Readers’ wildlife photos

February 2, 2023 • 8:15 am

Again I appeal to readers to send in their good wildlife photos. Let’s keep this feature going!

Today’s post features photos by stalwart regular Mark Sturtevant. Mark’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are insect pictures from two summers ago.

I had recently shown the European earwigForficula auricularia, and here we go again. The rear pincers are modified cerci appendages that many insects have. Cerci are commonly used as sensory appendages, but earwigs have adapted them for a number of uses that include defense, handling prey (they are omnivores), and males use them for jousting. Toward that end, earwig cerci are dimorphic between the sexes. The first picture is a female, and the next are males. Besides being larger, male cerci come in different sizes and sometimes they are asymmetric. You can see males fighting with their cerci in this video. It also explains why some cerci are a bit lopsided.

There seems to be some debate about name “earwig”. There is the myth that they may crawl into peoples’ ears, but another claim is that the name has to do with their remarkable hind wings that are ear-shaped when unfolded. The unfurling of their wings is pretty impressive, and you can see that in slow motion below:

Next is a picture of a spined assassin bugSinea diadema. This is a predatory insect.

I was in the woods one day when I came across this unidentified leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) in a bush. I was negotiating how to photograph the beetle, but a stink bug nymph suddenly appeared from behind and impaled it! Some stink bugs are predators, and I have seen them with dispatched prey that are much larger and more powerful than they are. One can fairly wonder how such slow insects might be predatory, but I guess it just takes a poke from their proboscis and their victim is secured. The stink bug is Podisus sp.

The beetle dragged the bug behind for several minutes, but the bug grimly hung on. Meanwhile, a bundle of needle-like styli would be scissoring their way into the beetles’ innards, and digestive juices would be injected.

Gradually, the beetle began to slow, and then it was immobilized. A small murder in the woods!

Next up is a two-striped planthopperAcanalonia bivittata. “Planthoppers” encompass a number of insect families, this one being Fulgoridae. There are also “leafhoppers” and “treehoppers”. One day I should try to memorize what the differences are supposed to be. All of these and other related families were once in their own insect order, the Homoptera (“uniform wing). But now they are awkwardly but I expect correctly absorbed into the order Hemiptera (“half wing”), along with the above stink bug.

Here is a nymph of what is likely the two-spotted tree cricketNeoxabea bipunctata. This is a young male, and you can see it is developing the specialized front wings that are used by males for chirping, and the larger fan-like hind wings which they fly with. In adults, the hind wings are of course folded up and covered by the front wings. But at this earlier stage the position of the wings are curiously reversed so that the hind wings cover the front wings.

I had found this tiger beetle that was disabled, and so I could pick it up. Tiger beetles are predators that use their good vision and considerable speed to tackle small prey. There is dispute about the taxonomy of this group. They had long been placed in their own beetle family (Cicindelidae), but others have placed them within the ground beetle family (Carabidae). I can say only that there are many ground beetles that resemble tiger beetles, and tiger beetles that look like ground beetles, and whatever side you are on there is agreement they are closely related. Tiger beetle mandibles look pretty imposing, but the bite strength of this small one isn’t detectable. I did not think to get the species.

Next is a large ichneumon wasp, Megarhyssa macrurus, which had apparently recently emerged as an adult and was not quite ready to fly. The extraordinary ovipositor hanging off the rear is considerably longer than its body, and is used to drill into wood to lay an egg in a wood-boring sawfly larva.

Finally, I expect that most people know that scorpions fluoresce under UV light. Actually, UV fluorescence appears here and there among arthropods in general, and plants will also fluoresce under UV. It’s fun to go out at night with an inexpensive LED UV flashlight to see what turns up.  Your own back yard becomes fairly transformed into a semi-alien world. Leaves, flowers, and sometimes arthropods will blaze in day-glo colors.

I had found that aphids also fluorescence under UV light. Here are poplar tree aphids (Chaitophorus populicola), first in regular light, and then under UV light. There are two issues here, though. There is some motion blur from the aphids because the exposure needed to be long. And although the aphid fluorescent color seems pretty accurate, the leaf color is wrong since it is supposed to be deep red under UV. My current flashlight is cheap, and it certainly does not put out only UV light.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

February 2, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Thursday, February 2, 2023: National Tater Tot Day. This comestible was invented in 1953, and Wikipedia says this:

Tater tots are grated potatoes formed into small cylinders and deep-fried, often served as a side dish. The name “tater tot” is a registered trademark of the American frozen food company Ore-Ida, but is often used as a generic term. “Tater” is short for potato.

They’re actually not bad if you treat them like French fries and dip them in ketchup. Some people even make them into casseroles! See below, but be sure to serve it with a stent!


Finally, it’s California Kiwifruit Day (a friend calls them “gorilla balls”), Crêpe Day, Heavenly Hash Day, Hedgehog Day, Marmot Day, World Ukulele Day, National Sweater Day (in Canada), Sled Dog Day, World Wetlands Day, and, in Russia, Victory of the Battle of Stalingrad.

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

Da Nooz:

*Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked the applications of both Finland and Sweden to join NATO. He can do that because Turkey is already a NATO member, and to get in an applicant nation needs unanimous assent of other members. Although Erdogan has shown signs of bending, he’s now putting religious restrictions on Sweden’s application:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed Wednesday that Turkey won’t allow Sweden to join the NATO military alliance as long as the Scandinavian country permits protests desecrating Islam’s holy book to take place.

Turkey, which had already been holding off approving Sweden and Finland’s membership in the Western military alliance, has been infuriated by a series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm. In one case a solitary anti-Islam activist burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy, while in an unconnected protest an effigy of Erdogan was hanged. Even before that, Ankara had been pressing Sweden and Finland to crack down on exiled members of Kurdish and other groups it sees as terrorists, and to allow arms sales to Turkey.

Turkey has indefinitely postponed a key meeting in Brussels that would have discussed the two Nordic countries’ NATO entry.

“Sweden, don’t even bother! As long as you allow my holy book, the Quran, to be burned and torn, and you do so together with your security forces, we will not say ‘yes’ to your entry into NATO,” Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling party’s legislators.

For crying out loud! Sweden protects Quran burnings, just as America does, because both countries have freedom of speech. And Erdogan wants to keep a nation that should be in NATO on the sidelines because it has freedom of speech? What is Sweden supposed to do: modify its speech laws so that there’s still freedom of speech except when it comes to burning the Qur’an?

*I was not aware that the College Board actually designed curricula rather that just made standardized tests, but it turns out they do. And one they designed: an AP (“advanced placement”) curriculum in African-American Studies, has been controversial, especially (of course) in Florida. In fact, when Governor DeSantis banned that curriculum in Florida, the College Board caved completely and redesigned the course for the whole country, leaving out the bits that DeSantis et al. didn’t like. The link to the new curriculum plan (234 pages long) is at the first link below:

After heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released on Wednesday an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives.

The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.

And it added something new: “Black conservatism” is now offered as an idea for a research project.

When it announced the A.P. course in August, the College Board clearly believed it was providing a class whose time had come, and it was celebrated by eminent scholars like Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard as an affirmation of the importance of African American studies. But the course, which is meant to be for all students of diverse backgrounds, quickly ran into a political buzz saw after an early draft leaked to conservative publications like The Florida Standard and National Review.

In January, Governor DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who is expected to run for president, announced he would ban the curriculum, citing the draft version. State education officials said it was not historically accurate and violated state law that regulates how race-related issues are taught in public schools.

The attack on the A.P. course turned out to be the prelude to a much larger agenda. On Tuesday, Governor DeSantis unveiled a proposal to overhaul higher education that would eliminate what he called “ideological conformity” by, among other things, mandating courses in Western civilization.

In another red flag, the College Board faced the possibility of other opposition: more than two dozen states have adopted some sort of measure against critical race theory, according to a tracking project by the University of California, Los Angeles, law school.

David Coleman, the head of the College Board, said in an interview that the changes were all made for pedagogical reasons, not to bow to political pressure. “At the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” he said. The changes, he said, came from “the input of professors” and “longstanding A.P. principles.”

Well, Coleman sounds disingenuous to me. As for the curriculum, unless they have said exactly how they construe CRT and what aspects of it are to be banned from the classrooms, I can’t sign onto that. I could, I expect, look at the two curricula side by side, but can’t be arsed to do that. Perhaps a reader could, or has done. The one thing I’m wondering is whether the 1619 Project, the NYT’s own curriculum meant to be used in schools, and which is infused with CRT principles that are dubious, will conflict with the College Board AP curriculum, and whether there will be Curriculum Wars.

UPDATE: Reader Bat sent me a list of what’s changed in the new curriculum, taken from an article at The Hill. The main changes:

What is gone:

Topics that were originally required material, but got taken off of the coursework completely include:

  • Black queer studies
  • Intersectionality and activism
  • The reparations movement
  • Black scholars associated with critical race theory, or CRT

What is new:

Among others additions, an optional project called “Black conservatism: development and ideology” was added to the curriculum, drawing attention after the previous GOP criticism of the course.

*I was also not aware that the odious Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga: two abbreviations that spell trouble) had attacked Joe Biden for being a Nazi.  She did, and House Democrats are trying to censure her for it.

House Democrats are again seeking to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) over Joe Biden is Hitler” social media posts. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) introduced a resolution on Thursday.

The move comes after Greene posted on Twitter that “Joe Biden is Hitler” and subsequently tweeted a doctored video of the president with a small mustache standing at a lectern with swastikas in the background dubbed with audio of the Nazi leader.

Schneider first drafted a censure resolution last summer after Greene repeatedly compared the coronavirus vaccine and mask mandates to the Holocaust. But Schneider dropped the resolution after Greene visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and issued an apology for what she called her “offensive” remarks.

In a statement provided to The Washington Post, Schneider said Greene’s latest comments “demonstrate that clearly, she has not learned, or worse perhaps, she doesn’t care.”

“Rep. Greene demonstrated that her apology in June 2021 was insincere and that she remains devoted to sullying the reputation of the House of Representatives,” Schneider added.

There’s no doubt she’s an anti-Semite: remember when she said that the wildfires in California could have been set by a Jewish conspiracy equipped with space lasers?  I personally find her lunacy amusing, but if it sparks hatred of Jewish people it isn’t so funny.

I tried to find the Biden/Hitler tweet, and came up with this. I was disappointed because there’s no audio and no mustache on Biden.

*From Ken: “Welcome to Literacy Week in the Sunshine State.” They took all the books out of the library! This is part of a statewide initiative, and the video comes from WJAX channel 4. The YouTube notes say this (Duval County is in extreme NE Florida):

Districts across the state — including Duval County Public Schools — are performing a mass review of all classroom libraries and media centers after the Florida Department of Education handed down directives intended to comply with state law.


And the WaPo has more skinny on Florida’s ongoing classroom library saga, which we’ve discussed before. The censorship is spreading.

School officials in at least two counties, Manatee and Duval, have directed teachers this month to remove or wrap up their classroom libraries, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. The removals come in response to fresh guidance issued by the Florida Department of Education in mid-January, after the State Board of Education ruled that a law restricting the books a district may possess applies not only to schoolwide libraries but to teachers’ classroom collections, too.

House Bill 1467, which took effect as law in July, mandates that schools’ books be age-appropriate, free from pornography and “suited to student needs.” Books must be approved by a qualified school media specialist, who must undergo a state retraining on book collection. The Education Department did not publish that training until January, leaving school librarians across Florida unable to order books for more than a year.

The new law comes atop an older one that makes distributing “harmful materials” to minors, including obscene and pornographic materials, a third-degree felony — meaning that a teacher could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, a spokeswoman from the Florida Department of Education said Tuesday.She suggested violating House Bill 1467 might yield “penalties against” an educator’s teaching certificate. Still, because of uncertainties around enforcement and around what titles might become outlawed, school officials have warned teachers that their classroom libraries may expose them to the stiffest punishments.

Even if you think there should be this kind of censorship, and one person who carries it out, surely harboring a “non age-appropriate book” in your classroom should NOT be a felony!  Some teachers have thousands of books in their classroom collection. And here’s a heartbreaker:

. . . Marie Masferrer, a board member of the Florida Association for Media in Education and a school librarian who used to work in the Manatee County system and remains in close touch with former colleagues in that district, said they have told her that students are struggling.

At one school, “the kids began crying and writing letters to the principal, saying, ‘Please don’t take my books, please don’t do this,’” Masferrer said.

*I’m not sure what to think of this, but the BBC reports that a member of the Labour Party, known for its anti-Semitism in the recent past, has been forced to apologize for leveling a slur at Israel (h/t Jez):

Labour MP Kim Johnson has apologised for describing Israel’s recently-formed coalition government as “fascist”.

The Liverpool Riverside MP made the comment in Parliament, as she asked Rishi Sunak about “human rights violations” against Palestinians.

She apologised shortly afterwards, after being ordered to do so by party bosses.

The MP said she acknowledged using the term ‘fascist’ was “particularly insensitive” given Israel’s history.

“While there are far-right elements in the government, I recognise that the use of the term in this context was wrong,” she added.

The BBC has been told she was told to apologise by party whips for the remarks, described as “unacceptable” by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman.

Yes, she was insensitive with that word, but she has freedom of speech. I would disagree with her, and I think that Christopher Hitchens would have a few things to say about bandying about the word fascist. Regardless of what you think of the right-wing government with Netanyahu back at its head, it is not “fascistic”. It is not autocratic, the most important characteristic of fascism. Hitler was a fascist, and that’s why applying the term to Israel was in poor taste.

But this is inexcusable to me (again, it’s still free speech):

Ms Johnson also apologised for saying, during her intervention during Prime Minister’s Questions, that rights group Amnesty International had described Israel as an “apartheid state”.

“Whilst I was quoting accurately Amnesty’s description, I recognise this is insensitive and I’d like to withdraw it,” she added.

If there’s an apartheid state in the Middle East, it’s Palestine, which allows no Jews to live in the country and oppresses women, apostates, and gays. In fact, I’m curious why the term “apartheid state” is never applied to the Palestinian Territories.

I suppose Labour made Johnson apologize because it makes the party look bad again, not because they have any love for Israel. You can see Johnson’s 37-second apology at the head of the BBC article.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili sees a glass half full (nice photo of her, too!)

Hili: Do you think that rationalism has a chance?
A: Here and there, probably.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy sądzisz, że racjonalizm ma szansę?
Ja: Tu i ówdzie chyba tak.


From Nancie, a John Atkinson cartoon:

From Barry: an explanation of how dogs were domesticated:

From Malcolm, a honking huge organ playing Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King”

A peevish God who’s flounced off Twitter makes a statement that, I think, is wrong:

Masih dedicates a standing ovation to Iran’s martyrs for democracy and women’s rights (there are subtitles). I’m not sure where she’s speaking here.

Dawkins is touring Australia and New Zealand soon; if you’re an Aussie or a Kiwi, you can get tickets at the site given in the tweet:

I found this on Twitter. I wish I had a mom in India who would send me care packages like this!

From Susan, a militant squirrel:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a 20 year old who lived just 6 days after arriving at Auschwitz:

Tweets from Matthew. First, a high-rise friendship:

I think this duck will drink water only if it’s ice water from McDonald’s. Sound up to hear its plaintive quack!

The “FT” is the Financial Times, and I spurn their advice. “Data” is plural, “datum” is singular:

Sleeping ducklings

February 1, 2023 • 11:45 am

When I am looking for a specific photo, I often have to scroll back through gazillions of photos in my iPhoto library to find it, for I haven’t labeled many of my pictures. And when I am scrolling, I’m stuck by the number of duck pictures I have. But that makes me both happy and sad: I remember the good times but I’m sad that we won’t have ducks and ducklings this summer.

I don’t even know if they’ll let us have ramps to let any ducklings leave the water. Here’s a photo from two years ago or so showing a brood of ducklings that decided to nap on the ramp. How can you be glum looking at this?

Click the photo to enlarge it. Note the closed nictitating membranes of the sleeping babies:

Ideology burrows deep into the arts in America

February 1, 2023 • 10:15 am

I’ve been involved in writing some stuff about how Social Justice ideology—following Pluckrose and Lindsay, our capitals indicate the harmful form of social justice—has infected science, like my piece the other day on Biden’s plan to foster both equity and excellence in the arts. That turned out to be a plan to foster equity, with excellence simply equated to “equity” or seen as an inevitable byproduct of equity. The more I dig into how science is interacting with culture, the more worried I get that science really is under the thumb of Social Justice, and that merit and quality are being thrown under the bus in the name of “equity”. (I refer to proportional representation by presence in the U.S., not “equality of opportunity or treatment,” which poses no threat to anything.)

This new article by Rikki Schlott (a writer and activist) at the Free Press shows how deeply the termites have already dined in the arts. In fact, every endeavor, every field of work, and every organization in America is being ideologically captured by Social Justice, and this article shows how invidious it’s been in the arts—especially theater and ballet.  I am now beginning to worry that our society is gradually transforming its culture into one resembling Stalin’s Russia, where every endeavor, including science and art, had to be done in the service of official ideology. In the end, that killed both science, much of which died a slow death under Stalin, and art, which we all know became tedious, political, and homogeneous under the same regime.

Schlott’s article also notes that in September of last year Biden signed an “Executive Order on Promoting the Arts, the Humanities, and Library Services” that is largely about advancing equity, though there are a few bits that seem to be identity-blind. But this account of what’s happening to the arts is hair-raising. It’s not due to the government, but to social pressure, to funding agencies who refuse to give money to artists unless they demonstrate a commitment to DEI, and to cultural authoritarians who, for example, refuse to hire a white sign-language interpreter to help deaf people understand words spoken by black people.

Click to read, and, as always, subscribe if you read often.  I have resubscribed and managed to keep the initial $50 price per year, though I think it’s gone up for new subscribers (in fairness, the site has hugely expanded its stable of writers):

Art can properly be political of course (“The Crucible” is one example), but now all art is forced to be political, and artistic organizations forced to adhere to prescribed DEI criteria—ideologies. The piece starts with the story of Lincoln Jones, a (white) choreographer for the American Contemporary Ballet Company (ACBC). Because he refused to politicize his organization by putting a sign of support for Black Lives Matter on the company’s Instagram account, he lost a ton of funding, and it’s not clear that the ACBC will survive. It’s not that he disapproved of BLM, but that was trying to be institutionally neutral:

“Our dancers were free to post whatever they wanted on their own social media, but I knew I wasn’t going to do it on the company account,” [Jones] said. “That’s not part of our mission.”

Then the social media pushback began, demanding that Jones adhere to BLM publicly. Some of his dancers revolted too. Then he compounded the assault by making a few statements that poured oil on the fire:

In the face of mounting pressure from the dance world, Jones sent an email to his employees clarifying his position. “American Contemporary Ballet is not a political organization,” he wrote. “Our mission is great dance. It is not our prerogative to represent each other politically.”

. . . When an agent he hired to find funding and get a director for the project told him he needed to hire dancers of color from outside his company to get the film made, Jones objected.

“One of the things I will not do is hire by race or give preference by race,” he said. “Ballet does discriminate, just not by race. This is a highly athletic art form that discriminates by body, talent, and artistic sensitivity. You have to have a certain kind of feet and proportions. It’s not just a convention. It’s like an opera singer having a loud voice.”

That’s when he began losing funding—big time. The refusal to take race into account is a slap in the face of DEI, even though it comports with Dr. King’s famous words. Even conductors who audition potential orchestra musicians behind a screen, so that neither sex nor ethnicity can be known, are being criticized explicitly because they refuse to take race and gender into account.  

Jones is in trouble, and so are the arts in general as they become politicized. There is pushback, but it’s largely anonymous because speech has been chilled.

That bargain—pledge allegiance to the new orthodoxy or stick to your mission and risk your career—is one now faced by many in the world of American fine arts.

I spoke to more than a dozen people working in dance, music, theater, and the visual arts. Some have won Pulitzer prizes. Others are just at the beginning of their careers. What they all have in common is a concern that DEI—short for diversity, equity, and inclusion, a catchall term for racial equity initiatives—is creeping into the arts and politicizing artistic expression.

But only a tiny number of those people have blown the whistle.

There are some “whistleblowers” who have gone public and even sued for being discriminated against because they were white (and got settlements), but in general people are fearful. It’s okay to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, but only if you were a private foundation that gets no federal funding. In other cases there can be no discrimination against “protected classes.” But there is: plenty of it, and, in the article, is based on race. Comply with DEI demands or give up a career in ballet, theater, or even visual arts:

Even some artists who are far in their career are too scared to comment about the new DEI demands.

“Artists already have enough challenges, and now we have all these layers of bureaucracy and mandates,” said one Pulitzer Prize–winning creative, who asked me not to print his name or even his field because he fears reprisals. “Artists are just too vulnerable to the vagaries of funding and cultural trends. Even those who are successful just can’t risk it. A freelance artist’s career could be over tomorrow if they make a fuss.”

He said he worries about America’s new generation of artists. “I’m established. I’m far enough along in my career that it doesn’t affect me as much as it does artists in [the younger] generation.”

Brent Morden is one of them. Morden is a white, 25-year-old music and choir director in New York City. Though he’s only at the beginning of his career, he said he’s already felt the crunch of funding and lost opportunities because he doesn’t tick any diversity boxes.

“When I see commissions or opportunities that are specifically looking for females or LGBTQ or BIPOC people to apply, I just sigh, wonder what this achieves, and move on,” he said. “Artistic institutions are adopting mission statements that sound nice and virtuous, but if you dig deeper under the surface, they’re promoting an agenda that doesn’t promote true and fair diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Two more bits for your enlightenment (I added the link to Landesman):

[Morden’s] feelings are echoed by renowned Broadway theater producer Rocco Landesman. From 2009 to 2012, Landesman served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts under the Obama administration. He told me he started noticing DEI creeping into the arts world around 2013 and has “no doubt” that “we’re seeing increasingly coercive guidelines.”

Landesman said he was shocked when, in 2019, a San Francisco school board voted to paint over a mural at George Washington High School that depicted the life of America’s first president, because it was deemed offensive to black and Native Americans.

“When you have art actually being destroyed because it doesn’t fit into a certain view of the world, that’s extremely alarming,” Landesman said.

Though the board reversed its decision last year, the controversy shows how the left has turned its back on the arts in the name of pursuing diversity, Landesman said.

“It’s shocking to see that proposed by progressives. I never thought we’d come to that point—it’s an amazing turn to see liberals be literally anti-art.”

Some information about how funding for art, like funding for science, depends increasingly on adherence to specific DEI criteria:

Today, many of America’s arts funders have made social justice the criteria for grants. Of the two dozen foundations I surveyed that are based in New York and California and fund the arts, fifteen either professed allegiance to DEI principles on their websites or explicitly stated they strive for racial equity via philanthropic endeavors. Of the handful of actual grant applications I could get my hands on, several required DEI statements or demographic data from applicants.

The S. Mark Taper Foundation, for instance, which doles out roughly $6 million in grants a year focused on arts, education, and social causes, has committed itself to “a continuing examination of privilege” ensuring “grantmaking that aligns with the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.” As part of their application, each organization must provide a list of their board members’ titles, length of service, and racial and ethnic profiles.

And the Ford Foundation, one of the most influential charitable organizations in the country, boasting a $16 billion endowment, has led a group of fifteen major donors in dedicating $160 million specifically to BIPOC arts organizations.

The parallels with science are multifarious: funding organizations, social media, and other artists are demanding adherence to Social Justice standards (in science we also have deans and administrations putting the pressure on). The whole situation is summed up by Landesman:

“We’re taking first-rate artists and making them into third-rate political activists,” he said.

“Art is supposed to unsettle us; art challenges what we feel about ourselves,” he continued. “But most of the art today affirms commonly held views of our society. You either fit in or you perish.”

In the first line, you could well replace “artists” with “scientists”.  All in all—and this is not something I would have said two years ago—this forced ideological conformity is turning American culture into a modern version of the culture of Stalin’s Russia. In such a situation, quality is always eroded by ideology. And it’s not like this is the view of most people, because it isn’t. It’s the doing of a fraction of the populace who happen to be both loud and into grabbing power.

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ scripture as literature

February 1, 2023 • 9:00 am

The latest Jesus and Mo strip, called “creator,” came with the email note, “Were they written by mere humans? Indubitably!”

I will say this again, especially to those people who think that the Bible is a great work of literature: it is not. In some translations, like the King James version, there are bits that are lovely, but if you found a Bible in a used book store, and it had not taken hold as the basis of a religion but was just a one-off piece of writing, you’d start reading it and then throw it in the bin when you got to the “begats” part at the beginning or the tedious instructions about how to build the Ark of the Covenant. It’s horribly uneven. with most of it tedious—unlike truly great works of literature, which are absorbing throughout.

(About the Qur’an there’s no question; it’s dreadful literature, as is the Book of Mormon.)


Readers’ wildlife photos

February 1, 2023 • 8:15 am

I urge you once again to send me some good photos. Thank you very much!

Today we continue with part 2 of reader Kevin Elskin’s trip to Scotland (part 1 is here). His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

When we left off I was munching a delicious sandwich in the village of Lochranza on the northwest coast of Arran, Scotland. We soon boarded a ferry for the short trip across Kilbrannan Sound, the western arm of the Firth of Clyde, to Claonig on the Kintyre Peninsula. A view from the ferry back toward Lochranza and Arran. Gotta’ get back to Arran.

As one heads north and west in Scotland, the Scottish Gaelic language is spoken more frequently and information signs are often given in both English and Scottish Gaelic. I took a photo of this sign on the ferry. They certainly use vowels and consonants in interesting combinations!

Our destination was the village of Machrihanish, which is on the western shore of Kintyre. The drive was about an hour [note: we did not drive a vehicle once on this trip, thanks to my good friend Dick Smith who organized this mayhem and found drivers to haul us around. Not an easy task when you head to remote areas of Scotland, and especially after the pandemic shut down the tourist trade and many taxi companies and private drivers went out of business. No Uber or Lyft out here!].

After dinner I took a brief walkabout and immediately ran into one of the locals. Look at the beautiful stripes on that kitty. Friendly boy, too!

A common sight in Scotland, old stone walls and sheep.

A view of the bay on a summer evening.

The next day we continued our golf adventures at Machrihanish Dunes, a modern course located on the dunes just north of the village. Below is a photo of the course looking back toward the town.

The origin of the term ‘Links’, as it relates to golf, is that the original courses were laid out on the ‘links land’, i.e., the land that linked the town to the sea. This land was unsuitable for farming, and was use to graze animals, mostly sheep. Early golf courses were not so much built as they were discovered, using natural features to create courses that fit into the environment, because they were the environment. Machrihanish Dunes has done a good job of matching the course with the environment, and they have been recognized for their sustainability efforts. Here are some of the locals on the course:

The next day we played the original Machrihanish Golf Course, which was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1879. I am not sure when I became aware of this course, but the opening tee shot, which is played across the ocean, has been dubbed the best opening shot in golf. So getting there and having a chance to play that shot was a long held ambition. Here I am on the first tee at Machrihanish sporting a hot pepper shirt lovingly made for me by my better half (and my tee shot found the fairway!). It was a great day for golf.

Below is either a photo of Shai-Hulud or deep-fried haggis. We had haggis three different ways on this trip: on a burger, on nachos, and deep fried (all were quite tasty).

But back to the other reason to visit Scotland: whiskey. We toured the Springbank Distillery just across the peninsula in Campbeltown. [JAC: Springbank has long been my favorite single malt whiskey.]

As you might recall I had shared a photo of some lovely two row barley, which is the base for making whiskey. Before barley can be mashed and fermented, it must be malted. The malting process involves soaking the barley kernels in water and allowing the germination process to begin. As germination proceeds, enzymes are developed; and later in the mash these enzymes will break up the starch molecules in the barley kernel into simple sugars that yeast can consume and turn into alcohol. Traditionally, barley was floor malted, meaning that after it was soaked in water it was spread out on the floor and turned regularly to be sure that the germination process continued without excessive heat buildup or spoiling. I think most barley is malted in drums today, but at Springbank they still do things the old-fashioned way. Here is a photo of the floor malting process, note the marks of the special rakes used to turn the barley:

Once the maltster has determined the germination has proceeded far enough, the malt is kilned, which is to say heated and dried.  But in this part of Scotland there is a twist: the kilning process uses peat smoke, and this gives the whiskey a distinctive smoky flavor. Here is the peat:

In case you would like to distill your own, here is a diagram, as Arlo Guthrie might say, with circles and arrows to indicate motion:

And you can just bury me here:

Our visit to Kintyre finished with a visit to Dunaverty golf course on Mull (south end) of Kintyre. I have shared one photo from here previously, but since this is a travel story there is more to tell. The small peninsula in the foreground was the location of Dunaverty Castle, built in 13th century and for the next 400 years it was the site for Braveheart-level mayhem – I will refer you to the story of the Battle of Dunaverty.

On a related Why-Scotland-Is-So-Fascinating note, it turned out that one of our caddies for an earlier round was the greenskeeper at Dunaverty Golf Course for 30 years. He was born at and to this day lives at a house adjacent to the course. His family has lived in the area since the 1600s. Everyday stuff in Scotland.

The last photo is just a random, but typical, house located down the street from Dunaverty. But it is so typical of so many houses in Scotland – neat with beautiful little flower gardens in front, just a pleasure to behold. Which bring me to an observation about Scotland versus the USA. I have lived my entire life in basically two places – Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Pennsylvania. When you go out in the country there you invariably see a house that looks as though the inhabitants have tossed every bit if trash they have ever generated right into their front yard. Appliances, cars, clothes, sheets, what have you. In all the travelling we did in Scotland, I never saw such a sight. Not every house had a flower garden, but they were always neat, at least. Is this a real thing, or I am I just being too tough on my fellow countrymen? Please comment.

Next time: Aquaholics take us to Ireland.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

February 1, 2023 • 6:45 am

Weather addendum: it was 6° F (-14.4° C) this morning when I walked to work.

Welcome to both a Hump Day (“siku ya nundu” in Swahili) and the first day of the month, Wednesday, February 1, 2023. That means it’s National Cake Pops Day (one of the worst ideas for a treat I know of.

But it’s also these food months.

Canned Food Month
National Chocolate Lovers Month
National Cherry Month
National Grapefruit Month
National Snack Food Month
National Potato Lovers Month
Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month
National Hot Breakfast Month
!st week of Feb- African Heritage & Health Week
3rd Weekend of February: National Margarita Weekend
“Superbowl Sunday” : National Pork Rind Day (aka National Pork Rind Appreciation Day)

It’s also National Baked Alaska Day (warning of future global warming), Decorating with Candy Day, National Dark Chocolate Day, Change Your Password Day, National Serpent Day, National Girls and Women in Sports Day, World Read Aloud Day, and National Freedom Day , the day in 1865 when Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery (it wasn’t ratified by the states until later).

And, appropriately, it’s the start of Black History Month (United States and Canada)

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the February 1 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Newly elected Republican Congressman George Santos from New York, who is also one of the most arrant liars of our time, having faked his entire past, has said that he’s not stepping down from his set just because he “embellished his resume” a little. Of course he should resign given that he’s not only a serial liar, but is wanted for check fraud in Brazil. It’s amazing that the Republican House leadership still supports him. But fall he must, and it’s already beginning:

Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is stepping down temporarily from his committee assignments amid multiple investigations into his campaign finances after he lied about key aspects of his biography.

Santos, who has admitted to fabricating details about his education, work, religion and heritage since his election in November, told House Republicans in a closed meeting Tuesday that he would remove himself from his assignments on the House Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The temporary retreat from committees marks Santos’s first major concession after weeks of maintaining a steadfast resistance to any consequences over his fabrications.

Santos told colleagues he will step down because “he’s a distraction,” according to a Republican lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. The conversation comes one day after Santos met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

In that meeting, Santos and McCarthy discussed various scenarios, according to people familiar with the conversation. Santos asked if his committee spots could be held in reserve until the conclusion of an investigation by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, the people said. McCarthy expressed support for that idea, telling the New York congressman that he appreciated it.

Santos should leave his House seat as he’ll be a permanent distraction, especially as the Brazilian government starts charging him with crimes. And his personal flaws are so obvious that he cannot be effective. The sick part is that the House is majority Republican, and if the House eventually votes on booting him out, he won’t get booted.

*From the NYT comes the story of an unusual friendship between two people of divergent stripes, as if a cat befriended a mouse: “One of the strangest friendships in Washington.

It might be the strangest friendship in Washington.

He’s a well-known Christian conservative who speaks out against gay marriage and abortion. She’s a former civil rights lawyer who has spent much of her career fighting to desegregate schools and protect transgender kids from bullying.

Given their résumés, one might think that Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, and Anurima Bhargava, who worked in President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, would be adversaries — if they ever crossed paths at all. Yet, over the past five years, they have managed to forge a bond that transcends politics and proves that you don’t have to agree on values here at home to promote basic human rights abroad.

They met in 2018, when they were both appointed to serve on the nine-member U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a quasi-governmental body of unpaid volunteers that investigates religious persecution abroad. Mr. Perkins was appointed by Mitch McConnell; Ms. Bhargava by Nancy Pelosi. On the commission, they spoke up for the rights of Yazidis in Syria, Baha’is in Iran and Muslims in India. Even after their terms expired in 2022, they kept in touch.

What does it mean when a Hindu from the South Side of Chicago joins forces with an evangelical Christian from Louisiana to fight for the rights of religious minorities abroad? Maybe it means that we’re all human, and when we lean into that common humanity, good can come of it. Mr. Perkins, Ms. Bhargava and their fellow commissioners pushed for the release of people imprisoned for their beliefs, including a Quranist Muslim in Egypt, an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan and a Christian pastor in Turkey.

And their friendship has had salubrious effects on the religious freedom commission:

For the moment, the commission, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October, is proving that it can be a rare bipartisan success, despite the division “religious freedom” can spark here at home. Thanks, in part, to efforts by Ms. Bhargava and Mr. Perkins, it has largely overcome the partisan infighting that plagued its early years. Christians helped push through the confirmation of President Biden’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom — Rashad Hussain, a Muslim — at a time when other ambassadorships were held up. This year’s international religious freedom summit, which opens on Jan. 31, lists both Samantha Power, President Biden’s U.S.A.I.D. administrator, and Newt Gingrich as speakers.

It’s sad that the bipartisan friendship is categorized—correctly—as “rare”. Surely there are many views that are shared by individuals on both Right and Left, but polarization prevents any “reaching across the aisle.” It’s ineffably sad, but I see the report above as at once heartening but also likely to remain the exception.

*CNN reports plans to resurrect the extinct dodo. It will not work because of difficulties in genetic manipulation of eggs, but, more important, they are NOT resurrecting an extinct creature. At great labor and expense, they are trying to put a few dodo genes into a pigeon genome, hoping to get something like a dodo. That won’t happen: the genetic differences are too great, many trait difference are based on many genes that remain unknown, and at best we’ll get a multiply mutant pigeon (h/t: Barry)

Now, a team of scientists wants to bring back the dodo in a bold initiative that will incorporate advances in ancient DNA sequencing, gene editing technology and synthetic biology. They hope the project will open up new techniques for bird conservation.

“We’re clearly in the middle of an extinction crisis. And it’s our responsibility to bring stories and to bring excitement to people in way that motivates them to think about the extinction crisis that’s going on right now,” said Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Shapiro is the lead paleogeneticist at Colossal Biosciences, a biotechnology and genetic engineering start-up founded by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church, which is working on an equally ambitious projects to bring back the woolly mammoth and the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger.

Shapiro said that she had already completed a key first step in the project — fully sequencing the dodo’s genome from ancient DNA — based on genetic material extracted from dodo remains in Denmark.

The next step was to compare the genetic information with the dodo’s closest bird relatives in the pigeon family — the living Nicobar pigeon, and the extinct Rodrigues solitaire, a giant flightless pigeon that once lived on an island close to Mauritius. It’s a process which would allow them to narrow down which mutations in the genome “make a dodo a dodo,” Shapiro said.

At least CNN mentions some of the problems in this foolish endeavor:

However, the subsequent work that’s needed to resurrect the animal — programming cells from a living relative of the dodo with the lost bird’s DNA — will be significantly more challenging. Shapiro said she hopes to adapt an existing technique used involving primordial germ cells, the embryonic precursors of sperm and eggs, that has already been used to create a chicken fathered by a duck.

The approach involves removing primordial gems cells from an egg, cultivating them in the lab and editing the cells with the desired genetic traits before injecting them back to an egg at the same developmental stage, she explained.

Even if the team is successful in this high-stakes endeavor, they won’t be making a carbon copy of the dodo that lived four centuries ago, but an altered, hybrid form.

HA!  No, not even a hybrid. A hybrid has half its genes from a pigeon and half of its genes from a dodo. CRISPR gene editing won’t even get close to that. If this project works, which it won’t, it will produce, as I said, a multiply mutant pigeon which at best will be weak and unfit.

Truly, I wonder why people not only do this, but why scientists and journalists haven’t spoken up about how hopeless these endeavors are. (To be fair, Matthew has criticized George Church’s project to resurrect the wooly mammoth, which at best will produce an elephant that needs a shave.) The mammoth-dreamers promise us “mammoth calves” between 2025 and 2027. Anybody wanna bet?

*There’s a big kerfuffle in Scotland about the treatment of transgender women: biological men who self-identify as women. The background, according to a reader, is this: “Scotland has passed a law allowing men to gender self-identify as women and then be moved to women’s prisons.”  The report below implies that that law, however, needs to be approved by the UK, which seems reluctant to approve.

The result, according to the BBC, was dire: a man who was convicted in Scotland of raping two women decided to change gender while awaiting trial (I’m not sure if there was any surgery or hormone treatment, but there was certainly a change in asserted self identity) and the new “she” was put into a woman’s prison. There was an outcry, and the prisoner was moved back to a men’s prison:

A trans woman who raped two women before she changed gender has been moved to a men’s prison, BBC Scotland understands.

Isla Bryson was remanded to Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling after being convicted of the rapes when she was a man called Adam Graham. She has since been moved to HMP Edinburgh.

Bryson decided to transition from a man to a woman while awaiting trial.

She was taken to a male wing of HMP Edinburgh on Thursday afternoon.

It came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that Bryson would not be allowed to serve her sentence at Cornton Vale.

Remember that Bryson had already been put in a women’s prison according to Scottish law. this put Sturgeon in a difficult bind. If transwomen are women, and the law is the law, why was Bryson transferred to a men’s prison. Sturgeon stammered and equivocated (see below), and then decided that, at least in Bryson’s case, transwomen were not identical to biological women!

Bryson is due to be sentenced next month after being convicted of the rapes on Tuesday. It is thought to have been the first time a trans woman has been convicted of raping women in Scotland.

But where that sentence should be served has been the subject of heated debate, with concerns being raised about the safety of other women in the female jail if Bryson was placed there.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation last month aimed at making it easier for people to change their legally-recognised sex, but Ms Sturgeon has said the changes did not play any part in the Bryson case.

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill has been blocked by the UK government over its potential impact on equalities laws that apply across Scotland, England and Wales.

.  . . Ms Sturgeon said she expected that Bryson would not be at Cornton Vale in Stirling by the end of a 72-hour segregated assessment period, which ended on Thursday afternoon.

The first minister also stressed it was careful that people “do not, even inadvertently, suggest that trans women pose an inherent threat to women”, adding: “Predatory men, as has always been the case, are the risk to women.” BUT Bryson was a predatory biological man who identified as a woman. In other words, moving Bryson to a men’s prison did indeed suggest that trans women can pose a threat to biological women (note that she draws a distinction between “women” and “trans women”).

Speaking to journalists outside the chamber, Ms Sturgeon said she had not given any “formal direction” to the Scottish Prison Service on removing Bryson from Cornton Vale.

A spokesman for the first minister would not say if it was now Scottish government policy to bar all rapists from female prisons.

Here’s Bryson before transitioning:

From a later BBC piece:

Opposition parties say the government’s handling of the row has been “botched”, and characterised by “chaos, confusion and U-turns”.

The controversy began last week when Isla Bryson, who now identifies as a woman, was convicted of two rapes committed prior to her gender change.

Pending sentence, Bryson was initially remanded to Cornton Vale women’s prison, near Stirling – prompting an outcry – before she was transferred to HMP Edinburgh.

. . .At the weekend it was reported that another transgender woman, Tiffany Scott – who was convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl before her transition and has a history of violence – was due to be moved to the female prison estate.

Justice Secretary Keith Brown then announced a “pause” on the transfer of transgender prisoners, with a history of violence against women, to women’s prisons. An urgent review is now taking place into the Bryson case and there is an ongoing review by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)

Now this is not a common situation, as there are only 15 transgender prisoners in Scottish jails (7 in men’s prisons, six of which are trans women; and 8 in women’s prisons, 5 of which are trans women). But what this shows is that the mantra “trans women are women” and “trans men are men” sometimes doesn’t hold in practice when other factors like jail are involved. (Another of these factors should, of course, be athletic participation.)

J. K. Rowling, often accused (wrongly) of being a transphobe, took at dig at the situation. The video of Minister Sturgeon Posed by Rowling below is funny, as Sturgeon tries to completely avoid a dogged reporter’s question about whether trans women like Bryson really are women. Sturgeon can’t bear to respond “not in every circumstance,” but that’s the tenor of her answer. Politicians! (A “TERF” is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist”—a pejorative term for feminists who, like Rowling, have been characterized by trans activists as transphobes.)

Rowling is terrific (or should I say TERFic?); she’s an example of how everyone should react to horrific and unfair smear campaigns. Of course, she’s a billionaire and can’t be canceled, but I’d like to be her friend.

*There’s trouble at the Houston Zoo: Dorito-eating miscreants are stealing and releasing the animals. Two lovely monkeys were just taken or let loose. Even a clouded leopard got loose recently, but it was recovered.

When police said two small monkeys were taken from the Dallas Zoo this week and a cut was found in their enclosure, it deepened a growing mystery that has included other cut fences, the escape of a small leopard and the suspicious death of an endangered vulture.

Police said Tuesday that they’re still working to determine whether or not the incidents over the last few weeks are related. Police, who haven’t made any arrests in any of the incidents, released a photo and video Tuesday of a man they want to talk to about the missing monkeys.

The photo shows the man eating Doritos chips while walking, and in the video clip he is walking down a path.

Here’s what is known so far about the incidents:


The zoo closed Jan. 13 after workers arriving that morning found that the clouded leopard, named Nova, was missing. After a search that included police, the leopard weighing 20-25 pounds (9-11 kilograms) was found later that day near her habitat.

Police said a cutting tool was intentionally used to make the opening in her enclosure. A similar gash also was found in an enclosure for langur monkeys, though none got out or appeared harmed, police said.

On Jan. 21, an endangered lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead by arriving workers. Gregg Hudson, the zoo’s president and CEO, called the death “very suspicious” and said the vulture had “a wound,” but declined to give further details.

Here’s what the two monkeys who were purloined, emperor tamarins (Saguinus imperator), look like (Dallas Zoo via AP). The name reportedly comes from their prominent mustache, making them look like the German Emperor Wilhelm II.

Wilhelm II, who doesn’t look like this monkey (the ‘stache, for one thing, is curled the wrong way):

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili mourns the winter, as she always does. Doesn’t she look sad?

Hili: Evenings are getting longer and less dark.
A: But it’s still a long time until spring.
In Polish:
Hili: Wieczory robią się dłuższe i mniej ciemne.
Ja: Ale do wiosny daleko.


From Merilee, a Wayne and Piraro cartoon:

From Beth:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Masih. It’s weird that both Orthodox Jews and strict Muslims ban mixed-sex dancing. In this case, the crime was compounded by anti-regime activism. Click on the blue button to see this horrible crime.

From Rita King, a Futurist at the :

From Malcolm. The cat likes it! (There’s music.)

From Gravelinspector, who adds, “We’ve all laughed at the creationist’s ‘argument’ of ‘what use is half a wing?’. And here, in a quite domestic setting, is an example of sequential replacement and acquisition of additional function.”

From the Auschwitz Memorial. Gassed upon arrival; ten years old.

Tweets from Matthew. Alison Martino is the daughter of the late singer Al Martino:

You can read about this narcissistic bear (and see more selfies) at the Guardian; it was on the NBC news two nights ago:

On the first day of February, I declare this the Tweet of the Month for January:

The smartest dog in the world?

January 31, 2023 • 2:00 pm

I have four writing projects to finish, so for the next few days posting will be light. Bear with me; I do my best.

Here’s an 8.5-year old 60 Minutes segment largely about Chaser, a border collie touted as the “world’s smartest d*g” and “the most important d*g in the history of scientific research.” Chaser is a border collie, of course.  The show displays demonstrations of her “intelligence”: she’s learned the names of over 1,000 toys, including a variety of different balls with different names. She also knows the difference between nouns and verbs. This does not, of course, mean that the dog knows language, as in “language with syntax” but it shows an extreme ability to associate words with objects.

Chaser and some other dogs we’re shown, understand the meaning of “pointing”, though I’m not sure that the demonstration we see distinguishes pointing as a referent to the object pointed at from pointing as a command “come to what’s by my finger.” We’re also shown brain scans of other dogs demonstrating that different parts of their brains light up when they smell their owners as opposed to a stranger, but that’s what happens when a dog learns by association, which isn’t the kind of “intelligence” I expected.

The real question is whether dogs can solve novel puzzles: putting together separate bits of knowledge in a useful way.  Can they do, for instance, what crows can? I don’t think so.

I’m not trying to diss dogs here, nor extol cats; I have, so to speak, no dog in this fight. I just wish the show had shown the kind of intelligence evinced by other animals. That it, it could have discussed “intelligence” and demonstrated the different varieties.

As they say on the show, border collies are both bred and trained to understand commands, so I’m not surprised that Chaser wins the prize for understanding commands and learning the names of toys. When I was in England and the telly was on, I was always transfixed by “One Man and his Dog”, a televised competition between border collies and their trainers to see which teams best herd sheep. And I’ve even seen this skill in person in New Zealand. Regardless of whether this evinces “intelligence”, sheep-herding behavior is impressive and (to me) mesmerizing.

Here: have an hour of “One Man and His Dog”:

Princeton students call for dismantling the student honor code because it “mirrors the criminal justice system”

January 31, 2023 • 10:15 am

Like all universities, Princeton has an Honor Code to reinforce academic integrity by preventing cheating, plagiarism, and other practices that allow students to claim credit for someone else’s work. This code is laid out at an online site that gives not only its stipulations, but the procedure to be followed if a student violates the code, and then the University’s punishments if a student is found guilty. Here’s the essence of Princeton’s code:

Article II. Violations

      1. The Honor Pledge
        1. The Honor Pledge is as follows: “I pledge my honor that I have not violated the Honor Code during this examination.” This must at all times be written in full on the examination paper and signed by the student on the examination. Any undergraduate who fails to write and sign the pledge on the examination paper will be reminded to do so by the instructor. If the instructor or the Committee cannot promptly obtain the written and signed pledge, the student will be reported to the Committee for investigation. Unwillingness to sign the pledge following notification by the instructor or the Committee will be prima facie evidence of a violation of the Honor Code.
      2. Violations
        1. Violations of the Honor Code consist of:
          1. Any attempt to gain an unfair advantage in regard to an examination, both inside and outside the examination room.
          2. Any attempt to give assistance, both inside and outside the examination room, whether the student attempting to give assistance has completed their own work or not.
        2. Specific violations include, but are not limited to:
          1. Tampering with a graded exam;
          2. Claiming another’s work to be one’s own; and
          3. Obtaining or attempting to obtain, previous to any examinations, copies of the examination papers or examination questions, or any illegal knowledge of these questions.
          4. Other actions in violation of the policies set forth by the professor.
      3. Dishonesty
        1. Committing dishonesty, defined as lying to or purposely misleading the Committee, is also a violation of the Honor Code. It will not be considered dishonesty for a student to maintain their own innocence.
      4. Findings of Responsibility
        1. A student will be found responsible if the Committee finds overwhelmingly convincing evidence that the student ought reasonably to have understood that their actions were in violation of the Honor Code.
      5. Reporting Suspected Violations
        1. Every student is obligated to report to the Honor Committee any suspected violation of the Honor Code that they have observed. The Committee will make every attempt to ensure the anonymity of reporting students. Students may make reports by emailing, contacting the chair directly, or any member of the committee.

And there are two committees that adjudicite the various types of cheating that can occur:

All written examinations, tests, and quizzes that take place in class are conducted under the honor system. All violations of the honor system are the concern of the Undergraduate Honor Committee. Violations of rules and regulations pertaining to all other academic work, including essays, term papers, laboratory reports, and take-home examinations fall under the jurisdiction of the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline.

The process of reporting and then judging violations given at the site seem to me eminently fair to the accused—far fairer than, say, Biden and Obama’s procedure for judging violations of Title IX. But you can read about Princeton’s procedures at the site.

Now, however, an op-ed at the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper, says that code must be “dismantled”, and for two reasons. First, the Honor Code mirrors the procedures of a criminal justice system that, says author Emilly Santos, disproportionately hurts African-Americans and impecunious Americans.  Second, at Princeton the Code disproportionately affects first-generation low-income students (FLI), “students who often also belong to racial minorities.

The explicit message of Santos’s article is that the Honor Code should be ditched. But she never really follows that up, suggesting at the end just two changes that actually leave most of the code in place. This is deeply confusing.

Santos is identified as “a prospective physics major in the class of 2025, also pursuing certificates in Gender & Sexuality Studies and Portuguese Language & Cultures. 

Click below to read her piece:

The accusation: (“CJS” stands for America’s criminal justice system). Note that she calls for dismantling the code (bolding is mine).

Princeton’s Honor Code, tasked with holding students accountable and honest in academic settings, mirrors the criminal justice system in its rules and effects. It is harmful to the entirety of the Princeton community: the fear it instills in students fosters an environment of academic hostility. But it is often most damaging for first-generation low-income (FLI) students — students who also often belong to racial minorities.

Princeton, as an institution that aims to educate world leaders and brands itself with social justice discourse, must first address the existing parallels between the CJS and these smaller-scale systems we subscribe to. Specifically, we must re-examine the role of the Honor Code and Honor Committee in our community. The University should lead by example by dismantling the Honor Code system, which acts as a barrier to social mobility and a more equitable society. Only once such internal injustices are addressed can we make real-world changes.

. . . The process of reporting and investigating an Honor Code breach parallels the criminal justice system by mimicking processes of questioning, evidence gathering, witness depositions, and an eventual move to trial, or hearing. In the same way a criminal record haunts previous convicts, any Honor Code violation for which a student is found responsible follows them in their transcript, overshadowing the accomplishments of attaining a Princeton degree and making it difficult for students to find employment opportunities.

Pity, pity: Santos apparently wants no permanent record if you are found guilty of cheating. Does she favor abolishing criminal records as well? (Some already get expunged under rare circumstances.)

If you don’t cheat, you needn’t fear. This code no more instills fear in students than the criminal justice system instills fear in law-abiding citizens. And any system that punishes those who cheat will instill fear in those who want to cheat. Of course, students have to know the Code exists to understand what conduct is prohibited, but I’m pretty sure they learn about it during orientation and on syllabi for courses.

Now, Santos’s accusation that the Code causes inequities:

Previous reporting on the Honor Code has shown the negative effects of the Honor Code process on FLI students. There can be financial, social, and academic repercussions. When caught up in the Honor Code system, FLI students may not have the institutional knowledge on how to navigate such a process in the same way their white and wealthier counterparts might.

The severe punishments, ranging from a reprimand to expulsion, meted out to students accused of Honor Code violations negatively affect all students, but are especially harmful to FLI students. One common punishment for violating the Honor Code is suspension from school for a semester or more. However, the subset of suspended students who have to repeat semesters because of disciplinary action are not eligible for financial aid during their repeated term. This contingency makes the Honor Code a monumental threat to FLI students, who, without financial aid, would find themselves thousands of dollars in debt as a result of student loans, which are suggested as an alternative way of funding study at Princeton. These effects of the Honor Code can have devastating impacts on FLI students — students who rely on a Princeton education for the chance of upward mobility but instead find themselves deep in debt.

If you look at the two links in the first sentence, you’ll find no evidence that the negative effects of the Honor Code on FLI students are worse than their effects on non-FLI students, except in the financial hit that it causes. The second link (“has shown”) gives opinions and anecdotes but no evidence of disproportional harm to FLI students. The first link (“reporting”) simply makes an assertion based on financial burdens, and it’s from the Daily Princetonian as well:

Disproportionate impact on FLI students

One of the strongest criticisms leveraged against the Honor Code over the years points to how the system appears to put low-income students at a unique disadvantage. Leo said that, in his own experience, it felt as though the system “disproportionately affects students of color and FLI students.”

“Latinx and FLI students I’ve spoken with who have been called before the Committee discussed the extensive anxiety induced by the Committee’s initial phone call,” Soraya Morales Nuñez ’18 wrote in 2017 in a guest opinion piece for the ‘Prince.’ “Others who have testified before this Committee told me about experiencing severe intimidation as well as unnecessary mental and emotional distress at the hands of peers that walk the same halls as us.”

Yes, but any student accused of cheating and up for a hearing will be scared. Where’s the evidence that “Latinx” and FLI students have more anxiety? It goes on

Students receiving financial aid who are found responsible for an Honor Code violation also experience an added financial burden compared to students who pay full tuition.

“If you are required to repeat a semester for disciplinary reasons,” the University’s financial aid award terms state, “you will not be eligible for a University grant for the repeated term. Student loans may be requested to cover your need in this situation.”

This financial disadvantage may be true, but seems to me irrelevant to whether a student has committed an Honor Code violation and what the punishment should be. If you get financial aid and cheat and are suspended, it would be deeply weird if you’re paid for the semester during which you’re suspended. The aid is for attending college, not sitting out a semester because you transgressed. But Santos wants subsidized cheating breaks (see below).

Finally, there’s supposedly a disproportionate penalty in “loss of respect”:

FLI students, like many students, are often afraid of disappointing family and friends. A lack of community support in these situations also puts FLI students at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers, whose communities often include people who are college-educated and have been exposed to academic integrity systems similar to Princeton’s Honor Code, and may understand the process better.

This makes little sense to me.  Your friends and family should be disappointed if you’re found guilty of cheating, and the claim about “support networks” helping wealthier students more is mere speculation without evidence. As for FLI students not “understanding the process”, I noted above that I’m pretty sure that the students are told about the rules from the outset. Princeton students, you now, are not dummies, even the FLI ones, as the soft bigotry of this accusation implies.

After calling for dismantling the Honor code, Santos appears to become timorous toward the end and makes just two recommendations that, far from dismantling the Code, just tweak it a bit:

The University can, and should, take tangible steps towards making the Honor Code a more equitable aspect of Princeton. The University should make financial aid continually available to students who must repeat a term because of disciplinary punishment, as the punishment unfairly targets FLI students, who are unable to complete their Princeton education without access to financial aid.

Secondly, students convicted of Honor Code violations should have an option to attach a letter from a faculty member to their transcript, in which a faculty member can attest to their development since the violation. Finally, the University should offer sessions aimed at educating students on how the Honor Code works. These approaches can begin to limit the injustices FLI students face on campus and can better prepare every student to fight injustice outside the Orange Bubble.

I disagree with the first suggestion because people who cheat are not entitled to financial rewards during the period of punishment (when a person goes to jail, their salary isn’t paid while they’re in stir—except for Palestinians who are jailed for killing or wounding Israelis and are part of the “pay for slay” system). I’m not sure about the letter from a faculty member, which has the potential of being abused by a student choosing a sympathetic faculty member rather than an objective assessor.

I doagree with the last recommendaton: there should be at least some orientation about how the Honor Code works and where to look it up.  If that guidance doesn’t exist, it should. But remember that students learn from the beginning of elementary or middle school that cheating is wrong, and the Honor Code is in the student handbook. Again, Princeton students are the elite, entitled, and the smart. One can presume that they know that cheating is wrong, and if they have any questions it’s easy to get them answered.

h/t: Ginger

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 31, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have something new: thermal imaging by Peter Nothnagle. His narration and captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Seen in a Different Light

A couple of years ago, as a sort of cheer-myself-up-during-lockdown gift, I bought a FLIR C2 thermal camera. That’s a pocket-sized camera that detects infrared light and displays it in a variety of false color schemes. It covers a wide temperature range and it’s very sensitive to differences in temperature.

Cameras like this are marketed to plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians – and indeed I’ve found it useful in those pursuits, but it’s also a lot of fun to play with. I don’t really need this thing, but it’s loads of fun to walk around and see what energy is emanating from everyday objects. Take, for example, this manhole cover (are we allowed to say “manhole” anymore?):

Can you tell how much water is in my rain barrel just by looking at it?

I like exploring obscure old cemeteries in the Iowa countryside:


Those were taken just before Halloween, but disappointingly there were no ghosts. They must have been busy elsewhere.

And now for a little wildlife. The other day a couple of deer (Odocoileus virginianus) spent much of the day in my back yard. Spot the deer!

Here are the deer!

[The blob on the left is the heat signature of the neighbor’s back window]

Bare tree against a winter sky:

And finally, a thermal cat (Felis catus)…

… and where the cat had just been sitting on the floor. You can even see the heat left by her paws as she walked away.