“Wasted on the Way”

December 3, 2022 • 3:00 pm

Crosby, Stills & Nash, one of the great bands of the late Sixties through the early Eighties (joined sporadically by Neil Young), got together by accident. People who followed them know the story—the group formed from the leftovers of other bands: Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies, and the Byrds.  The way I heard the tale was that C,S, and N sang together extemporaneously at a party at Joni Mitchell’s house, and the harmony was instant and mesmerizing. The version given by Wikipedia, below, differs only in the location of the party:

In July 1968, over dinner at a party at another Laurel Canyon house (the home of either Joni Mitchell or Cass Elliot, accounts by the three members differ), Nash invited Stills and Crosby to perform a Stills composition, “You Don’t Have to Cry”. They did so twice, after which Nash had learned the lyrics and improvised a new harmony part on a third rendition. The vocals gelled, and the three realized that they had a very good vocal chemistry. While singing the third time, they broke out in laughter. The Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, and the Hollies had been harmony bands, with Nash later saying in a 2014 interview, “We knew what we were doing,” referring to the success of each of the individual bands. He continued, “Whatever sound Crosby, Stills, and Nash has was born in 30 seconds. That’s how long it took us to harmonize.”

The group was alway better on records than live, but the song below, “Wasted on the Way“—written by Graham Nash—is as good as the recorded version. That’s even more surprising because the three were well past their peak at this time (especially Stills, whose voice went downhill rapidly). But lo and behold, here the vaunted three-part harmony is on full show. And Stills’ guitar work never went downhill.

“Wasted”, of course, is a double entendre. And notice that all three times they sing the word “bridge”, Stills adds one more syllable than do Crosby and Nash.

The original recording (remastered 2005) featured Timothy B. Schmit doing additional harmony; you know him from the Eagles.

Robyn Blumner on truth and humanism

December 3, 2022 • 12:00 pm

I didn’t know that the Center for Inquiry (CFI) magazine Free Inquiry was online, but it is. And reader Nicole sent me a link to this article by Robyn Blumner, CEO of the CFI—an institution with a long history of fighting for humanism and secularism—as well executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Each of those organizations is a rara avis: a liberal organization that has not caved in to the woke “progressives”. (I keep getting tsouris, in the form of chastising emails, for using the word “woke”.)  Here we see Robyn taking out after the tendency of some Leftists to efface or hide the truth, and explaining why humanists above all should care about the truth.

Click on the screenshot to read (there are footnotes and references in the original text):

I’ll give a few quotes, but realize that I’m not scratching Robyn’s back because she scratched mine. It’s a good piece, and counteracts the woke “progressive” excesses of organizations like the ACLU (which Robyn used to work for).  Excuse my blushing here.

But the truth is under a sustained assault right now, and secular humanists need to stand up for it, even when that is hard.

It was relatively easy for most of us to condemn the allergic-to-truth rantings of former President Donald Trump. His lies were so transparent and prodigious that anyone outside the MAGA-verse could easily see through them. Many of us collectively recoiled at the reality-distortions he spun and how they were lapped up with religious-like zeal by his followers.

There are plenty of examples of how America’s right wing is a danger to truth-seeking institutions and standards. That is not what I want to focus on.

Because there is also truth-slaying happening in progressive circles generally in the name of social justice. And because so many secular humanists lean toward liberalism, it is here that we need to shine a light and, frankly, stop the insanity.

Agreed. So don’t give me tsouris for calling out the Left! Read on, though I’ve redacted one word in the first sentence below.

I commend to everyone Jerry Coyne’s terrific blog website Why Evolution Is True (https://whyevolutionistrue.com/), which you can subscribe to for free. An emeritus biology professor at the University of Chicago and a classical liberal himself, Coyne has been closely following the excesses and illiberalism of the woke Left.

There is no more stark example than the ways science has been twisted to conform to a social justice agenda.

Coyne describes the controversy in New Zealand where there is an official government effort underway to equate the indigenous Maori system of knowledge called “Matauranga” with the scientific methods of conventional Western science and that this different way of knowing be taught in science classes.

An appalled biology colleague of Coyne’s in New Zealand described some of the god stories of the Matauranga: “Tane the god of the forest is said to be the creator of humans, and of all plants and creatures of the forest. Rain happens when the goddess Papatuanuku sheds tears.”

There is some practical knowledge as part of the Matauranga, but much of its “science” is laden with superstitions, story-telling, and myths.

An obvious parallel is the teaching of creationism in science classes in the United States, which humanists reasonably decry as the injection of religion into a secular subject. As Richard Dawkins bluntly stated in a tweet on the issue: “Equally daft case for teaching Viking ‘ways of knowing’ in Norwegian science classes, Druid ‘ways of knowing’ in British science classes … Navajo, Kikuyu, Yanomamo ‘ways of knowing’ etc. All different. Truths about the universe don’t depend on which country you are in.”

Truth must be of higher value for secular humanists than acceding to equity demands from a minority group, no matter how sympathetic to them we may be.

Note that Richard will be visiting New Zealand last year, and the “other-ways-of-knowing” people are already sharpening their knives, for he enraged them by weighing in when the spineless Royal Society of New Zealand defended Matauranga Māori as being a valid “way of knowing”. Richard sent them an excoriating letter and also wrote to “New Zealand friends of science and reason.” It will be a magnificent clash between the eloquence of Dawkins and the determination of those who want to valorize an indigenous “way of knowing” that is largely legend, superstition, and religion.

But wait! There’s more from Robyn:

A prime [example] of science under siege by the social justice police—those who seek to impose their own view of social justice at the expense of free inquiry and the open-ended search for the truth—is in behavioral genetics. It’s a field that could not be more fraught. Any scientist who chooses to enter it risks being called a eugenicist or racist.

She goes on to praise Kathryn Paige Harden’s book on behavioral genetics, a book I praised in the WaPo for taking on the subject, but also criticized for not specifying how we can use genetics to achieve “equity”.

And one more bit. How often do you read stuff like this in the newsletter of a liberal humanist organization? I can’t think of any group, including the FFRF, that would say stuff like this (Blumner even goes after her old organization, the ACLU):

Then there is the current most radioactive subject of all: What medical interventions are appropriate for minors who may be suffering from gender dysphoria? This is a medical question with immense consequences, and the correct answer may depend on a range of individualized factors, making this highly politicized issue a medical quagmire.

Politics has elbowed in in disgraceful ways such as the order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott sending state investigators to inspect homes where minors are receiving gender affirming medical treatment, equating it with child abuse. As if these families aren’t facing challenges enough.

But the political Left has also gotten ahead of the science in ways that could be seriously harmful for children. For instance, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, promotes puberty blockers for children as a hormonal way to pause puberty while a minor is gaining clarity on their condition. He calls the intervention “completely safe and totally reversible.”

Unfortunately, that’s not a scientifically supportable statement. The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom says there is not enough data to draw that conclusion. The NHS website on treatment for gender dysphoria says “little is known” of the long-term side effects of puberty blockers and it is “not known” whether puberty blockers “affect the development of the teenage brain or children’s bones.”

Legitimate questions have been raised not only about the appropriate age of medical interventions but whether young girls are at risk of being unduly influenced by social pressure to claim transgender status. This is not a big deal if all we are talking about is pronouns, but it is a very big deal once medical science is employed. Statistics from the United Kingdom indicate that 70 percent of those seeking to transition in the past decade are girls wanting to become boys, which is significantly different from the past when by large margins males wanted to transition to female.

These questions are about getting at the truth. Yet just raising them is enough to bring down the wrath of the political Left and get you labeled a transphobe.

A recent column by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who cofounded Heterodox Academy, said he warned back in 2016 that “the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable.” Well, that time has come.

Indeed it has, indeed it has.

Oh, and Robyn recommends a book that deserves its encomiums:

Finally, I urge every secular humanist to read Jonathan Rauch’s important book The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of TruthIn clear terms, Rauch explains the dangers to our social order of abandoning not only the truth but the objective rules we use to test whether a claim is valid.

The end:

. . .choking off dissent damages the essential underpinnings of a reality-based community. These actions, no matter how good the intentions, are helping to dismantle the knowledge-based world. The world that secular humanists are committed to supporting and protecting, and most importantly the world we need for all of us to continue to thrive.

I like that phrase: “reality-based community”. For that what secular humanists are, and what believers are not. I suppose you could call the religious (and many Republicans) “the fantasy-based community.”

Caturday felid trifecta: Cougar plays with a swing; black panther and d*g become best friends; cats on stamps; and lagniappe

December 3, 2022 • 9:45 am

The recently-posted video below (click here or “watch on YouTube” shows a cougar (“mountain lion”) playing with a children’s swing made of logs.  The YouTube notes:

The Wichita Eagle has the story:

The funny side of Colorado’s fierce mountain lions was caught on a trail camera, when one suddenly realized the log it was sleeping under was a tree swing.

This discovery was made when the big cat touched the seat and it began to sway.

The video, posted Sept. 6 on YouTube, shows the predator was at first startled, then became completely charmed by the back and forth motion.

Thaddeus Wells recorded the video the first week of September near Black Hawk, a town about 40 miles northwest of Denver. He built the swing hoping to see bear cubs, but instead got a mountain lion acting “like a kitty cat.”

“When I saw this reaction to the swing I laughed and fell in love with her. Who wouldn’t?” Wells told McClatchy News.

“You can see her mind at work. She seems surprised to find that it moved at all and then surprised to see it swings so far as to hover over her. She really focuses her attention on it for some time. It’s edited to remove stuff like her tasting and biting the swing.” The mountain lion had been feeding on a deer prior to the discovery, he said.

The mountain lion had been feeding on a deer prior to the discovery, he said. The swing is near a spring, so the area frequently attracts wildlife in search of water.

“After four days of feasting, she was displaced by three bears who … spent the night at the spring while they devoured what remained of the deer,” he said.

“I have never seen so much bear poop in one location before. They tend to poop wherever they sleep and they slept there for several days.”

Mountain lions — also known as cougars, panthers and pumas — are native to Colorado. It’s estimated as many as 7,000 roam the state, and males can grow to 150 pounds, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Wells says the one seen playing with his swing was young but looked bigger due to a swollen jaw. He suspects the ill-fated deer may have kicked it in the face.

“This is just a hobby for me. Four years ago a mountain lion took down a deer in my actual backyard and then it was savaged by coyotes …” he said. “That led me to put a camera on it to see what else was going to happen.”

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A black panther is really the melanistic form of a jaguar, leopard, or cougar. Since this one was Asian, it’s probably a black leopard. Here’s a video from FB showing a beautiful black cat, Luna, who was rescued after her mother refused to feed her.  Amazingly, the cat became friends with the rescuer’s Rottweiler, Venza.

Look at these animals play with each other.  With those big teeth, I’d be worried, but neither the staff nor the d*g seem to worry!  The video implies that some day Luna may have to find another home, which is sad.

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This site, Stampboards.com, is a stamp collectors’ site, and the page below (click to see lots) has a great selection of CAT STAMPS. I’ll show a few

Big Cat posted this one.

Switzerland issued this stamp last year to mark the Locarno Film Festival. I would love it to be a jaguar (it would look great in the exhibit I’m working on :D ), but I rather think it’s probably a leopard. Can anyone confirm?

From JLeefe:

1983 New Zealand Health Mini sheet

From CMJ: one stamp on a sheet:

Also from CMJ, stamps from the Marshall Islands:

Angolan stamps from uncanadago:

Posted by uncanadago, a lovely stamp from Japan:

A German stamp from lesbootman; “For the children”:

And from Monaco, Baudelaire avec les chats, posted by jps55liquefy.  Perhaps this refers to his poem “Les chats” from Fleurs du Mal:

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Lagniappe: Two kitties are missing part of their front limbs: one has no forelegs at all and the other is missing paws and is also hyrocephalic. The legless one can hop on its own, and the will probably need surgery to put a plate in its head. But they’re well taken care of and seem to be enjoying their kittenhood.

h/t: Erik, Ginger K.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 3, 2022 • 8:15 am

It’s been a while since we’ve had an illustrated biological tale from Athayde Tonhasca Júnior, but we get one today—on the work of one Ch. Darwin on orchis. Athayde’s prose is indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Evolutionary dead ends and sticky contrivances: Darwin the botanist

Athayde Tonhasca Júnior

In 1842, the Darwin family – Charles, his wife Emma, and their two children William and Anne – moved to Down House in the village of Downe, England. The Darwin patriarch, who had travelled the world aboard H.M.S. Beagle (1831–1836), would spend the remaining 40 years of his life in quiet isolation at home because of ill-health. Darwin’s condition (whose origin still puzzles scholars) did not slow him down; he embarked on several projects such as monographs on coral reefs and barnacles, and of course overseeing the publication of On the Origin of Species. But Darwin spent most of his time working with plants, which are convenient study subjects for someone with a sedentary lifestyle. Assisted by gardeners and occasionally his children, Darwin observed and experimented with cabbage, foxglove, hibiscus, orchids, peas, tobacco, violets and many other species in his garden and glasshouse.

The Old Study at Down House, where Darwin completed On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Evolutionists are encouraged to go on pilgrimage to Down House provided they are physically and financially capable.  [JAC: it’s not expensive and is close to London. Anybody interested in Darwin and evolution MUST go! And the town has two lovely pubs.]

Darwin’s glasshouse at Down House, where he conducted many experiments © Tony Corsini, Wikimedia Commons.

Among various major contributions to botany (detailed by Barrett, 2010), Darwin documented the importance of cross-fertilisation (i.e., the transfer of pollen between different plants) for producing healthy offspring. Ever meticulous about supporting his theories with data, Darwin amassed eleven years of continuous observations to highlight the superiority of cross-fertilisation over self-fertilisation, i.e., the transfer of pollen within the same flower or between different flowers on the same plant.

Indeed, the great majority of flowering plants predominantly or exclusively outcross – that is, they mate with other individuals – even though they could easily self-fertilise because they are hermaphroditic (their flowers contain both male and female sexual organs). In fact, numerous flowers have mechanisms to avoid self-fertilisation. At best, many self-pollinating species (or ‘selfers’) exhibit mixed mating systems.

The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera). Despite its name, this orchid is mostly a selfer in northern Europe. In the Mediterranean, where this orchid is more abundant, its flowers are pollinated by bees © Bernard Dupont, Wikimedia Commons. [JAC: note that some petals have evolved to resemble a female bee. When a male sees the flower, he tries to mate with it, and the pollen sacs above his head stick to the body.  Frustrated, he flies away with the pollen, forgets about being duped, and tries to mate with yet another flower, whereby cross-fertilization is effected. This is a great example of a plant mimicking an insect. See more below.]

Self-pollination has some advantages: it helps to preserve desirable parental characteristics when a plant is well adapted to its environment. Because selfers do not depend on pollen carriers, they can colonise new habitats with a handful of individuals. Selfers do not have to spend energy on nectar, scents, or substantial quantities of pollen. Self-pollination is useful to farmers, as the genetic identity of a variety or cultivar is easily maintained, without requiring repeated selection of desirable features.

Self-pollination sounds like a convenient and rational lifestyle, but there are catches, and they are considerable. Selfers’ limited genetic variability makes them vulnerable to environmental changes; a hitherto well-adapted population can be driven to extinction if no individuals are adapted to novel conditions – and changes are inevitable, given enough time. Selfers are also particularly susceptible to inbreeding depression:  if the population is homogeneous, genetic defects cannot be weeded out by genetic recombination.

Taking into consideration the long-term hazards of selfing, it seems paradoxical that 10 to 15% of all flowering plants from many taxonomic groups made the transition from outcrossing to full self-fertilisation. Darwin proposed an explanation for this puzzle: cross-pollinated species would turn to self-fertilisation when pollinators or potential mates become scarce. In other words, self-fertilisation assures survival when outcrossing becomes inviable. Darwin’s hypothesis, currently known as the ‘reproductive assurance hypothesis’, continues to be the most accepted explanation for the evolution of self-fertilisation.

Remarkably, researchers were able to quickly induce the transition from cross-pollination to self-pollination in the common large monkeyflower (Erythranthe guttata, previously known as Mimulus guttatus) by preventing plants’ contact with pollinators (e.g., Busch et al., 2022). Monkeyflowers kept in a glasshouse with no pollinators for five generations increased the production of selfing seeds and showed a reduction in the stigma to anther distance – this feature, known as herkogamy, is one of the indicators of ‘selfing syndrome’: the greater the distance between stigma and anther, the greater the likelihood of the stigma receiving external pollen, thus the lower the chance of self-pollination. After nine generations, plants experienced a significant reduction of genetic variability. Monkeyflowers kept in another glasshouse with free access to the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), one of the plant’s main pollinators, underwent none of these effects.

L: The common large monkeyflower, a native to western North America. Its wide corolla and landing platform are convenient for its main pollinators, bumble bees © Rosser 1954, Wikimedia Commons. R: Diagram of a large monkey flower with the upper corolla removed to show the reproductive structures © Bodbyl-Roels & Kelly, 2011.

A common eastern bumble bee; its absence induces selfing in large monkey flowers © U.S. Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab.

What do these observations about the monkey flower tell us? For one thing, they are cautionary tales about the risk of losing pollinators. A variety of human disturbances such as agriculture intensification, loss of habitats, and diseases have caused a decline of some insect populations, including pollinators. A scarcity of flower visitors may threaten pollination services directly, or induce some plants to adapt quickly and become self-pollinated. Adaptation sounds good, but selfers’ lower genetic diversity and reduced capacity to adjust to environmental vicissitudes make them vulnerable to extinction.

The renowned botanist and geneticist G. Ledyard Stebbins (1906-2000) suggested that selfing is an evolutionary dead end: it is advantageous in the short term but harmful in the long run. And because the transition from outcrossing to selfing is irreversible, according to Dollo’s Law (structures that are lost are unlikely to be regained in the same form in which they existed in their ancestors), self-fertilization ends up in irretrievable tears. And the monkeyflower has shown that it all may happen before we notice it.

While Darwin worked in his garden, somewhere in the British countryside a four-spotted moth (Tyta luctuosa) landed on a pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), intending to sip some nectar. The moth certainly didn’t expect to end up with its proboscis – the elongated mouthparts used for sucking by butterflies and moths – covered with blobs of pollen. But that was the least of the moth’s problems, as disaster loomed: the hapless wanderer was captured by an unknown collector and became a model for George B. Sowerby (1812-1884), the illustrator of Charles Darwin’s masterpiece about orchid fertilisation – On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing.

An illustration from Charles Darwin’s book on fertilisation of orchids depicting the head of a four-spotted moth with its proboscis laden with several pairs of pollinia from pyramidal orchids. Names of the species involved have changed since then.

Those globules of pollen attached to the moth’s proboscis are known as pollinia (sing. pollinium). Each unit contains from five thousand to four million pollen grains, depending on the species. The grains are stuck together with pollenkitt, an adhesive material found in almost all angiosperms pollinated by animals. A stalk-like structure connects the pollinia to a gluey pad known as viscidium, and the whole assemblage is often referred to as a pollinarium.

A pollinarium: the pollinia on the toothpick are held in place by the sticky viscidium © Frederick Depuydt, Wikimedia Commons.

Pollen grains lumped together in a sticky package are not easily carried away by water or wind. As Darwin learned from his observations and experiments, this is done by animal vectors, mostly wasps and bees (although moths, beetles, flies and birds do the job for a reasonable number of orchid species). Having pollen grains in a single unit reduces wastage during dispersal, but it’s a risky strategy: a lost pollinium means no pollination at all. So orchid flowers have undergone dramatic morphological transformations to assure that pollinia are picked up by the right pollinator:

‘If the Orchideæ had elaborated as much pollen as is produced by other plants, relatively to the number of seeds which they yield, they would have had to produce a most extravagant amount, and this would have caused exhaustion. Such exhaustion is avoided by pollen not being produced in any great superfluity owing to the many special contrivances for its safe transportal from plant to plant, and for placing it securely on the stigma. Thus we can understand why the Orchideæ are more highly endowed in their mechanism for cross-fertilisation, than are most other plants.’ (Darwin, 1862, Fertilisation of Orchids).

What are some of these contrivances mentioned by Darwin? Orchids’ stamens (comprising anthers and filaments, the male reproductive parts) are fused with the pistil (which are the female reproductive parts: stigma, style and ovary) to form a structure known as a column. The anther (the pollen-producing organ) is located at the distal – away from the centre – end of the column, and the stigma (the pollen-receiving organ) lies close by. Directly below the column there’s an enlarged petal named labellum or lip, which often is noticeably different from other flower parts in its colour, markings, or shape. For nectar-producing species, nectaries are located at the base of the labellum.

Parts of an orchid flower © Thomas Cizauskas, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0:

So the stage has been meticulously set. The distinct labellum is a perfect landing strip for an insect attracted by the orchid’s rewards, be they real (nectar) or not (when physical or chemical decoys are deployed). The pollinator lands on the labellum, touches the tip of the column, and goes away with pollinia securely adhered to its body by the viscidium, which works better on smooth surfaces such as the eyes and mouthparts of insects and beaks of birds. When the pollinator visits another flower, the pollinia are likely to be transferred to the stigma. Sticky pollinia and viscidium ensure secure removal of pollen, minimal losses during transit, and a high probability of deposition on a receptive stigma.

An orchid bee (Euglossa sp.) with pollinia attached to it © Eframgoldberg, Wikimedia Commons:

These morphological features have evolved independently in two plant groups: orchids (family Orchidaceae) and milkweeds (subfamily Asclepiadaceae of the family Apocynaceae). But pollinia are relatively more important for orchids; with more than 26,000 described species, they make up about 8% of all vascular plants and span a range of habitats in all continents except Antarctica; there are more orchid species in the world than mammals, birds and reptiles combined.

Orchids’ highly specialized ‘lock and key’ pollination system reduces the chances of pollen being picked up by the wrong flower visitor or being transferred to the wrong plant species; the selective adaptations towards the right flower-pollinator association must have contributed to orchids’ enormous richness and diversity of forms. It’s amazing what a dab of glue here and there can do.

A figure from the 1877 edition of Fertilisation of Orchids. A pencil inserted into the flower of an early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula) comes out with an adhered pollinium. Within 30 seconds, loss of moisture bends the stalk forward. If the pollinium was attached to a bee, it would be perfectly positioned to touch a receptive stigma.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

December 3, 2022 • 6:45 am

Greetings on a CatSaturday, December 3, 2022: It’s National Peppermint Latte Day. Shoot me now! This vile “libation” instantiates Coyne’s Fifth Law: “All snacks ultimately evolve toward candy” (granola bars, fizzy water, and now lattes.)

No! Just no!

It’s also National Apple Pie Day, but then things go downhill, for it’s also National Green Bean Casserole Day and National Rhubarb Vodka Day (!!!) To top it off, it’s also National Earmuff Day, Let’s Hug Day, and International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The Google Doodle today doesn’t link to anything; it’s just holiday themed:

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the December 3 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Well, Alex Jones has filed for bankruptcy after facing a bunch of civil suits for defamation in conjunction with the Sandy Hook shooting (he claimed it was a government plot to take away people’s guns). His fines are up to at least $1.5 billion.

The filing comes atop the bankruptcy filing by Free Speech Systems, Infowars’ parent company, in late July. The new filing could further delay payment of the damages to the families, who would need to seek payment through the bankruptcy courts alongside other creditors. But it could also force a greater degree of scrutiny on the finances of Mr. Jones’s empire.

For more than four years, Mr. Jones has stonewalled the courts on providing business records, financial information and other records in the Sandy Hook cases. In a separate lawsuit, the victims’ families have accused Mr. Jones of improperly siphoning assets from his business and channeling them to himself and his family. He will now ostensibly be required to reveal more about those assets.

“The bankruptcy system does not protect anyone who engages in intentional and egregious attacks on others, as Mr. Jones did,” said Chris Mattei, a lawyer for the families in the damages case in Connecticut. “The American judicial system will hold Alex Jones accountable, and we will never stop working to enforce the jury’s verdict.” In that case, in October, Mr. Jones was ordered to pay $1.4 billion. Two other cases were litigated in Texas.

*Over at Bari Weiss’s site, Nellie Bowles has her usual snarky but funny take on the news; this week’s is “TGIF: Protest Edition.”  A few excerpts.

→ Trump, Milo, Kanye, Fuentes: A rough collection of names for a rough item. Last week, our former President beclowned himself by hosting Kanye West and the white supremacist Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago for dinner. He claimed not to know who Fuentes was.

Add to this sick brew one Milo Yiannopoulous. Once a firebrand gay conservative, Milo has rebranded as a Christian nationalist selling Christian paraphernalia. Now he’s running Kanye West’s 2024 presidential campaign and gleefully joining in with the antisemitism, claiming Trump will lose because he has been “continuing to suck the boots of Jewish powers that be who hate Jesus Christ, hate our country, and see us as disposable cattle according to their ‘holy’ book.” It’s subtle, sure, but if you read it closely you pick up on the antisemitism.

On Thursday, Kanye West and Nick Fuentes went on Infowars. I think it’s worthwhile to see the rhetoric for yourself. You know things have gone off the rails when Alex Jones is the most sane person on a panel.

Be sure you listen to this one:

→ Stop trying to make me eat insects: Every single week there is a story from the mainstream press trying to convince me that I need to eat insects. This is a Davos-set obsession. The World Economic Forum has published literally hundreds of pieces like “5 Reasons Why Eating Insects Could Reduce Climate Change.” Steak, chicken, fish are all special treats that are bad for the environment, you see. And like private jets, these should be reserved only for Davos attendees, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and Taylor Swift. For the good of the world, you and I should be eased into a bug-based diet. Last weekend’s installment comes from the Washington Post’s health section: “Salted ants. Ground crickets. Why you should try edible insects.” No.

It’s clear that Nellie isn’t big on soccer:

→ World Cup news. America is set to play the Netherlands Saturday. Thank you for coming to our Sports Section.

*I don’t often post on op-eds at the WSJ, and they’re predictably right wing. This one, however, says something that’s obvious but needs repeated emphasis: Roland Fryer‘s column “Disparity doesn’t necessarily imply racism.” Fryer is a black Professor of Economics at Harvard.  (h/t Luana)

Determined to show that income gaps were due to racism, Fryer eventually realized, using statistical analyses that they were instead due largely to differences in skills:

. . . Taken together, an honest review of the evidence suggests that current racial inequities are more a result of differences in skill than differences in treatment of those with the same skill.

I write this with some degree of trepidation, in part because I still have my grandmother in my ear [JAC: she really was the victim of personal and vitriolic racism] and in part because I am keenly aware of the harm in underestimating bias. But there is also a cost to overemphasizing its impact. A black kid who believes he will face daunting societal obstacles is likely to underinvest in trying to climb society’s rungs. Every black student in the country needs to know that his return on investment in education is, if anything, higher than for white students.

The solution is neither to stop fighting biased behavior nor to curb honest inquiry about race in America. We shouldn’t stop searching for and penalizing discriminatory employers, or trying to reduce racial differences in police brutality, or estimating whether the value of a home appraisal depends on the race of the homeowner, or reducing bias in bail decisions by using artificial intelligence. I could go on, like the conversations stuck to those slipcovers. The solution isn’t to look away from discrimination. It does exist. But we also can’t point at every gap in outcomes and instantly conclude it’s racism. Prejudice must be measured rigorously. Statistically. Disparity doesn’t necessarily imply racism. It may feel omnipresent, but it isn’t all-powerful. Skills matter most.

This should be obvious as an alternative (and now somewhat supported) explanation of “inequity,” defined as a disproportional representation of groups. But we all see inequities and pretend that they prove—prove—the existence of “systemic and structural racism”. Woe to they who say otherwise, for they’ll be tarred as “racists.” At least Fryer can’t be accused of that!

*Here are yesterday’s World Cup results and some footie news:

Uruguay was knocked out of the World Cup on Friday despite its win over Ghana, but players on the field turned their frustrations towards the officiating crew, grabbing at them as they angrily followed them into the tunnel.

Uruguay defeated Ghana 2-0 in the final Group H match before the Round of 16, but a win by South Korea over Portugal bumped them down to third place, eliminating them from the tournament.

As soon as the final whistle was blown, players from Uruguay’s bench swarmed the referees as they attempted to exit the pitch.

The highlights: Uruguay scores at 1:20 and 2:05, and you can see a bit of referee-swarming at the end. I’ve added a tweet below showing that:

South Korea moved on to the knockout stage for the first time since 2010, while Portugal moved on with its first group win since 2006.

From the NYT:

As Brazil’s reserves clashed with Cameroon, Serbia and Switzerland played a game that included a paroxysm of goals and then a ruthless barren stretch taunted both teams. When it was over, Switzerland had won, 3-2, and advanced to the knockout stage, to a date Tuesday with the Group H winner Portugal. Serbia’s players crumpled to the turf in disappointment. Brazil faces South Korea on Monday.

Cameroon is the first African team ever to beat Brazil in a World Cup.

Here are the highlights of the Serbia/Switzerland game. The first goal for Switzerland (0:43) is excellent, following a short backward pass, and the second Serbian goal (1:54).

*You may have read that a man fell overboard from a Carnival Cruise ship last week and, after more than 12 hours, was actually rescued. How was that possible? The NYT recounts the incident and others like it, and discusses the protocol ships use when there’s a man or woman overboard.

The passenger, according to the Coast Guard, turned out to be James Grimes, 28, who had been traveling with his parents and siblings on the five-day cruise. His family had last seen him the night before, around 11 p.m.

But by 10:45 on Thanksgiving morning, when there was no sign of him, the family notified the crew, the Coast Guard said.

At 8:10 p.m., more than nine hours after his family reported him missing, a passing tanker spotted the man near the mouth of the Mississippi River and alerted the Coast Guard.

Rescuers found Mr. Grimes struggling in the water, waving frantically and trying to keep his head above the surface.

When the crew of the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter lifted him out, he was in shock, had mild hypothermia and was extremely dehydrated, said Lt. Seth Gross, who managed the search and rescue operation for the Coast Guard. But he was alive and in stable condition.

Mr. Grimes, whose family described him as an exceptional swimmer, had treaded in 65- to 70-degree water for hours, withstanding rain, 20-knot winds and three- to five-foot waves in the Gulf of Mexico, where bull sharks and blacktip sharks are common, Coast Guard officials said.

It’s not clear how Grimes fell overboard (he clearly didn’t jump as a suicidal move). Was he inebriated? That seems to be a common way that people fall into the drink (pun intended)

. . . In 2019, 25 people fell overboard, and only nine of them were rescued, according to CLIA.

In February, a woman aboard the Carnival Valor jumped off the 10th deck of the ship while fleeing security officers who were trying to detain her after she had scuffled with them. Her body was never found.

In December 2016, a 22-year-old man fell off the 12th deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship after a night of heavy drinking. His parents sued the cruise line in federal court in Florida, but a jury decided in favor of Royal Caribbean.

Alcohol is a factor in at least 11 percent of falls from cruise ships, which often offer all-inclusive drink packages that encourage drinking onboard, said Ross Klein, a professor of social work at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who researches cruise safety.

The ending is all good except for this (my emphasis):

Lt. Gross said he called the man’s mother and stepfather to tell them he had been found.

When he told them their son was stable and being treated at a hospital in New Orleans, he heard them cheer and cry.

Ms. White [the passenger’s mom], who lives in Hampton, Va., and runs an anti-bullying organization, said she was flooded with relief when the ship announced that Mr. Grimes had been found alive.

That was nothing but God that he survived,” she said.

No, it wasn’t God, it was the man’s determination AND the help of many searchers. A nonexistent god had nothing to do with it.

*Reader Jim “Bat” Batterson favors us with an update on the Artemis-1 mission, now about to leave the Moon to return to Earth, splashing down on December 11:

Two days ago (Thursday Dec 1), at 4:54 PM EST, a 105-second thruster burn from its main engine kicked the Orion capsule and support module (which carries the main maneuvering engine that will be jettisoned just before it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere) out of its distant retrograde orbit of the Moon, beginning its return to Earth.

This took it out of its lunar orbit that extended to 40,000 miles above the lunar surface and into a trajectory that will pass 71 miles above the lunar surface on Monday, December 5. Then a second firing of its engine will kick it out of lunar orbit altogether, beginning the final stage of its return to Earth. The capsule is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.  I do not have the schedule of exact times for the Monday maneuver at the Moon or the maneuvering on approach to Earth for re-entry on December 11, but I’ll pass those times on when I see them.  The exact timing likely depends on how the big Dec 5 maneuver and follow-up small correction maneuvers go.

I expect readers might want to watch the return preparations and splashdown on December 11.

During last night’s presser, and in press releases, NASA has said that everything has gone better than expected—to the point where they added additional objectives to further stress-test some of the systems during the distant retrograde orbit over the past week.  Fingers still crossed!

I’ve asked Jim to give us more commentary when the splashdown takes place.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili dilates upon reverse evolution. She’s right, too!

Hili: Evolution is retreating.
A: Why do you think so?
Hili: Humans have stopped talking and are starting to tweet again.
In Polish:
Hili: Ewolucja się cofa.
Ja: Dlaczego tak sądzisz?
Hili: Ludzie przestają mówić i znów zaczynają ćwierkać.

. . . and Baby Kulka asleep on the dresser:

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

From Bruce:

A Gary Larson Far Side cartoon contributed by Stash Krod:

Yet another Far Side cartoon, this one sent in by Thomas:

A tweet from Masih:

Hanukah is coming, and Simon shows us that it’s has a different atmosphere this year (note that the Tweeter is a urologist):

From Barry: a rant by comedian Trae Crowder. The subject is in the title; sound up.

From Luana. No, biological sex is real—and binary.  This person mixes up sex and gender, and is apparently ignorant of gamete-size disparities.

From the Auschwitz Memorial: Two women. First, one who survived Auschwitz:

And one who did not.

Tweets from the estimable Professor Cobb. First, a new book, and look at the table of contents. Matthew says, “Looks interesting thought some seem straw men to me, and who decides what a “myth” is anyway?”

Some genetic and biogeographic data on the evolution of canids and their ecological novelty. Watch the ten-minute video.

 

Yes, it’s silly, but some of the jokes are good. They’d never show stuff like this today!

The greatest films of all time: a critics’ poll and a filmmakers’ poll

December 2, 2022 • 12:15 pm

I was pleased to get two lists of great movies (I’m a sucker for lists of great art) from Justin Remes, associate professor of film studies at Iowa State University (he also wrote Absence in Cinema: The Art of Showing Nothing). I’ll quote his email with permission:

I know you occasionally post about cinema, so I thought you might be interested to know that the highly respected Sight and Sound poll of The Greatest Films of All Time (which is only published every ten years) was just released today. You can find the critics’ poll here and the filmmakers’ poll here. For what it’s worth, my personal pick for the greatest film of all time is 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I was happy to see that at the top of the directors’ poll. As for Jeanne Dielman, which is at the top of the critics’ poll, I think it’s a great film, although it wouldn’t make my own personal top 10. It was a shock to see it there, however–I really don’t think anyone could have predicted it would come in at number 1. (In the last Sight and Sound poll, it was 36!)

I’ll give the top ten in each of the two polls. First, the top ten in the CRITICS’ POLL, with the best put first (remember, there are 100 movies in each poll). Click on each screenshot to go to the site describing the movie. At the bottom I’ve put a link to my own list of best films, posted here twelve years ago.

I haven’t even heard of this Best Film!

I’ve seen this one and it’s very good, but not #2:

A great film, better than “Vertigo”:

This and Kurusawa’s “Ikiru” are my favorite foreign films. And Ikiru isn’t even on the list!  See both of them!

Just okay, but that’s it:

I am ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen this film—Justin’s favorite:

Haven’t seen this one, but I should:

Nope. Gripping, but not worthy of #8, much less #80:

Haven’t seen this one (I’m getting ashamed):

A very good musical—one of the best of the genre—but not one of the best films:

“The Godfather” is #12, and Ozu’s “Late Spring” comes in at #21 (all the films in Ozu’s “season cycle” are excellent).

Second, the top ten in the DIRECTORS’  (FILMMAKERS) POLL, with the best put first. There’s a fair amount of overlap with the previous list.

Maybe I should see this film!

“Citizen Kane” is at the top of every “greatest movies” list, as it should be.

This is a very great film. Aren’t we lucky to have seen it as a first run (well, those of us who are older)?

A reminder to see this movie. If you are the action-movie type, you may not like it: it’s a family drama and slow paced. I love it very much.

Okay, now I gotta see this film!

These next two are tied, and I wouldn’t put them in my top ten.

There is no #7 because of the ties. I haven’t seen this one:

These next three are tied for the #9 slot. None of them would be on my list, and I’m not a Bergman fan at all:

Gotta see this one, too, as I haven’t:

At least “Ikiru” makes it on this list, though only at #72: tied with “Chinatown” (a superb film) and “The Seventh Seal”, another Bergman film.

Now I posted my own list of “Best Movies” back in 2010, and it hasn’t changed, though perhaps I’d add 2019’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” to it. (I left “Citizen Kane” off my list because it’s everybody’s choice.)  The one movie missing from both of the lists above is my favorite American movie, “The Last Picture Show” (1971).  The omission is shameful!

Now it’s your turn, as always. Post the list of your “best movies”, preferably the top five. After all, it’s a great way for all of us to find new things to watch.

A misguided but abject apology from an Oxford Union student

December 2, 2022 • 9:45 am

Reader Cora sent me an archived link to this paper from the Times of London, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below.

The skinny is that the Oxford Union, the group that officially represents students at the University, has one president and five vice-presidents. One of the latter was a “dedicated woman’s officer”, devoted to promoting an protecting women’s issues at the University. But as we know, the word “woman” has taken on a new meaning, including transsexual women, and that got the woman’s officer, Ellie Greaves, into trouble. Click to read:

Because transsexual women are considered by activists to be identical in every respect to biological women, including their issues and concerns, they had to change the name and the mission of the position. But Greaves had defended her position’s original mission, which espoused some concerns of biological women but not transsexual women. For defending that notion, she got huge backlash, the position was changed, and Greaves issued about as embarrassing a statement of contrition as you can imagine. Excerpts:

Greaves is a point of contact for students with issues relating to women’s health, sexual consent and night-time safety. She said last month: “I really hope the issues I’ve been talking about this year don’t fall into the background. I think there’s a risk that the removal of [the post] will send the message that ‘sexism is solved’, when it really isn’t.

“We’re not where we need to be in terms of women’s representation and I think there’s a risk of moves to tackle sexual violence being left behind. There’s a reason the role has been around for so long. I will continue to prioritise women.”

Sharon Udott, president of the Oxford Feminist Society, said: “It’s incredibly important to have a women-focused role in 2022. To say that it is redundant in this day and age is an incredibly privileged position to hold. From violence against women to advocating for increased support and funding for women’s health, these issues don’t change when the year does.”

Greaves also told the student newspaper Cherwell that “provision for conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome are not accommodated in the way I would like to see”.

Well, you can’t go saying things like that, especially about biological-woman-limited medical conditions. And so the mob went into action, the position’s name was changed, and Oggsford (Gatsby’s term for the University) gave the “inclusion” reason:

Students took issue with some of her comments, The Oxford Student website said on Tuesday. She was asked at a student council meeting last week: “What do you have to say to the hundreds of students who were consulted regarding [the role review] . . . who agreed that this would be a good change for inclusivity, equality and the priority of intersectionality?”

Intersectionality is the theory that various forms of discrimination centred on race, gender, class, disability, sexuality, and other identities, do not work independently but interact to produce particularised forms of social oppression.

Thanks for the explanation, Times! goes on:

The union is replacing its women’s officer with a liberation and equalities representative from next year. The reorganisation of union leadership will keep the same number of roles — one president and five vice-presidents — but female students will lose a dedicated women’s officer. The union said this was because the role was created at a time when women could not get full degrees and colleges were segregated, and that the position prioritised one protected group over others.

Oxford Student Union said of changes to the women’s officer position: “The role has not been replaced but augmented to include more underrepresented and marginalised communities who currently do not have sufficient representation.”

Well, maybe, but the real reason is one we all know. And the new officer is going to have his/her hands full enforcing social justice as a whole: it’s a “liberation and equalities representative”.

And even if the position is redundant now (I’ll let the women be the judge of that), the worst part is Greaves’s abject and cringe-making apology. It’s like the Cultural Revolution in China, when those who transgressed accepted dogma had to wear signs around their necks and don paper hats shaped like cones. (Some were beaten and even killed, too.)

THE APOLOGY, with an explanatory note by the Times:

Greaves issued a statement on Tuesday, saying: “The comments I made in the article contribute to a bio-essentialist, narrow-minded narrative of what being a woman is, including the prioritisation of women over minorities. I cannot apologise enough for the damage and hurt I have caused the trans community.”

Bio-essentialism is the philosophy that biology plays a larger role in determining human psychology or development than social, economic, or environmental factors.

“My knowledge of the trans experience is very limited at the moment, and I will endeavour to educate myself further on trans inclusivity through more open engagement with LGBTQ+ Campaign and personal research,” she said.

Note the criticism of “bioessentialism”, which makes an unsupported claim. It’s not true that for all aspects of human development or psychology, social/economic/environmental factors play a larger role than do biological ones. It depends on which aspect of development you’re talking about. For example, biology plays nearly the entire role of determining whether you’re a male or female in the first place, and that affects secondary sexual traits like genitals, body hair, and vocal pitch.

But forget that. What’s reprehensible here is the way Greaves bowed and truckled to the trans activists with her statement about her ignorance and determination to “educate herself.” And I doubt that she really caused a lot of “damage and hurt” to the trans community. They will of course claim that, but what she said above could damage or hurt only those so easily triggered that they may need professional help. The dignified thing for her to have done was either resign the position, or accept it, do what the new position requires, and move on. As we all know, apologies like Greaves’s never work—they just further inflame the extreme progressives.

A metaphorical analogy to Greaves

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 2, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today’s selection of photos comes from reader Kevin Krebs. His notes an IDs are indented, and click on the photos to enlarge them. At the bottom Kevin asks readers to consider donating to the wildlife organization for which he volunteers.

Here is a selection of bird photos I’ve taken during the last few months in and around Vancouver, BC.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) — These tiny owls (with the larger females generally no more than 8” in length) are also one of the most common owls in North America. Despite this, there are still many gaps in our knowledge about them as they are secretive, nocturnal, and have irregular movement patterns.

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) — A unique and charming bird found in Western North America down through Central America. While they may appear drab, they are remarkable as North America’s only aquatic passerine. They dive and bob around in rushing streams, even in the cold of winter.  Photos don’t really do them justice, and I recommend watching this short video to see one in action.  As you might guess, they have many adaptations for their specialized lifestyle.

JAC: Do watch the video. The bird is amazing!

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) — The same bird poised to dive into the pond.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) — A common but eye-catching bird of the West, Spotted Towhees are almost always found in dense brush, noisily kicking away at leaf litter to reveal insects and invertebrates that make up a large part of their diet.

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii) — At first glance, it’s easy to quickly misidentify these birds as Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). In fact, they were considered conspecific with their larger cousins until 2004 when they were split into their own species.  As soon as you spot one of these geese next to their larger cousins, the size difference is obvious.

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) — A bird many North Americans have come to despise as an invasive and destructive pest. Unsurprisingly, the truth is far more complex, and much of the common knowledge about these birds is entirely false – the story they were released in 19th century New York by a Shakespeare fanatic has been entirely debunked.

Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) — Sometimes referred to as the ‘aristocrat of ducks’ due to the male’s sophisticated-looking plumage, Canvasbacks are the largest North American diving duck. I was lucky to get a photo of this male who made a surprise appearance at a local park.

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) — Cooper’s Hawks are crow-sized hawks that can be found across North America. They commonly breed in suburban and even urban landscapes and specialize in hunting smaller birds and mammals.  They are especially adept at high-speed flight through wooded areas in pursuit of their prey.

Merlin (Falco columbarius) — Merlins are small (9”-12″ body length) and fierce falcons found throughout the forests and prairies of the Northern hemisphere. Powerful and fast, they hunt small to medium-sized birds which they often catch in flight.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) — Common until the 1800s, being hunted for bounties until the 1950s and the destructive effects of DDT combined to make Bald Eagles a rarity by the mid-to-late 1900s. Bald Eagle numbers have been steadily increasing since the 1980s, making them one of North America’s conservation success stories. Something that always surprises people about these birds is that they don’t sound at all like their media portrayal. Bald Eagles are splotchy brown until they’re 4 to 5 years old.  If you see a bird with a white head and tail like this one, you know it’s been around a while.

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani) — An eye-catching bird of the West coast, often found in rocky intertidal zones. Like so many birds, their common name is a misnomer, as Black Oystercatchers rarely catch and eat oysters. Their main diet comprises marine invertebrates, generally bivalves and other mollusks, which their bill is adapted to pry open.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) — A familiar but also remarkably adaptable wading bird found through North and Central America. Great Blue Herons are formidable predators who take a variety of prey. Small fish and amphibians are their common diet, but they will eat any small animal that comes within striking range, including snakes, rodents, and even other birds. While their numbers seem to have remained stable, development of wetlands and areas near their large and raucous nesting colonies are potentially damaging for local subspecies.

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) — A beautiful, curious, and vocal jay found in Western forests. Like many corvids, Stellar’s Jays readily habituate to (and take advantage of) human presence. Despite being common and relatively tame, there are still many questions about their demographics and breeding biology that remain unanswered.  This bird belongs to the Coastal subspecies (Cyanocitta stelleri stellari) distinguished by an overall darker colours and the light blue stripes on its ‘forehead’.

Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) — While photographing birds, I sometimes meet other animals, so for the final photo, here’s a Douglas Squirrel, a native squirrel of the Pacific Northwest. Significantly smaller than the introduced Eastern Gray Squirrel, they are found in coniferous forests, as their diet mainly consists of fir, spruce, and pine seeds. This individual in a local park is extremely habituated to humans due to being fed, running right up to people’s feet to beg.  While undeniably cute, feeding animals results in many potential harms to both wildlife and humans.

Kevin also asks readers to consider donating to the Vancouver Avian Research Centre:

As an aside: I volunteer with the Vancouver Avian Research Centre (https://birdvancouver.com) and we are currently having a fundraiser to help keep our station outfitted and running smoothly.  I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask, as I believe strongly in the organization and our mission to protect birds.
If you do decide to include it, the link for donations is here: http://weblink.donorperfect.com/VARC

Friday: Hili dialogue

December 2, 2022 • 6:45 am

Welcome to the first Friday in December: December 2, 2022, and National Fritter Day. I like corn (a little syrup on it doesn’t hurt) as a savory, and apple fritters as a treat.

Luscious corn fritters

It’s also Business of Popping Corn Day (the license for the company that eventually created commercial popcorn machines was granted on this day in 1885, Bartender Appreciation Day, Faux Fur Friday (actually, wearing faux fur might encourage people to wear the real thing), National Mutt Day, Safety Razor Day, and International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the December 2 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Congress, in charge of regulating interstate commerce, has the power to avert the impending railroad strike since it could substantial economic damage. The House passed the bill two days ago, but it looked dicier in the Senate. However, yesterday the Senate also passed the bill, which forces a settlement on terms agreed on by negotiators but not labor itself. It now goes to Biden, who will sign it.

The Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to impose a labor agreement between rail companies and their workers who have been locked in a stubborn stalemate, moving with uncommon speed to avert a potential holiday season rail strike that would jeopardize shipping across the country.

Passage of the measure cleared it to be signed by President Biden, who just days ago made a personal appeal for Congress to act to impose a labor agreement his administration helped negotiate earlier this year, but which had failed to resolve the dispute. He was expected to sign it quickly, racing to stave off any economic fallout that could come from a work stoppage in the coming days.

It was the first time since the 1990s that Congress has used its power under the Constitution’s commerce clause, which allows it to regulate interstate commerce, to intervene in a national rail labor dispute.

The action came a day after the House overwhelmingly approved the measure, which would force the companies and their workers to abide by the tentative agreement reached in September. It would include a 24-percent increase in wages over five years, more schedule flexibility and one additional paid day off. Several rail unions had rejected it because it lacked paid leave time.

Progressive Democrats wanted to add that paid leave time, and Republicans a “cooling off period”, but both failed. The final vote was 80-15, and so truly bipartisan:

Senate Democrats, under pressure from progressives to insist on the additional compensated time off for workers, tried and failed to push through a House-passed measure to add seven days of paid medical leave to the agreement. It was defeated 52-43, failing to secure the necessary 60 votes needed to pass.

And Republicans failed to win adoption of their proposal to extend the Dec. 9 negotiation deadline by 60 days, to provide a cooling-off period and avoid congressional intervention in the dispute. It failed on a vote of 70-25.

Ultimately, a broad bipartisan group set aside reservations about inserting Congress into the labor dispute and backed the agreement that the Biden administration negotiated. The vote was 80-15, with Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, voting “present.”

*Now here’s a misguided op-ed in the WaPo by Ellie Geranmayeh, a “senior policy fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.” This chowderhead thinks we can still prevent Iran from getting the bomb, as she writes in “We still need a nuclear deal with Tehran. Protests won’t change that.

Last month, the Biden administration’s special envoy for Iran said that nuclear talks with Tehran were unlikely to continue anytime soon. “If these negotiations are not happening, it’s because of Iran’s position and everything that has happened since [September],” said Robert Malley, citing Iran’s crackdown on protests, its transfer of drones to Russia and its continuing imprisonment of American citizens.

His comments, which echoed a widespread unease with Iran in the West, are understandable. And yet none of the issues he cited changes the grim reality that Iran is now just days away from having enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb — and that the international community is doing nothing to stop it. Unless that changes, the world is headed inexorably for a new nuclear crisis. A revised diplomatic track still represents the most effective pathway forward.

Iran’s relations with the West have hit rock-bottom after almost two years of failed negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. That impasse has been compounded by Tehran’s repressive response to the wave of protests that began in September, which has reportedly left more than 400 dead and thousands imprisoned.

“Failed negotiations” is a redundancy when it refers to trying to talk Iran out of its bomb. She continues:

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently passed yet another in a series of resolutions reprimanding Iran for its lack of cooperation with the agency. This censure is the right move, but it doesn’t fix the larger problem. Iran responded to the IAEA’s rebuke by restarting high-level enrichment of uranium at its underground Fordow nuclear site — something that it is expressly prohibited from doing under the original nuclear deal. Iranian officials have also claimed that they plan to install more advanced centrifuges, which would significantly enhance Iran’s capabilities to produce nuclear weapons. The current trajectory is certain to leave the agency, the United States and Europe in a near-total blackout as Iran marches toward becoming a nuclear threshold state.

Give me a break! Iran wants a nuclear weapon, and it’s always been on the path to get one. I’m stupefied that Geranmayeh, an “expert”, thinks we can stop the juggernaut by negotiating with Iran.

*Today’s World cup scores and commentary from CNN: Japan and Spain advance, while the German team, beating Costa Rica 4-2, is out and has to go back to Deutschland.

We have a final at Al Bayt Stadium, with Germany winning 4-2.

The Germans roared back in the second half and scored two late goals for a commanding victory. But to no avail.

Ultimately, the action determining whether Germany could advance to the Round of 16 was taking place in the other Group E match, where Japan defeated Spain 2-1, assuring both those teams will advance.

Japan beating Spain has to be an upset. From the NYT:

It was an incredible match.

Spain had expectedly dominated the ball in the first half, keeping Japan on the chase and then, striker Alvaro Morata had secured the opening goal for Spain early in the match too.

But Japan stood up a phenomenal campaign against La Roja Fuera, getting two goals one after the other in the 48th and 51st minutes. Spain was just unable to reply throughout the second half.

The Blue Samurai’s triumphant advance to the Round of 16 atop Group E is especially spectacular give the stats: the team only had possession of the ball for less than 20% of the entire match, and lesser attempted shots at the Spanish goal too.

Spain also squeaked through to the knockout round as Costa Rica failed to defeat Germany.

Five minutes of highlights for aficionados. Spain goal at 0:42 ; Japan goals at 2:04 and 2:31,

And Costa Rica loses to Germany. Though Germany won, Deutschland ist am ende. Likewise with Costa Rica—both gone.

*From the BBC via Malcolm: kitten hitches 250-mile ride on a lorry engine. Look at this lovely kitty, currently named “Yorkie”:

Yorkie had an adventure:

The owner of a kitten which is thought to have hitched a 250 mile (400km) ride under the bonnet of a lorry is being sought by the RSPCA.

The black and white cat was discovered when an Asda truck, which had travelled from Southampton, delivered to a supermarket in Liscard, Merseyside.

The RSPCA said: “He arrived covered in oil and very frightened but thankfully otherwise unscathed.”

Nicknamed Yorkie, the charity is urging his owner to get in touch.

He has been scanned to see if he was micro-chipped – which would have shown details of his owner – but unfortunately no chip was found.

The RSPCA said: “We can’t imagine how frightened he must have been travelling down the M6 at 60mph next to a big noisy engine.

“Poor Little Yorkie has had quite a journey and we are really keen to find his owners.
Protip: Check under your “bonnet” (aka “hood”) before you drive off, especially in winter. And if “Yorkie” were a true Yorkshire cat, he’d say to other cats: “You think YOU had it bad in winter: I had to keep warm by riding on the engine of a lorry to Merseyside!”

*The Associated Press has a large collection of what it considers its best photos of 2022, though the year isn’t over yet. Here are a few with their captions, but click to enlarge them. There are 153 photos–go see them all!

Bodies are lowered into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022, as people cannot bury their dead because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

 

A resident wounded in a Russian attack lies in an ambulance before being taken to a hospital in Kherson, Ukraine, on Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

 

A teacher dries out books at a school that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, on Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Mahtab, an 8-year-old Hazara Shiite student, poses for a photo in her classroom at the Abdul Rahim Shaheed School in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 23, 2022, days after a bombing attack at the school. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Relatives and friends attend the funeral ceremony for 4-year-old Liza, who was killed by a Russian attack along with 22 others, in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, on July 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s on the roof of the veranda and wants to get into the lodgers’ flat. She asks Szaron for a favor.

Hili: Can you let me in?
Szaron: No, but Paulina will surely do it when she puts her camera away.
(Photo: Paulina)
In Polish:
Hili: Czy możesz mnie wpuścić?
Szaron: Nie, ale jak Paulina odłoży aparat to pewnie cię wpuści.

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

From Reader Pliny the in Between’s Far Corner Cafe: The first page of his Advent calendar, “Christmas in the Donbas”:

From Merilee:

From Malcolm: A kid who, amazingly young, produces great art out of wire:

The two people I “follow” on Twitter for humor (and by “follow” I mean “go and look at their feeds”) have gone largely silent: The Tweet of God and Titania McGrath. And so we begin with Masih, who runs not a funny site but a passionate and compassionate one, fighting for the civil rights of Iranians, especially women:

From Simon and Smith Powell: a Biblical AI song about ducks, and it’s not half bad. Amazing what computers can do!

From Malcolm; what a lovely way to show the Earth’s rotation!

From Barry, who says “this cat proves to be a surprisingly competent piano player”. Sound up, of course, and click on “Watch on Twitter”:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a Norwegian Jew marched to his death.

And some tweets from Manchester Uni’s renowned Professor Cobb.  Speaking of ducks, here’s some convergent evolution.

From the ScienceNews summary:

Natovenator polydontus may be the first known nonbird dinosaur to have possessed a streamlined body comparable to that of modern diving birds, researchers report December 1 in Communications BiologyNatovenator and other closely related dinosaurs may have been swimming predators, the researchers say, challenging the popular notion that all dinos were landlubbers.

Natovenator was small like a duck and probably used its forelimbs when swimming, says Yuong-Nam Lee, a vertebrate paleontologist at Seoul National University in South Korea. “We think that Natovenator lived in shallow water and ate small fish,” he says.

Of this census of Jews in England and Wales, Matthew says, ”

Surprised it is so few. I had never thought about it but I suppose I would have guessed around a million. Not sure why.
Maybe because NOBODY THINKS ABOUT THE JEWS! 🙂

I love this one:

RIP, Christine McVie

December 1, 2022 • 1:30 pm

Christine McVie died the other day at the young age of 79.  Stevie Nicks got most of the attention for Fleetwood Mac’s vocals, but let’s not overlook McVie’s singing, keyboard work, and songwriting. (Plus she could play an instrument that wasn’t the tambourine.) Here are three more songs in her honor; they are all songs she wrote. (I put up my favorite one the other day.)

Everywhere” (1987). I love these live performances, which are every bit as good as the recorded ones.

You Make Loving Fun“, from 1977’s Rumors album, also written by McVie:

Little Lies” (1987):

Fleetwood Mac was, like the Eagles, one of the groups I ignored when they were popular and only discovered them much later. But when I did, I couldn’t get enough of them. Now only Mick, John, Stevie, and Lindsey remain.