Note to readers: I am preparing for a trip that begins in less than two weeks and will last about two weeks: I am lecturing on an alumni trip (a cruise) that stops at Tenerife, Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain, and Portugal. What this means is that I’ll be busy getting ready for that for a while (writing lectures, packing all over again), and then will be occupied much of the time till May 5. Posting, then, will be light for about a month. Bear with me, though I’m already concerned at the drop in readership. As always, I do my best.
Good morning on a Caturday: it’s April 9, 2022, and National Chinese Almond Cookie Day. This is a genuine Chinese foodstuff, so don’t go looking for fortunes inside. It’s also National Gin and Tonic Day, Day of the Finnish Language, and Vimy Ridge Day in Canada.
Stuff that happened on April 9 includes:
- 1682 – Robert Cavelier de La Salle discovers the mouth of the Mississippi River, claims it for France and names it Louisiana.
- 1860 – On his phonautograph machine, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville makes the oldest known recording of an audible human voice.
And here it is! Amazon says this about the recording:
In 1857, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented the phonautograph, the first device that could record sound waves as they passed through the air. It was intended only for visual study of the recording and could not play back the sound. The recording medium was a sheet of soot-coated paper wrapped around a rotating cylinder carried on a threaded rod. A stylus, attached to a diaphragm through a series of levers, traced a line through the soot, creating a graphic record of the motions of the diaphragm as it was minutely propelled back and forth by the audio-frequency variations in air pressure.
Now, tell us how they figured out how to play the recording back!
- 1865 – American Civil War: Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia (26,765 troops) to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the war.
- 1939 – African-American singer Marian Anderson gives a concert at the Lincoln Memorial after being denied the use of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Anderson was denied the use of the hall because she was black, and Washington D.C. was segregated, then. But with the intercession of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (who resigned from the DAR) and the help of President Franklin D., a concert was given. Sadly, most of it wasn’t recorded, so the concert video below is largely a man introducing her and then we see only a few excerpts of Anderson’s performance:
Here’s a longer recording with no video; it has some of the spirituals she sang:
- 1940 – Vidkun Quisling seizes power in Norway.
His last name, of course, became a synonym for “traitor”, but you may not know that for a while after his execution, there was a verb “to quisle”, meaning “to commit treason.” One could engage in quisling.
The circumstances of Bonhoeffer’s execution are unclear. He was certainly stripped naked and hanged, but some think he was tortured beforehand by being repeatedly half-hanged and then cut down. This video gives the history behind his conviction and execution. If I were to name one theologian whom I most admire, it would be Bonhoeffer.
- 1947 – The Journey of Reconciliation, the first interracial Freedom Ride begins through the upper South in violation of Jim Crow laws. The riders wanted enforcement of the United States Supreme Court‘s 1946 Irene Morgan decision that banned racial segregation in interstate travel.
Here’s a photo from the Wikipedia article of the some participants (another site identifies them, and Wikipedia says all the names are “main leaders”). I love the unity between blacks and whites in these early days, putting the lie to Hannah Nikole-Jones’s claim that black civil rights leaders always went it alone.
- 1959 – Project Mercury: NASA announces the selection of the United States’ first seven astronauts, whom the news media quickly dub the “Mercury Seven“..
My dad managed to get me a color photo of all the astronauts with their autographs. It’s now vanished, and I wonder if it would be worth anything now.
- 1992 – A U.S. Federal Court finds former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega guilty of drug and racketeering charges. He is sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Notables born on this day include:
Here’s Baudelaire’s own copy of the first edition of “THe Fl
The man who proved, with the photo below, that when horses trot there’s a moment when all four feet are off the ground (my emphasis below):
- 1865 – Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Polish-American mathematician and engineer (d. 1923)
- 1898 – Paul Robeson, American singer, actor, and activist (d. 1976)
What a voice—one of the best of our time. And those low notes—they’d make the floor vibrate! This song, an old spiritual, is one of my two favorites of Robeson; the other being “Old Man River,” which you can see him singing here (do watch it).
- 1926 – Hugh Hefner, American publisher, founded Playboy Enterprises (d. 2017)
- 1928 – Tom Lehrer, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and mathematician
Here’s an excellent old Tom Lehrer song that’s especially relevant now:
- 1965 – Paulina Porizkova, Czech-born Swedish-American model and actress
- 1990 – Kristen Stewart, American actress
- 2000 – Jackie Evancho, American singer
I first wrote about Jackie Evancho in August, 2010, when she was just ten but already an amazing singer. She went on to finish second on “America’s Got Talent” that year and now is doing okay, but, as some readers predicted, hasn’t yet turned into a classical-music superstar. But listen to her audition for that show when she was just ten, singing my favorite aria (she leaves out a hard bit near the end).
Those who found eternal rest on April 9 include:
- 1553 – François Rabelais, French monk and scholar (b. 1494)
- 1882 – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, English poet and painter (b. 1828)
- 1926 – Zip the Pinhead, American freak show performer (b. 1857)
Zip, who lived a long time for someone with microcephaly and was, of course, the inspiration for Bill Griffith’s comic “Zippy the Pinhead”:
- 1945 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian (b. 1906)
Here’s a scene of Bonhoeffer’s hanging from the movie “Bonheoffer: Agent of Grace.”
- 1959 – Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect, designed the Price Tower and Fallingwater (b. 1867)
- 1976 – Phil Ochs, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1940)
This song, written by Ochs was an anthem for the antiwar movement of the Sixties, and it’s one of the better protest songs. He hanged himself at 36.
- 1988 – Brook Benton, American singer-songwriter and actor (b. 1931)
*Here’s the banner headline from today’s New York Times, about the effect of that heinous Russian attack on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed at least 50 people, including five children.
And the news headlines:
Residents of southeastern Ukraine continued to stream out of the region on Saturday, propelled by fears of a renewed Russian assault. The evacuations came a day after a missile strike on a train station that Ukrainian leaders and their Western allies have attributed to Russia killed at least 50 people.
In Kramatorsk, the site of the missile attack, Mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko said that evacuation buses would start running Saturday to neighboring cities, like Sloviansk, where trains would ferry residents further away. More than 6,600 people managed to evacuate from besieged cities in the region on Friday — a record number for the week — according to the country’s deputy prime minister.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in his nightly address that the attack in Kramatorsk should be investigated by a war-crimes tribunal. He added that he had discussed the possibility with Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who visited Kyiv on Friday. “We expect a firm, global response to this war crime,” he said.
Yes, sanctions will be tightened, but that haven’t deterred the Ogre. And you’ll never see Putin in the dock, as he’ll never leave Russia for a country where he could be arrested.
*Also at the NYT, Ezra Klein interviews Fiiona Hill—who “served as deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council under Donald Trump and as a national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia under Barack Obama and George W. Bush”—on the Ukrainan/Russian war. The audio is here, and there’s a transcript here.
EZRA KLEIN: . . . . .Do you think that’s true that perception has changed, that there’s now a view that Ukraine can win? And do you think that it is actually true?
FIONA HILL: Look, I think it depends on how we define winning, right? I mean, you think about Finland, for example, that won the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1940, when there was an effort very similar to what’s happening in Ukraine to reincorporate them back into the Soviet Union, having won their independence already with the collapse of the Russian Empire.
And the Finns won, in terms of their independence and their freedom, but at great cost, pretty heavy casualties — although they actually wreaked havoc on the Soviet military, on the Red Army, through guerrilla warfare, and the kind of resistance that we’re sort of seeing now. But they lost a huge swathe of their territory in Karelia, and I think there’s obviously a case to be made here, which is — as we’re looking very closely at what the Russians are attempting to do, if they’re going to basically carve off the East and the South.
You can make a case that the Ukrainians will win their independence and sovereignty, which honestly they had up until Feb. 24, with the obviously notable exception of the annexation of Crimea and what was already going on, a hot war in Donbas that had been going on since 2014 — but now, rewinning it again, as the Finns had to do in the 1940s, but at great cost.
*PEN America’s definition of book-banning iin schools is this:
A book ban. . . is when a piece of literature once accessible to students is no longer available or is restricted as a result of challenges from parents, community members, administrators or actions from lawmakers about its content.
*The Wall Street Journal reports that PEN has done a comprehensive survey of such banning, and it’s on the rise:
A study from PEN America, a literary and advocacy group, identified 1,145 books that were removed across 86 school districts in 26 states between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. The policies affect 2,899 schools and more than two million enrolled students, according to the report, released Thursday.
This is the first such report detailing the breadth of book bans across the U.S. created by PEN America, and the authors said it showed a surge in bans.
The study cited growing political pressure from national organizations, governors and lawmakers in states like Texas, South Carolina and Georgia. Efforts across the U.S. to pull books from library shelves and alter school curricula have often followed directives from state elected officials or challenges from parents.
As you can guess, most banning efforts come from the Right, and the PEN study linked to above is quite interesting to look over. You might, for example, have a look at the section called “What kind of stories are being banned?“
*Up in Michigan (you know that title?), four men accused of a plot to kidnap and kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer have,to everyone’s surprise, not been convicted on any of the ten charges. Well, two were found innocent of all charges while there was a hung jury for the other two men, who remain in custody and may be tried again.
Prosecutors said the group was steeped in anti-government extremism and furious over Whitmer’s pandemic restrictions. There was evidence of a crudely built “shoot house” to practice going in and out of her vacation home, and a night ride by Croft, Fox and covert operatives to check the property.
But defense lawyers portrayed the men as credulous weekend warriors, often stoned on marijuana and prone to big, wild talk. They said FBI agents and informants tricked and cajoled the men into targeting the governor.
This was despite the fact that two more of the defendants decided to plead guily and testify for the governmen, no doubt expecting a lighter sentence. I bet they wish now they’d pleaded “not guilty!
*In his new Substack column, “Who is looking out for gay kids?“, Andrew Sullivan takes a DEEP DIVE into what is actually taught about sexuality to kids in grade school. Examining textbooks, videos, and teachers’ manuals, Sullivan discovers that a main theme is that sex is not binary, and that “boy” and “girl” are taught as just two of many genders, not differing from any other “gender”. Not so, of course: there’s biological sex. It’s worth a read, and here’s a quote:
It seems to me that any books that teach kids to be compassionate and accepting, and aware of different ways of being human, are a positive thing. I don’t doubt the good intentions behind them. Having some materials for a genuinely trans child is a good thing. But teaching all public school kids under the age of eight that their body has no reference to their sex is a huge development — and news to most American parents. And encouraging toddlers to pick pronouns like “ze” and “tree” is not exactly what parents send their kids to public school for.
These teaching materials aim to be inclusive of the tiny minority of trans children — but they do this by essentially universalizing the very rare experience of being transgender, and suggesting that everyone’s gender is completely independent of biological sex, and trumps it in any conflict. The only way to help trans kids feel better about themselves, this argument goes, is to tell the lie that their experience is everybody’s experience. We are all varieties of trans people now, choosing our sex and performing our gender.
But, of course, we’re not all varieties of trans; the overwhelming majority of humans, including gay humans, experience sex and gender as completely compatible — when they think about them at all. And our species is sexually dimorphic. When pushed to defend the idea that humans are not a binary sexual species, critical theorists lean on the “univariate fallacy.” That argues that any single exception to a rule completely demolishes the rule. If there are any exceptions to every human being male or female, even if they are a tiny percentage of the whole, then there is no sex binary.
He’s also worried that most kids who are gay (and the vast majority of kids with gender dysphoria turn out to be gay after puberty) will be convinced before puberty that they’re actually members of the other sex, and will take irreversible biological steps.
At some point, gay men need to face down those who deny the biological differences in the human body that make homosexuality possible. If there is no sex binary, there is no homosexuality. We are not some third sex; we are one of two sexes: men.
Have a look; it’s a good read and a topic not often discussed because it’s taboo.
*In another Substack column, Freddie deBoer bemoans the decision of San Francisco’s public schools prohibiting 8th graders from taking algebra, and this “makes it difficult to complete calculus in high school.” This rule is, of course, being enacted in the name of “equity”—to keep high achievers from achieving—but is completely misguided, says Boer, for the rich kids will get their algebra and calculus elsewhere. And it also hurts the poorer but calculus-ready kids:
Rich parents can always send their kids to private schools that will teach advanced material, or they can send their kids to the public schools and supplement their learning there with for-profit classes or tutoring in higher-level mathematics. One way or the other, rich kids are not going to be denied that instruction, especially in the Bay Area. Cutting out algebra, and in doing so making calculus a much less pragmatically achievable goal, is a perfect scenario for leaving poorer kids behind! And this is such a glaringly obvious dynamic that I’m amazed it’s being ignored, even in the realm of “equity” education in which I have such little faith. What is the theory here? Yes, you can keep some portion of your more talented students from taking algebra and in doing so pulling away from your struggling students. But your struggling students won’t just be competing with the students who you can exclude from algebra in this way, and won’t even really close the gap with them anyway. Meanwhile your not-rich more-talented students will either get access to the instruction they need in college, in which case you’ve merely delayed their advantage, or they’ll be permanently behind their peers who get instruction at the appropriate age. It’s madness.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is ordering Andrzej about:
Hili: Prepare breakfast, I will come in a moment.A: OK, I will call you when breakfast is ready.
Hili: Przygotuj śniadanie, ja zaraz przyjdę.Ja: Dobrze, zawołam cię jak wszystko będzie gotowe.
From Merilee, a really weird message. I have no further information about this.
An exchange about the evolution and domestication of cats:
From Bruce: a third cat meme:
Well, one does expect God to be profound:
Every birth is nonconsensual.
— #GodStandsWithUkraine (@TheTweetOfGod) April 5, 2022
From Barry, who has found my DREAM JOB. The description at boingboing shows that you have to manage a gift shop, deal with snailmail, and monitor penguins! It’s at Port Lockroy Base on Wiencke Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, which harbors the southernmost working post office in the world. We steamed by the base in 2019, and although some inhabitants were supposed to come aboard bringing us some postcards to mail, the bay was too iced in (see my post here).
Dream of waking up & seeing Antarctica in all its glory? Penguins plodding around, the sun peeping over snow topped mountains. A job like no other. Join us & help protect Antarctica's heritage & conserve its precious environment. Apply by 25 April. https://t.co/NPSf6dKLdi pic.twitter.com/GmJYIq5w1m
— UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (@AntarcticHT) April 4, 2022
Ginger K. introduces us to a new word:
— Julian (@justaguyok50) April 6, 2022
Tweets from Matthew, the first from his friend, the geneticist Adam Rutherford. You can try this at home if you have helium and inhale it for a short time:
My daughter thought it would add gravitas to my book How To Argue With A Racist if I read it after inhaling helium. pic.twitter.com/GI4FZ9XntA
— Dr Adam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford) April 8, 2022
Kitteh is not pleased:
التعايش ❤🤣 pic.twitter.com/uw43Rnh8b8
— Error 404 (@Error4019082820) April 7, 2022
These are amazing animals (watch toward the end). I ate one once in a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver, and it was mighty tasty, too (I’m ashamed to write that but the laws of physics compelled me):
What you see here is a Pacific razor clam, a bivalve mollusc in the genus Siliqua
Its burrowing using its foot, to elude predation, and to also remain anchored in unstable ocean conditions
The interesting end of this video is not related to digging 1/🧵pic.twitter.com/ONwuUdSNpK
— Science girl (@gunsnrosesgirl3) April 6, 2022
Matthew’s watching Magic Twitter these days, and sent this video. Be sure to watch to the end!
Ever seen a four-sided card? pic.twitter.com/pM8uQWA76S
— Pete Firman (@petefirman) March 23, 2022
And a lovely two-minute video of insect eyes. The mantis eyes, with their seemingly mobile “pseudopupil” will freak you out:
— FUMIHIKO HIRAI🐝昆虫スローの人 (@uta_31) April 6, 2022