Nick Cohen on the AP’s language recommendation

January 27, 2023 • 12:30 pm

It’s been a while since I posted about anything by Nick Cohen, whom I used to read (and admire) all the time. I guess he’s writing more often on his Substack site.  Checking that out, I found this on his Wikipedia bio:

Nicholas Cohen (born 1961) is a British journalist, author and political commentator. He was a columnist for The Observer and a blogger for The Spectator. Following accusations of sexual harassment, he left The Observer in 2022 and began publishing on the Substack platform.

The footnote for the accusations goes to a Guardian article. in which a woman accused Cohen of sexual assault via groping.  I was shocked, and the fact that Cohen left the Observer after an investigation is disturbing.  I found that out after I already drafted a post with this post from Cohen’s Facebook page. I thought the AP’s “retraction” (an Cohen’s remark) was hilarious, but it loses some humor in light of the above.

I put that first tweet by the AP in the Hili Dialogues the other day, but I guess it’s gone now. At least somebody saved it, and oy did it get pushback!

A little beef

January 27, 2023 • 11:15 am

Here’s a dilemma I face constantly. A lot of material on this site is devoted to opposing “progressive liberal” (i.e., “woke”) initiatives, particularly in science. And I’m pretty much of an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech on campus, which isn’t exactly an attitude that’s au courant or ubiquitous among progressives.

Whenever another site links to a post on WEIT, which is fairly often, I get a “pingback” that lets me know that someplace has put up a link. Very often I go to see how my posts are being used, and very often—in fact at least 90% of the time—it’s a right-wing site like The College Fix, or The American Conservative, or someone like that, all of them decrying wokeness. Likewise, you’ll never see my criticisms of the incursion of wokeness into science appear in science journals—or in any left-wing media. In other words, my words are being uses to attack the Left, which happens to be the end of the political spectrum I’m on.

Now I could look at this situation in two ways.

1.) Since I go after what I see as irrational or harmful behaviors of “progressives”—and I do that to try to show that even liberals can call out their own, as well as to help purge the authoritarian and reflexively irrational elements on my own side of the aisle—I could regard these pingbacks as helping me in those efforts.


2.) The audience for these right-wing websites isn’t just interested in getting rid of “progressivism” or authoritarianism in the Left: they want to get rid of the entire Left. To the extent that my words are being construed as tarring the entire Left, I could be seen as hurting my own cause. Or even as helping the most dire Republicans around—the people like Trump who call out wokeness to go after Democrats in general.

Each time I see a pingback from one of these conservative sites, then, I am ambivalent. Am I helping or hurting my own cause? Like all people who take my point of view, I have of course been called “alt-right,” “racist”, and even a white supremacist. I brush off those names because they’re just slurs that progressives who lack arguments use to tar their opponents.

Now I’ve already my decision: I’m going to keep doing what I do (alternative 1) for several reasons. My motivations in calling out woke craziness is not to go after the Left as a whole, and thus I may, as someone with Leftist beliefs and a fairly activist track record, have more credibility than the right-wing sites who call out the same stuff. Further, I cannot bear it when the Left is associated with performative nonsense and general insanity. It’s like when someone in your family is acting badly: you call them out before others do, because, after all, they’re family. Finally, I still think that purging progressives from the Democratic side, or at least letting others know that we recognize the Follies of the Woke, will keep centrists from moving toward the Right. So long as people think all Leftists are “progressive”, they will shy away from the Left, and that would not be good.

I just wanted to air these thoughts. Readers are welcome to react, and you can tell me to dial down my criticisms of “progressivism,” but I’m not going to do it.  Oh, and please don’t lecture me about using the word “woke”. I have not found a good substitute and I’ve gotten plenty of blowback about that, which I’ve also rejected.

The kerfuffle over “Latinx”

January 27, 2023 • 9:20 am

Inside Higher Ed, the downmarket version of Chronicles of Higher Education, has published a piece by Bryan Betancur, assistant professor of Spanish at Furman University and a Colombian-American who writes about issues concerning Latinos.  But Betancur would not say “Latinos” as he argues in the following long op-ed, nor would he say “Latinx” which he (and a lot of genuine Latinos as well as yours truly) despises. Betancur’s article is twice as long as it should be, but he does make a couple of good points.

First, he notes, as we already know, that Americans of Latin-America ancestry generally dislike the term “Latinx”:

. . . U.S. politicians (primarily Democrats) continue using “Latinx” in social media posts despite growing evidence that only a small fraction of U.S. adults who identify as Latino or Hispanic (just 3 percent) refer to themselves as Latinx, while as many as four in 10 members of this heterogenous population find the term irksome or offensive.

Check out the links; he’s right.

As you may know, “Latinx” was a term developed by academics and promulgated mainly by the self-styled “in the know” progressive Democrats as the plural for people of Latin-American extraction. Since a male is a “Latino” and a female a “Latina”, it seemed to the wokerati a bit misogynistic to make the word for a group of people the same as the plural for “man”: “Latinos”. They therefore appended an “x” to “Latin,” creating an unpronounceable but ideologically acceptable term. (The same has been done to “women”, getting rid of the offensive “men” part by replacing the “e” with an “x”, creating the equally unpronounceable “womxn”. There’s also the alternative “womyn,” which is touted as less inclusive!

My own objection to “Latinx” is that you can’t pronounce it, and it’s also a performative and nearly useless change that was done to flaunt the virtue of the “progressive” people who confected and who use it. It’s especially bad because Hispanics (the term I use) do not like it or use it, either.

But apparently Betancur agrees with the objectionable nature of “Latinos” as a plural. But his objections aren’t quite the same as the ones given above, for he is woke.  He sees Latinx as non-inclusive.

a.) You can’t pronounce it, and that’s an issue for many Hispanics who don’t speak English (“Latinx” can’t be pronounced in Spanish), and who rely more on verbal rather than written communication.

My perspective on “Latinx” changed in 2019 when my mom, who only speaks to me in Spanish, asked me to explain the term’s significance. More accurately, she tried to reference the identifier but was unsure how to pronounce it. Her uncertainty granted me new insight into my discomfort with the term “Latinx.” I could explain gender-inclusive language to my mom but could only spell out terms like queridx, because these words cannot be pronounced in Spanish. The battle against grammatical gender was inaccessible to my mom, who did not attend college and was not about to read a jargony essay on the subject.

If this new linguistic practice did not lend itself to a simple oral explanation to my mom, it also excluded much of my family and the immigrant community in which I grew up. What’s more, the allegedly inclusive language also left out a significant portion of my students at Bronx Community College, many of whom come from backgrounds like mine. I finally understood that the knee-jerk aversion I felt toward “Latinx” stemmed from an unconscious recognition that this linguistic practice was not as inclusive as its many adherents, including myself, claimed.

Following that conversation, I scoured the internet for critiques of “Latinx” and found an edifying interview with Mexican linguist Concepción Company. Company asserts that using language in a manner that yields words such as amigx privileges writing over orality and excludes groups, such as some Indigenous communities, that lack formal writing systems These populations are thus denied equal opportunity to participate in activism via language. My family, my community and my students were not the only ones left out of the Latinx conversation.

b.) The term is therefore not inclusive but divisive:

My perspective on “Latinx” changed in 2019 when my mom, who only speaks to me in Spanish, asked me to explain the term’s significance. More accurately, she tried to reference the identifier but was unsure how to pronounce it. Her uncertainty granted me new insight into my discomfort with the term “Latinx.” I could explain gender-inclusive language to my mom but could only spell out terms like queridx, because these words cannot be pronounced in Spanish. The battle against grammatical gender was inaccessible to my mom, who did not attend college and was not about to read a jargony essay on the subject.

. . . If this new linguistic practice did not lend itself to a simple oral explanation to my mom, it also excluded much of my family and the immigrant community in which I grew up. What’s more, the allegedly inclusive language also left out a significant portion of my students at Bronx Community College, many of whom come from backgrounds like mine. I finally understood that the knee-jerk aversion I felt toward “Latinx” stemmed from an unconscious recognition that this linguistic practice was not as inclusive as its many adherents, including myself, claimed.

In other words, he’s using a woke argument against a woke term (my bolding):

Arguments that emphasize the use of “Latinx” among English speakers implicitly separate persons of Latin American descent into two groups: monolingual Spanish speakers and those who were born in the U.S. and primarily speak English. This de facto division runs counter to assertions that “Latinx” denotes inclusivity. Some descendants of Latin American immigrants might not feel a strong attachment to Spanish, but that does not mean the language in its spoken form ought to be dismissed. For the more than 460 million native speakers in the world, Spanish is not an abstract remnant of colonialism but a lived means of communication. Expecting a multinational ethnic group to tolerate language simply because it is acceptable to English speakers is linguistic imperialism under the guise of social progress.

Following that conversation, I scoured the internet for critiques of “Latinx” and found an edifying interview with Mexican linguist Concepción Company. Company asserts that using language in a manner that yields words such as amigx privileges writing over orality and excludes groups, such as some Indigenous communities, that lack formal writing systems These populations are thus denied equal opportunity to participate in activism via language. My family, my community and my students were not the only ones left out of the Latinx conversation.

So what term does the sweating professor want to use? I guess “Hispanic” isn’t good enough (I suppose you could make some kind of argument for geographical accuracy, but do we really care?) As the Pew Poll notes, most people of “Latino” extraction in the U.S. actually prefer “Hispanic”:

A majority (61%) say they prefer Hispanic to describe the Hispanic or Latino population in the U.S., and 29% say they prefer Latino. Meanwhile, just 4% say they prefer Latinx to describe the Hispanic or Latino population.

But Betancur likes the new term “Latine”, with the neutral “e” at the end, a usage that, he says, is gaining ground in Latin America in terms like “amigues” for “friends.” It is not only inclusive, but easy to pronounce:

But when it comes to “Latinx” and “Latine,” the question is not a matter of personal choice, as many claim. This assertion creates a false equivalence between the terms. I use “Latine” because inclusive language should not value literacy over orality, English over Spanish, or the ivory tower over the greater community.

But why not “Hispanic”?

This is, of course, a tempest in a teapot. I could just as well campaign for the elimination of “Jews” as a pejorative plural, and insist on using “Jewish people” to emphasize our status as human beings. But I can’t be bothered. (Of course, “Jewess” is no longer a viable word for a Jewish female (have they been erased?), so perhaps even “Jews”, construed as plural for the formerly male term “Jew”, should now be “Jewx”.)

From the Pew Poll:


h/t: Wayne

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 27, 2023 • 8:15 am

Reader Chris Schulte sent some photos from a trip to the Galápagos archipelago. (I was supposed to be there in about a week, but since the trip was combined with a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru, and there are riots and unrest in that country, they canceled the whole deal. But I’ll be lecturing instead on a trip to the islands in August, and it will not be canceled because the Galápagos are part of Ecuador, not Peru).

Chris’s captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

My wife and I went to the Galápagos a few years ago and I’ve been meaning to send these to you for a while. I don’t know if everything is identified correctly, but perhaps someone who knows better can correct me.

Galápagos Tortoise – (Chelonoidis niger) at El Chato 2 ranch:

Lava Lizard, Microlophus spp.:

Large Ground FinchGeospiza magnirostris:

Woodpecker FinchCamarhynchus pallidus:

Marine IguanaAmblyrhynchus cristatus:
I’m not sure if this is a Striated Heron, Butorides striatus, or Galápagos Heron (also “Lava heron”), Butorides sundevali, at the fish market:

Galapagos Sea LionZolophus wolleboeki:

Galapágos MockingbirdNesomimus parvulus:

A Yellow warblerDendroica petechia, letting me get really close:

White-cheeked PintailAnas bahamensis:

We were able to go snorkeling at Kicker Rock. I think someone said that it was 800 ft. deep between the two islets. Of course that is where you splash in

The first thing I saw was… unexpected:

I saw something out of the corner of my eye and was able to take a quick snap of it:
And a couple of Nazca boobiesSula granti, on the rocks above:

Friday: Hili dialogue

January 27, 2023 • 6:45 am

Greetings on Friday, January 27, 2023: National Chocolate Cake Day. It’s a good day to have a “cake shake” at the famed Chicago hot-dog chain Portillo’s. They put an entire piece of frosted chocolate cake into a milkshake. I’ve had their terrific dogs, but not a cake shake. My New Year’s resolution is to remedy that.

It’s also National Geographic Day (the organization was founded on this day in 1888), Thomas Crapper Day (he died on this day in 1910), and International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust, honoring the day in 1945 that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army.  Here’s are photos of released inmates taken on or around the day of liberation (read more and see other photos at this History Channel site).

And a tweet:

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the January 27 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*More rogue cops.  Five Memphis police officers have been charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols, a 29 year old black man, after they stopped him for reckless driving. The stop was captured on video, but it hasn’t yet been released (the family and head cops get to see it first.  I’ll reserve judgment, as usual, but since the police chief who has seen the video says that the beating the cops gave the man was “a failing of basic humanity,” I assume that the cops used excessive force. From the NYT:

Here are the details:

  • The officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were arrested on charges including second-degree murder. “The actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols and they are all responsible,” Shelby County District Attorney Steven J. Mulroy said of the officers. All five officers, who are Black, were fired last week.

  • A lawyer for Mr. Nichols’s family said the family was encouraged by the charges. “That these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” the lawyer, Ben Crump, said in a statement. He added, “This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death.” Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.

  • Video of the traffic stop will be released Friday, Mr. Mulroy said, as the city braced for any angry response to the footage. David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said he had watched the recordings. “In a word, it’s absolutely appalling,” he said. He added, “This was wrong, this was criminal.”

  • Mr. Nichols was stopped by officers on suspicion of reckless driving on the evening of Jan. 7. After what the police described in an initial statement as two confrontations with Mr. Nichols, an ambulance was called after he complained of shortness of breath.

  • Mr. Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to preliminary findings of an autopsy commissioned by his family. His family shared a photograph taken before he died on Jan. 10 that showed him in a hospital bed, apparently unconscious, his face bruised and swollen.

The D.A., who must have seen the video since he laid the charges, agreed with the police chief. What we might well have here are authoritarian and bloodthirsty cops. Really, a beating? I’d be curious to know what Nichols did that would deserve such an attack.

*Over at her Free Press site, Bari Weiss initiated a discussion among readers about why New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned. Was it because of her low approval ratings (in the thirties) that came from her policies, or was she the victim of sexism?

Could there have been a more perfect avatar of Davos-progressivism than New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern? There she was—the youngest woman on the world stage, and pretty to boot. When she brought her three-month-old to the UN General Assembly, the press went wild.

Outside of New Zealand, the press loved everything Ardern. Her handsome fiance. Her fashion sense. The fact that she was the first Kiwi PM to march in a gay pride parade.

“Lady of the Rings: Jacinda Rules,” declared Maureen Dowd of The New York Times.

Vogue crowed her the “anti-Trump.”

But while the leader was beloved by elite Americans, the warm feeling didn’t extend to her own citizens. The most recent polls out of New Zealand saw Ardern’s Labor Party approval ratings in the low thirties.

Facing the prospect of a devastating election in October, Ardern pulled the plug. Last week, she resigned. “I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.”

The Washington Post chalked the whole thing up to sexism. “Sexism dogged Jacinda Ardern’s tenure. Battling it is part of her legacy.”

Never mind that New Zealand implemented some of the most draconian Covid policies in the world outside China. Or that there is growing gang violence in the country. Or that inflation there is at 7.2 percent.

“I know there will be much discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so-called ‘real’ reason was,” said Ardern. “I can tell you that what I am sharing today is it.”

She said the reason is that she wanted to finally get married and needed time to plan the wedding.

So let’s discuss.

As of yesterday afternoon there were about 515 comments in the discussion, most of which ignored the question or talked about Canada. This answer, by Jill, seemed the most cogent of the batch I inspected. As for me, I had great hopes for Ardern but she was both too woke and too lax in carrying out the promises she made.

*The Associated Press has an intriguing article about gene therapy for brain diseases, which has promise for greatly improving conditions caused by mutations in single genes, but also for more complex maladies like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. A genetically engineered virus containing a working version of a gene whose mutation has caused a disease is infused into the brain (preferably in a young person before much damage sets in), and the gene gets inserted into the brain cells. In some cases in can make a huge difference.

When Rylae-Ann Poulin was a year old, she didn’t crawl or babble like other kids her age. A rare genetic disorder kept her from even lifting her head. Her parents took turns holding her upright at night just so she could breathe comfortably and sleep.

Then, months later, doctors delivered gene therapy directly to her brain.

Now the 4-year-old is walking, running, swimming, reading and riding horses — “just doing so many amazing things that doctors once said were impossible,” said her mother, Judy Wei.

Rylae-Ann, who lives with her family in Bangkok, was among the first to benefit from a new way of delivering gene therapy — attacking diseases inside the brain — that experts believe holds great promise for treating a host of brain disorders.

Her treatment recently became the first brain-delivered gene therapy after its approval in Europe and the United Kingdom for AADC deficiency, a disorder that interferes with the way cells in the nervous system communicate. New Jersey drugmaker PTC Therapeutics plans to seek U.S. approval this year.

Meanwhile, about 30 U.S. studies testing gene therapy to the brain for various disorders are ongoing, according to the National Institutes of Health. One, led by Dr. Krystof Bankiewicz at Ohio State University, also targets AADC deficiency. Others test treatments for disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

. . .Challenges remain, especially with diseases caused by more than a single gene. But scientists say the evidence supporting this approach is mounting — opening a new frontier in the fight against disorders afflicting our most complex and mysterious organ.

“There’s a lot of exciting times ahead of us,” said Bankiewicz, a neurosurgeon. “We’re seeing some breakthroughs.”

The most dramatic of those breakthroughs involve Rylae-Ann’s disease, which is caused by mutations in a gene needed for an enzyme that helps make neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, the body’s chemical messengers. The one-time treatment delivers a working version of the gene.

Because our blood-brain barrier (read about it; it’s a wonderful evolved system) prevents pathogens in the body from getting into the brain, the engineered viruses are put into the brain through a tube that goes through a hole drilled in the skull.

*If you’re into red wine, and especially Italian red wine, I’d have a read of Lettie Teague’s Wall Street Journal column in which she enthusiastically recommends five Lange (a region) Nebbiolo wines that are all in the vicinity of $20. She calls them “the bargain Barolo, for they’re made from the same grapes as the great Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Although I haven’t tried one of these, you can bet that I will. They look to be widely available, too.

Just about every great wine has a “good” counterpart: a wine made from the same grape in the same place but in a more accessible and/or affordable style.

For lovers of Barolo and Barbaresco, the great wines from the Langhe region in Piedmont, Italy, that wine would likely be Langhe Nebbiolo. It’s made from the same grape in the same place, but unlike its superstar counterparts, it’s incredibly cheap. How much does a Langhe Nebbiolo actually resemble a Barolo or Barbaresco? I’d say it depends on where the grapes were sourced, how the wine was vinified and, perhaps most important, how much pride the producer takes in making a “lesser” wine.

Nebbiolo is considered one of the world’s greatest grapes, but unlike widely planted varietal superstars such as Cabernet and Merlot, Nebbiolo is really only great in one place: Italy’s Piedmont. It’s planted elsewhere in Italy (chiefly Valle d’Aosta and Lombardy) and in various places around the world, but the consensus among wine professionals is that truly world-class Nebbiolo only comes from Piedmont.

The Langhe hills of Piedmont are particularly well suited to this early-budding but late-ripening variety. In many ways, it’s a contradictory grape: light-bodied, almost translucent and marked by beguiling aromas of red fruit and spice that evoke comparisons to Pinot Noir; and yet, unlike Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo wines can be quite tannic, even astringent and high in acidity, particularly in their youth. I’ve had young Nebbiolos that could strip the enamel from your teeth.

Read the piece and then go to the wine store. If you’re loaded, you can even pick up a genuine Barolo, but it will require aging. Here are her recommended wines:

*And I’ll finish with a brief nomination for Tweet of the Year:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is adhering to Bart Erman’s conception of Jesus: a Jewish apocalyptic, messianic preacher:

Hili: If my eyes do not deceive me the world has gone crazy.
A: Nihil novi sub sole.
In Polish:
Hili: Jeśli mnie wzrok nie myli, to świat zwariował.
Ja: Nihil novi sub sole.

Lagniappe: Matthew sent a photo of the family cat Pepper (they have three moggies) watching a duck on YouTube. Matthew says, “This is a cat tv channel. 8 hours of birds.”


From the Facebook site Not Necessarily Stoned, but Beautiful: Hippies of the 60s and Beyond:

So true! From Pradeep:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Masih, a rude gesture surely inspired by religion. Look at the Queen’s expression when she’s blown off.

From Barry, who notes, “This is strange. Why would a bunch of lions not go in for the kill when they had the chance? It’s interesting that the roughhousing, if that’s what it is, got in the way”:

From Malcolm: a single brain neuron seeking a connection:

I like Gal Gadot more than Philomena Cunk, and that’s saying a lot!

From the Auschwitz Memorial: Two tweets today.

An eleven year old gassed upon arrival:

Tweets from Herr Professor Cobb aus Manchester. First, a 3.5-minute rescue story, this time of a magpie who imprints on his rescuer. Sound up. (As usual, all ends well in DodoLand:

Poor rat! I hope it was all right. . .

. . . and a frightening horse:

Animals being rescued

January 26, 2023 • 1:38 pm

As does NBC News each evening, I’ll end today with another feel-good story: in this case a video of people helping animals in trouble. It’s this kind of stuff that I really go to Twitter and Facebook for.  Social media can show you the worst parts of humans, but also the best; and here’s some of the latter.

Yeah, it may be schlocky, but I don’t care. I like it. There’s a duck rescue, too.

The American Society of Human Genetics castigates itself for past eugenics, but engages in doublethink

January 26, 2023 • 11:45 am

As so many science organizations are doing, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) is taking a hard look at its past and castigating itself for its involvement in eugenics, discrimination, promotion of claims about genetic inequalities, and other activities considered insupportable in modern times. The ASHG was thorough, and published a 45-page report detailing the Facing Our History – Building an Equitable Future Initiative.

I looked through it, and like most of these things it’s a mixture of the good (e.g.,  recounting of the history of harmful political ideology in human genetics) and the not so good (eliminating the names of people willy-nilly from awards, the constant emphasis on “equity” instead of “equality”, etc.). Although the bad stuff is largely behind us, it’s still salubrious for people to know the history of their field. (By the way, eugenics is still being practiced in conjunction with genetic counseling. For example, every time a couple decides to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome or genetic disease, that’s eugenics.)

But the emphasis on equity, equity, and more equity is an ideological position because of its tacit assumption that all inequities (that is, unequal representation of groups compared to their proportion in a relevant population) are due to presently acting forms of institutionalized racism, to which human genetics has contributed. In constantly calling for equity as an important goal of the Society, the ASHG is taking an ideological position.

In the article above on his website, Noah Carl found one item I missed in the ASHG report. (Yes, I know of Carl’s infamy: he was fired from a position at Cambridge University for working on the connection between human race and intelligence: an ideologically taboo topic that was, in his case, also characterized as “poor scholarship”).

But I’ll just give Carl’s thoughts on one part of the ASHG statement, a part that shows the cluelessness of ideologues who don’t recognize when their own ideology is permeating science even though, like bloodhounds, they’re very able to sniff out ideologies that they don’t like.

Here’s Carl’s quote; the yellowing in the extract from the ASHG statement is his.

Anyway, one paragraph in the statement did catch my eye. It outlines some of the “challenges” facing human genetics, one of which is “denouncing the warping of science for advocacy agendas”. Here, they’re presumably referring to the misuse of science to justify racism and eugenics.

What’s remarkable, though, is that the very same paragraph includes this sentence: “ASHG encourages individual members, peer societies, academic centers, agencies, industry partners, and others to reflect on how everyone’s contributions will help foster inclusive equity agendas.”

Screenshot of the ASHG statement.

So on the one hand, we must denounce the “warping of science for advocacy agendas”. But on the other, we must “help foster inclusive equity agendas”. You can’t make it up! They even managed to use the same word “agenda” in both places.

The statement’s authors would no doubt assure us they’d never dream of warping science to foster an “inclusive equity agenda”. Only people with Bad agendas warp science! But this is what’s known in the technical jargon as a lie.

And the sentence I highlighted is far from the only place where the authors take an openly political stance. They begin by noting that ASHG has been “late in making explicit efforts to integrate equity, diversity, and inclusion into its values, programs, and voice”. And they further note that ASGH will continue “its recent actions to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion”.

Apparently, political agendas are okay in science so long as it’s your politics being promoted. The sad part is that so much of science is being damaged by the failure of advocates to understand that science is supposed to be largely free from political slants, and when a political viewpoint has permeated science, as in the Lysenko affair, it has always been harmful.  And make no mistake about it—the conception of DEI being promoted as the future pathway to “inclusive equity”, both here and in other science societies, is indeed an ideology, and one that can be rationally debated instead of being taken as a given that must be enforced.

“American Dirt”: The book that chilled American publishing

January 26, 2023 • 9:45 am

This three year old novel, which you can buy from Amazon in hardback for only $9.99, is the subject of Pamela Paul’s latest op-ed in the NYT (click on the second image below to read it).  According to Paul, and judging by the news I’ve followed since American Dirt‘s publication, this book had a huge chilling effect on American publishing. It was, Paul maintains, the harbinger of the timorous and self-censoring publishing industry of modern America. But click below to read, and I’ll give a few excerpts.

Paul, as you may know, used to be the editor of the New York Times Book Review, so she knows the ins and outs of publishing, and that informs her harsh critique of how this book—written by Jeanine Cumins and published by Flatiron Press, an imprint of MacMillan—was treated by a woke mob.

Here are two lines from Wikipedia’s bio of Cummins.  See if you can guess what the fracas was about from these:

Cummins’ 2020 novel, American Dirt, tells the story of a mother and bookstore owner in Acapulco, Mexico, who attempts to escape to the United States with her son after their family is killed by a drug cartel.


Jeanine Cummins identifies as both white and Latina. In a December 2015 New York Times opinion piece about her cousins’ murder, she mentions her Puerto Rican grandmother but also states “I am white…and in every practical way, my family is mostly white.”

Yes, this is a set-up for an accusation of Cultural Appropriation, and that’s what brought the book down, though it ultimately was translated into 33 languages, sold three million copies, and was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s “Book Club”, which guarantees huge sales. But the social-justice mob that went after this book, ignited by a single blog post, has, for the indefinite future, chilled all of publishing. For crying out loud, some people thought I’d have trouble publishing my children’s book set in India, Mr. Das and His Fifty Cats, because I’m not Indian. And indeed, that “conflict” has been mentioned to me by at least one editor. (No, I haven’t placed the book.)

On to Paul’s take:

The story in brief as she tells it:

Three years ago this month, the novel “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins landed in bookstores on a tsunami of enthusiasm. “Extraordinary,” Stephen King wrote in a pre-publication blurb. “Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment,” raved Julia Alvarez. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Sandra Cisneros proclaimed. “This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”

The book’s momentum was nonstop. Riding on starred prepublication reviews from the trades, the book, a fast-paced road novel about a Mexican bookseller and her son trying to cross the border to escape a murderous drug cartel, was named an Indie Next List Pick by independent bookstores. Then came the rapturous reviews. “A thrilling adrenaline rush — and insights into the Latin American migrant experience,” raved The Washington Post. Cummins “proves that fiction can be a vehicle for expanding our empathy,” said Time magazine. Finally, the golden ticket: Oprah selected “American Dirt” for her book club. “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up,” Winfrey said.

It all fell apart with stunning speed. Following a blistering online campaign against the author and others involved in the book over who gets to write what, and in response to threats of violence against both author and booksellers, Cummins’s publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled her book tour. Cummins’s motives and reputation were smeared; the novel, eviscerated. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,” Flatiron’s president said in a statement.

Looking back now, it’s clear that the “American Dirt” debacle of January 2020 was a harbinger, the moment when the publishing world lost its confidence and ceded moral authority to the worst impulses of its detractors. In the years since, publishers have become wary of what is now thought of as Another American Dirt Situation, which is to say, a book that puts its author and publishing house in the line of fire. This fear now hangs over every step of a fraught process with questions over who can write what, who should blurb  and who can edit permeating what feels like a minefield. Books that would once have been greenlit are now passed over, sensitivity readers are employed on a regular basis, self-censorship is rampant.

A creative industry that used to thrive on risk-taking now shies away from it. And it all stemmed from a single writer posting a discursive and furious takedown of “American Dirt” and its author on a minor blog. Whether out of conviction or cowardice, others quickly jumped on board and a social media rampage ensued, widening into the broader media. In the face of the outcry, the literary world largely folded.

If you want to see an unfair and nasty hit job, I suggest that you read the review of American Dirt below by writer Myriam Gurba, published on the blog Tropics of Meta (click screenshot below).  In the title below, I see Gurba labels Cummins as “pendeja,” which apparently is “a mildly vulgar insult for ‘asshole’ or ‘idiot’ in Spanish” (female form). And “bronca” in Spanish means “row” or “beef”. So the very title begins with an insult:

It’s a short review, but accuses Cummins of cultural appropriation, not having the ethnic credibility to write about Mexico, and, by producing a highly touted book, taking undue credit and quashing the achievements from other Latino authors. Here’s a bit of Gurba’s invective (“gabacha” is a pejorative Spanish word for a non-Hispanic foreigner, a female):

A self-professed gabacha, Jeanine Cummins, wrote a book that sucks. Big time.

Her obra de caca belongs to the great American tradition of doing the following:

  1. Appropriating genius works by people of color
  2. Slapping a coat of mayonesa on them to make palatable to taste buds estados-unidenses and
  3. Repackaging them for mass racially “colorblind” consumption.

Rather than look us in the eye, many gabachos prefer to look down their noses at us. Rather than face that we are their moral and intellectual equals, they happily pity us. Pity is what inspires their sweet tooth for Mexican pain, a craving many of them hide. This denial motivates their spending habits, resulting in a preference for trauma porn that wears a social justice fig leaf. To satisfy this demand, Cummins tossed together American Dirt, a “road thriller” that wears an I’m-giving-a-voice-to-the-voiceless-masses merkin.

This vicious attack, laced with Spanish slang, is what launched a thousand sensitivity readers and the mentality that makes publishers wary of putting out any books not written by someone with the proper ethnic cred. Although Cummins has Hispanic genes, a 25% DNA titer was apparently not enough to make her qualified to write about Mexico (note that lots of writers with no Hispanic heritage have previously written about Mexico).

People who liked Cummins’s book suddenly retreated (there were some exceptions, including Latino writers) and Cummins was demonized by her fellow writers. She has not been asked to blurb books by other authors, as her name and endorsement are considered toxic.  As Paul says, “if the proposal for ‘American Dirt’ landed on desks today, it wouldn’t get published.”

Here’s Paul’s example about how a Latino who defended writers’ use of “cultural appropriation” was treated:

For some aspiring writers, the mood remains pessimistic. “My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals,” the Latino writer Alex Perez said in an interview with Hobart magazine last fall. “This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of 15.” Shortly after publication of Perez’s interview, Hobart’s staff of editors quit and Perez was widely mocked on social media.

I guess Hobart’s editors saw themselves as HARMED by Perez’s interview.

This whole thing makes me ill. History is filled with great novels about men written by women (Middlemarch), about women written by men (I just finished the Beartown trilogy by Fredrik Backman, most of whose main characters are girls or women, and portrayed with great insight and sensitivity), and about people of one culture written about by those from another (just one example: Kazuo Ishiguro, born in Japan, now living in England, writes fantastic books about a variety of cultures, including robots). I know readers can think of other “exceptions” like these, for we’ve discussed them before.

It baffles me that you have to be from one gender or racial group to write well about it; it violates the very dictum that we’re all humans and share emotions and thoughts, even if our cultures differ. Nor do I buy the argument that Cummins’s writing about Mexico hurts other Latino authors and prevents them from getting attention. Especially these days, good writing is recognized by publishers. The problem is that they bridle if the good writing is about one ethnicity or gender yet produced by writers from another.

In truth, I don’t think you can make a rational argument for why the gender, race, religion, or ethnicity of an author should be ANY factor in judging their writing. Yes, their backgrounds can liven or add worthwhile nuances to a book, but it doesn’t give them a monopoly on describing their culture. In the end, it looks to me that people like Gurba are making a power grab on art, claiming that, because of their DNA, only they have the ability to write meaningfully about their own country or culture.

It’s nuts. But at least Paul, whose writing I like very much (subscribe to her column), ends on somewhat of a high note. For Cummins, despite being demonized and attacked, and despite having inadvertently turned publishing into an orgy of ethnic introspection, wrote a book that was an international bestseller:

History has shown that no matter how much critics, politicians and activists may try, you cannot prevent people from enjoying a novel. This is something the book world, faced with ongoing threats of book banning, should know better than anyone else.

“We can be appalled that people are saying, ‘You can’t teach those books. You can’t have Jacqueline Woodson in a school library.’ But you can’t stand up for Jeanine Cummins?” Ann Patchett said. “It just goes both ways. People who are not reading the book themselves are telling us what we can and cannot read? Maybe they’re not pulling a book from a classroom, but they’re still shaming people so heavily. The whole thing makes me angry, and it breaks my heart.”

Much remains broken in its wake. Jeanine Cummins may have made money, but at a great emotional, social and reputational cost. She wrote a book filled with empathy. The literary world showed her none.

Such is the work of the Authoritarian Left.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 26, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s contribution includes collages of moth photos by reader Aaron Hunt; the theme is “polymorphism”, or variability in appearance among individuals within a species.  The photos were taken on Block Island, off Rhode Island. You’ll have to enlarge the photos by clicking on them (preferably twice in succession with a pause between clicks).  Aaron’s narrative is indented.  Especially note the last species group, which has wing patterns mimicking salticids (jumping spiders).

The theme of this batch of images is identification. Moth identification presents a variety of challenges, not least of which are the very incomplete state of knowledge of many taxa and the enormous species diversity of the order. The more than 13,000 described species of moths found in North America north of Mexico represent less than a tenth of the global described fauna. Perhaps a thousand more Nearctic species, and probably several tens of thousands globally, remain undescribed, In principle, most moths can be identified to species from wing pattern alone, but reliable sight recognition of unfamiliar species at higher taxonomic levels takes an enormous amount of experience. At the species group level, intraspecific variability in markings often visually overwhelms the modest consistent differences between species. Identification of higher taxa is easiest using a combination of structural characters of the head, labial palpi, and antennae in combination with the subtle, basic wing pattern elements that are most resistant to change over evolutionary time scales.

Most of the images shown here are collages showing numerous individual moths to illustrate variation and differences in pattern and color. Dimensions of individual photographs in each of the four large collages range from 500×500 to 900×900 pixels, so each collage is much too large to show up here at full resolution. Each has also been compressed into a smaller jpeg to reduce file sizes. At the end of the text corresponding to each collage [JAC: Pictures are beleow the text] is a link to the image (hosted in my Google drive) at full resolution in its original png format. There, you’ll be able to view the individual moths included in the collages in much greater detail than can be shown on this page.

Macrochilo orciferalis (Noctuoidea: Erebidae: Herminiinae) — This specialist of dune habitats is bivoltine on Block Island, with adults on wing mainly in June and August. Both sexes are highly variable in forewing maculation, with several characters seeming to vary independently and with no sexual dimorphism in markings apparent. (Males, which have bipectinate antennae, are much commoner at lights than females, which have simple antennae.) One photographer on the coast of New Brunswick across from Prince Edward Island reports seeing mostly dark (like those at bottom right and one below top left in my collage) or striped (like four individuals in my collage) moths of this species, whereas I see mostly lighter specimens on Block Island. One wonders what mix of environmental and genetic factors underlie color and pattern variation in this species and what selective forces sustain it. Click here for the collage at full resolution.

Hypsopygia olinalis (Pyralidae: Pyralinae) — This species is quite common on Block Island, where it is univoltine, flying June through early August. (I have seen a handful of fresh specimens in August and September that are either extreme stragglers or overly precocious offspring of the main generation; either way, I imagine any offspring they produce fail to complete development so far out of season. Still, this phenomenon illustrates how species can adapt to changing climate; if Block Island’s climate warms enough in the coming decades, some populations not quite able to complete a second generation each season will become able to do so with a slightly longer growing season.) Adults vary dramatically in coloration from pale greenish yellow to a dark brick red. This variability helps to make the species easy to confuse with a few similar congeners with overlapping ranges in eastern North America. I photographed all the moths in this collage on a single sheet one night last June. Unfortunately, I just now noticed that I missed a duplicate, so I got good photos of only 19 individuals, not 20 — see if you can spot the moth shown twice. Click here for the collage at full resolution.

Phyllocnistis Vitaceae feeders (Gracillariidae: Phyllocnistinae) — At least two or three species form long, narrow leaf mines in plants in the grape family (Vitis and Parthenocissus) in eastern North America. Species boundaries need to be sorted out in this species complex of minute moths. On Block Island, mines in the Virginia creeper around my yard yield at least two generations of moths that regularly come to lights. Adults in the summer generation (large photo) are shining white with faint black and yellow markings in the distal half of the forewing; those in the fall generation (small photos at right) are somewhat to much more strongly and extensively marked. This species complex offers a good example of seasonal dimorphism as well as confounding external similarity of same closely related species.

Acleris (Tortricidae: Tortricinae: Tortricini) — A number of species in this large, mostly Holarctic genus are highly polymorphic. The group has been popular with collectors since the dawn of modern taxonomy, with European lepidopterists naming up to dozens of color forms for some species from the early 19th century to the early 20th century. Very similar color forms often occur in two or more polymorphic species; genitalic dissections finally established species boundaries in the early- to mid-20th century. Block Island is mercifully short on polymorphic Acleris, with only two similar species present. The island’s population of flavivittana exhibits four highly discrete color morphs, two of which closely resemble the two local color morphs of robinsoniana. A non-polymorphic species found on Block Island, inana, very closely resembles one of the local morphs of flavivittana and somewhat less closely the corresponding robinsoniana morph, which happens to be the predominant of the two. At least inana is univoltine, though its flight window overlaps with those of second generation flavivittana and robinsoniana. Another species found on Block Island, maculidorsana, resembles inana. All four of the aforementioned species are pictured in the collage below, and in a sensible arrangement, but I’ve left identifying the specimens as a challenge to the reader. For the answers and the full resolution version of the collage, click here.

Euxoa detersa (Noctuoidea: Noctuidae) — With 182 species currently recognized in North America north of Mexico, Euxoa is one of the most speciose genera on the continent. Euxoa is primarily a genus of arid and semiarid habitats of the northern hemisphere and is nearly absent from tropical and humid subtropical habitats. Nearly all New World Euxoa are found in the western US and Canada, where some species are among the most abundant medium-large moths. About 30 occur in eastern Canada, but most of them are species of boreal forests found across the continent. Only five species are found in eastern deciduous forests, and only three aridland species occur on the Atlantic Seaboard; the genus is entirely absent from most of the Southeast US. Despite being very well studied, Euxoa presents a daunting identification challenge in western North America. Many species are highly variable in pattern and color, and some closely related species covary in maculation across habitat gradients. Characters of wing maculation recur across and vary greatly within phylogenetic species groups, making subgeneric taxonomy of little use in narrowing down identification possibilities using only wing markings. Just a few Euxoa species occur on Block Island, and telling them apart is straightforward. However, the island’s population of Euxoa detersa, which flies in abundance in dune habitats throughout September, provides a striking example of the remarkable variability so many Euxoa species exhibit. The image shown here depicts 49 individuals of this species from Block Island and is cropped for size from a larger collage of 121 individuals. Click here for the uncropped version at full resolution.

Tebenna sp. (Choreutidae), Eoparargyractis plevie (Crambidae: Acentropinae), Chalcoela iphitalis (Crambidae: Glaphyriinae), and Eucosma annetteana (Tortricidae: Olethreutinae: Eucosmini) — These species are all mimics of jumping spiders (Salticidae). Jumping spiders are highly visual ambush hunters and among the top predation threats to small moths. Salticid mimicry has evolved a few dozen times in more than a dozen moth families globally, producing very strong convergence in wing maculation in many completely unrelated groups of moths. It has evolved in other insect orders as well, including numerous times in planthoppers (Hemiptera: Fulgoroidea). Salticid-mimicking moth lineages are easily mistaken for each other and often are very different from their closest relatives in superficial appearance. Salticid mimicry in Lepidoptera is little-studied, but the few species studied have been found to produce aggressive displays in jumping spiders, resulting in markedly lowered rates of predation success.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

January 26, 2023 • 6:45 am

Greetings on Thursday, January 26, 2023: National Peanut Brittle Day, though I prefer pralines.  Here’s some below, but according to Wikipedia there are many kinds of brittle:

It has many variations around the world, such as pasteli in Greece; sohan in Iran; croquant in France; alegría or palanqueta in Mexico; panocha manipanutsa mani, or samani in the Philippines (which can also be made with pili nut); gozinaki in Georgia; gachak in Indian Punjab, chikki in other parts of India; kotkoti in Bangladesh; sohan halwa in Pakistan; huasheng tang (花生糖) in China; thua tat (ถั่วตัด) in Thailand; and kẹo lạc, kẹo hạt điều in Vietnam. In parts of the Middle East, brittle is made with pistachios, while many Asian countries use sesame seeds and peanuts. Peanut brittle is the most popular brittle recipe in the United States. The term “brittle” in the context of the food first appeared in print in 1892, though the candy itself has been around for much longer.

Here’s sohan halwa from Pakistan:

It’s also National Green Juice Day, Clashing Clothes Day, Spouse’s Day (shouldn’t the apostrophe be at the end?), Australia Day in Australia, and International Customs Day.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the January 26 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*It’s official: both Germany and the U.S. are going to send tanks to Ukraine, and good ones. The U.S. is sending Abrams tanks, Germany the Leopard ones.

President Biden announced on Wednesday that he would send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to help it defend against Russian invaders, a decision meant to unlock a wave of heavier aid by Western allies in preparation for an expected escalation of fighting in the spring.

Speaking at the White House after a morning of telephone calls to European allies, Mr. Biden said that the United States would send 31 Abrams tanks, the equivalent of a Ukrainian battalion, and that Germany would follow through by contributing its own Leopard 2 tanks [JAC: 14 of them] and freeing other allies to send their own, the equivalent of two more battalions.

“These tanks are further evidence of our enduring, unflagging commitment to Ukraine and our confidence in the skill of Ukrainian forces,” Mr. Biden said, flanked by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

But he emphasized that the buildup was not meant to expand the war into Russia. “It is not an offensive threat to Russia,” he said. “There is no offensive threat to Russia. If Russian troops return to Russia, where they belong, this war would be over today.”

Well, it won’t expand the war into Russia, I presume, but it is a threat to Russia, even if you construe it as a defensive rather than an offensive one. I doubt that Putin will take this lying down. Further, because Abrams tanks are hard to operate and maintain, the U.S. adds that it could take up to a year before they’re used against the Russians.

The NYT has a handy guide to Abrams tanks, including how they differ from Russian tanks.

*The Washington Post describes how George Santos, now a REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN from New York City, engaged in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme in 2020, trying to woo rich people to give money Santos’s investment firm.

Collectively, the accounts gathered by The Post offer a detailed picture of Santos’s efforts to recruit investors for Harbor City. In two instances, he inflated his own academic or professional credentials, The Post found. In addition, Zoom recordings of workplace meetings show Santos offering anecdotes about his purported interactions with wealthy people — stories disputed by those involved — for potential inclusion in marketing materials or to impress prospective clients.

Two of the people he pitched said they did not realize until being contacted by a reporter that the man they’d known as “George Devolder” was the newly elected congressman who among other things falsely claimed that his mother was working in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. “Devolder” was Santos’s mother’s surname.

“I can’t believe it,” one of the two, Al Conard, said when told that Devolder and Santos are one and the same. Conard, a 60-year-old real estate agent from Minnesota, said he lost $50,000 in Harbor City.

Santos’s lawyer, Joseph W. Murray, declined to comment for this story.

Santos even used a fake name!  And he’s still in Congress, with this new account on top of all the other lies and chicanery that he was involved in. Why haven’t they started an ethics investigation. This guy needs to be booted out of the House and then indicted.

*Pope Francis has just buoyed gays (well, at least Catholic ones) throughout the world by declaring that “homosexuality is not a crime.” But I didn’t think it was, at least in Western countries. The big question, which he evaded, is IS IT A SIN?? Read for yourself:

Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis said during an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against LGBTQ people, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

. . .Francis’ comments, which were hailed by gay rights advocates as a milestone, are the first uttered by a pope about such laws. But they are also consistent with his overall approach to LGBTQ people and belief that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and not discriminate.

Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

In the U.S., more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional.

. . .Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said, speaking to the AP in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Francis’ remarks come ahead of a trip to Africa, where such laws are common, as they are in the Middle East.

I don’t see what has changed. First, the Vatican has no power to declare what is a crime; it declares what is a sin. And yes, it’s good that he’s calling out countries where he’ll go in which being gay is illegal, but so what? Further, just being homosexual without acting on it has not been a sin for a long time. What IS sinful are what is part of most homosexual’s behavior: homosexual acts. Here, have a look at that Catholic Catechism:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Does that comport with Francis’s words. What’s worse is that homosexual acts, being of “grave depravity” fall into the class of acts that, if you don’t confess them to the padre, will send you straight to hell. If Pope Francis wants to welcome gays into the church, he’ll have to repudiate that entire paragraph above. And only then would gays have cause to celebrate.

*NYT columnist Farhad Manjoo has some good advice for all of us in his latest piece, “Alex Baldwin didn’t have to talk to the police. Neither do you.” Apparently, after Baldwin fired a gun accidentally loaded with live rounds on a movie set, killing the cinematographer and wounding the director, he sang like a canary to the cops.

Shortly after a prop gun Alec Baldwin was holding fired a bullet that killed a cinematographer and wounded a director on the set of the movie “Rust,” in October 2021, he told the police in New Mexico that he’d be willing to do whatever they requested, including sitting for an interview at the station.

In an interrogation room later that afternoon, detectives began by informing Baldwin of his rights: He had the right to remain silent. Anything he said could be used against him in court. He was free to consult with an attorney; if he could not afford an attorney, one would be appointed for him. And he could stop the interrogation at any point he wished.

“My only question is, am I being charged with something?” Baldwin asked.

Not at all, the police said. Reading his rights, one detective told him, was “just a formality.”

And so, without his attorney present, while the police recorded him, Baldwin talked. And talked. And talked. At that point, Baldwin knew only that the film’s director, Joel Souza, and its cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, had been injured; detectives would inform him at the end of the interrogation that Hutchins had died. Still, for about an hour, Baldwin not only answered detectives’ many questions about the shooting but also offered his own theories about the incident and suggested the next steps the police might pursue in their investigation.

BIG mistake. Now Baldwin’s likely to be charged with involuntary manslaughter. What did he do wrong in talking to the cops? Talking to them without a lawyer present!

But defense lawyers I talked to said Baldwin’s case should serve as a reminder that if you are involved in a serious incident, it’s best not talk to the police unless you have an attorney present.

. . . The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows Americans to refuse to answer questions from law enforcement. Yet despite the ritualistic incantation on the Miranda warning on every TV police procedural, silence is a right that people can find hard to accept. If you’re convinced of your innocence, aren’t you obligated to help the police solve the matter under investigation? Refusing to talk to the police seems like something people do only when they’ve got something to hide.

. . .A video of a lecture [law professor James Duane gave a decade ago on the importance of the Fifth Amendment, “Don’t Talk to the Police,” has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, and Duane has since given his talk dozens of times around the country. The title of his book “You Have the Right to Remain Innocent” sums up the case for silence, since the presumption of innocence and the burden prosecutors bear to prove guilt even when the accused remains silent are the bedrock of American criminal law.

Duane’s work has turned me into a zealot for the right to remain silent — and when I watched Baldwin blithely sign away his rights, I winced. (His talking to several reporters about the case would be a separate concern.)

I’ve seen that video before, and think you should watch it, even if it’s 45 minutes long. You need to know this!

Do not talk to the cops if you may be involved in an incident that they want to question you about!

*Finally, a little girl in Rhode Island got the Rhode Island Department of Health to do DNA testing on gnawed-on carrots and cookies that she left out for Santa. Clever girl! Here’s the story from the AP:

The Rhode Island Department of Health says it was not able “to definitively confirm or refute the presence of Santa” in a young girl’s home after she requested to have a partially eaten cookie and a couple of gnawed-on carrot sticks tested for DNA to see if Santa Claus is real.

The department tweeted on Monday that “we all agree that something magical may be at play.”

The department said it found no complete matches to anyone in the Combined DNA Index System but said there was a partial match “to a 1947 case centered around 34th Street in New York City,” referring to the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.” It said it would need more DNA samples “from other known Santa encounters to make a definitive match.”

The “good news” is that the lab did find the presence of DNA closely matching Rangifer tarandus, known as reindeer, when testing the carrots, the department said.

The girl, a Cumberland resident, had sent the cookie and carrot sticks to the town’s police department to ask if they can be tested for DNA, Chief Matthew Benson said on Friday. Benson forwarded the “evidence” to the state’s Department of Health.

Well, it seems to me that they didn’t do the test at all; after all, it’s taxpayer money and forensic experts’ time involved in this.  If they really wanted to see a match, they should have looked at the DNA of the girl’s mother and father! (My sister and I used to leave out cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, and we always got a thank-you note in the morning in wiggly handwriting that looked suspiciously like my father’s.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is searching for small, warm-blooded creatures:

Hili: I do not have evidence.
A: For what?
Hili: That there might be something interesting over there.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie mam dowodów.
Ja: Na co?
Hili: Na to, że tam może być coś interesującego.
And a photo of Szaron:


From Malcolm: A 4.5-minute video on the use of “transparent aluminum”, a bizarre compound of aluminum, oxygen, and nitrogen that is both see-through and tough. It’s also called “alum”. Sound up:

From Bruce. There must still be some drive-ins around.  Going to one was a great treat when I was a kid:

From Merilee. This is one of my all-time favorite Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson:

Ricky Gervais rants about the British government. (I bet he’s had a few!).  And I just learned there was a third season of his great show “After Life”.

From Luana, the official announcement from the University of North Carolina that will prohibit DEI statements (the school also signed on to two University of Chicago Principles: our Freedom of Expression Principle and our Kalven Principle:

From Malcolm, the most geometrically perfect iceberg ever:

From Barry, who likes a person who fees his pet with tweezers. Oy, what a pet!

Japanese translation:  “Mogu mogu time From hometown tax return gifts.”  Whaaaat?

From the Auschwitz Memorial. a five year old girl, gassed upon arrival:

Tweets from Matthew. All is still well in DodoLand:

Not such a good idea!

Can you top Matthew’s question?