Abbotgate hits the mainstream media and Quillette: MIT gets egg on its face

October 21, 2021 • 11:00 am

UPDATE: Now NBC News has covered the story in an article called “After lecture is canceled, free speech debate roils science academia.” It deals largely with David Romps’s resignation as Director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Science Center, which he details in a series of tweets (first one in the thread is below).  (h/t Simon)


The saga of Dorian Abbot began quietly on my campus, and when it was resolved at the University of Chicago, I thought that was the end of it. But then, because Abbot had written and made videos criticizing affirmative action and DEI initiatives, he was disinvited from the prestigious Carlson lectures at MIT, where he was supposed to speak on global warming (they later offered him a smaller technical lecture on his work). This deplatforming was picked up by several venues in the conservative media, including the conservative columnist Bret Stephens at the NYT, but I was frustrated that the non-conservative press ignored such an egregious incident of cancellation.

It was especially egregious because Abbot wasn’t going to talk at MIT about DEI or the like, but about global warming and other planets. In other words, he was being punished for saying things in other venues that offended people. More than that: there is a valid debate about the methods of DEI initiatives, though their intent is admirable. I accept the need for some affirmative action as a means of reparation, but others don’t, and none of us should be punished or cancelled for our views.

Now both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have published new pieces on Abbotgate, which you can access by clicking below. The NYT piece is an article by Michael Powell, and seems to me pretty favorable by way of making Abbot seem unfairly treated by MIT. (He’s not biased, but the facts do indict MIT.) The op-ed in the WSJ is by Lawrence Krauss, and also deals with Abbot, further describing how DEI initiatives are stifling science and swallowing up academia. There’s also a piece in Quillette (third screenshot below) that is largely about Abbot.

All in all, MIT has not come out of this looking good. And although the MIT President, Provost, and head of the department that invited Abbot, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (DEAPS) originally affirmed that yes, the school was strongly in favor free speech, and that Abbot had not really been canceled, but offered another (far inferior!) lecture, now they’re getting more defensive and hostile. Such is the Streisand effect.

I’ll give just the new information from the NYT piece. First, some anti-free-speech sentiments from the head of EAPS, much stronger than we’ve heard previously:

On Sept. 30, M.I.T. reversed course. The head of its earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences department called off Dr. Abbot’s lecture, to be delivered to professors, graduate students and the public, including some top Black and Latino high school students.

“Besides freedom of speech, we have the freedom to pick the speaker who best fits our needs,” said Robert van der Hilst, the head of the department at M.I.T. “Words matter and have consequences.”

The consequences are that you don’t get to talk about something irrelevant to words you’ve said before. And, as I emphasized, though Abbot and a colleague went a bit too far at the end of their Newsweek editorial on free speech, why should criticism of DEI, a perfectly valid philosophical and ethical debate, have such dire consequences? (Abbot notes correctly  at the end that “these controversies will have a negative impact on my scientific career”.)

I’m quoted as well after a long interview with Powell, expressing surprise that scientists would get just as wokified as humanities people:

“I thought scientists would not get on board with the denial-of-free-speech movement,” said Jerry Coyne, an emeritus professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. “I was absolutely wrong, 100 percent so.”

My point was that freedom of speech is taken for granted in science: each of us has the right—nay, duty—to criticize others whose work we think is wrong. I assumed (wrongly) that that scientists’ emphasis on free speech would carry over into politics. Well, I’m neither a politician nor a pundit.

A professor at Princeton asked Abbot to give his Carlson lecture at his school, and that will happen today. But there were other consequences:

The story took another turn this week, as David Romps, a professor of climate physics at the University of California, Berkeley, announced that he would resign as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center. He said he had tried to persuade his fellow scientists and professors to invite Dr. Abbot to speak and so reaffirm the importance of separating science from politics.

“In my view, there are some institutional principles that we have to hold sacred,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

His colleagues weren’t persuaded, so Romps resigned.

Now the NYT piece isn’t perfect, for in the two paragraphs below I see reporter Powell trying to imply that science is guilty of present-day as well as past racism:

The history of science is no less marked than other fields of learning by abhorrent chapters of suppression and prejudice. Nazi and Communist regimes twisted science to their own end, and scientists buckled, fled or suffered perilous consequences. Some professors point to aspects of that history as a cautionary tale for American science. In the United States, so-called race science — including the measurement of skulls with the intent to determine intelligence — was used to justify the subordination of Black people, Chinese, Italians, Jews and others. Experiments were carried out on people without their consent.

The worst of that history lies decades past. That said, the faculty at geoscience departments in the United States has more white faculty than some other sciences. Departments have attracted more female professors of late but struggle to recruit Black and Latino candidates. The number of Asian Americans earning geoscience degrees has decreased since the mid-1990s.

Indeed, the worst of that history lies decades past; at present, science departments are lining up in droves to hire good minority candidates. But the second paragraph, at least to me, is a Kendi-an implication that inequities in geoscience departments still reflect racism in those departments.  That’s simply not true. It is a “pipeline problem” whose rectification requires a huge and necessary societal effort well beyond DEI efforts on the college and grad-school level.

There were professors who supported Abbot’s cancellation, of course. One is Phoebe Cohen, a geoscience professor at Williams College, who makes an unbelievably dumb statement that I’ve put in bold below:

Phoebe A. Cohen is a geosciences professor and department chair at Williams College and one of many who expressed anger on Twitter at M.I.T.’s decision to invite Dr. Abbot to speak, given that he has spoken against affirmative action in the past.

Dr. Cohen agreed that Dr. Abbot’s views reflect a broad current in American society. Ideally, she said, a university should not invite speakers who do not share its values on diversity and affirmative action. Nor was she enamored of M.I.T.’s offer to let him speak at a later date to the M.I.T. professors. “Honestly, I don’t know that I agree with that choice,” she said. “To me, the professional consequences are extremely minimal.”

What, she was asked, of the effect on academic debate? Should the academy serve as a bastion of unfettered speech?

“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.

What? Intellectual debate and rigor are signs of toxic male white supremacy? What an outrageously stupid statement! Intellectual debate and rigor are de rigueur not just in science, but in academia as a whole. I mourn for Dr. Cohen’s geoscience students at Williams: are they taught to go with their feelings and emotions instead of “intellectual rigor” when they take her classes?

Finally, we return to the chair of MIT’s EAPS defending the cancelation. I’d be surprised if Abbot takes up the invitation to address his department (my emphasis):

Dr. van der Hilst speculated that Black students might well have been repelled if they learned of Dr. Abbot’s views on affirmative action. This lecture program was founded to explore new findings on climate science and M.I.T. has hoped to attract such students to the school. He acknowledged that these same students might well in years to come encounter professors, mentors even, who hold political views at odds with their own.

“Those are good questions but somewhat hypothetical,” Dr. van der Hilst said. “Freedom of speech goes very far but it makes civility difficult.”

Dr. van der Hilst added that he invited Dr. Abbot to meet privately with faculty there to discuss his research.

What happened to the departmental lecture? Has it been replaced by “private meetings with faculty”? At any rate, yes, students might have been repelled or offended by what Abbot said outside MIT, but they have plenty of recourse. They don’t have to go to Abbot’s lecture, they could picket it outside quietly, or they could use counterspeech. But Hilst even admits that the world is full of encounters with speech you don’t like, so why is Abbot being deplatformed? This is not “somewhat hypothetical”—those are weasel words—but real. So why can’t MIT use the Carlson Lecture as an example?

As for his last sentence, “Freedom of speech makes civility difficult,” yes, it’s partly true but not inevitable, and so what? Violation of civility is not protected by the Constitution, but freedom of speech is.

All in all, I’m pleased that the NYT not only covered Abbot’s disinvitation, but, in describing it objectively, still makes MIT look pretty bad. (I am of course biased, but I am not alone in my feelings.)

Here’s Lawrence Krauss’s short piece in the Wall Street Journal. He’s careful not to go after DEI initiatives in the way Abbot did, but still calls them out for injuring science and causing academic bloat. Click on screenshot:

Just two short from Krauss:

Several years ago, one began to see an additional criterion in advertisements for faculty openings. As a recent Cornell ad puts it: “Also required is a statement of diversity, equity and inclusion describing the applicant’s efforts and aspirations to promote equity, inclusion and diversity through teaching, research and service.” This sort of requirement became more common and is now virtually ubiquitous. Of the 25 most recent advertisements for junior faculty that appeared in Physics Today online listings as of Oct. 15—from research institutions like Caltech to liberal-arts colleges like Bryn Mawr, and even in areas as esoteric as quantum engineering and theoretical astrophysics—24 require applicants to demonstrate an explicit, active commitment to the DEI agenda.

This isn’t merely pro forma; it’s a real barrier to employment. The life-sciences department at the University of California, Berkeley reports that it rejected 76% of applicants in 2018-19 based on their diversity statements without looking at their research records. A colleague at a major research institution, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her students, wrote to me: “I have a student on the market this year, agonizing more on the diversity statement than on the research proposal. He even took training where they taught them how to write one. It breaks my heart to see this.” Other colleagues relate that their white male postdocs aren’t getting interviews or have chosen to seek jobs outside academia.

This is happening not only in universities. Last week the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a biomedical research charity, announced a $2.2 billion initiative aimed at reducing racial disparity, made possible by a contraction in its funding of significant research for senior investigators. The initiative includes $1.2 billion in grants for early-career researchers. Science magazine reports that because antidiscrimination law prohibits disqualifying applicants on the basis of race and sex, the recipients will be chosen based on their “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” in the words of the institute’s president, Erin O’Shea. How? “Diversity statements,” she says, are “a very promising approach.”

In other words, diversity statements are a surrogate for the candidate’s race, and you can do an end run around illegal race-based hiring by ranking diversity statements. We’ve known this for a while, though.

Krauss’s conclusion:

Beyond these fearful faculty members, and talented would-be scientists who will be dissuaded or excluded from academic research, DEI offices are working to indoctrinate incoming students. This year at Princeton, the New York Post reports, freshmen were required to watch a video promoting “social justice” and describing dissenting debate as “masculine-ized bravado.” If such efforts succeed, a new generation of students won’t have the opportunity to subject their own viewpoints to challenge—surely one of the benefits of higher education.

Critics have likened DEI statements to the loyalty oaths of the Red Scare. In 1950 the University of California fired 31 faculty members for refusing to sign a statement disavowing any party advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government. That violated their freedom of speech and conscience, but this is worse. Whereas a loyalty oath compels assent to authority, a DEI statement demands active ideological engagement. It’s less like the excesses of anticommunism than like communism itself.

And now I’ve run out of space (and steam), so I’ll refer you to the article in Quillette (click on screenshot below) by Peter Schuck, the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law school. It ends like this:

The MIT fiasco should remind us how much cancel culture has to answer for. Although this culture’s activists are relatively few and its rhetoric is often risible in its hyperbole, its militants on college campuses sometimes have an outsize effect on others: cruelly blighted reputations, perverse policy agendas, stigmatization of moderate Democrats, and much more. But Princeton’s swift response to Abbot’s cancellation by providing an alternative, honored forum also suggests a hopeful, low-cost remedy, consistent with free speech and liberal academic values. MIT should be ashamed of its craven support for bullying—and perhaps other more principled institutions will heed this simple exemplary lesson.

Perhaps, but probably not.

Matt Taibbi on the nefarious, acquisitive Bidens

October 21, 2021 • 9:15 am

This book, by Ben Schreckinger, a young but accomplished journalist who wrote about the Bidens for Politico (see here, for instance), came out on September 21. I haven’t read it, but the publicity says it gives the lowdown on the Biden family—and not in a flattering way.  (click on screenshot to go to Amazon site). This post is about an article Matt Taibbi wrote, summarizing the book, which implicates the whole family in pay-for-access-to-Joe schemes.

Taibbi’s take is summarized in a long post on his Substack site (click below, though you’ll have to be a subscriber). In essence, Taibbi’s account is mostly a description of Hunter Biden and his doings, and it’s not flattering. Hunter is painted repeatedly as a cocaine-addicted, money-grubbing, unethical hack, who tried to cobble together numerous deals and organizations from which people could buy access to Biden when he was Vice-President. As I say, I haven’t read it and can’t vouch for its accuracy, but Schreckinger does.

I am not that interested in Hunter Biden, who will have to bear the consequences of his own actions. What interests me is the involvement of his father Joe, whom I’ve always considered uncorruptable and spotless. Taibbi claims (or at least implies) otherwise. After all, the man is our President, and so if he’s had shady dealings in the past, we’ll want to know. I don’t know how you can read the whole piece if you don’t subscribe, but you can read the book, or make judicious inquiries about Taibbi’s piece.

I’ll just give a few quotes (indented) that bear on Uncle Joe.

Taibbi claims that As he says, Schreckinger doesn’t seem to have a political agenda, but is trying to give a current view of history, which may well look even worse in the future.

Most of Taibbi’s article centers not just on Hunter Biden’s search for “access money” from donors, but his own spectacularly messed-up life. As Taibbi says, “he’s not just a wreck, but a wreck with spectacularly bad luck.” There are drugs, guns, failed attempts at rehab, and, of course the fabled laptop with emails.  So here are a few quotes from Taibbi (and there are only a few) dealing with Joe Biden.

According to literary convention, the gun must go off by the final chapter of The Bidens, and it does. As Schreckinger goes on to detail, the Hunter story isn’t an irrelevant subplot, either, but central to an important and deeply disturbing question America should be asking about who Joe Biden is.

Schreckinger does an excellent job using the old show-don’t-tell method of revealing through the Biden tale the bipartisan nature of corruption and favoritism in America.

Yes, and it sure looks as if Hunter Biden was corrupt. But what about his dad?

More from Hunter and James:

Schreckinger quotes a former chief compliance officer for the firm, which had been sold to the Bidens by James Park, who naturally is the son of a former bigwig in the Unification Church of billionaire Sun Myung Moon. The officer recounts a day in 2006 when Jim and Hunter Biden showed up and began beating their chests about the future:

Jim had a plan. “Don’t worry about investors,” he told the executive that day. “We’ve got people all around the world who want to invest in Joe Biden.” In case the chief compliance officer did not get the picture, Jim painted it more vividly for him: “We’ve got investors lined up in a line of 747s filled with cash ready to invest in this company.”

But wait, the not-yet-smoking gun has appeared:

They, too, were hit by the Biden Curse, an inerrant phenomenon that uses a gravity-like force to pull would-be Biden partners into federal custody.

The thing about this kind of business, however, is that it’s highly portable, and following the trail of the various efforts to open a cash register in front of Joe Biden’s political career is where Schreckinger does his best work. The Bidens earned early press mainly for a few passages about the Hunter Biden laptop story, but for my money its biggest score comes at the outset of a chapter called “The Bidens Go Global,” describing a scene involving another attempted family enterprise, a hedge fund called “Paradigm Global Advisors.”

According to Schreckinger interpreted through Taibbi (I have to say that Taibbi’s semi-sarcastic, almost gonzo-like account is quite readable), Biden was in Los Angeles to give a speech about his cancer initiative, and the night before met with Hunt, Joe’s brother Jim and a shady businessman.  Here’s what Taibbi says, quoting Schrekinger:

Hunter at one point was trying to make payments on a $1.6 million home and fighting one of the most ravenous addictions in the history of crack while his father was Vice President, which admittedly can’t be easy. (Again, Schreckinger manages to tell Hunter Biden’s story in way that’s remorseless while also eliciting a curious sympathy). Where it gets weird is the question of how all of this intersects with Joe Biden. In a key section of the book, Schreckinger details the flirtation between the Bidens and a Chinese businessman named Ye Jianming and his CEFC oil conglomerate. Joe Biden is in Los Angeles to give a speech about his cancer initiative to the Milken conference, the creation of sort-of-rehabilitated Mike Milken:

The night before his appearance, Joe met with Hunter, Jim, and Tony Bobulinski, another partner in [a] planned LNG venture, according to Bobulinksi, who said that in the course of their conversation, Joe showed familiarity with his relatives’ business plans…

On May 13, another partner in the venture emailed Hunter, Bobulinski, and a fourth partner, outlining their plans for compensation. The partner wrote of “a provisional agreement that the equity will be distributed as follows.” The breakdown indicated that “H” and the three other partners would get 20 percent each, along with 10 for “Jim” and, finally, “10 held by H for the big guy?”

The “Big Guy” is Joe Biden, who, with his apparent knowledge, was going to get 10% of the access money (this comes from a verified email from Hunter’s infamous laptop ).  The media dismissed these stories as Russian disinformation, but have now accepted that the emails are real. To his credit, Schreckinger admits he doesn’t have all the goods on Joe Biden, but things don’t look kosher, either:

Schreckinger doesn’t try to punch above his evidence, and concedes in multiple places that he hasn’t produced smoking-gun evidence tying “the big guy” to Hunter’s myriad cash flows. However, he’s also sensitive enough to the weird rhythms of the Biden family to grasp that the overall circumstantial picture is damning.

In particular, Biden’s insistence that “I have never discussed, with my son or my brother or with anyone else, anything having to do with their businesses,” is simply not believable after reading this book, not just because there is witness and documentary evidence directly contradicting him, but because the family does appear to be just as close as it claims. The fact that Biden participated, and continues to participate, in a shameless scheme to deflect attention and squelch inquiry by characterizing these true stories as Russian disinformation adds to the pile of evidence against him.

At minimum, Jim and Hunter Biden spent years setting up companies to be receptacles of “747s filled with cash” (a quote from people around the world they believed would be anxious to invest in the Biden name. The possibilities from there for Joe Biden range from merely dishonest acceptance of his family’s influence-peddling to things far worse. In a normal media environment, there would be dozens of journalists lining up to build on Schreckinger’s good start, to try to flesh out the part of this story that’s still lost in fog. However, there’s a cost of writing this sort of book now that comes in the form of not being invited to the usual Manhattan green-room publicity tour, and being frozen out of other opportunities. Will other reporters be willing to pay it?

Is it possible that there were donors lined up, and Biden knew about them? (These kind of donations are of course illegal.)

At the end, Taibbi interviews Schreckinger and asks him about the cash-filled 747 trope:

Matt Taibbi: How long did the book take to write, and what were you trying to accomplish?

Ben Schreckinger: As I put in the Author’s Note, this is not the end of the Biden story. This is not the Robert Caro treatment of Lyndon Baines Johnson. A lot of these episodes are ambiguous, there’s conflicting evidence. I’m expecting our understanding of a lot of these episodes, especially the more recent ones having to do with Hunter Biden to continue to evolve. That’s definitely a tricky and a treacherous thing to be doing, trying to write a book-length treatment of something as events are still unfolding. I wanted it to come out in a timely way, and I think that it has.

MT: The “747s full of cash” line is amazing. What was going through your head during that interview?

Ben Schreckinger: In the process of reporting out the Paradigm episode for the first time, for that first Politico story, one of the first people I was able to reach was an executive, the former chief compliance officer of the firm who’s cited at length. He said, “You know, yeah, Jimmy Biden showed up on the first day and said, ‘Don’t worry about investments. We got people around the world who want to put money behind Joe Biden.’” Joe Biden was then the ranking member on Senate Foreign Relations and the idea was, well, if you’re a deep-pocketed foreign interest, you can’t give money legally to a Joe Biden Senate or presidential campaign, but you could invest in this firm.

By all appearances, that didn’t end up working out. They don’t seem to actually succeed in landing these sorts of investments, but that was striking. To not have a deep understanding of the family’s business dealings and for one of the first people you reach to be an executive who says, “Oh yeah, this is what happened. This is what Jimmy Biden said on the first day.” It was like, wow.

Is this a tempest in a teapot, an innuendo against Joe Biden without reality? Or was he aware of the deals being cut on his behalf?  Schreckinger certainly thinks that, and I suppose time will tell. Certainly Biden’s son and brother appear complicit and crooked, and will likely face the music, especially with those confirmed emails.

As for Uncle Joe, we’ll just have to wait and see. For sure I’m not implying that Joe Biden is an influence-peddler. (Remember, after voting for Sanders in the primary I backed Biden all the way, and have been a fan since). But Taibbi and Schreckinger are implying that, and it shouldn’t be ignored.


Readers’ wildlife photos

October 21, 2021 • 8:00 am

Once again I appeal for photos, as I go through seven batches per week. If you have some good ones, please send ’em in. Remember, I never ask for money (except for charities), but I do ask for photos.

Today we have the second installment of bird photos (and one mammal) from Susan Harrison, an ecologist at the University of California at Davis. Part 1 of her contribution is here. Susan’s captions and IDs are indented, and you click on the photos to enlarge them.


Birdwatching in the Great Basin in summer gives “flyover country” a new and improved meaning.  These are sightings from Nevada, Utah, and Idaho in July-August 2021, sorted loosely by habitat and elevation.  Some fun facts are taken from Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s excellent site,

Sagebrush desert

This has been called “the bird without a field mark” with “no mark of distinction whatever—just bird” (, but it has a crazy song that reminds me of samba percussion:

Brewer’s Sparrow, Spizella breweri:

A passing Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus), too fast for me to photograph, put this bird and several others on high alert:

Rock Wren, Salpinctes obsoletus:

This coyote seemed interested in the flutter of small-animal activity in the wake of the Short-Eared Owl:

Coyote, Canis latrans:

This family was breakfasting on bugs in the cow pies in a very small pasture surrounded by desert:

Sage Grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus:

These great singers were hunting insects around the cow pasture:

Sage Thrasher, Oreoscoptes montanus:

This dashing flycatcher breeds all the way from central Mexico to the Arctic:

Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya:


Named for its flashy legs, and also called telltale, tattler, and yelper for its sounds:

Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca:

Simulates the Doppler effect with its calls, giving the illusion that it’s moving faster than it is:

American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana:

These legs are proportionately longer than those of any bird but flamingos:

Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus:

Dances on the water in courtship, carries young on its back, and is almost identical to Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis);

Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia:

Females are the colorful sex in this species, though these ones are in nonbreeding plumage:

Red-necked Phalaropes, Phalaropus lobatus:

Next two photos from the Great Salt Lake near Antelope Island National State Park:

Red-necked Phalaropes, Phalaropus lobatus:

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos:

Thursday: Hili dialogue

October 21, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Thursday, October 21, 2021: National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day. What a travesty! Either pumpkin pie or cheesecake are good on their own, but not this ill-conceived combination! It’s almost as bad as the popular pumpkin latte.

It’s also Apple Day (mostly celebrated in the UK), International Day of the Nacho, Garbanzo Bean Day, Celebration of the Mind Day, Reptile Awareness Day, Birth of the Báb, and Back to the Future Day, so called because the movie Back to the Future, Part II “starts out set in 1985 where the previous film in the series left off. Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, along with Doc Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, and Jennifer Parker, played by Elisabeth Shue, travel to the future in Doc’s DeLorean to save Marty and Jennifer’s future children. The date they travel to is October 21, 2015.”

Here’s the opening scene of that movie (see 4:08 for the date of October 21, 2015).

News of the Day:

*Brian Laundrie, a “person of interest” in the widely publicized murder of his girlfriend Gabby Petito, had gone missing for over a month, but may now have been found—dead. Some of Laundrie’s possessions, along with a body, were found in a nature reserve in North Port, Florida. The curious thing is that investigators were led to the area by Laundrie’s parents. Did their son call them before he killed himself? For those remains are almost certainly those of Laundrie.

*Have a look at Megan McArdle’s op-ed in the Washington Post: “Democrats cannot afford to cater only to a hyper-educated class. It’s time to pop the bubble.” She worries that what matters to that class and to the media may not matter to the average American, and Republicans shouldn’t beef about a left-wing media bias:

Lately, though, I’ve begun doubting whether Republicans and those who agree with them are right — wondering whether media defenders shouldn’t just say: Hell yes, Republicans, the media has a left-wing bias, but don’t worry, that hurts Democrats more than you.

My most recent occasion for these musings was a column that Ezra Klein of the New York Times wrote about David Shor, a progressive election analyst. Shor thinks the left has a major problem with its youthful and well-educated activist base, which staffs left-leaning newsrooms and runs campaigns. They focus, naturally, on issues that excite them, and Shor told Klein “the things that are most exciting to activists and journalists are politically toxic.”

There’s a lot more, and we need to think about these things before November, 2022 rolls around.

*If you’re as young as 40 (but not younger), and got the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, it looks as if the government will soon authorize Covid-19 boosters for these youngsters. Further, according to CNN:

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and said any of the three authorized vaccines could be used as a booster in a “mix and match approach” for eligible individuals.

*The gang that kidnapped the 17 missionaries in Haiti is holding firm in its demands, still asking for $1 million ransom per hostage. The FBI is on the ground trying to find the hostages, which according to NBC News last night are likely to be held in the area where they were kidnapped. I fear carnage, for the FBI and US is not inclined to negotiate a price, and may try an assault to free the hostages.

*The fracas over Dave Chapelle’s latest Netflix show, for which he’s been deemed transphobic, has escalated as hundreds of Netflix staff walked off the job and picketed the company’s Los Angeles headquarters. According to Varietyhowever, they clashed with Chappelle’s fans, who were also there:

Counter-protesters were also out in full force, bearing signs with messages like “Jokes Are Funny,” and “Netflix Don’t Cancel Free Speech.” At times the situation threatened to devolve as counter-protestors pushed up against trans speakers. One man’s “Jokes Are Funny” sign was ripped out of his hand by a pro-trans protestor and split in half, leaving him with a stick and little else. Crowd members said he was wielding a weapon and asked for his removal. Chappelle’s supporters said they were demonstrating in support of free speech.

My prediction: this will not die down, and Netflix will both apologize and meet some of the demands already been made by the protesting staff.

*The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports good news for Bright Sheng: the University of Michigan professor and composer booted from teaching undergraduates after he showed the movie “Othello”  to his students. The problem was that the 1965 movie had Laurence Olivier in blackface, which is taboo (see John McWhorter’s take on it here).  The University was actually going to open a formal investigation of Sheng, which is unbelievable. Fortunately, Michigan came to its senses. As FIRE reports:

UPDATE 10/19/21: The University of Michigan, which had been considering opening a formal investigation into Professor Sheng for his classroom showing of Othello, has determined that it will not do so after reviewing the complaints against him.

Sheng’s attorney, David Nacht, confirmed the development to FIRE.

While it remains discouraging that Sheng has “stepped away” from teaching this semester, Michigan’s decision not to launch a formal investigation into a professor’s course content was the right one to make. Such investigations produce profound chilling effects inimical to a university’s role as a marketplace of ideas. FIRE hopes that this controversy over Sheng’s protected expression will signal to Michigan faculty and administrators that it’s time for the university to make a serious effort to protect and defend faculty members’ First Amendment rights and academic freedom.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 731,512, an increase of 1,532 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,939,737, an increase of about 9,000 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on October 21 includes:

  • 1512 – Martin Luther joins the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg.
  • 1520 – Ferdinand Magellan discovers a strait now known as the Strait of Magellan.
  • 1797 – In Boston Harbor, the 44-gun United States Navy frigate USS Constitution is launched.
  • 1854 – Florence Nightingale and a staff of 38 nurses are sent to the Crimean War.

Nightingale, pictured below around 1858, was somewhat of a polymath, too; Wikipedia notes:

Nightingale was a prodigious and versatile writer. In her lifetime, much of her published work was concerned with spreading medical knowledge. Some of her tracts were written in simple English so that they could easily be understood by those with poor literary skills. She was also a pioneer in data visualization with the use of infographics, using graphical presentations of statistical data in an effective way. Much of her writing, including her extensive work on religion and mysticism, has only been published posthumously.

  • 1879 – Thomas Edison applies for a patent for his design for an incandescent light bulb.

The patent was granted on January 27, 1880, and here’s the drawing accompanying the patent. The birth of the light bub!

  • 1921 – President Warren G. Harding delivers the first speech by a sitting U.S. president against lynching in the deep South.
  • 1940 – The first edition of the Ernest Hemingway novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is published.

A first edition and first printing of this puppy, signed by the author, will run you about $17,500. 


The ship suffered several kamikaze attacks; here’s the aftermath (this is supposedly the first allied ship hit by kamikazes, though some hold that the damage was by Japanese non-suicide fighters that decided to ram the ship):

Why so many kids? Because the coal spoils destroyed not only a row of houses, but also a school. Here’s a photo of the village showing the damage right after the collapse (the spoils were mixed with water from a heavy rain, creating a slurry that engulfed much of the village.

  • 1973 – Fred Dryer of the Los Angeles Rams becomes the first player in NFL history to score two safeties in the same game. 

Usually, a safety occurs when someone with the football is tackled in his own end zone; two points are then awarded to the opposing team.

  • 1983 – The metre is defined as the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second.
  • 2019 – In Canada, the 2019 Canadian Federal Election ends, resulting in incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remaining in office, albeit in a minority government.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1772 – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet, philosopher, and critic (d. 1834)
  • 1877 – Oswald Avery, Canadian-American physician and microbiologist (d. 1955)

Avery, along with his colleagues Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty, did the crucial 1944 experiment showing that the genetic material was almost certainly DNA. They did this by seeing which fraction of a bacterial cells could “transform” the properties of living cells. It wasn’t protein, but the nucleic acids. It was a thorough and careful experiment, and the trio deserved the Nobel Prize for this feat. But they didn’t get it.   Here’s that classic paper. Look at the subtitle, which tells the tale.

I know that many readers loved his columns in Scientific American, but did you know he was a University of Chicago product? (He was also a Lewis Carroll expert, and produced the bestselling book The Annotated Alice.) Here’s the man:

Gillespie playing his famous “Salt Peanuts,” and trying to get the audience to cooperate. Those cheeks are amazing; they would do a chipmunk proud.

  • 1956 – Carrie Fisher, American actress and screenwriter (d. 2016)
  • 1980 – Kim Kardashian, American reality television personality, actress, model, businesswoman and socialite

Those who were called away on October 21 include:

  • 1805 – Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, English admiral (b. 1758)
  • 1969 – Jack Kerouac, American novelist and poet (b. 1922)

Kerouac (right) with his pal and crazy man, Neal Cassady—the model for Dean Moraiarty in On the Road:

Yes, that Asperger, the one who created the diagnosis of autism. Here he is with a patient in Vienna, ca. 1940:

  • 2012 – George McGovern, American historian, lieutenant, and politician (b. 1922)

I campaigned for McGovern, and even wrote a little poem about him that I still remember:

Yes, he’s the man for me!
Though his head is as bald as a billiard ball,
He’s the freakiest one of all.
(Repeat first three lines.)

  • 2014 – Ben Bradlee, American journalist and author (b. 1921)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is making a nuisance of herself:

A: Hili, you are lying on my mouse mat.
Hili: You have another one.
In Polish:
A: Hili, leżysz na mojej podkładce pod mysz.
Hili: Masz drugą.

From Stash Krod:

From Stephen:

Grooming a lynx, from Fabulous Nature Photos and Videos on FB. Look at the size of that cat!

Here’s a thread I came across giving

a few reasons why IKEA is a psychological manipulator. Since I’ve never been in an IKEA store, I can’t vouch for its accuracy or analysis. I’ve added the first reason of the twelve.

From Masih. I hope the women of Afghanistan as well s Iran start communicating more with her so we can understand what’s going on with the Taliban. Meanwhile in Iran, things for women are as bad as ever.

From Ken, who explains, “This is a tweet from an actual, currently serving member of the United State House of Representatives abetting persons to obtain illegal, phony Covid vaccine records — you know, ‘hypothetically;'”.

ETHICAL my tuchas!

From Simon: I only wish these were real robot ducks! Also, their sombreros are ideologically incorrect. Sound up, though.

Tweets from Matthew: I haven’t yet read the paper yet, but I will; it’s about the reasons people “detransition.”

This is your brain on. . . nothing. What an amazing photo!

I love border collies. When I spent time in the UK, and the show was still running, I would always try to watch “One Man and His Dog.” I could watch this stuff for hours! Sound up.

Some winners: 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

October 20, 2021 • 1:30 pm

NPR has a selection of fantastic winning photos from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest run by the London Museum of Natural History.  I just have time to show you a few of my favorites before I go to feed our few remaining ducks. Honey, Dorothy, and their swain, Prince Charming, need fattening up before they head south.  There are thirteen photos, and I’ll show six with the NPR captions and credits (indented).

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Head to head, by Stefano Unterthiner, Italy, winner, behaviour: mammals category. Unterthiner watched two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem. Unterthiner followed these reindeer during the rutting season. Watching the fight, he felt immersed in “the smell, the noise, the fatigue and the pain.” The reindeer clashed antlers until the dominant male (left) chased its rival away.

Stefano Unterthiner/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Nursery meltdown, by Jennifer Hayes, U.S., winner, Oceans – The Bigger Picture category. Hayes recorded harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice. Following a storm, it took hours of searching by helicopter to find this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. “It was a pulse of life that took your breath away,” says Hayes.

Jennifer Hayes/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The intimate touch, by Shane Kalyn, Canada, winner, behaviour: birds category. Kalyn watched a raven courtship display. It was midwinter, the start of the ravens’ breeding season. Kalyn lay on the frozen ground and used the muted light to capture the ravens’ iridescent plumage against the contrasting snow to reveal this intimate moment when their thick black bills came together.

Shane Kalyn/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Creation, by Laurent Ballesta, France, winner, category: underwater. Ballesta peered into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exited its milky cloud of eggs and sperm. For five years Ballesta and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks that were hunting the fish.

Laurent Ballesta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Where the giant newts breed, by João Rodrigues, Portugal, winner, behaviour: amphibians and reptiles category. Rodrigues was surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in this flooded forest. It was Rodrigues’ first chance in five years to dive into this lake, as it emerges only in winters of exceptionally heavy rainfall, when underground rivers overflow.

João Rodrigues/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Elephant in the room, by Adam Oswell, Australia, winner, category: photojournalism. Oswell draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform underwater.

Adam Oswell/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

h/t: Laurie

Bari Weiss on the need for moxie

October 20, 2021 • 11:00 am

We all know who the cowards are, though they’re not branded as such by the Left. They include entire universities and their presidents, like Evergreen State, Oberlin, Yale, and Bryn Mawr. They include Dean Baquet, the editor of the New York Times, and other media like New York Magazine and the New Yorker, who always take the safe stands on every issue, never challenging our thoughts. They include the Dean and head of the EAPS department at MIT, who disinvited Dorian Abbot from a prestigious lecture at MIT.  They are all the people who bow to unreasonable demands, or accept lies, or refuse to question dogma—all out of fear for their careers. And they are many.

In her Commentary article this week (also highlighted on her website in a short piece called “Some thoughts about courage“), Bari Weiss first defines wokeness (the bad kind) and then recites many instances of people who have had their lives or careers damaged by cowards. She recounts tales of those who have fought back. You already know many of these stories. Click on the screenshot below to read. Weiss introduces her piece this way on her Substack site:

If you read this newsletter — and if you are new here, welcome! — you are by now quite familiar with the features of the great unraveling. The politicization of everything. The re-racialization of everyone. The demonization of those with a different perspective. The forced conformity. The ideological capture of our schools. The betrayal of liberalism by the institutions meant to uphold it. The denial of obvious truths by our most trusted experts. The replacement of forgiveness and mercy with perpetual punishment.

How did this happen?

Here’s what I write in Commentary:


The message is simple: when you run up against irrational wokeness, as in the examples she gives, have some moxie, cojones, guts, chutzpah, or whatever you call it, because standing up against this stuff is the only way to quash it. However, given that most people are fearful of being called racists, or being ruined, by opposing insanity, more than half of students are afraid to speak their minds in such situations. The only way that will change is when there are examples like Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, or other people who, though liberal, are not swept up in the tide of ultra-wokeness.

This is the same way atheism began to spread: a few people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens spoke out (granted, only Harris had something to lose), and then smaller fish like me, heartened, wrote books and gave talks on the perniciousness of religion. Many times I’ve heard that reading this site, or hearing my talks, have given people the courage to “come out” and leave their faith. Wokeness, too, is a faith, and will be dispelled the same way—one example of “coming out” after another.

I don’t really have to say more. I’ll just give one of Weiss’s examples of courage—one I didn’t know of—and her conclusion:

Gordon Klein, a professor at UCLA, recently filed suit against his own university. Why? A student asked him to grade black students with “greater leniency.” He refused, given that such a racial preference would violate UCLA’s anti-discrimination policies (and maybe even the law). But the people in charge of UCLA’s Anderson School launched a racial-discrimination complaint into him. They denounced him, banned him from campus, appointed a monitor to look at his emails, and suspended him. He eventually was reinstated—because he had done absolutely nothing wrong—but not before his reputation and career were severely damaged. “I don’t want to see anyone else’s life destroyed as they attempted to do to me,” Klein told me. “Few have the intestinal fortitude to fight cancel culture. I do. This is about sending a message to every petty tyrant out there.”

There are other examples of people who have fought back, brought lawsuits, or (like Peter Boghossian) quit rather than tender fulsome apologies to save their skins. It’s a long article, and I think it’s worth reading even though the message may not be novel.

Part of Weiss’s conclusion:

But let’s start with a little courage.

Courage means, first off, the unqualified rejection of lies. Do not speak untruths, either about yourself or anyone else, no matter the comfort offered by the mob. And do not genially accept the lies told to you. If possible, be vocal in rejecting claims you know to be false. Courage can be contagious, and your example may serve as a means of transmission.

When you’re told that traits such as industriousness and punctuality are the legacy of white supremacy, don’t hesitate to reject it. When you’re told that statues of figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are offensive, explain that they are national heroes. When you’re told that “nothing has changed” in this country for minorities, don’t dishonor the memory of civil-rights pioneers by agreeing. And when you’re told that America was founded in order to perpetuate slavery, don’t take part in rewriting the country’s history. [JAC: This of course is a slap at the NYT’s 1619 Project.]

America is imperfect. I always knew it, as we all do—and the past few years have rocked my faith like no others in my lifetime. But America and we Americans are far from irredeemable. . . .

. . . Every day I hear from people who are living in fear in the freest society humankind has ever known. Dissidents in a democracy, practicing doublespeak. That is what is happening right now. What happens five, 10, 20 years from now if we don’t speak up and defend the ideas that have made all of our lives possible?

You have to number Weiss among the courageous ones. After all, she walked away from the biggest plum in journalism: a column in the New York Times. Granted, she was harassed by her colleagues, but she was not fired. But she’d rather say what she sees as true without having Dean Baquet breathing down her back or her colleagues demonize her for wrongthink.


The harm caused by radiator installation at Oberlin College

October 20, 2021 • 9:20 am

This has been reported by the right-wing media, of course, but I’d prefer to go to the source itself: the student newspaper of one of the wokest colleges in America: Oberlin College in Ohio. You may remember that Oberlin tried to destroy Gibson’s Bakery because the bakery’s owners called the cops on some students for shoplifting. Gibson’s won a huge judgement against the College—over $30 million including attorney’s fees. But the case, which began in 2016, is still going on, and even has its own Wikipedia page (Oberlin had to post bond for the judgement, but hasn’t paid up).

Today, however, we have an Oberlin student living in a dorm named Baldwin Cottage, of which two floors are devoted to people with particular genders and sexual preferences. As the letter writer notes in an op-ed published in The Oberlin Review (click on screenshot):

Baldwin Cottage is the home of the Women and Trans Collective. The College website describes the dorm as “a close-knit community that provides women and transgendered persons with a safe space for discussion, communal living, and personal development.” Cisgender men are not allowed to live on the second and third floors, and many residents choose not to invite cisgender men to that space.

This means that some cisgender men, at the residents’ invitation, can be on the second and third floors. And thereby lies the issue:

The trouble begn when John Mantos, the area coordinator for Multicultural and Identity-Based Communities, emailed the residents of Baldwin Cottage that there was an imminent installation of radiators before winter began. From the op-ed:

“I am reaching out to you to give you an update on the radiator project,” Matos wrote. “Starting tomorrow (Friday, 10/8) the contractors will be entering rooms between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to install the radiators. This will mean that they will be in your room for a period of time to complete the work.”

I had not been contacted about any sort of radiator installation before this email, so right away the word “update” stood out to me as untrue. I grew concerned reading the second line, which informed me that I had less than 24 hours to prepare for the arrival of the installation crew, and I was further perturbed by the ambiguous “for a period of time.”

In general, I am very averse to people entering my personal space. This anxiety was compounded by the fact that the crew would be strangers, and they were more than likely to be cisgender men.

Would Fray-Witzer be happier if the crew were women or transgender men? Peter doesn’t say, but goes on for a full page kvetching about the lack of warning, the fact that the Cisgender Radiator Men returned the next day to check the installation, how harmed he was, and so on. The author would have preferred this:

I was angry, scared, and confused. Why didn’t the College complete the installation over the summer, when the building was empty? Why couldn’t they tell us precisely when the workers would be there? Why were they only notifying us the day before the installation was due to begin?

The accusation of misbehavior by Oberlin and the harm done to Fray-Witzer goes on and on. One more excerpt:

I couldn’t help but think that, though there were other dorms affected by the installation, Baldwin Cottage was one of the worst places for it to occur. There are myriad reasons to want to be housed in Baldwin Cottage, but many people — myself included — choose to live there for an added degree of privacy and a feeling of safety and protection. A significant portion of students choose to live in Baldwin because they are victims of sexual assault or abuse, have suffered past invasions of privacy, or have some other reason to fear cisgender men.

You can read the rest for yourself. All I can say is that I sympathize with those residents who have experienced sexual assault and abuse, but those people have to live in the real world, and that world is full of cisgender men, even including some who install radiators. If the students can’t tolerate an hour’s worth of work by such men in their dorm room—Peter left for class and they were gone when he returned (I’m not sure of the right pronoun here)—then they need therapy.  After all, if they feel unsafe from a radiator crew, they can surely leave for an hour.  What kind of adults will these students grow up to be if they’re afraid of the whole world and get no therapy to deal with that?

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ camel urine

October 20, 2021 • 8:40 am

Today’s Jesus and Mo cartoon, called “drink“, comes with a note:

An edited resurrection today, while I am on holiday. It references a hadith.

Here’s the hadith indicated (one of the extra-Qur’anic “traditional” sayings of Muhammad):

Anas b. Malik reported that some people belonging (to the tribe) of ‘Uraina came to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) at Medina, but they found its climate uncogenial. So Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said to them:

If you so like, you may go to the camels of Sadaqa and drink their milk and urine. They did so and were all right. They then fell upon the shepherds and killed them and turned apostates from Islam and drove off the camels of the Prophet (ﷺ). This news reached Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) and he sent (people) on their track and they were (brought) and handed over to him. He (the Holy Prophet) got their hands cut off, and their feet, and put out their eyes, and threw them on the stony ground until they died.

Truly the Prophet is infallible.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos are from Tony Eales in Queensland, and are a combination of culture, landscapes, and animals. Tony’s captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

I just got back from a short trip to the outback to attend and celebrate the Koa People’s successful struggle for recognition of their continuing native title rights in the Winton area of my state. My job is to assist Aboriginal traditional owner groups in their legal battles to have their native title rights recognised by the Commonwealth of Australia, so it was a good day for us as an organisation as well as the Koa.

I spent some time in Bladensburg National Park on Koa country prior to the hearing and drove out there and back some 1400 km each way so it was a big week. Here are some of the sights.

On the way out, my wife and I passed through the small town of Muttaburra. It was a bit of a detour but is the home of the rather musically named dinosaur Muttaburrasaurus langdoni (seen here in statue form at the Muttaburra discovery centre, holding hands with my wife).

Where we camped in Bladensburg was very dry with little life around but at night the lights attracted a wide variety of beetles, bugs, moths and lacewings including this very beautiful thread-wing lacewing, Austrocroce mira.

At night things came more alive with many wolf spiders, visible by their eye shine, dramatically striped native cockroaches, and large huntsman spiders—to single out a few.

My friend suspects some of the wolf spiders like this one may be Allocosa sp. but the huge diversity of Lycosids in Australia are currently being reviewed and removed from European genera and given new taxonomic labels.

Daytime was the time for birds and when we could appreciate the dramatic landscape.

EmusDromaius novaehollandiae:

White-breasted woodswallows: Artamus leucorynchus:

I watched this immature Grey Shrike-thrushColluricincla harmonica, work hard at removing the cottony thread from a seed by wedging the seed in the fork of a bush and pulling the hair away.

At the few water holes, you could sit and wait for the seed eating birds to come in to drink. Zebra Finches, Taeniopygia guttata, are never far from surface water and could help you survive. If you hear them, you know there must be some water nearby.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

October 20, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to ein holpriger Tag: Wednesday, October 20, 2021: National Eggo Day. Eggos (or is it eggoes?) are frozen waffles prepared in a toaster. Not even close to real waffles. A famous commercial from the old days shows kids tussling over a waffle and one shouting, “Leggo my Eggo!” There are many of these on YouTube; I’ve put one below.

It’s also Office Chocolate Day (treat your colleagues!), Hagfish Day (“Hagfish Day was created in 2009 by WhaleTimes to encourage children to examine all creatures in the food web, not just sightly looking ones”, so hagfish represent all “ugly” animals), International Chefs Day, Love Your Body Day, National Brandied Fruit Day, National Chicken and Waffles Day (not Eggo waffles!), World Osteoporosis Day. and World Statistics Day.

Here’s an animal I consider uglier than the hagfish: the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber):

I wonder who first had the idea of combining chicken and waffles? It was a good one! What other tasty combinations remain undiscovered? What if coffee didn’t exist? We wouldn’t be able to imagine how wonderful it is! Now think of all the other foods just as good or better, but that don’t exist. 

News of the Day:

Oy gewalt! Trump has responded to the death of Colin Powell, and in a very Trumpian way, even asking for donations at the end (click on the statement to read the whole thing. Reader Simon, who sent me this, adds, “”Trump exhibits all the class you’d expect in extolling the virtues of a recently deceased Republican leader”. Yes, Powell screwed up over Iraq, but I still respect the guy, and at any rate, Trump shows his typical lack of class.

*The gang that kidnapped 17 missionaries in Haiti (16 Americans and a Canadian) has now spoken: they want $1 million per hostageThe Haitian Justice minister, however, says that the gang is open to bargaining:

“Usually, they request more, then people close to the kidnapped persons will negotiate,” Quitel said. “Usually, even when they ask for a ransom, they know they don’t get all that they ask.”

But I thought the U.S. had a policy of not paying ransom for hostages. (The FBI reaffirmed that on the NBC News last night.) But if they do, surely no American will be safe in Haiti from now on.

*Steve Bannon is on the road to indictment. The House Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection will almost surely vote to hold Steve Bannon for contempt of court for refusing to respond to his subpoena.  If the vote is “aye,” it will go to the full house, and then is up to the decision of a federal prosecutor. Bannon claims that he doesn’t have to honor the subpoena or produce information because Jesus (aka Trump) told him so.

*The NYT science section has an article “Can skeletons have a racial identity?“, since forensic anthropologists often use skull configuration to tentatively diagnose the ethnicity of an unknown skeleton. It’s a good question, but author Sabrina Imbler gets all balled up trying to debunk the concept of race, replacing it with “affinity”, which pretty much corresponds to “ethnicity”, both terms being better than “race”, which is freighted with past misconceptions. It turns out that yes, you can often get at least a clue to “affinity”: from a skull, but of course that causes worries among the easily offended. It would have been a much better article had they played down the ideology and racism a bit and dealt more with the scientific issue, which is interesting.  A quote (I’ve added a bio link):

Still, Dr. DiGangi said that switching to affinity may not address racial biases in law enforcement. Until she sees evidence that bias does not preclude people from becoming identified, she says, she does not want a “checkbox” that gets at ancestry or affinity.

Is that relevant?

*The Center for Inquiry’s Robyn Blumner rips Ken Ham a new one.  Paul Fidalgo of CFI notes first that Tom Flynn, somewhat of a a humanist icon editor of Free Inquiry magazine and former director of the Council for Secular Humanism, died suddenly at 66 on August 23. The nefarious creationist Ken Ham used Flynn’s death in a fundraising appeal, writing this:

I certainly agree that this man’s death was a “tragedy of epic proportions.” As a member of the human family, he is (yes “is,” because he will live for eternity) our relative. And as far as we know from his own actions and all that’s been said about him, he will be separated from God for eternity. Yes, that is a tragedy. And this atheist group is applauding another tragedy by praising Tom Flynn for “helping to cause the Rise of the Nones,” sadly putting more on the broad way, and we want to do our best to put them on the narrow way that leads to life.

So Blumner issued a stinging response, also at the link above, part of which is this:

So the idea that Ken Ham, who trafficks in falsehoods based on laughable antiscience assertions, could ever hope to “undo the work of Tom Flynn” is absurd. That Ham would use Tom’s death as an excuse to extract millions of dollars from followers is sadly predictable. Tom Flynn’s legacy is one of progress and enlightenment. Whereas Ken Ham, with his ahistorical Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, is building a legacy of ignorance through Elmer Gantry–type ploys.

Referring to a child who had allegedly praised one of his creationist sermons, Ham wrote, “If only Tom Flynn would have had the faith of this child.”

In fact, Tom was a man of faith. The real kind, grounded in life’s experiences and evidence. He had faith in his family, his friends, his colleagues, and in the potential for human civilization to abandon fairy tales and reject provably ridiculous notions such as Ham’s young Earth creationism. No wonder Ham wants to “undo” Tom’s legacy.

Ham may be able to soak his followers of money, but what he cannot do is make our world better, smarter, or more enlightened. That job falls to those of us who embrace reason, science, and compassion—in other words, it falls to those following the example of Tom Flynn.

Ceiling Cat praise Blumner!

Here are the results of yesterday’s poll on whether they should remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson from the council chamber of New York’s City Hall: more than 7 to 1 in favor of leaving the statue up. Of course our readers are hardly a random sample of Americans, much less African-Americans, but I don’t think they’re racists, either!


*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 728,400, an increase of 1,557 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,930,707, an increase of about 8,000 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on October 20 includes:

  • 1572 – Eighty Years’ War: Three thousand Spanish soldiers wade through fifteen miles of water in one night to effect the relief of Goes.

Given the difficulty of this, it’s a miracle that only nine men drowned. And their mission was successful.

  • 1803 – The United States Senate ratifies the Louisiana Purchase.
  • 1935 – The Long March, a mammoth retreat undertaken by the armed forces of the Chinese Communist Party a year prior, ends.

Of course Wikipedia notes that October 22 (1936) was the real end of the long march, so it should once again clean up its act.

  • 1947 – The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of the Hollywood film industry, resulting in a blacklist that prevents some from working in the industry for years.

Here are the “Hollywood Ten” cited for contempt of Conrgess and then blacklisted afterwards. They were also fined $1,000 each and sentenced to between six months and a year in prison:

This was an unconscionable racial assault. As Wikipedia notes:

The Johnny Bright incident was a violent on-field assault against African-American player Johnny Bright by a white opposing player during an American college football game held on October 20, 1951, in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The game was significant in itself as it marked the first time that an African-American athlete with a national profile and of critical importance to the success of his team, the Drake Bulldogs, had played against Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) at Oklahoma A&M’s Lewis Field. Bright’s injury also highlighted the racial tensions of the times and assumed notoriety when it was captured in what was later to become both a widely disseminated and eventually Pulitzer Prize-winning photo sequence.

The targeted Bright was knocked unconscious three times in the game’s first seven minutes, and later his jaw was broken, impeding his performance for the rest of the season. He still played, though, and went on to a career in the Canadian football league, where they presumably treated black players like human beings instead of targets. Oklahoma State (who won the game) did not apologize to Drake University until 2005.

  • 1973 – “Saturday Night Massacre”: United States President Richard Nixon fires U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus after they refuse to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who is finally fired by Robert Bork.
  • 1973 – The Sydney Opera House is opened by Elizabeth II after 14 years of construction.

Here’s a video of Elizabeth at the opening of that wonderful piece of architecture:

  • 1981 – Two police officers and an armored car guard are killed during an armed robbery carried out by members of the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground.

Nine people were tried and convicted of the crime; all served serious time. The most famous, Kathy Boudin, is now Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Justice at Columbia University.

What is a “cosmic structure”? I didn’t know, so I had to look it up. It turns out to be a “dense cluster of galaxies”, and such clusters are predicted by cosmology. From the Sloan Digital Sky Survey:

Matter in the universe is not distributed randomly. Galaxies, quasars, and intergalactic gas outline a pattern that has been compared to soap bubbles – large voids surrounded by thin walls of galaxies, with dense galaxy clusters where walls intersect. One of the primary goals of the SDSS is to map this structure in great detail, out to large distances. Scientists have many theories about how the universe evolved, and the theories predict different large-scale structures for the universe. The SDSS’s map may tell us which theories are right – or whether we will have to come up with entirely new ideas.

Here’s the largest cosmic structure now known, the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, nearly ten billion light years across (to be precise, 9,700,000,000)! Below is an “artist’s conception based on an axonometric view of the inferred superstructure Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall.” It is the biggest “thing” in the Universe as far as we know.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1632 – Christopher Wren, English physicist, mathematician, and architect, designed St Paul’s Cathedral (d. 1723)

Here’s the only building Wren designed in America: the “Wren Building” at my alma mater, The College of William and Mary. I had the privilege of taking three English classes in this lovely place:

More than anyone else, Matthew anticipated Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In an appendix to his book on using wood to build ships, On Naval Timber and Aboriculture (1831), Matthew described a theory very like Darwin’s idea of natural selection.  Matthew contacted Darwin after The Origin was published, and in later editions of his book Darwin gave Matthew credit for anticipating Darwin’s own theory. The resemblance is remarkable, though of course Darwin worked it out in great detail rather than touching briefly on it as Matthew did. Darwin therefore gets the lion’s share of the credit.

  • 1819 – Báb, Iranian religious leader, founded Bábism (d. 1850)

There are no photos of The Báb that I could find.

Here’s the poet, who died of bone cancer at 37:

  • 1925 – Art Buchwald, American soldier and journalist (d. 2007)
  • 1927 – Joyce Brothers, American psychologist, author, and actress (d. 2013)
  • 1950 – Tom Petty, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (d. 2017)
  • 1951 – Ken Ham, Australian-American evangelist
  • 1964 – Kamala Harris, American politician and lawyer, 49th Vice President of the United States

Kamala was supposed to be in charge of immigration, especially out of Mexico, but as far as I can see she hasn’t done jack.

  • 1971 – Snoop Dogg, American rapper, producer, and actor

Snoop Dogg is fifty today. Here he is singing “Roaches in my Ashtray”:

Those whose Krebs Cycle stopped cycling on October 20 include:

Debs (below) served two prison terms totaling a bit over three years, the second for sedition. That sentence was commuted by President Harding:

Here’s Sullivan and her famous pupil, Helen Keller:

  • 1964 – Herbert Hoover, American engineer and politician, 31st President of the United States (b. 1874)
  • 1984 – Paul Dirac, English-American physicist and mathematician, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1902)

Here’s a brief biography of Dirac that shows some video of him teaching at Florida State University:

I love this movie, and this scene was about the most erotic thing going in 1953. His mate here is Deborah Kerr, the wife of his captain in the movie.

  • 2020 – James Randi, Canadian-American stage magician and author (b. 1928)

It’s hard to believe that it was just a year ago that Randi died. Here’s a photo I took of him at The Amazing Meeting in July, 2013:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is wary, as she can’t abide either children or d*gs:

A: What do you see over there?
Hili: Children.
A: So what?
Hili: You never know with children.
In Polish:
Ja: Co tam widzisz?
Hili: Dzieci.
Ja: No to co?
Hili: Z dziećmi nigdy nic nie wiadomo.
. . . and Baby Kulka on top of the refrigerator:

From Bizarre and Wonderful World:

and from the same site, with the caption, “Beautiful sculptures of animals made by carving bushes. Source: Reddit:

From Barry, who says he’ll pass on this comestible. Could this be in the cat food section?

From Ken, who adds this: “Nationally syndicated right-wing talk-radio jock (and proprietor of Prager U) Dennis Prager has contracted COVID-19. According to what he says below, he has eschewed vaccination, but has been on a strict regimen of hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, and other crank preventatives. Prager also says — get this! — that he has been intentionally exposing himself, maskless, to strangers in the hope of getting COVID.”

Prager succeeded. I guess the hydroxychlorquinone and ivermectin didn’t work. Sound up, of course.

From Dom; Google translation: “The White Swan School Sailing Ship @marmilbr crashed on a bridge in Ecuador. And so goes our armed forces.” Dom adds that if you think you’re having a bad day, imagine being the captain of this boat. 

The thread shows the aftermath, which isn’t pretty. Here’s are two more tweets

Tweets from Matthew, who loves bats as much as I:

A beautiful photo:

The pollution of science by ideology (click to read the whole title). Is there a list of accepted genders for hamsters?

And a very good philosophy cartoon:

Look at the ecstatic expression on this donkey! Sound up.