, the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital and Partners In Health (PIH).

Our strategy is two-fold:

  1. Global surgical systems strengthening through Research, Advocacy, and Implementation Science, using the framework of the Lancet Commission on global surgery. You can learn more about the Lancet Commission on global surgery on the PGSSC Resources page.
  2.  To produce leaders in Global Surgical and Health Systems through Research, Advocacy, and Care Delivery. Through the Paul Farmer Global Surgery Fellowships and research associate positions, it aims to empower surgeons, surgical trainees and medical students around the world with the skills they need to improve the health of some of the world’s most impoverished people.

That is all well and good, but then the Program got mixed up in the anti-racism business, and in a pretty strident way, and issued this statement, which I reproduce only in part.

Racism murders. Racism destroys. Racism dehumanizes. We live in a racist world and all play active and passive roles in perpetuating racism: the system of prejudice and discrimination based on the ambiguous social construct of race backed by unequal and unjust power dynamics. Racism is inherent to every aspect of our lives; it is woven into the fabric of society and consequently its effects interface with our work as the research associates, fellows, and faculty at the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change. Therefore, the absence of conspicuous racist actions is not enough. We must be actively anti-racist. We absolutely, unapologetically denounce our wretched racist system and its proponents without exception.

Racism systemically places higher value and opportunity in the hands of a specific race, and as a direct consequence disadvantages another racial group. It is this benefiting of one group to the detriment of another that has led us to focus on anti-racism. The work of antiracism is allied to that of anti-discrimination and the evaluation of inequities based on gender, sexual orientation, caste, religion, ability, tribal affiliation or socioeconomic status. However, given the distinct relationship of racism, colonialism, and global health, we in the global health community have a moral imperative to shine a bright light specifically on racism within our sphere.

Racism is inherently linked with colonialism. Our work in global health is rooted in colonialism, which provided power to white Europeans through subjugation and exploitation of others. Colonialism subsequently allowed for the creation of the construct of race to justify the dehumanization of those the colonizers exploited. This practice has lived on in global health through the racist belief that those same colonial powers possess medical knowledge that is superior to that of the cultures they denigrated. Consequently, global health is built on a foundation that, at its core, is antithetical to the principle of shared human dignity and respect. Affirming our commitment to anti-racism also affirms our commitment to being anti-colonial.

Academic institutions in high income countries are complicit in and the product of centuries of historic institutional colonialism and racism with over-representation of white voices that are heard on a global scale. We interact with a diverse group of international partners, but cannot truly be equitable partners until we acknowledge and address the place of power and privilege from which we operate.

Here we see the familiar denouncement of racism (seriously, is there any rational person who doesn’t already denounce it?), the chest-beating and self-abasement, and the accusations that all of us are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism. And, like Ibram Kendi, it argues that it’s not enough to refrain from being racist, but we must all actively work, and work in a certain way, to be “antiracists”. Whoever is not antiracist, says Kendi, is racist. It is as if there is only one issue in the world on which we should be working.

Now eliminating global inequality in medical care is an excellent goal, but I fail to see how these kinds of statements will help solve the problem. What we need is the kind of recognition of moral deserts that got Dr. King and his associates the civil rights laws they sought. Why shouldn’t we be helping others who are human and suffer in ways we understand? What we get instead is annoying hectoring, coupled with the strange declaration that promoting global health in Harvard’s way is racist because the practice of medicine in First World Countries is more advanced than in underdeveloped countries. (The fellowships given out by Harvard’s programs are, after all, spent learning at Harvard.)  I call your attention to goal #2 of the program given above:

To produce leaders in Global Surgical and Health Systems through Research, Advocacy, and Care Delivery. Through the Paul Farmer Global Surgery Fellowships and research associate positions, it aims to empower surgeons, surgical trainees and medical students around the world with the skills they need to improve the health of some of the world’s most impoverished people.

This is the exportation of Harvard-style medicine to other countries. Isn’t that the conscious promulgation of “superior medical knowledge”?

This is, of course, a species of medical colonization, for who determines what skills medical workers in poorer countries need? It’s not colonization in the sense of taking advantage of poorer nations, but it’s colonization in the sense of believing that one indeed has “medical knowledge superior to that of the countries they  [once] denigrated.”

There’s a lot more, as well as three subsections swearing what Harvard will do to promote antiracism in various areas, including “People,” “Culture”, and “Civic Engagement”, which itself has two sub-subsections, “Academia” and “Economic Injustice”.  Here’s the Academia part.  I reproduce it because I think it’s misleading about the degree of racism in academia, at least in my experience:

AcademiaWe acknowledge the role that academia plays in perpetuating structural racism. Academic excellence requires equity, yet despite statements denouncing prejudice, many academic systems are fraught with biases. Notably, it is often Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who are expected to be, and inevitably are, the most engaged in issues of structural racism in academia. This engagement results in activities and efforts leading “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives that are not traditionally valued in academic promotion criteria. This reality highlights the need for a paradigm shift in two ways – who shoulders anti-racism efforts, and how anti-racism work is valued and supported institutionally to ensure that personal and professional goals are being met. We will engage in the broader academic system, outside of our specific purview of global health, to catalyze meaningful change in the culture of academia.

Anybody familiar with academia will sense the tension in this statement.  And I’ll finish by adding that inequities (differential representation of groups) in academia does not constitute prima facie evidence for structural racism present in academia now.

Caturday felid trifecta: Cats sleeping in strange places; Dubai’s stray cat cafe; a bogus “demon cat”; and lagniappe

April 10, 2021 • 9:30 am

From Pupperish we have a compendium that seems to crop up regularly. Click on the screenshot to see the oddly sleeping moggies.

This cat apparently has three beds but prefers to sleep in a loaf pan. (from reddit)

This cat prefers a wok:

There are many photos of cats neglecting fancy and expensive commercial cat beds for mundane locations. Here are three.

From reddit:

From reddit:

 

From reddit:

One more, but go look at the other 44! (There are several examples of cats who will sleep in their cat beds, but only if you put a cardboard box into it.)

From reddit:

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

From the Guardian we learn of a cat café in Dubai that doubles as an adoption center—as all good cat cafés should. This is the first such establishment in the Middle East, though I would have thought there would be one in Turkey. Click on screenshot to read the tale

25 cats live in the cafe, and the article is all pictures. The first one shows the owner:

This is a lovely cat:

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

From The Sun (of course) we have a “demon cat” who some people think needs an exorcism. Click on the screenshot:

It’s a nice cat (a Cornish Rex)! Text is indented:

A CAT with “creepy” facial expressions has been dubbed a demon according to an exorcist who has urged the pet’s owner to “cage him and pray.”

Alyson Kalhagen, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, intended to showcase the “beauty and refinement” of her cat Pixel through posting photos of her beloved cats online, but received quite a different response.

All photo credits: Kennedy News and Media

But Pixel can look a bit, well, deranged:

The “creepy” cat images of Kalhagen’s Cornish Rex prompted people to repeatedly claim he must be possessed by a demon.

The 39-year-old cat mom revealed she’s constantly contacted by those afraid of her little kitty – who’s been likened to a “sleep paralysis demon” and labeled as the “creepiest cat ever.”

The mother-of-one said her two-year-old cat’s “unique looks” have sparked curiosity among onlookers – with some comments, coming from a “place of real fear and hesitation.”

An exorcist contacted Kalhagen earlier this month to warn her that a demon was using her pet as a “puppet,” telling her she must keep Pixel caged and pray “over and over” in front of him for the demon to leave.

Here’s that contact:

Kalhagen has admitted that Pixel – equipped with disproportionately large eyes, ears and small head – has left her “startled” at times.

She said she refrained from uploading images of Pixel with expressions “too wild for public consumption.”

Despite the feline’s demonic looks, Kalhagen has claimed he’s actually a “very loving cat” – one with more than 12,000 followers on social media.

I think Pixel is a lovely cat. Don’t you agree?

Pixel with her staff:

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

LagniappeFrom DNYUZ we have a cat-related case of a digital product selling for a lot of money in cryptocurrency. In this case the digital image is of Nyan Cat, a character

And oy, did it make some $$ for the owner:

In the 10 years since Chris Torres created Nyan Cat, an animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart body leaving a rainbow trail, the meme has been viewed and shared across the web hundreds of millions of times.

On Thursday, he put a one-of-a-kind version of it up for sale on Foundation, a website for buying and selling digital goods. In the final hour of the auction, there was a bidding war. Nyan Cat was sold to a user identified only by a cryptocurrency wallet number. The price? Roughly $580,000.

Mr. Torres was left breathless. “I feel like I’ve opened the floodgates,” he said in an interview on Friday.

The sale was a new high point in a fast-growing market for ownership rights to digital art, ephemera and media called NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens.” The buyers are usually not acquiring copyrights, trademarks or even the sole ownership of whatever it is they purchase. They’re buying bragging rights and the knowledge that their copy is the “authentic” one.\

It’s totally insane!

Blockchain technology, which is most often associated with Bitcoin, is changing that. NFTs rely on the technology to designate an official copy of a piece of digital media, allowing artists, musicians, influencers and sports franchises to make money selling digital goods that would otherwise be cheap or free.

In an NFT sale, all the computers hooked into a cryptocurrency network record the transaction on a shared ledger, a blockchain, making it part of a permanent public record and serving as a sort of certification of authenticity that cannot be altered or erased.

The nascent market for these items reflects a notable, technologically savvy move by creators of digital content to connect financially with their audience and eliminate middlemen.

Some NFT buyers are collectors and fans who show off what they have bought on social media or screens around their homes. Others are trying to make a quick buck as cryptocurrency prices surge. Many see it as a form of entertainment that mixes gambling, sports card collecting, investing and day trading.

h/t: Matthew, Su, Ginger K.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 10, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your wildlife photos. I know some of you are sitting on good ones!

Today’s photos, half of a larger batch) come from reader Dave (website here), and portray a variety of critters and plants (and one astronomy photo). A few have locations specified, but Dave adds, “Most are from upstate New York, from gardens or indiscriminate hikes. By the time I edit the backlog, though, months pass, and any recollection of when and where dries up.”  Captions and IDs are Dave’s, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.  

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis):

Dragonfly (Anisoptera):

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis):

Daisy (Bellis perennis)

.

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus):

Spheric:

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor):

.

Quiet Color:

Warning:

Gather (Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula):

Mid-day Moon:

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) [JAC: Look at that beautiful hen!]

Saturday: Hili dialogue

April 10, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Cat Sabbath: April 10, 2020: National Cinnamon Roll Day. (Now you’re talking!) It’s also American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Day, National Farm Animals Day, Siblings Day, and National Hug Your Dog Day. (It’s also World Homeopathy Day, but we aren’t celebrating quackery.)

News of the Day:

The editorial board of The Washington Post has raised the alarm that Vladimir Putin is trying to slowly kill his activist opponent Alexei Navalny, who was sent to a “severe” prison camp after returning to Russia:

Mr. Navalny, whom the Russian secret police unsuccessfully sought to kill last summer with a banned chemical weapon, is now being held in a prison camp known for its harsh conditions about 60 miles from Moscow. Since his arrival there in late February, he has been systematically deprived of sleep through hourly wakings and denied proper medical treatment for serious ailments, including herniated and bulging disks in his back and a respiratory ailment Mr. Navalny believes may be tuberculosis. Since last week, Mr. Navalny has been on a hunger strike to protest his treatment; his lawyers say his weight is down 30 pounds and is falling by two pounds a day.

The board says that one solution is to apply pressure to Putin by freezing the assets of the 35 oligarchs who protect Putin’s private fortune, and to deny them travel visas as well.

Several news sources today, including the odious HuffPost and the un-odious Federal Trade Commission, emphasized that you should not post pictures of your coronavirus vaccination card on social media. It can lead to the theft of your identity, or fraud since others can use your information to pretend that they were vaccinated. Keep your card in a safe place (I laminated mine; others put it in a plastic card holder), and make a Xerox or a photograph of both sides to serve as backup (email it to yourself as well). Blank card forms are being sold in various dark corners of the Internet to facilitate this fraud.

Why are smooth, rounded, fist-sized stones found in Wyoming a geological match to quartzite found 1,000 miles away in Wisconsin? Six scientists have published a paper (blurbed in the NYT) suggesting that these stones were “gastroliths,” swallowed by sauropod dinosaurs and used to digest plant material. The dinos, they say, carried the stones on their migrations. The hitch is that these reptiles aren’t known to have moved that far, and the stones haven’t yet been associated with dinosaur remains. Stay tuned. Here’s a photo of the putative gastroliths:

Photo by Joshua Malone

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 560,531, an increase of 956 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll stands at 2,931,073, an increase of about 13,400 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on April 10 includes:

  • 1710 – The Statute of Anne, the first law regulating copyright, comes into force in Great Britain.
  • 1858 – After the original Big Ben, a 14.5 tonnes (32,000 lb) bell for the Palace of Westminster, had cracked during testing, it is recast into the current 13.76 tonnes (30,300 lb) bell by Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Remember that “Big Ben” is the name not of the clock tower (now called “Elizabeth Tower” after the Queen), but of the largest of the five bells that chime. Here’s a picture of the real Big Ben with the striking hammer. (I wonder if they rotate the bell so the same place doesn’t get hit all the time.)

  • 1865 – American Civil War: A day after his surrender to Union forces, Confederate General Robert E. Lee addresses his troops for the last time.
  • 1912 – RMS Titanic sets sail from Southampton, England on her maiden and only voyage.

Here’s an interesting contemporary newsreel showing the last scenes of the ship leaving Belfast for Southampton before the disaster, the captain of the Titanic, who went down with the ship, and some scenes of the survivors arriving in New York on the Carpathia:

He was pretty badly shot up; you can see the photo of his body here.

The book didn’t sell that well when it came out (it’s now a staple of high-school English classes, though there have been noises about cancelation), but a first edition with the famous “eyes” dust jacket went for between $100,000 and $150,000 in 2013:

This is the second deadliest submarine accident in history; here’s the ship on the surface. Nobody knows for sure what went wrong, though one guess is that the form of welding of the pipes contributed to the sinking. The remains have been found—in several pieces—2,600 metres (8,400 ft) below the surface.

  • 1970 – Paul McCartney announces that he is leaving The Beatles for personal and professional reasons.
  • 1998 – The Good Friday Agreement is signed in Northern Ireland.
  • 2019 – Scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope project announce the first ever image of a black hole, located in the centre of the M87 galaxy.

Here’s that image, with the Wikipedia caption,

“The supermassive black hole at the core of supergiant elliptical galaxy Messier 87, with a mass about 7 billion times that of the Sun, as depicted in the first false-colour image in radio waves released by the Event Horizon Telescope (10 April 2019). Visible are the crescent-shaped emission ring and central shadow, which are gravitationally magnified views of the black hole’s photon ring and the photon capture zone of its event horizon. The crescent shape arises from the black hole’s rotation and relativistic beaming; the shadow is about 2.6 times the diameter of the event horizon.”

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1794 – Matthew C. Perry, English-Scottish American commander (d. 1858)
  • 1847 – Joseph Pulitzer, Hungarian-American journalist, publisher, and politician, founded Pulitzer, Inc. (d. 1911)
  • 1917 – Robert Burns Woodward, American chemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1979)
  • 1932 – Omar Sharif, Egyptian actor and screenwriter (d. 2015)
  • 1988 – Haley Joel Osment, American actor

Those who croaked on April 10 include:

  • 1909 – Algernon Charles Swinburne, English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic (b. 1837)
  • 1919 – Emiliano Zapata, Mexican general (b. 1879)
  • 1955 – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French priest, theologian, and philosopher (b. 1881)
  • 1962 – Stuart Sutcliffe, Scottish artist and musician (b. 1940)

Sutcliffe, below left, was a bass guitarist for the Beatles (there were five members then) before he left the band in 1961 to become an artist. He died a year later from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. Here’s the very early band with Pete Best on the drums.

  • 1966 – Evelyn Waugh, English soldier, novelist, journalist and critic (b. 1903)
  • 1975 – Walker Evans, American photographer (b. 1903)

Evans is most famous for his photographs of Depression-era poverty in the South, a project for the Farm Security Administration (the photos are part of the famous book with James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men).. Here’s one photo,  “Alabama, 1936”, showing a sharecropper family:

And his photo of another sharecropper’s wife, Allie Mae Burroughs. She was but 27 when this photo was taken:

And the family, with her husband Floyd:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Hili dialogue is explained by Malgorzata, “Hili sees some kind of insect and, remembering Heisenberg, she calls this unknown to her insect a mobile uncertainty.”

A: What do you see there?
Hili: A mobile uncertainty.
In Polish:
Ja: Co tam widzisz?
Hili: Ruchliwą nieokreśloność.
And a picture of Little Kulka—who should now be called Medium Kulka. Look at her resemblance to Hili!

From Facebook:

From Bruce:

Pareidolia from Seth Andrews: a cinnamon bun resembles Mother Teresa. Seth’s caption is “This will never not be funny.”

Titania has a new edition of Things that Are Racist:

From Barry: a very needy raccoon:

Tweets from Matthew. About the first one he says, “This could be you in about five weeks.” And I think he’s just about right, with both the situation and the timing:

And this is a true story; read the horrifying article. The guy lived, but barely. . .

I think this badger had too much coffee:

And a tweet from Dr. Cobb himself. He teaches this stuff, so what he says is true:

As we saw in yesterday’s tweets, Carmen the mallard hen nested in a plant pot seven floors up. And now we learn that she produced 16 ducklings! But they’ll be okay, as they’ve all been rescued and taken to an appropriate place of by wildlife experts. And, like Honey, Carmen the duck nested on that very same balcony a year ago!

Ducks!

Facebook puts a damper on Holocaust Remembrance Day

April 9, 2021 • 11:15 am

I had forgotten that yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day (in transliterated Hebrew: Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, or in the original יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה), marked around the world but especially in Israel. The date varies from year to year as it’s fixed in the Hebrew calendar, which isn’t synchronized with ours.  The time will come soon when those who survived the Holocaust, including those who spent time in concentration camps, will no longer be among the living.

As I didn’t post anything yesterday, here’s a bit of news that shows that this genocide is remembered by many and denigrated by others. 

As a Jewish website notes, the picture below was taken in 2015 at the entrance to Auschwitz by Miriam Ciss, daughter of Julius Ciss, the executive director of Jews for Judaism, Canada. It shows Miriam holding the Israeli flag at the entrance through which so many doomed Jews (and gays, Romas, and so on) passed. The photo could be seen as a statement that the state of Israel was a result of what happened during the Holocaust.

If you find that offensive, there’s probably something wrong with you. But Facebook did! As the site notes:

Ciss has given us permission to repost what he wrote on Facebook, presenting Facebook’s response to the picture:

Last week I posted the following regarding how Facebook had tagged the attached photo as “insensitive”:

“It seems that someone complained to Facebook about this previously posted photo of my daughter at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. When I posted it, I stated:

“My daughter, Miriam Ciss, was in Auschwitz Concentration Camp today. My mother Helena and Aunt Dolly survived Auschwitz Birkenau. This is just one of the amazing photos she took. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.

“What I didn’t say was that aside from my parents and aunt, the Nazis murdered both my father’s and mother’s entire families.

“Well, today I received the following notice from Facebook: ‘Your photo wasn’t removed because it doesn’t violate our community standards, but it has been marked as insensitive because it could offend or upset people.’

I don’t know what that means, except that someone must have complained, and some functionary of Facebook in some country must have agreed with the assessment.  Fortunately, people complained about the “insensitive” label and Facebook apologized this way:

“It has come to our attention that a piece of your content was mistakenly flagged by one of our reps. This was a mistake and we’ve reversed the action taken. We apologize for our error.” – Eleanor, Community Operations, Facebook

The article ends with a touching incident that Miriam experienced in her 2015 visit to the death camps in Poland, but I’ll let you read that for yourself.

Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz, and wrote the moving book If This is a Man about his experience, said of the Holocaust:  “It happened, therefore it can happen again. . . It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”  I am not as pessimistic as he (his death was likely a suicide), but neither am I as certain as I used to be that we’ve moved beyond the possibility, at least in the West, that such a genocide could recur.