All the posts I make here go automatically to Twitter, and since those include the Jesus and Mo posts, which regularly get reported as “offensive” (those posts are also removed in Pakistan thanks to the cooperation of WordPress), many of my completely apolitical and innocuous posts get a “trigger warning”, like this one from yesterday. Below is how I see it:
But some people, like reader Cate, see it (and many other of my tweets) as below: having “potentially sensitive content”. You have to click “View” to see the links and other things (in this case, a picture of a bird).
Cate went through the “change settings” procedure, which I replicated; this enables you to always see the full tweet with “sensitive content” without clicking “View”. I’ve added screenshots; her sequence of steps, which is easy, is indented.
Ok, here’s the maze they put you through:
On the lefthand side menu of Twitter, choose “More.”
From that menu, choose “Settings & Privacy”:
Then “Privacy & Safety”:
When you click the “Privacy and safety” arrow to the right, this is what you see:
Now click the arrow to the right “Content you can see” –and check the box next to “Display media that may contain sensitive content.”
Once it’s checked, as below, you’re (supposedly) home free:
So if you’re annoyed by these “sensitive content warnings,” do what’s above. There’s little to lose unless some content really disturbs you. Like pictures of birds.
There are two items today that I commend to your attention.
The first is Andrew Sullivan’s latest newsletter on The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot below), in particular his main piece on a new phenomenon: people confronting politicians or those whom thy oppose in private venues, and harassing them or vandalizing their property. You might remember that this started in the days running up to the Trump election, when people would accost Republican politicians in restaurants, scream at them, or, sometimes, the restaurant owner would ask them to leave. Although some readers thought this was fine, I didn’t. People should be able to dine in restaurants in public with their families and be left in peace, whether they be Trumpites or Bernie bros. (Most of the hectoring was done by the Left, but as Sullivan notes in this week’s column, the Right is not immune.)
Both sides need to lay off disturbing people’s regular lives, for it has no salubrious result; it allows some people to blow of steam while hardening the divisions in America. And it inspires other people to go off on their enemies in public.
Click on the screenshot to read, and remember to subscribe if you read often:
The title itself shows one example of Leftist damage to the home of Oakland’s mayor. As you see, it says “defund the OPD [Oakland Police Department]”, “cancel rent!” (that would work well) and so on. That mess of paint requires serious cleaning up! Sullivan cites a bunch of examples of similar attacks by the Left, but you can read for yourself. I’ll adduce one more: the mayor of Portland, Oregon had to move because protestors went after his condo, even breaking windows of other people’s offices and throwing burning material in them. Yelling at people is insufficient these days! No, you have to follow them into the bathroom and yell at them in their stalls when they’re trying to micturate, as happened to Kyrsten Sinema.
And attacks by the Right as well:
Although not as persistent or as widespread as the far left’s invasion of the privacy of public figures, the far right is not innocent either. LA Mayor Garcetti’s residence was targeted by anti-lockdown activists; LA County’s public health director was also targeted at home; some folks brought menacing tiki-torches to the Boise mayor’s home; in Duluth, Trump supporters organized 20 trucks to circle the mayor’s home. Over the new year, Nancy Pelosi’s private home was vandalized, graffiti written on her garage door, and a bloody pig’s head was thrown into the mix for good measure.
There are also attacks on school board members around the country, who favor teaching the concepts of critical race theory to kids, or are implementing Covid mask policies. It’s fine and good to protest; it is not fine and good to force these people and their families to live under personal siege.
Anti-mask demonstrators, for example, hounded one Brevard School Board member and mother, Jennifer Jenkins, at her Florida home, at one point coming to her doorstep and coughing in her face. She later testified that she was ok with demonstrators outside her home, but that “I object to them following my car around, I reject them saying they are coming for me and I need to beg for mercy … that they are going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors. That they’re making false DCF [child welfare agency] claims against me to my daughter. That I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go underneath her clothing and check for burn marks. That’s what I’m against.”
All of this is to make the point that the personal is not political, a phrase that never made a lot of sense to me. Sullivan, like me, is opposed to this kind of stuff, and is and was also opposed to outing closeted gays. As he says, “I have long felt that way even about ‘outing’ public figures who have bad records on gay rights. Legitimize outing gays to combat homophobia and you legitimize other people outing gays in order to shame and humiliate.”
Sullivan ends like this:
What we’re losing, I fear, is the idea that we can take on a role as public citizens that is separate from our role as private human beings; that we can place limits on what the state can do to us, and what we can do to each other. As Hannah Arendt perhaps best grasped, a liberal society is almost defined by its belief that politics has limits, and that it exists to defend us from either the government or our fellow citizens leveraging private human flaws for political purposes. There are, in fact, many worse things than hypocrisy. Shamelessness, for example. The first is human; the second is sociopathic. I want to live in a world where the former prevails.
The idea that “the personal is political” is not just a glib phrase. It is actually best exemplified by totalitarian systems, which seek no limits to their authority over private matters, even those matters that are buried deep in your mind and soul, and which enroll citizens into becoming mutual spies in pursuit of heretics. I don’t want to live in that transparent, unsparing, brutalizing world. It turns us all into spies; it gives no one space to think or escape; it is devoid of mercy and gives no benefit of the doubt.
Let’s not lose the distinction between public and private. Let’s remember that everything we decide to do to violate the privacy of others comes back to legitimize others’ violation of ours. The immediate payoff may be gratifying; but what it does to a society over time, as the tit-for-tats cascade, is to remove the chance for civil debate, and enhance the power of personal hatred, and, ultimately political violence. That’s where this leads: a descent from civil argument to civil war.
That last sentence might be hyperbole, but it’s not out of the question.
Can we have a little civility around here? America is so polarized that even at the University of Chicago, when our administration refused to get rid of its police department, students camped out in the street in front of our Provost’s house for a week (an illegal act, but the police let them be for a while), and even painted a parking space for the Provost, who’s of Chinese descent. She’s not by any means a racist, but that’s the worst thing that the Woke can call someone, and so they painted it in front of her house, helpfully in Chinese and English (I don’t even know if she reads or speaks Chinese). “CareNotCops” is the local student “progressive” group.
Second item (h/t Paul): a 28-minute interview of Bari Weiss by Brian Stelter, CNN’s lead reporter on the media. The topic is why she, like Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, and others, have moved from “MSM” to Substack. Click on the screenshot below to go to the page with the audio interview, and then on the arrow by the header below.
As Stelter notes, Weiss now makes a lot more money on Substack than she did before she resigned from the New York Times, but I’m sure she did it for the freedom to write without censorship, not for money (she couldn’t predict that she’d get over 100,000 subscribers). She indicts the NYT for pushing a defined narrative rather than “all the news that’s fit to print.” She wants her column, Common Sense, to be “the op-ed column I would like to read”, the place that cover stories that the MSM won’t touch. She gives a laundry list of “the ways that the world’s gone mad”; you’ll be familiar with many of them, including MIT’s cancellation of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot’s invited lecture, which was completely ignored by the major media save the Wall Street Journal. (She also indicts CNN itself.)
In the end, her aim is to publish things that will affect our “fear-based society” in a good way, so that people don’t become afraid, as many are, to say what they think. Stelter pushes back at some points, and it’s a very good interview.
A week ago I wrote a piece on the firing of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (AIC’s) 122 volunteer (unpaid) docents, who were let go because they were not sufficiently “diverse”. The Art Institute now plans to hire fewer docents who will be paid $25 per hour, with much less training, to guide people around the museum. They will surely be ethnically more diverse than the jettisoned docents, who were largely older white women—some of them donors to the AIC.
My post on that got the most attention, in terms of views, of any post over the last several years. Have a gander:
That’s pretty much all the reporting from “MSM”. The most comprehensive coverage was in fact an article by Dennis Byrne on his website at ChicagoNow.com, The Barbershop, which reproduced the letter firing the docents and the group’s response to being ditched. That site is not read by as many people as is the MSM, so I suppose people glommed on to my summary as a news article. Conservative news did pick it up, but you still won’t find boo about it in papers like the NYT or Washington Post. That’s a shame, because the AIC’s action should kindle a debate about the ethics and tactics of how the AIC acted, and about how to achieve “racial reckoning”. (As many readers observed, there are ways to diversity the docents without firing any of them.)
Now the Wall Street Journal, whose readers surely include many potential donors to the AIC, has written an op-ed outlining the story. Though the WSJ is conservative in its op-eds, and criticizing the AIC has been something largely limited to right-wing papers, this editorial gets the facts right and isn’t aren’t nearly as hard on the AIC as was the Chicago Tribune. You can try to read it by clicking below (judicious inquiry might yield you a copy should you fail), but you won’t learn much more than what Byrne and I put in our posts.
However, here are two items from that op-ed that were new to me:
The chairman of the AIC, Robert Levy “insisted that the plan had been in the works for 12 years.” If that’s true, the man is reprehensible, for the docents were given no warning; they were fired by an email from the AIC’s Woman’s Board Executive Director of Learning and Public Engagement Veronica Stein. Seriously, you don’t tell the docents that their termination is being considered? Who does that?
A quote from a docent:
“It was nearly a full-time job,” said Dietrich Klevorn, a docent since 2012. (Ms. Klevorn was the only docent who agreed to speak to the Journal, rejecting the institute’s request that they not talk to the media.) “We had to spend a lot of time physically in the museum studying works of art, researching, putting tours together,” she continued. “We had to be very comprehensive about everything as we talked with them, moving through the space.”
As I said, the WSJ isn’t nearly as intemperate about the AIC as was the local paper, but it does have a no-nonsense conclusion that also raises the possibility of a phased-in increase in diversity:
Still, the Art Institute hasn’t explained why they had to be jettisoned en masse and not diversified over time. The museum appears to be in the grips of a self-defeating overcorrection. It has adopted the language of diversity, inclusion and equity so completely that it was willing to fire the same upper-middle class volunteers it relies on for charitable donations.
Changes to the program may mean that the museum connects to younger and more diverse visitors, Ms. Klevorn said, but it will come at a cost. The Art Institute “will offer far less opportunity for people to have human docents taking them through the museum.”
In their public statements, both Ms. Stein and Mr. Levy referenced their understanding of the museum’s civic role. Mr. Levy even condemned critics as “egregiously anti-civic,” as though objecting to diversity quotas meant rejecting the nation’s civic institutions. What they don’t seem to understand is that those civic institutions have always relied on the volunteer work of women with enough public spirit to donate their time and enough money to afford to do so. These wealthy women form the mortar of the nation’s civic institutions, and we’ll miss them when they’re gone.
In the name of what they call civic-minded diversity, the museum has thrown overboard a group of people who actually see it as their duty to help the public understand art. That’s not very civic-minded, is it?
That’s not rabidly right-wing, either, is it? But the piece, appearing in a widely-read venue, isn’t going to do the AIC any good.
But I want to say a few things. Though for several days my site got six to eight times the normal traffic, all because of that AIC piece, and though there were 157 comments, there would have been a lot more comments had I let all the nasty or racist ones through. Yes, there were white supremacist comments, and a lot of people being strident about “reverse racism”.
I let some of those appear, depending on their civility, but I don’t see diversifying the AIC docents as “reverse racism.” Yes, you can characterize it that way, because you’re discriminating in favor of people of color and against whites, but I see it more as a form of reparations rather than demonization. If you’re in favor of any kind of affirmative action, you can be accused of reverse racism. I’m willing to bear the epithet because I favor some forms of affirmative action. But I hasten to add that the AIC’s mass firing of docents, rather than a program that increases diversity as docents retire, is cruel and hamhanded. However, their desire to diversify the staff is not. (That diversity, by the way, should include class as well as race, as there are few “regular people” docents. And that means paying all the docents, unless some are willing to work for free while others get a paycheck.)
I’m for a reasoned dialogue on race and equity, but some of the comments I got sound just like things that would come out of the mouths of Proud Boys. My conclusion is that there is a lot of pent-up anger about DEI initiatives. Some of it is justified by actions like the AIC’s firing, but there’s definitely an element of racism in some of the comments you didn’t see. And that makes me sad.
You want an example? Here’s one from someone named “Steve”, who’s apostrophe-deprived:
Wake Up White People.
This is what your future will be if you dont start standing up for yourselves and quit being such stupid pushovers.
Don’t let these SCUM guilt you….
Be PROUD to be White….I AM.
Our ancestors/people accomplished 1000x more than any other race. They hate us out of sheer jealousy. And make NO MISTAKE….They DO hate us….HATE US !!!!
Start speaking up!!!!
There is NO SUCH THING as “White Privilege” Its called HARD WORK.
All the Lefts HATRED and Marxist “key Words” are just meant to divide us.
Just remember…. The Left Project and Deflect…
They call everyone else Fascist or Racist… Because that is what THEY ARE….
There are others like this.
And one more just came in while I was writing this; from one “swimologist”:
The ONLY effort that should be made is hiring competent people, race be damned. Many companies used to have aptitude tests for hiring, but reliably low-I.Q. blacks failed them, and lawsuits were filed claiming “disparate impact,” so NOW we these same companies require degrees for jobs that don’t NEED them. Just another way the black undertow plague drags America down.
Writing this website has a downside you don’t see: all the racists, loons, and rude people that infest America and feel they have to have their say here.
The two greatest forces changing the frequency of gene variants in a population are natural selection and genetic drift. You’d better be familiar with natural selection by now, but genetic drift isn’t widely appreciated by non-evolutionists. It’s simply the change in frequency of genetic variants due to chance alone: the random sorting and representation of variants from one generation to the next, due not to any inherent increment or detriment to reproduction conferred by the genes.
Teaching genetic drift to students often involves letting them represent a population by choosing marbles out of a sack. If you have ten marbles in a sack, five red and five blue (representing a population with equal frequencies of two genetic variants), and choose five to be the genes in the parents of the next generation (population size must be finite), then you might get three red ones and two blue ones. You then make a new sack with the new population’s frequencies—6 red marbles and 4 blue ones. The frequency of the red variant has risen from 50% to 60%. Lather, rinse, and repeat, and you’ll see the frequencies of the marbles change each generation due to chance alone. Given enough time, all the marbles will be the same color, and then no further change can occur (this is called “fixation”). Thus we see gene-frequency change (which most of us define as “evolution”) occurring, but there’s been no natural selection, no deliberate choosing of marbles of one color. I often gave my students examples of gene frequency change in one population and said “what would you do to determine if this is due to selection?” (Answer: set up replicate populations. Selection will always drive the same variant to high frequency, while with drift you will get diverse and opposite changes among the replicate populations.)
The smaller the population, the greater the changes in gene proportions will occur (i.e., the stronger the “genetic drift”). In fact, if the population is small enough, genetic drift can overcome natural selection, increasing variants that actually diminish reproduction. When you see small populations with high frequencies of odd variants, or even deleterious ones, you might begin to suspect the action of drift. Inbreeding can be seen as a form of genetic drift in a small population of restricted size, which is why one sometimes sees high frequencies of genetic diseases or defects in small populations of humans (here are some examples in the Amish).
The paper below, from the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows a likely case of genetic drift involving a gene variant that causes bigger and darker stripes in tigers in India. You can read it by clicking on the screenshot below, or get the pdf here (the full reference is at the bottom of post).
There’s also a PNAS commentary on the paper above if you want the short take. Click on screenshot below, or get the pdf here.
India is home to two-thirds of the world’s tigers, and natural populations are often fragmented because of habitat destruction, and can also be small because of past hunting. A sampling of Indian tigers from wildlife reserves and zoos showed that one area, the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha, had a high proportion of darkly striped tigers called “black tigers”. This is not the same as the melanism we see in black leopards and jaguars—both called “black panthers” though they’re different species. Below is a black tiger (right) compared to a “normal” tiger (click all figures to enlarge them.)
Below is a map showing where the authors sampled tigers. Circles are natural populations, and squares are zoos or captive reserves. The size of the circles and squares represents the sample size of tigers. I’ve put an arrow pointing to the area of interest, the Similipal Tiger Reserve.
Black tigers are seen only in Similipal Tiger or in small reserves or zoos. The pie charts also show the frequencies of individuals that have zero (yellow), one (orange) or two copies of the mutant gene causing the unusual pattern (black color). The diagram below shows that black tigers “m/m” are found only in the wild in Similipal, but are also seen in two zoos, where they’ve probably been selected for breeding because they’re unusual. Further, the black tigers in the zoos all were founded by at least one ancestral individual from Similipal.
For some reason that one small wild population has a high frequency of the black variant (“allele”). (There are a minimum of 12 adult tigers in Simlipal, which is a minimum estimate. But there can’t be many more than that, as the rangers can identify the tigers.)
The researchers got samples of captive tiger DNA easily, but getting wild tiger DNA is hard. That involved tracking the tigers and collecting their feces, saliva from prey, or shed hairs. Sequencing can tell you immediately whether you have tiger DNA or something else. I’m not quite clear about how they managed to distinguish the tracks or prey of individual tigers in the wild from that other tigers, but differences in the DNA from different samples would tell you how many tigers you’re dealing with.
If it is indeed a single gene causing blackness, it behaves as a recessive; that is, you have to have two copies of the mutant form to be a black tiger. With no copies or only one copy paired with the “normal” allele, you have the normal tiger pattern. Here’s a genealogy of color from breeding records of captive tigers. Orange represents normal-patterned tigers, while black are “black tigers.” Circles represent females and squares males.
You see that two orange tigers can produce a black one; in these cases the orange tigers each carried one copy of the recessive “black” allele; they were “heterozygotes”. This doesn’t absolutely establish that it’s a single recessive gene; it would strengthen the case if they mated two black tigers together and got all black offspring, which is what you predict from a recessive gene.
But how do they know that the black pattern is caused by a single gene? The authors’ whole-genome sequencing found one gene whose variants comported completely with the color: if you had two copies of the mutant, which has a DNA sequence that eliminates formation of the protein coded by that gene, you were black, but if you had no copies or only one, you were normally colored. This gene is called Taqpep, which has been implicated in making dark variants in other cat species (see below). The full name is “transmembrane amino-peptidase Q”, and the mutant form, which doesn’t function at all, is called Taqpep pH454Y. We’re not sure how the “normal” gene works in pattern formation: the enzyme is involved in degrading other proteins, and also helps form the placenta in humans!
What we do know is that other mutant felids with darker and broader stripes also have mutations in the Taqpep gene. Below is a figure from the commentary paper showing homozygous mutations in that gene in the tiger as well as in the domestic cat and in the cheetah, where it produces cheetahs with dark blotches instead of spots (see below). Each of the three Taqpep mutations is different, so here we have an example of “convergent evolution,” independent species arriving at similar appearances via independent mutations. These mutations must have occurred since the common ancestors of the three cats, which lived 11.5 million years ago for all three, and 8.8 milion years ago since the ancestor of the domestic cat split from the ancestor of the cheetah.
Below, a “king” cheetah (right) next to a normal cheetah:
Why the dark tigers in Similipal? Given that the gene is rare elsewhere except in zoos, and that the Similipal population is small, genetic drift is a likely explanation. The mutation could be “neutral” (i.e., conferring neither a reproductive advantage or disadvantage compared to “normal tigers”, or it could even be slightly harmful. If the dark form were selectively advantageous, you’d likely see it in many Indian populations as it increased in frequency. (Further genome analysis shows no sign that the gene has risen in frequency due to selection, but we can’t say that with absolute assurance.)
In fact, the authors did a simulation assuming that the Similipal population was isolated from other populations 10-50 tiger generations ago, and concluded that the population was likely founded by only a couple of tigers: two or three. In Similipal the frequency of the “dark” gene form is about 58%, while the light gene form is at about 42%. If there were random mating, you’d thus expect (0.58)² dark tigers there, or about 34% of all tigers. As you can see for the Similipal pie chart above, that is pretty close to what you get.
This would, then, be a good example to use when teaching about genetic drift, which is a difficult concept to teach well, involving mathematics that students don’t like. But when teaching you always need examples, and we can demonstrate drift in the lab using sacks of marbles or computer simulations. But it’s better to have examples from nature, and this is one that I’d use when teaching, as it satisfies the conditions for drift, there appears to be no selection favoring the black gene, and the population is known to be small and isolated.
The only other question is that of conservation. The Similipal population is endangered, and could be increased by bringing in other tigers. That would reduce the frequency of the black gene and of black tigers. It all depends on what you want to save: the tiger itself or the pattern? I’d go for the tiger, as the pattern genes will always be around in low frequency in the gene pool, but the tigers may disappear.
Sagar, V. Christopher B.Kaelin, MeghanaNatesh, P. AnuradhaReddy, Rajesh K.Mohapatra, HimanshuChhattani, PrachiThatte, SrinivasVaidyanathan, SuvankarBiswas, SupriyaBhatt, ShashiPaul, Yadavendradev V.Jhala, Mayank, M. Verma BivashPandav, SamratMondol, Gregory S.Barsh, DebabrataSwain, and UmaRamakrishnan. 2021. High frequency of an otherwise rare phenotype in a small and isolated tiger population Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118 (39): e2025273118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2025273118
It’s Sunday, and that means a themed bird post with photos and commentary from biologist John Avise. Click on the photos to enlarge them; John’s IDs and commentary are indented.
Several avian species have the word “American” in their official common name. This is to distinguish them from counterpart species that reside in other parts of the world. For example, the American Bittern has a close cousin in Europe and Asia known as the Eurasian Bittern; the American Goldfinch has a relative in Europe known as the European Goldfinch; the American Wigeon is closely related to a European Wigeon; and several non-American Oystercatcher species are found in other parts of the world. Naturally, all of my photographs this week were taken in North America.
*The vaccine reporting mandate for Chicago police started at midnight Friday, but, as the local ABC News reports, it might take the city days to sort out which cops have been vaccinated and which haven’t. And until that happens, nobody will be sent home on unpaid leave or fired. Given that this delay in counting was predictable, I’m not sure why there was so much teeth-gnashing in the past few days that we’d lose half our police officers yesterday. Still, the war continues between Mayor Lightfoot, who insists that the mandate be enforced, and the police unions, who hate the mandate. The mayor has filed suit suit against the four police unions and vice versa. But there was a minor victory for the city:
[A Chicago] judge granted a temporary restraining order banning Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, Jr. from making any further public statements urging his members not to comply with the vaccine reporting mandate. City attorneys said that amounted to “sedition and mutiny.”
*There was a strike in the offing between the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees and Hollywood studios that looks as if it was going to happen, shutting down all movie and t.v. productions (the workers are looking for better salaries and working conditions). We’d all have to be watching reruns, but as of this evening (Saturday) it looks as if the two sides may strike a deal. If not, an industry already hit hard by Covid will suffer an additional shock.
*Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten adopted young twins in August, and Secretary Pete has been on four weeks of paid paternal leave, which is legal and fine with me. The problem that his opponents have raised is of course there are huge cockups in the area Buttigieg controls: the funding bills and the supply-chain crisis. Further, there is no federal provision for paid paternal or maternal leave, but that’s one of things in Biden’s $3.5 trillion social safety-net bill. This has caused Republicans to lash out at Buttigieg (I can’t believe that his being gay has nothing to do with it). Here’s a CNN report on the dustup, which also involves criticism of Buttigieg by Fox’s Tucker Carlson:
*I wonder if the Taliban in Afghanistan, who said they weren’t going to stop ISIS (or IS, as it’s also known) from terrorist activities, might not want to rethink things. On Friday an ISIS suicide bomber killed 47 people and wounded many more in an attack on a Shiite mosque in the southern part of the country Shiites are a minority in Afghanistan, while ISIS is Sunni and the Taliban is neither (ego the Taliban and ISIS are also enemies). I wonder how that country can hold together with two warring Islamist and terrorist organizations coexisting.
*The Washington Post has an article about the “latest reckoning over language in the puzzle world”, dealing with how makers of word games deal with words that are offensive to some, like “lynching” or could be offensive to some, like “illegal”. Should a word that is a “good” word, but could be upsetting, not be used in, say, Scrabble? Read and reach your own conclusions.
Actually, according to Wikipedia this was the day that Kepler began to study the supernova, the first exploding star known to be observed by humans. The supernova itself was first observed (by Kepler among others) on October 9. Here’s a “X-ray, Optical & Infrared Composite of Kepler’s Supernova Remnant”:
A 22-foot tall vat burst, and the pressure caused other vats to open, releasing the contents of other vats and flooding the surrounding area with what’s estimated to be between 580,000 and 1,470,000 liters of beer. A vat of the time is shown below (this accident caused breweries to stop using the big boys), and below that a drawing of the St. Giles Rookery, the slum area around the brewery where people drowned in beer.
1907 – Marconi begins the first commercial transatlantic wireless service.
1931 – Al Capone is convicted of income tax evasion.
Here’s Capone’s FBI record from 1932. Note that in nearly all cases, the charges were dismissed. Curious, eh? But he got 11.5 years for the income tax charge.
Hattori (below) was going to a Halloween party and simply approached the wrong house. The resident woman alerted her husband, who came out with a gun and shot Hattori in the chest. The shooter was acquitted. What would Hattori’s parents think of America after their loss?
2018 – The recreational use of cannabis is legalized in Canada.
Notables born on this day include:
1903 – Nathanael West, American author and screenwriter (d. 1940)
1915 – Arthur Miller, American playwright and screenwriter (d. 2005)
1918 – Rita Hayworth, American actress, singer and dancer (d. 1987)
Hayworth was THE pin-up girl for GIs in World War II. But besides being an actress, she was a good singer and a great dancer. Both are on display in her dance below with Fred Astaire in the 1942 film “You Were Never Lovelier“. Also see this fantastic clip, which I’ve shown before; it’s perhaps my favorite Astaire dancing duet.
1933 – The Singing Nun, Belgian singer-songwriter, guitarist, and nun (d. 1985)
Her real name was Jeanne-Paule Marie “Jeannine” Deckers (below) and despite her 1963 musical hit, “Dominique“, she met an unhappy end. From Wikipedia:
Owing to confusion over the terms of the recording contract, she was reduced to poverty, and also experienced a crisis of faith, quitting the order, though still remaining a Catholic. She committed suicide with her lifelong partner, Annie Pécher.
1938 – Evel Knievel, American motorcycle rider and stuntman (d. 2007)
1942 – Gary Puckett, American pop singer-songwriter and guitarist
1968 – Ziggy Marley, Jamaican singer-songwriter, guitarist, and voice actor
1969 – Wyclef Jean, Haitian-American rapper, producer, and actor
This gives me an excuse to put up a great live performance: “Hips Don’t Lie,” with Wyclef Jean and Shakira (she’s credited with co-writing the song):
1972 – Eminem, American rapper, producer, and actor
Those who reached their terminus on October 17 include:
1586 – Philip Sidney, English courtier, poet, and general (b. 1554)
1849 – Frédéric Chopin, Polish pianist and composer (b. 1810)
1910 – Julia Ward Howe, American poet and songwriter (b. 1819)
And that gives me an excuse to put up one of Stubbs’s great performances: “Ask the Lonely“, performed with the Four Tops in Paris in 1967. It’s one of my favorite Four Tops songs, and if any one song could be said to represent “soul music”, it’s this rendition. Look at the sweat pouring off Stubbs! This is one of the greatest live performances of any soul song.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili still defies the approach of winter, and exits through the kitchen window.
A tweet from the UK Humanists, with Stephen Fry explaining what humanism is and how there is no single “meaning of life.” I like this!
We've launched our new #thatshumanism campaign with @stephenfry! In this video: 'How can I be happy?', Stephen explains the humanist approach to finding happiness lies not in searching for 1 universal meaning, but in creating multiple (countless, even) meanings for ourselves. RT pic.twitter.com/m1WIhWmlyq
Reader Barry says that “This is just a demo reel. There is no word about a forthcoming movie.” I’d like to see a biopic of Robin Williams, though the 2018 documentary, “Robin Willams: Come Inside My Mind” was wonderful. I’ll put a trailer for the documentary below the tweet.
It’s a good impression of Williams but I’m not as impressed as Bob Cesca:
This isn't just the best Robin Williams impression I've ever seen, it's one of the best impressions ever — of anyone.https://t.co/UEYelWtpjO
My Modern Met has an assortment of lovely bird pictures taken by a woman who’s set up a “feeder cam” in her back yard. Click on the screenshot to see them:
Here are the details and then I’ll show my favorite photos.
Lisa, aka Ostdrossel, is fascinated by our feathered friends and has an ingenious setup that allows her to get very close to them—without scaring them away. She uses her feeder cam to remote capture incredible pictures of a variety of species as they nosh on tasty bird feed.
The visitors to Lisa’s backyard don’t know they are being photographed and so they let their personalities shine for the camera. We get a glimpse of two mourning doves nuzzling beaks and a couple of other birds who look like they are in a shouting match. But some of the most fascinating images are of the solo creatures enjoying a mid-day snack. Lisa’s camera has snapped pictures of a crow who has a toothy grin made of a mouthful of kernels as well as a blackbird showing off the giant moth it’s about to feast on.
So, how does a feeder cam work? In a post on her Tumblr, Lisa shares her setup. “It consists of this camera box, much like a trail camera, that has a macro lens on the top and a regular one on the bottom,” she writes. Inside of the box is a shelf where she has placed a camera that has a motion-sensor function and takes 10 pictures per second. Whenever a bird lands on the bowl, the device starts snapping pictures. If the camera is out the whole day, it can yield up to 7,000 photos! Lisa, however, doesn’t mind. “My evening pleasure and routine is to go through all of them, delete the bad ones and keep and slightly edit the ones I deem publishable.”
You can follow Lisa’s work on Instagram and buy a selection of it as photo postcards through Etsy.
The other day I was worried about John McWhorter being “defanged” since he started writing a twice-weekly column for the New York Times. After all, his views on race are pretty much opposed to those of his hosting newspaper, and although the NYT has to allow a few conservative columnists to expatiate, for it would look unseemly without a few pieces by Ross Douthat or Bret Stephens, it has now a liberal but contrarian black man writing op-eds, which wouldn’t be tolerated if a white writer produced them. All the other black columnists adhere to the party line.
So, I wondered, would the NYT either mute McWhorter’s views on race, or would he tone himself down to appeal to the paper’s readership? Knowing about McWhorter, I thought the latter unlikely, but still wondered if he had lost his steam since his wonderful column on the Great Wisconsin Rock Fiasco.
Well, I needn’t have worried. He’s back again criticizing what is at least partly another act of performative outrage. Click on the screenshot to read:
On Sept. 10, Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Olivia Cook attended her first composition seminar with Sheng. This semester, the course focused on analyzing Shakespeare’s works, and the class began with a screening of the 1965 version of “Othello.” Cook told The Daily she quickly realized something seemed strange, and upon further inspection, noticed the onscreen actor Laurence Olivier was in blackface.
“I was stunned,” Cook said. “In such a school that preaches diversity and making sure that they understand the history of POC (people of color) in America, I was shocked that (Sheng) would show something like this in something that’s supposed to be a safe space.”
The predictable outcry occurred, with claims that the film made the students feel unsafe. This resulted in Sheng’s removal as a teacher of undergraduates. He apologized to the faculty and students, but his apology was considered insufficient. Sheng says that he didn’t realize the cultural offense conveyed by blackface. As the Dean of Sheng’s division revealed in an email, “the incident had been reported to the Office of Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX.” Sheng will be lucky if he’s not fired for showing that movie.
As McWhorter points out, the best explication and analysis of this incident is by Cathy Young at Arc Digital, who concludes that Sheng’s screening of the movie induced “moral panic” and a “witchhunt,” with Sheng being the witch.
McWhorter takes a different tack, noting that blackface movies, like “The Jazz Singer”, were just as reprehensible a few decades ago, but didn’t cause moral panic. If you were enlightened you would criticize them, and black people disdained or sometimes even found them amusingly exaggerated, but the full-on moral panic we see at Michigan didn’t ensue. What’s the difference?
And here’s McWhorter’s question (in the late 1990s he had shown his own students a movie with blackface scenes, noting beforehand that the practice was now seen a racist, and nobody “batted an eye”); emphasis is his:
So, here’s our query: Is the response of Sheng’s students an advance on those of my students a generation ago? Were me and my students missing something upon which our modern era is more enlightened?
And a few ancillary points:
Before we tackle that, there are two important points to address. First, as Young notes, Olivier’s performance does involve a degree of cartoonish swagger beyond what some blackface performances of the era entailed. But it’s reasonable to assume that Sheng’s students would have had a similar response to more restrained blackface portrayals of Othello, such as Orson Welles’s.
Second, Sheng should indeed have made clear that he was about to show his students something that would require them to put on their “history glasses,” as I sometimes put it. But the question involves degree: Should he now be barred from the class amid rhetoric that makes him sound like a pitiless bigot, unfit and out of step with an enlightened society? I’d say no.
I agree. Sheng was treated badly by the students and administration given he was showing the film as part of a lesson on Shakespeare and its adaptations.
He goes on:
Now: Let’s break down what the crux of objections to showing a blackface performance ever at all are.
I won’t quote the possible objections at length, but summarize them with short excerpts. The first is that minstrel shows are and were disgusting. But, in response, the times have changed for the better, and nobody puts them on any more. As McWhorter says, that aspect of Sheng’s incident makes the student outrage performative:
But is there no statute of limitations on how long a people will feel actual injury about such a thing? In 2021, there is barely a person alive who attended a minstrel show performed as mainstream, professional entertainment. Even those who may have caught ragtag amateur groups keeping the tradition alive are likely now quite elderly.
The idea seems to be that we (relatively) younger Black people and our non-Black fellow travelers are nevertheless so viscerally stung by seeing any manifestation of this bygone tradition that to show dated footage of a white British actor in blackface, as part of an academic colloquy, qualifies as a grievous insult. But I like to think of Black Americans as a people of pride and forward thinking. I miss those qualities in this submission to an insult leveled by perpetrators now very, very dead. And since no one can seriously argue that Sheng’s intent was to revive or exalt the practice of blackface — and not to teach something about the operatic adaptation of a seminal literary work — to treat him as an accessory to those dead perpetrators seems more a kind of performance in itself than a spontaneously felt insult.
Now I don’t doubt that some students really do feel outrage at this (though some surely are dissimulating as a way to gain power and attention), for the angry students might have simply internalized the idea that blackface should cause anger, causing a reflexive response that hasn’t gone though the same kind of consideration that McWhorter gives.
He also raises the possibility that imitating a black person by darkening your skin is inherently ridiculing black people: a racist act. McWhorter rejects that as a generalization, arguing that sometimes it’s done, as in “30 Rock” to make fun of racism. As he says, context matters—just like context matters about how bad it is to use the “n word”. Remember that the NYT fired Don McNeil for uttering the word in a didactic and nonracist context, but it didn’t matter. Here McWhorter is saying that, unlike NYT editor Dean Baquet, who fired McNeil, context DOES matter.
In other cases, like Sheng’s, blackface is used didactically, like McNeil’s “n word”, and punishment isn’t warranted. (The NYT acted reprehensibly in the McNeil case.)
McWhorter winds up arguing that the proposition that blackface is always bad enough to constitute a firing offense is not just antiracist, but radical, even to antiracists, for it requires going beyond what we normally think is bad behavior into realms of the Inquisition:
These are my own observations. They are up for debate. But those condemning Sheng seem to consider their ideas not just opinions, but truths — the predicate for an inquisition. Yet, the view that blackface makeup is so uniquely revolting that a professor should be hounded from his class for showing, in a scholarly setting, decades-old scenes of an actor wearing it is a point that many find extreme. It is a position that requires some serious lifting and a vast transformation in common modes of thought, even among people with good-faith concerns about race relations, and would look odd to time travelers from just a few decades ago. A position like that is not simply “antiracist,” but radical.
This radical proposition, like so many on race of late, is being put forth as if it were scripture that no moral actor could question. It misses the point, then, to dismiss the students as fragile. Their claim entails that people were injured by such usages of blackface before, therefore must still be now, and that we should redefine the bounds of permissibility to bar such images from general experience. They think their recoil from the very sight of decades-old racist imagery is uniquely enlightened, a resistance to abuse endemic to our society’s past, present and future. To them, their response isn’t only appropriate, it’s mandatory.
But that’s a proposition they must assert in the public square and assume as subject to discussion and dissent.
And that is the main problem with Wokeism. Not its tenets or its general motivation, which are congenial to liberals, but its dogmatism—its strong claims that some behaviors and some words are unquestionably racist or politically offensive and damning the people who produce them is the only just outcome. It’s the claim that “intent doesn’t matter, only reaction”.
McWhorter supposes that the radical proposition would be rejected by the public, largely seen as “virtue signaling,” but he’s still willing to hear the showing-any-blackface-is-bad adherents make a coherent case for their uniform opposition to showing such movies, as well as for Sheng’s being booted from his class:
Or just maybe, the people who witch-hunted Sheng could defend their position better than I am imagining. I’d be happy to observe the attempt. But from where I sit, we’re seeing a radical agenda not proposed, but imposed. Upon what authority are they allowed such primacy of influence in how we speak, think and teach in our times?
Yes, McWhorter is back speaking truth to liberal media and liberals in general. I was wrong to even suppose that he’d back off on his contrarianism. The only question is whether the NYT will let him continue to say things like this. I hope so. Without such voices, society will go insane.
I’m running a Caturday felid post with only one item today, as I have three other tripartite posts lined up, but this one is time-sensitive, and if you live in Los Angeles you may want to go.
This is Colossal has announced a free Cat Art Show that runs in Los Angeles between October 14 and 24 at the Golden Pagoda (address here). The work of many artists will be featured, and the pieces are for sale, with 10% of the proceeds going to charity. And ALL THE ART IS OF CAT!
Here’s the announcement and some details:
More than 70 artists feature cats as their muse for a feline-centric group exhibition that scratches well beyond the tropes associated with the frisky creatures. Now in its fourth iteration, the Cat Art Show features sculptures, paintings, collages, and a variety of other works by artists from 16 countries—Ravi Zupa (previously), Lola Dupré (previously), and Aniela Sobieski (previously) are among them—that capture the feisty antics, adorable wide-eyed stares, and stealthy adventures of both domestic and wild breeds. The exhibition is the project of curator and journalist Susan Michals, who also wrote the 2019 book compiling hundreds of photos by cat-enthusiast and photographer Walter Chandoha.
If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by The Golden Pagoda between October 14 and 24 to see the quirky, spirited works in person, and check out the available pieces on Instagram. As with previous shows, 10 percent of all sales will be donated to cat care, with this year’s funds going to Kitt Crusaders, Faces of Castelar, and Milo’s Sanctuary.
Today we have a series of photos of ghost crabs from reader Jim McCormac, who has a blog and a “massive photo website“. His captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them. Do note the amazing camouflage of young crabs shown in the final photo.
Here’s something a bit different: Ghost crabs!
A common but always interesting sight along the beaches of Cape May, New Jersey – and far beyond – is the Atlantic Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata). They’re well named, as the crab’s sandy coloration and fleeting movements, combined with general wariness, makes them wraithlike. People new to them might wonder if they actually saw something and if so, what it was. But with minor perseverance it isn’t hard to get good looks at these fascinating decapods (ten-legs).
On a recent trip to Cape May – a birding Mecca of the East Coast – I was distracted by ghost crabs and ended up spending a fair bit of time watching and photographing them.
A crab lurks at the entrance to its burrow. They are accomplished diggers and always seem to maintain burrows to which they can retreat. Some tunnels can apparently be four feet deep. But the excavation is easy in soft beach sands and it does not take them long to mine out a new hole.
A crab in the act of construction. It uses its first two legs and the claw on that side (the claw, or cheliped, is actually part of a highly modified leg) to create a basket in which it scoops sand from the excavation.
Once the subterranean dwelling is complete, it becomes the crab’s home base. They retreat to it in the blink of an eye if threatened or disturbed. When exiting, I noticed that a crab would sometimes pause below the opening, and use its long-stalked periscope-like eyes to check the surroundings before emerging. They can rotate the eye stalks 360 degrees, increasing their efficiency at predator detection. I would imagine that gulls are one of the major threats. Great Black-backed, Herring, Laughing, and Ring-billed gulls are constantly patrolling the shoreline and would snap up a crab in a heartbeat if given a chance.
A crab dines on what appear to be the remains of another crab. They are omnivorous opportunistic scavengers, cleaning the beaches of various edible detritus. The chelipeds are used like hands, and the crabs quite dexterously handle their meals. They also will thump the claws on the sand, apparently to send signals to other crabs, and may use them as semaphores in mating rituals as do some other crabs, but I’m not sure about the latter.
There is also another use for the claws: jousting with rivals. I saw this several times, and finally got an opportunity to photograph a joust. Occasionally a foraging crab would stray far from its burrow, or venture to the sea to wet its gills. On these trips, if it would trespass too closely on another occupied burrow, the offended crab would sometimes pop out and do battle with the interloper. That’s what happened here. The guy on the left owned the burrow, and the intruder on the right was quickly vanquished after a brief locking of the horns. He sidled speedily back to his own burrow.
Atlantic Ghost Crabs take about a year to reach sexual maturity. After mating, the female deposits eggs in the ocean. The larvae develop there, and then head ashore as young crabs. I saw many juveniles on the beaches, but only because I was looking. They can be really tough to spot. The crablets are small, and their camouflage is incredible. If immobile or partially buried in the sand, they are essentially invisible. At this stage, I imagine various shorebirds – plovers, sandpipers, etc. – are major threats. The coloration and patterning of the carapace and upper legs is amazingly sand-like – a textbook example of crypsis.
After my crustacean hiatus, it was back to the business at hand: bird photography, and there was no lack of subjects there.