The Spectator on the decline and fall of the New York Times

October 24, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Batya Ungar-Sargon used to be the opinion editor of The Forward, and now she’s an opinion editor for Newsweek (which leans right); she also just wrote a new boo, from which the Spectator piece below is excerpted. The book, whose title tells you where she stands, is called Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy, and has endorsements by both Greg Lukianoff from FIRE and Jon Haidt. At the bottom you can see her interviewed by Megyn Kelly.

This all doesn’t necessarily mean that Ungar-Sargon is a conservative, and to some extent that’s irrelevant, for we should hear what she has to say: in this case, an analysis that could only have been done by a journalist on why the New York Times has sunk so low. It’s complicated, involving feedback between the reading public and the paper. (Actually, it’s not that complicated.)

Because I’m no fan of the new NYT (though I subscribe and read and like many articles), it’s become abysmally woke, and that’s what Ungar-Sargon is trying to explain: how it happened.

Click on the screenshot to read.

The sequence in short (quotes are indented):

a.) NYT decides to go digital in part.

b.) To boost their subscriber base, its journalism begins to fuse with advertising.

Of course, journalists have always been aware who their readers are and have catered to them, consciously and unconsciously. But it was something else entirely to suggest that journalists should be collaborating with their audience to produce ‘user-generated content’, as the report put it. ‘Innovation’ presaged a new direction for the paper of record: become digital-first or perish.

c.) Trump’s election gave the paper a huge boost in attention and revenue (remember, online most of the revenue comes from ads). Subscriptions in 2017 were up 46% from 2016. In the meantime, the paper realized that they could derive “emotional profiles” of its readers from the pattern of clicks, and use those to target the ads accompanying specific articles to specific readers. And because emotions drive readership, the Times, realizing what topics generated the most emotion, pitched its content to those topics:

If you want to know what makes America’s educated liberal elites emotional, you only have to open the Times. Judging by the coverage of recent years, two things make them more emotional than anything else: Trump and racism.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, books like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy soared to the top of the bestseller list as blindsided liberals sought to understand how people could have voted for Trump. For a brief period, it seemed like the American mainstream might truly grapple with the question of class. But this quickly disappeared in favor of an easier explanation: Trump voters were racists.

Liberal news media pushed study after study allegedly ‘proving’ that the class narrative — that Trump’s voters had chosen him out of economic anxiety — was false. They were simply racists, we were told by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic and Vox. You could feel the relief seeping through the repetition: if Trump’s voters are racists, we no longer have to care about them! This line absolved journalists of the inner twinge of doubt that must come to any honest reporter when they realize that they are afflicting the afflicted. There is only one problem. It’s just not true.

She goes on to argue that Trump voters weren’t one-issue voters who were promoting racism as the ideal, but had a number of different motivations, and were willing to overlook Trump’s own palpable racism because they liked other things he stood for.  As she argues, “Trump’s racism was not a deal breaker for his supporters, many of whom expressed discomfort with the president’s ranting and raving.”

d.) Journalists became complicit in an anti-Trump, anti-racist “moral panic”, which of course was good for the NYT’s bottom line. Judge this for yourself:

The truth is, the reasons people gave for voting for Trump were numerous —and legitimate. His promise to appoint conservative justices was a major motivating factor for antiabortion evangelicals. Others were swayed by his commitment to religious liberty, which gave him a lot of support in the Orthodox Jewish community. Independents especially appreciated his anti-war position. Lower-income voters were impressed by his opposition to America’s disastrous trade deals.

Anyone who talked to Trump voters knew their reasons for voting for him. But journalists at America’s leading publications did not know any Trump supporters socially, and that made it easy to caricature and misrepresent them. When New York Times reporters did venture into Trump country, they inevitably found some reason to tar the people they interviewed as racist.

This penchant was part and parcel of a larger dynamic that preceded Trump, in which liberal news media, increasingly reliant on digital advertising, subscriptions and memberships, have been mainstreaming an obsession with race, to the approval of their affluent readers. And what was once a business model built on a culture war has over the past few years devolved into a full-blown moral panic.

Any journalist working in the mainstream American press knows this, because the moral panic is enforced on social media in brutal shaming campaigns. They have happened to many journalists, but you don’t actually have to weed out every heretic to silence dissent. After a while, people silence themselves. Who would volunteer to be humiliated by thousands of strangers, when they could avoid it by staying quiet? The spectacle alone enforces compliance. . .

. . .This bears repeating: there can be no moral panic without the media and the social consensus they create. The power of the press — despite its unpopularity — is still immense. And it has used that power over the past decade, and with exponential intensity over the past few years, to wage a culture war on its own behalf, notably by creating a moral panic around racism.

Nor is it surprising that the New York Times played an outsized role in shaping our moral panic. Its business model is deeply bound up with the mores of affluent white liberals. Inevitably, in the spring of 2020, it turned its wrath on its own. By the time the dust settled, five people would no longer work at the Times.

e.) Ungar-Sargon goes on to review the familiar stories of the departure of Bari Weiss, op-ed editor James Bennett, and others. You’ll recall that Bennett was fired for running an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton saying that if (racially based) demonstrations got out of hand and couldn’t be controlled by the police, the National Guard or other troops should be called in to stop violence and destruction. (Most Americans agreed with this.) Cotton’s editorial was objected to by a thousand Times staffers, who said that the piece was racist put their black staff “in danger”. Twitter backed this up. (Go have a look at the editorial and the new “introduction” by the NYT editor.) Anyway, that was the end of Bennett.

What I found interesting is that the Times pretended that only one sub-editor, Adam Rubenstein, was responsible for editing Cotton’s piece, and, close to when Bennett left, he did too—another casualty. But Ungar-Sargon contradicts the Times’s own narrative about the vetting of the fatal op-ed (how she got this information I have no idea):

Cotton’s ‘whatever it takes’ language was harsh, but the majority of Americans — including a large share of black Americans — agreed with him. This is why the Times’s Opinion section, which planned to run an editorial and two opinion columns opposing the use of the Insurrection Act, was also on the lookout for a piece defending it. When Cotton pitched an op-ed about how Twitter was threatening to lock him out of his account, a senior editor suggested he write up his thoughts on the Insurrection Act instead.

Cotton’s first draft was deemed strong by two senior editors at the Times. He excoriated defenses of looting as ‘built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters’. He insisted that the majority ‘who seek to protest peacefully’ shouldn’t be ‘confused with bands of miscreants’. He argued that the president had the authority to use the Insurrection Act to send in US troops if governors couldn’t quell the rioting and looting on their own.

The draft went through a series of edits — fact checks, line edits, clarifications and copyedits. There were several phone calls to the senator’s office. A few lines were deleted and some language clarified. By the time the piece was ready for publication, no fewer than seven editors had worked on it. Having been approved one final time by a senior Opinion editor, the piece was published on the Times website on June 3.

All hell broke loose.

So it goes. The last part of the excerpt has an interesting comparison (my emphasis):

And the hunt for insufficiently antiracist Americans has become its own genre. The Times has run articles declaring that wine and surfing are racist, and that it’s time to ‘decolonize botanical collections’ by ridding them of ‘structural racism’. It even ran an article about a 15-year-old girl who used the ‘N-word’ when she bragged about passing her driving test in a private video to a friend — which another student got his hands on and saved for three years until he could use it to get her kicked out of college.

Stories like this seem to attract an unlimited audience in the way stories of crime once did for Joseph Pulitzer’s papers. That’s because articles that offend the woke person are crime stories for the affluent: stories of people just like themselves who commit crimes of thought or speech, and lose everything when they fall on the wrong side of the reigning orthodoxy. As the Twitter mob pursues small infractions as avidly as it does large ones, and as the etiquette keeps shifting, who dares trust their own ability to judge right from wrong?

It’s how you know we’re in a moral panic: only the mob has the right to judge you. And too many journalists have ceded them that right. Indeed, a huge number of the mob are journalists — journalists from the most important newspapers in the country and the world, all tweeting the exact same meaningless sentence repeatedly. People who had been hired to think for themselves now mindlessly repeat a dogma like their jobs depended on it.

Well, they do.

There’s no doubt that the NYT caters to the mob: their firing of Bennett, and the disclaimer in front of Cotton’s editorial, shows that they not only lied about the vetting of that editorial, but also truckled to the mob and to their own staff, even though the paper initially wanted Cotton’s piece. They couldn’t rescind it, but the preface is now larded with self-flagellation about how the piece was insufficiently vetted. The truth is that it was well vetted, but black and white NYT staffers raised a ruckus because the editorial made them “unsafe”. That’s bogus, of course, but enough to make at least two heads roll at the paper.

I can only guess that Ungar-Sargon, who’s been around journalism a long time, had some inside information about what went on at the NYT. You may not agree with her analysis, but you have to agree with some of her claims. The paper is woke, and that goes for both the news section (which refuses or hesitates to cover stories that reflect badly on the Left) and the op-ed section.  Read her piece and report below what you think. I think it’s a thought-provoking analysis.

Here’s her interview with Megyn Kelly about the book. It’s interesting (especially Kelly’s take on Fox News and its audience after she’d worked there), so watch it.

h/t Doc Brydon

More anodyne cures for the world’s ills by Reverend Tish Harrison Warren

October 24, 2021 • 11:15 am

Yes, Tish Harrison Warren, the Anglican priest who writes a weekly column to fill up empty space in the New York Times, has once again proffered a cure for the nation’s ills. It’s trivial and far from new, but at least it doesn’t involve God.  The email I got with the column (Ceiling Cat help me, I subscribe) was headed, “Why chatting with your barista could help save America.”  In the paper (click on screenshot below), it has a different title:

The entire thesis can be summarized with one of her paragraphs:

To learn how to love our neighbors we need cultural habits that allow us to share in our common humanity. We need quiet, daily practices that rebuild social trust. And we need seemingly pointless conversation with those around us.

By “pointless,” she means “avoiding hot-button issues like politics”. Her notion, which many others have suggested before, is that you can heal divisions between people by getting the “sides” to know each other. If you like or at least are friendly with a political opponent, you’ll find a way to eventually agree on politics.

This simple message, however, is unlikely to heal any divisions—after all, are citizens supposed to wait until they discuss these issues?—or are they supposed to become pals with their barista before bringing them up? Warren dilates at length about her hale-fellow-well-met Texas dad whom everybody loved and nobody hated, for he just cracked jokes and made pleasantries. He didn’t talk politics.

It goes on and on and on, without telling us how, after we’re pals with Trumpies, we can then begin to discuss abortion, the border, the unstolen election and so on.

And so we have the Paper of Record giving us stuff like this:

I see moments of this in my own life. I moved states recently and feel the loss of seemingly unimportant local relationships I’d built where we lived before. I have no idea if my favorite former barista and I shared any political or ideological beliefs. We likely disagree on important issues. But I don’t care. I know he adores his infant niece and I regularly asked how she was doing. He is working to get through grad school, and I found myself genuinely rooting for this person I barely knew.

Each of us is more than the sum of our political and religious beliefs. We each have complex relationships with the people we love. We each have bodies that get sick, that enjoy good tacos or the turning of fall. We like certain movies or music. We laugh at how babies sound when they sneeze. We hurt when we skin a knee. The way we form humanizing, nonthreatening interactions around these things taps into something real about us. We are three-dimensional people who are textured, interesting, ordinary and lovely. . . .

. . . Of course, to heal the deep divisions in our society we need profound political and systemic change. But though we need more than just small talk, we certainly do not need less than that. As a culture, our conversations can run so quickly to what divides us, and this is all the more true online. We cannot build a culture of peace and justice if we can’t talk with our neighbors. It’s in these many small conversations where we begin to recognize the familiar humanity in one another. These are the baby steps of learning to live together across differences.

Yes, and maybe if the Taliban got to know more Afghan women they would eventually allow them to go to school. Maybe if more Texas lawmakers had cake and coffee with pregnant women they would rescind their draconian anti-choice law. When Lyndon Johnson rammed the Civil Rights Bills through the Senate, he didn’t make small talk with the Senators. He used his leverage and power to bring around the Southern opponents.

Yes, we have to be able to discuss things civilly, for then, so they say, consensus will come. That’s what Biden ran his campaign on, and look where it’s gotten him.

How much longer will the NYT torture us this way?

Ivory poaching imposing selection on elephants to evolve shorter tusks

October 24, 2021 • 9:30 am

Here we have a case of selection by humans—killing elephants that have tusks because ivory is so valuable—increasing the frequency of tuskless African elephants in Mozambique over a 28-year period. (As we’ll see, only the proportion of tuskless females increased.)  We have similar examples from other species, as in the reduction of horn size in bighorn sheep hunted for their horns as trophies, and the reduction in the size of some fish due to commercial fisherman going after the big ones.

Is this artificial or natural selection? Well, you could say it’s artificial selection because humans are doing the choosing, but after all human are part of nature. And this selection was not conducted to arrive at a given end. Dachshunds were selected to look like hot dogs to root out badgers in their burrows, but the reduction of tusk size in elephant, or horns in sheep, was not a deliberate target of selection, but a byproduct of greed. So I would hesitate to characterize this as artificial selection, since it’s not like breeders choosing a given characteristic to effect a desired change. In fact, the evolutionary change that occurred is the opposite of what the “selectors” wanted.

You can find the article in Science by clicking on the screenshot below, or get the pdf here.  There’s a two page shorter take that’s an easier read, “Of war, tusks, and genes,” here.

The phenomenon: a civil war in Mozambique from 1977 to 1992, which increased the frequency of tuskless female elephants from 18.5% to 50.9%, nearly a threefold increase. Why? A model showed that such a change (which occurs among generations, so it’s not just selective killing within a generation) must have been due to natural selection rather than genetic drift. The killing was motivated by a desire to get money to fund the conflict.  A female without tusks had five times the chance of surviving as a tusked female. That imposed strong selection in favor of tuskless females.

Usually, tuskless elephants are at a disadvantage, for tusks are multi-use features, employed for defense, digging holes for water, male-male competition, and stripping bark from trees to get food. But the natural selection to keep tusks in females was weaker than the “artificial selection” by humans against tusks.

Here’s a photo of a tuskless vs. a tusked female:

Photo by Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

And the only kind of male that we see: ones with big tusks (tusk size varies, of course, as they continue to grow as the elephant lives). Tusks are homologous with our incisor teeth.

The authors first tried to determine the genetic basis of having versus lacking tusks. It turns out that, by and large, tusklessness behaves not as a complex trait caused by changes in many genes of small effect, but as a single dominant mutation on the X chromosome (like us, elephant males are XY and females are XX). Further, the dominant mutation causing tusklessness is lethal in males, killing them before birth. (This is probably not because the tuskless gene form is itself lethal, but is closely linked to a gene that is a recessive lethal.)

So here are the “genotypes” of the elephants. I’ve used “x” as the gene form on the X chromosome that produces tusks, and “X” as the alternative dominant allele that makes you tuskless.

Males: All have tusks and are thus xY. (Males have only one X chromosome and also a Y.) The XY genotype is lethal, so we never see males carrying the tuskless gene form (XY). Ergo, there are no tuskless males.

Females: We see two types:

Tuskless: Xx. These females will lose half their male offspring because when mated to an xy male (the only viable type), they produce half xY males, which are tuskers, and half XY males, which are lethal. Thus a population of tuskless females will produce a sex ratio in their offspring skewed towards females, which is what is observed.

We never see XX tuskless females because they’d have to inherit one “X” from from their fathers, but that XY genotype is lethal.

With tusks: xx.

There are a few complications, as other genes are involved (for example tusked mothers, who are xx, produce only 91% of tusked daughters when you’d expect the xx by xY cross to produce 100% xx (tusked) daughters. So things are not quite so simple, but in general a single gene seems largely responsible for the tuskless condition. (You might expect this, because if many genes were involved you simply wouldn’t get females lacking tusks: you’d get females with slightly smaller tusks, who would still be killed for their ivory. It would thus take many generations instead of a couple to raise the frequency of tuskless females.)

I won’t go into the gory genetic details, but the authors sequenced entire genomes from tusked and tuskless males and females and looked for signs of natural selection on some genes, comparing the tusked versus tuskless females. (One sign of rapid selection for tusklessness, for the cognoscenti, is the presence of DNA bases recurrent and common near the gene causing tusklessness.)

The researchers found one X-linked gene form with strong signs of selection called AMELX, which in other mammals codes for a protein that leads to the mineralization of enamel and regulates other tooth-associated genes. Another gene not on the sex chromosome, MEP1a, also is associated with tusklessness, but not as strongly. This gene, too, is known to be associated with tooth formation in other mammals. Here’s the diagram from the paper of which parts of the tusk are controlled by which gene. You can see that AMELX is expressed only in the “tusky” part of the tusk:

(From paper): Putative functional effects of candidate loci on tusk morphology.A cross section of an African elephant tusk shows the anatomical position of (a) enamel, (b) cementum, (c) dentin (ivory), (d) periodontium, and (e) root of the tusk. Dark blue circles indicate regions known or proposed to be affected by candidate gene AMELX. Light blue circles are proposed to be affected by candidate gene MEP1a. Neither gene is known to affect the formation of the dental pulp (black interior of cross section).

The upshot: Human-imposed (“anthropogenic”) selection that causes evolution in the wild has been demonstrated before, so this phenomenon is not new. What is new is that the genes involved in an anthropogenic evolutionary change—the increase in frequency of the tuskless allele, which is evolution—have been identified for the first time, and we know the kind of selection that’s caused the evolution. What is also unusual (I know of no other case) is that selection for tusklessness is in opposite directions (“antagonistic selection”) in the two sexes so long as tuskless females survive better. As the authors note:

Physical linkage between AMELX and proximate male-lethal loci on the X chromosome, such as HCCS, may underpin the proposed X-linked dominant, male-lethal inheritance of tusklessness in the Gorongosa population. If our interpretation is correct, this study represents a rare example of human-mediated selection favoring a female-specific trait despite its previously unknown deleterious effect in males (sexually antagonistic selection). Given the timeframe of selection, speed of evolutionary response, and known presence of the selected phenotype before the selective event, the selection of standing genetic variation at these loci is the most plausible explanation for the rapid rise of tusklessness during this 15-year period of conflict.

What of the future? Even though the conflict is over, poachers continue to kill tuskers for their ivory in much of Africa. What will happen? We expect the frequency of the dominant tuskless allele to increase. That itself will not lead to extinction of the population because tuskless males are simply not produced: all tuskless females will remain Xx and produce half the normal number of males. Tusked females will still be produced as Xx females crossed to xY males will produce both Xx (tuskless) and xx (tusked) females.  But the reduction in the number of males produced by anthropogenic selection, coupled with continual poaching of both males and females with tusks may drive the population size so low, with an unequal sex ratio, that it could become severely endangered.

Since tusks are good for elephants, the solution is not only to ban the trade in ivory, which has been done in part, but some countries continue to trade in elephant ivory. Further, we must stop the poachers cold, as there’s still a market for both legal and illegal ivory, and prices are high. That’s easier said than done given the area that must be monitored. Note, though, that in 2017, Donald Trump lifted the ban on ivory imports from Zimbabwe, which had been put in place by his predecessor. And the elephant is the Republican symbol!

h/t: Pat, Matt, and several other readers.


S. C. Campbell-Staton et al.. 2021. Ivory poaching and the rapid evolution of tusklessness in elephantsScience 374, 483-487.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 24, 2021 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and that means it’s the Day of Avise, in which we get a themed batch of bird photos by biologist John Avise. His commentary and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Wyoming Birds

I recently returned from a wonderful family vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.  The scenery and autumn colors were magnificent, the mammals (e.g., elk, bison, and chipmunks) were abundant, and I even managed to photograph several bird
species that will be the subject of this Sunday’s post.

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus):

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia):

Black-billed Magpie flying:

Gray Jay (Perisorius canadensis):

Gray Jay head portrait:

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri):

Steller’s Jay frontal view:

Common Raven (Corvus corax):

Common Raven head portrait:

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) male:

Red Crossbill pair:

American Coots (Fulica americana):

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides):

European Starlings (Sturnus vulgarus) on American Bison (Bison bison) [JAC: I don’t think they’re spaced randomly!]:

Sunday: Hili dialogue

October 24, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to the Sabbath for all cats save those of the Hebrew persuasion: it’s Sunday, October 24, 2021, and National Bologna Day (I spell it “baloney”).

It’s also Food Day in the U.S.; World Tripe Day (yuk, and yes, I did try it); National Good and Plenty Day, celebrating the licorice candy (according to Wikipedia, “[the candy] was first produced by the Quaker City Chocolate & Confectionery Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1893 and is believed to be the oldest branded candy in the United States”); World Polio Day, the birthday of Jonas Salk; United Nations Day, the anniversary of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations; and World Development Information Day

In honor of World Tripe Day we honor this man:

News of the Day:

*A new op-ed in the NYT, “Let the punishment fit the crime,” startled me by revealing that Illinois, along with several other states, had abolished discretionary parole for offenders (this was way back in 1978 in Illinois, but parole may soon be reinstated). I was also surprised to see data like this:

Both of us have visited and studied prisons in other Western countries, where 20-year sentences are considered extreme and are exceptionally rare. In Germany, according to a 2013 Vera Institute of Justice report, fewer than 100 people have prison terms longer than 15 years; in the Netherlands, all but a tiny percentage are sentenced to four years or less. In U.S. prisons, life sentences are routine.

Even Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, got the country’s maximum sentence: a minimum of 10 years and maximum of 21 years, at which time he’s evaluated to see if he’s releasable. If not, the sentence is extended in 5-year increments, which could last until he died (and likely will). But everyone gets at least a chance for rehabilitation and release, and there’s no such thing in Norway as a life sentence. The authors of the op-ed propose this:

Many legal scholars and criminologists now agree that whatever prisons are supposed to accomplish — whether it’s incapacitation, accountability, rehabilitation or deterrence — it can be achieved within two decades. The nonprofit Sentencing Project argues that the United States should follow the lead of other countries and cap prison terms at 20 years, barring exceptional circumstances. The Model Penal Code of the American Law Institute, a century-old organization led by judges, law professors and legal experts, proposes reviewing long sentences for resentencing or release after 15 years.

I’m not sure I agree, though. Would you have let Charles Manson go free after 15 years? Some people post a danger to society nearly indefinitely. We can, though, at least make American prisons much less inhumane.

*The Wall Street Journal has a long and fascinating article about two men who got the messenger-RNA vaccines for Covid developed and moving during the pandemic: “The unlikely outsiders who won the race for a Covid-19 vaccine.” One is a scientist, the other a businessman. PCC(E)’s prediction: there will be a Nobel Prize for these vaccines within three years, split between two or three recipients.

*Also from the NYT, “As Broadway returns, shows rethink and restage their descriptions of race.” Among the shows making changes: “The Lion King”, “The Book of Mormon,” and even “Hamilton.” The last is relevant to our discussion yesterday about Jefferson:

“Hamilton” has restaged “What’d I Miss?,” the second act opener that introduces Thomas Jefferson, so that the dancer playing Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore him multiple children, can pointedly turn her back on him.

(h/t Paul)

*Andrew Sullivan has posted an 80-minute conversation with John McWhorter on “woke racism”, which you can hear (for free, I think) here. I haven’t yet listened.

*Ohio has a new license plate to match the motto, “Birthplace of aviation”. (Why, you might ask, Ohio? Well, Orville Wright was born there, and the brothers did some aviation design there before testing their planes in North Caroline.) Unfortunately, the plate designers screwed up. Here’s the one that was issued and recalled. Can you spot the mistake?

Answer at the bottom of the post.

*Here’s the real opportunity cost of upgrading your phones. I’m still using a old iPhone 5s, which is completely serviceable (I had the battery replaced), and very small, so I can put it in my pocket, even in its Otterbox. But now my carrier is upgrading to 5G and my phone won’t work after Dec. 31. (I want an iPhone, but one that is small and not too pricey. Can readers help?  Anyway, the fact that people are always upgrading their phones has puzzled me, and the article above says this:

The irony of Mr. Cook’s coffee analogy isn’t lost on Suze Orman, the financial adviser who once famously equated people’s coffee habits to “peeing $1 million down the drain.” The seemingly small amount of money that people mindlessly spend on java — and now phone upgrades — could be a path to poverty, she said.

“Do you need a new one every single year?” asked Ms. Orman, who hosts the “Women and Money” podcast. “Absolutely not. It’s just a ridiculous waste of money.”

Apple and Samsung didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 735,964, an increase of 1,513 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,959,587, an increase of about 4,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on October 24 includes:

I love that Cathedral, an easy 75-minute train ride from Paris. Here’s a photo I took of some of its famous windows in November, 2018. Sadly, the day was overcast and the hand-held camera blurred the natural-light photo a bit:


  • 1648 – The Peace of Westphalia is signed, marking the end of the Thirty Years’ War.
  • 1795 – Poland is completely consumed by Russia, Prussia and Austria.

Poland has never gotten a break!

  • 1857 – Sheffield F.C., the world’s oldest association football club still in operation, is founded in England.

Here it is: the Shefffield FC in 1857:

Below is the route, which had to be detoured through Chicago to avoid the Confederates from cutting the line. Sending a transcontinental telegram then cost $1 a word, equivalent to about $33/word today! But, barring accidents like bison who brought down the lines by rubbing on the poles, it was a big success: the Pony Express shut down two days after the line was completed.

Click on the photo to see the route:

  • 1901 – Annie Edson Taylor becomes the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Taylor did the feat on her 63rd birthday, and, unlike many, survived! Here she is with her barrel and a CAT. This cat was actually sent over the falls in Taylor’s barrel two days before her own trip, and the moggy survived, too.

  • 1926 – Harry Houdini‘s last performance takes place at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit.

Houdini (real name Eric Weisz, a Hungarian Jew) died after a visitor tested the magician’s abdominal strength by repeatedly punching him in the abdomen; Houdini wasn’t prepared. He died a week later of peritonitis, though it’s not known whether the blow caused it or Houdini had an independently ruptured appendix. Here’s a photo of a different punch, with the Wikipedia caption, “Heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey mock-punching Houdini (held back by lightweight boxer Benny Leonard).”

This huge drop in the stock market marked the beginning of America’s Great Depression. Crowds gathered on Wall Street, as if their presence could somehow bring an end to the debacle:

  • 1945 – The United Nations Charter comes into effect. [see above]
  • 1946 – A camera on board the V-2 No. 13 rocket takes the first photograph of earth from outer space.

The rocket was launched from the White Sands missile range in the U.S., and here’s that photograph, taken at the apogee of 65 miles:

They killed ten people, often shooting from within the trunk with a small hole cut in the Chevrolet Caprice, comme ça:

Muhammad was convicted and died by lethal injection, the younger Malvo is spending the rest of his life in prison.

  • 2003 – Concorde makes its last commercial flight.
  • 2004 – Arsenal Football Club loses to Manchester United, ending a row of unbeaten matches at 49 matches, which is the record in the Premier League.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1632 – Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Dutch biologist and microbiologist (d. 1723)
  • 1903 – Melvin Purvis, American FBI agent (d. 1960)

Purvis (below) was a crack FBI agent who led the teams that captured Baby Face NelsonJohn Dillinger, and Pretty Boy Floyd.  He was so famous for this that J. Edgar Hoover sidelined him, or so the story goes:

  • 1911 – Sonny Terry, American singer and harmonica player (d. 1986)

Here’s Terry with his partner Brownie McGhee (on guitar) singing “Hooray, hooray, these women is killing me.”

  • 1930 – The Big Bopper, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 1959)

His real name was Giles Perry Richardson, Jr., and he had one hit before he was killed in the plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens on The Day  the Music Died (Feb. 3, 1959). His big hit:

  • 1936 – Bill Wyman, English singer-songwriter, bass player, and producer
  • 1985 – Wayne Rooney, English footballer

Here are some highlights of Rooney’s career. He spent most of his career with Manchester United, and now manages the Derby County football club.

  • 1986 – Drake, Canadian rapper and actor
  • 1989 – PewDiePie, Swedish YouTuber

Those who were no more on October 24 include:

  • 1537 – Jane Seymour, English queen and wife of Henry VIII of England (b. c.1508)
  • 1601 – Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer and alchemist (b. 1546)

Here’s a portrait of Brahe from 1586, while he was still alive. He had a formidable ‘stache:

  • 1824 – Israel Bissell, American patriot post rider during American Revolutionary War (b. 1752)
  • 1852 – Daniel Webster, American lawyer and politician, 14th United States Secretary of State (b. 1782)
  • 1935 – Dutch Schultz, American mob boss (b. 1902)
  • 1945 – Vidkun Quisling, Norwegian soldier and politician, Minister President of Norway (b. 1887)
  • 1958 – G. E. Moore, English philosopher and academic (b. 1873)
  • 1972 – Jackie Robinson, American baseball player and sportscaster (b. 1919)

Robinson was of course the first black player in major league baseball, but came up through the Negro League. In the majors, he faced no small amount of racism, but became a superstar for the Brooklyn Dodgers and helped them win the World Series in 1955. When he retired the next year, his number (42) was also retired (i.e., it wouldn’t be used again on a Dodger uniform). Here’s a photo from 1954.

  • 1991 – Gene Roddenberry, American captain, screenwriter, and producer, created Star Trek (b. 1921)
  • 2005 – Rosa Parks, American civil rights activist (b. 1913)
  • 2017 – Fats Domino, American pianist and singer-songwriter (b. 1928)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is being extraordinarily affectionate:

Hili: Don’t worry, in case of an emergency you can always cuddle me.
A: I know.
Isn’t that a cute picture of Andrzej and Hili? It was taken by Malgorzata.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie martw się, w razie potrzeby możesz mnie zawsze przytulić.
Ja: Ja wiem.

And here are Szaron and Kulka having a meal together:

From Barry; this is a hoot:

From Amy:

From Not Another Science Cat Page: a cat that is NOT pleased at his faux doppelgängers:

From an unknown reader: a tweet from Ricky Gervais:

From Barry: “A budding friendship.” Indeed!

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a rare example of a prisoner striking back. But of course that didn’t go unpunished:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one is an amazing example of camouflage but wait until the end to see that it’s also an example of aposematic (warning) coloration:

Yes, there’s a face in there:

BAT FACT (and note the modified finger bones, with one sticking out:

I don’t understand how you can be comfortable sleeping like this:

Constitutional amendments that didn’t make the cut. I like the first one from 1893:

Ohio license plate error. The banner is affixed to the leading end of the plane, not the trailing end, so it looks as if the plane is flying backwards. The designer just made an assumption without checking. Here’s what the plane looked like, with its propellers in the rear (this is the original plane, now restored, at the Smithsonian):

They’ve fixed the license plates, though I wonder if the originals (if they were sent out) will become collectors’ items, like that upside down airplane on a postage stamp. And here’s the famous “Inverted Jenny” stamp of 1918. Only 100 were printed before the error was discovered, and each one is now worth about $1.6 million!

The problematic Thomas Jefferson

October 23, 2021 • 12:04 pm

What do we do about Thomas Jefferson? He wrote the Declaration of Independence, served the new United States government in several capacities, including Vice-President and Secretary of State, was our third President, founded the University of Virginia as a secular school, and wrote the Virginia Declaration of Religion Freedom—the model for America’s First Amendment. All that would commend him to our approbation, but for one ineluctable fact. He kept slaves: many of them. More than that—he had a relationship with and impregnated one of those enslaved people, Sally Hemings, and fathered at least a couple of her children. That relationship, because of the power imbalance, is considered rape.

Because of the slave issue, Jefferson’s star has sunk very low (see my piece here). A statue of him at my alma mater, the College of William and Mary, has been repeatedly defaced, a statue of Jefferson in front of a Portland, Oregon high school has been pulled down, Jefferson Elementary School in San Francisco is to be renamed, and, as I reported this week, as gleaned from the New York Times, a statue of Jefferson in the council chambers in New York’s City Hall has been relocated elsewhere.  All of this for the same reason: Jefferson was a slaveholder.

I’ve been conflicted about this legacy for a while, for how do we balance the good with the bad (more on that below).? And I was influenced by the comment of reader Historian about Jefferson on my post, to wit:

The removal of the Jefferson statute from the New York City council chamber is justified totally. While one can at least make an argument that the statue of a slaveholder need not be removed from some areas because of the “good’ things he did and looking at the statue is optional. In this case the chamber is the workplace of the council members, who have no choice but to look at it. Minority members of the council are forced to look at a statue of a person that may have very well enslaved, whipped, sold, and raped their ancestors. To them, they don’t care that he hypocritically wrote words about freedom, liberty, and equality. They are revulsed by the statue; they should not be subjected to looking at it. It’s as if Jews were compelled to look at a statue of Dr. Mengele because his medical experiments on their ancestors may have resulted in advances in medicine.

There’s food for thought there, though the Jefferson statue can’t really be compared to one of Mengele for obvious reasons: Jefferson did a lot of good stuff, much involving the founding of this Republic. Mengele was an unmitigated horror of a man.

What to do? Must we dismantle the Jefferson Memorial and remove all his statues, including the bronze one in the Capitol Rotunda that was the model for the one in New York? And if he’s canceled for slaveholding, what do we do about George Washington, who had slaves? (So did ten other Presidents.) Do we take him off the dollar bill, remove the Washington Monument from the District of Columbia, and, of course, change the name of Washington D.C. itself?

According to the White House Historical Association, at least 12 Presidents owned slaves:

. . . .at least twelve presidents were slave owners at some point during their lives: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant.

That’s more than a quarter of U.S. Presidents, and several of them were distinguished in various ways. How do we regard them? Should we honor their accomplishments at all in light of the fact that they engaged in one of the more reprehensible behaviors possible: owning other human beings, treating them badly, and making them work without pay? Remember, even during this time slavery was not seen as “business as usual”, for there were many abolitionists, especially in the UK.

While you ponder this conundrum—perhaps the hardest case of conflict between public vice and virtue—have a look at this article in Bari Weiss’s Substack site. It’s by Samuel Goldman, described this way on the site:

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at The Week. He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. His books include “God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America” and “After Nationalism.”

Goldman’s thesis is that removing Jefferson statues isn’t just an attack on the man, but an attack on the ideas he stands for (aside from slavery, of course). Click on the screenshot to read.

Goldman admits at the outset that Jefferson “didn’t live up to his own words, owning more than 600 people in his life, and, unlike Washington, didn’t have plans to free them. He “recognized his own hypocrisy,” but didn’t do anything about it. But Jefferson’s accomplishments, and the good he did, are also undeniable. And so, for Goldman, this brings up the important issue:

The question, though, is whether everyone implicated in slavery is ipso facto ineligible for public celebration. That standard doesn’t only exclude Jefferson but virtually every major figure in American history before 1861. And ruling these out of public discourse doesn’t only affect their personal memory. It also renders speechless the other Americans, like the Levy family, who’ve used their names, words, and careers as symbols to articulate their own aspirations for justice.

That’s why attacks on Columbus Day are as misplaced as removal of the Jefferson statue. The holiday and memorials in many cities aren’t really about the Genoese explorer who served a Spanish king. They are confirmations of the presence of Italian-Americans in public life, to say nothing of the courage and adventuresome spirit that led to the discovery of the New World.

The reduction of American history to an unbroken story of racial oppression comes at particular cost to Jews. Because we have been among the greatest beneficiaries of liberal institutions, we are unavoidably targets when those institutions abandon or reject their liberal mission. A widely despised and persecuted people who thrived in America like nowhere else, Jews do not fit into the sharp distinction between oppressor and oppressed that characterized ideological “antiracism.” Therefore, Jewish experiences must either be ignored or reduced to a monolithic conception of white supremacy.

I’m not sure how relevant the Jewish issue is to the discussion of Jefferson, even though it poses thorny issues for the woke. Goldman does bring up the fact that the original Jefferson statue, sculpted by the French artist David d’Angers, was commissioned by a Jew, Uriah Levy, who was not only repeatedly attacked for his religion but, as a naval officer, helped suppress the slave trade in the West Indies. Yet Levy’s own legacy was mixed. As a Jefferson admirer, he restored a decrepit Monticello—but using more than a dozen slaves.

And you can answer the first question for yourself: is every American who was implicated in slavery ipso facto ineligible for public celebration?

Goldman says “no”. While he’s not absolutely clear about the statue removal, he’s crystal clear that there has to be some celebration of Jefferson’s ideas, and how do you do that without statues or any kind of public memorial? Can we celebrate good ideas completely disconnected from the people who had them?

Goldman’s conclusion:

Jefferson’s far from the first statue to fall, and it won’t be the last. But the plaster and bronze of which they’re composed isn’t the most important thing. What matters is the fate of the ideas in that Declaration in Jefferson’s hand. The ones that Lincoln described as “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” and “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.” That’s what Uriah Levy saw in Jefferson and what we should continue to honor today.

Again, how does one honor abstract ideas without mentioning the people who had them? Should we ignore Jefferson’s positive contributions by shoving his statues into dark corners because of his negative acts? And if you say, “yes,” what do we do about George Washington.?

As I’ve written before, I judge whether or not someone should be honored if both questions below are answered “yes”:

1.) Are we honoring the positive contributions that the person made?

2.) On balance, did the person’s life contribute more good than bad to the world?

#1 was a “yes” for the New York City statue: Jefferson was depicted holding a quill pen, clearly being honored for his writings.

#2 is the hard one. After all, holding down 600 black people as property is no small thing. Against that one must balance that Jefferson helped bring about a Republic that, though it’s denigrated by many these days, I see as the greatest experiment in liberty and democracy of our era. Jefferson wrote the document that helped bring that about, and, though he was in France during the Constitutional Convention, many of his ideas infuse that Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights—most notably the First Amendment. Jefferson kept slaves, and thereby supported slavery, but the net harm was largely to his own slaves.

When you balance America as a refuge for the oppressed, Jefferson’s role in the creation of America, and his role in creating our founding documents, I would judge, subjectively, that his life was on I conclude that we should honor the man as a way of honoring his ideas—the good ones.

Caturday felid trifecta: Cat boogie woogie; woman adopts 12 fluffy Persians; cat positions itself in train station for maximum pets; and lagniappe

October 23, 2021 • 9:30 am

First we have a cat who seems to enjoy sitting on the piano mechanism while its staff plays boogie woogie. This is a very chill cat. At times it looks a bit perturbed, especially during the runs, but it doesn’t go away.


From Paws Planet we have this story (click on screenshot):

Note that Persian cats need daily brushing, so this is a busy lady. Some excerpts and photos:

If you think the life of a woman who has 3 or more kids is chaos, just look at this cat mom. She has 12 cats but she still feeds them pretty well without someone’s help. Her name is Michelle who lives in Japan and owns 12 Persian cats. She runs the Instagram page 12 Cats Lady where she shares photos of her adorable cats.

It started with one abandoned kitten rescued wet and freezing from the middle of the road. She took Yuki home and then she decided to adopt to two more Persian beauties. But what about the other nine? They are their children from the same litter! The lady assures that the cats are all spayed and neutered now so there’s no chance of having more kitties.

And as you’ll see in the pictures, all 12 are very needy, and have strong personalities. She is completely happy with all her cats, and calls herself a “cat mom” instead. She hopes to break each and every one of the cat lady stereotypes. Scroll down to enjoy and don’t forget to share with your friends and family!

The Fluffsters:

And eating, arrayed by color!




Cat tree with ornaments:

And the staff with her bosses:


This video is two years old, but I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Chill turnstile cat! What I don’t understand are all the people who fail to pet the cat. (Only three ladies do.)


Lagniappe: Monkey teaches cat to eat yogurt, and there are other primate/felid interactions. I think the affection goes only one way, though. . .

h/t: John, Ginger K., Barry

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s bird photos come from Paul Edelman, a Professor of Mathematics and Law at Vanderbilt University. Paul’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. We also have two singletons by other readers at the bottom.

Some more bird pictures from our neighborhood pond.

We have a pair of Belted Kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon) that nest in the area.  They make a loud ratcheting sound when they fly. This pair was chasing each other all over the pond.  I was fortunate to get them in flight, something I’ve tried to do many times before.

I had seen a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) during the late winter and early spring, but this is the first time in a while.  This particular one is “yellow-shafted morph” with the characteristic red patch on the back of its head and the yellow tail feathers. 

I also caught this Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in the trees over the pond.  Not sure what he was looking for.

In trees along with numerous titmice and chickadees were a number of Tennessee Warblers (Vermivora peregrine) and a solitary Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).



I have another picture—the odd hybrid duck with a couple of mallards [Anas platyrhynchos].  [JAC: Neither of us are sure what this duck is, but I think it’s the result of a cross between wild mallards and Pekin ducks, which are the white ones: also mallards but bred for color, docility, and meat. The mallard in the rear is likely a hybrid as well, but could be a wild mallard “greening up” into his breeding plumage.]

From Christopher Moss, a baby American red squirrel:

Our young friend of the Tamiasciurus hudsonicus kind:

And a travel/cat/architecture photo from Nikos Kitsakis:

I immediately had to think of you when I took the picture attached. I took it this morning standing next to the greek flag at the Acropolis in Athens at shortly after 8 in the morning (What to call it? Acropocat? Catcropolis?).

Athens has the owl 🦉 as a symbol since ancient times as you know, but all I see all the time are cats 🐈. I think they ate all the owls… 🙂

Saturday: Hili dialogue

October 23, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to the Sabbath for all eydishe kets (יידישע קעץץ): Saturday, October 23, 2021. It’s National Boston Cream Pie Day, declared the official dessert of Massachusetts in 1996. It’s not really a pie but a cream-filled, chocolate covered cake, and it’s good. It looks like this:

It’s also National Canning Day, National iPod Day, National Pit Bull Awareness Day (it’s always wise to be aware when you’re around them), Swallows Depart from San Juan Capistrano Day, and Mole Day.  Here’s the explanation of Mole Day, which doesn’t involve animals:

Mole Day is an unofficial holiday celebrated among chemists, chemistry students and chemistry enthusiasts on October 23, between 6:02 a.m. and 6:02 p.m., making the date 6:02 10/23 in the American style of writing dates. The time and date are derived from the Avogadro number, which is approximately 6.02×1023, defining the number of particles (atoms or molecules) in one mole (mol) of substance, one of the seven base SI units.

News of the Day:

*This I consider a very bad portent: the Supreme Court, considering the Justice Department objection to Texas’s unconstitutional and draconian new anti-abortion law, and also considering the state’s response, decided to let the Texas law stay in place until expedited oral arguments are heard on November 1. CNN adds:

In agreeing to hear the case under such an expedited time frame, the court said Friday that it would focus specifically on the unusual way in which the Texas legislature crafted the law. It also said it will review whether the US Justice Department can challenge the law in court.

The U.S. has no standing in challenging an unconstitutional law? Do they need a pregnant women to bring suit? This is above my pay grade, but it’s beyond me how the Court can allow a palpably unconstitutional law to stay in effect at all.

*The Democrats are still fractured on Biden’s spending bills, but are slowly easing their way to a consensus. Senator Kyrsten Sinema has thrown up a big roadblock by saying she will not vote to raise taxes on the rich, on corporations or on capital gains, all of which were supposed to be the basis for funding both bills. Where else could they get all that money?

*Actor Alec Baldwin fired what was supposed to be a prop firearm while filming the movie “Rust,” and it turned out not to be a prop. It went off, 48 killing Halyana Hutchins, 42, the director of photography, and injuring director Joel Souza, 48.  The police are investigating what happened, and Baldwin hasn’t been charged with anything. I assume it was an accident, but I doubt that the projectile was a blank, which can cause damage, but couldn’t kill two people at some distance from the gun.

*Reader Ken informs us that The Jan. 6th Capitol insurrections in prison awaiting trial have started their own prison gang.  As Ken comments, “I guess the Aryan Brotherhood is just too damn liberal.” To wit:

At 9 p.m. every night, inmates in the so-called Patriot Wing of the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility reportedly stand at attention and sing The Star-Spangled Banner. You can even listen, if you want, to an alleged recording of it on the website called The Patriot Freedom Project.

. . .The “Patriot Wing” houses the most hardcore perpetrators of the January 6 riot, roughly 40 men in all.

On the outside, they’ve been recast as “political prisoners” by some sitting GOP politicians, while some fans even paint them as heroes—literally.

*The headline of the Washington Post piece says it all: “Otters are taking over Singapore.”  (h/t Paul). What an adorable story!

Pollution and deforestation drove away Singapore’s otter population in the 1970s. But as the country cleaned up its waters and reforested land in recent years, otters came back in full force, integrating into urban spaces and learning to navigate one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Today, to the annoyance of some and the joy of others, the island is home to more than 10 otter romps, or families.

In the Marina Bay area, known for architecturally audacious ­hotels and for one-bedroom apartments that sell for $1.8 million, otters bop in the water and the crunch of fish bones echoes along the boardwalk. Using drainpipes as highways, the carnivorous mammals traverse the city, sometimes popping up in rush-hour traffic, or racing through university campuses.

Otters pushed out of the local rivers and bays by rival families dig homes between buildings. They visit hospital lobbies and condominium pools, hunting for koi fish and drinking from fountains. New families fight for access to food and shelter, in battles that are covered by the local papers and dissected online.

Count me in with the otter-lovers!

*The NYT reviews a new book on the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, titled The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone, by Edward Golnick (Amazon link here). It turns out that two men, one British and the other French, were racing to decode the previously mysterious hieroglyphics. It sounds like a fascinating read.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 735,515, an increase of 1,504 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,955,350, an increase of about 7,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on October 23 includes:

  • 4004 BC – James Ussher’s proposed creation date of the world according to the Bible.

Well, Wikipedia said the creation (calculated by going back through the “begats” and estimating, was actually about 6 p.m. on October 22.  The 9 a.m. on October 23 date, which you often hear, is an error. If you want to see how he made the calculations, go here.  He also calculated that Jesus would return in 2000 AD.  His estimates, and the Bible, are the basis for the assertions of a recent creation by those chowderheaed young-earth creationists. Here’s the document in which he made the bogus calculation.

  • 1707 – The First Parliament of Great Britain convenes.
  • 1739 – The War of Jenkins’ Ear begins when Prime Minister Walpole reluctantly declares war on Spain.

You’ll want to hear why this war has such a weird name.

This was not the first women’s rights convention, which was the famous Seneca Falls Convention that took place in 1848. It was the first national women’s right convention.

Spain didn’t join the Axis because Hitler considered its demands too extreme. Here are Hitler and Franco at the railway station in Hendaye, France:

  • 1955 – The people of the Saar region vote in a referendum to unite with Germany instead of France.
  • 1973 – Watergate scandal: President Nixon agrees to turn over subpoenaed audio tapes of his Oval Office conversations.

Here’s one of the incriminating tape: Nixon and Haldeman discuss whether they can use the CIA to block an FBI investigation of Watergate:

Here’s Selena in 1989 singing tejano music at the Tejano Music Awards. She was only 23 when she was shot, and her killer is still in prison, eligible for parole in 2015:

  • 2002 – Chechen terrorists seize the House of Culture theater in Moscow and take approximately 700 theater-goers hostage.

Here’s a video of part of the siege. Although all 40 of the insurgents were killed, most of the 130 hostages who died were killed by a narcotic gas pumped into the theater by the authorities to knock out the attackers.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1491 (estimated) – Ignatius of Loyola, Catholic priest (d. 1556)
  • 1844 – Sarah Bernhardt, French actress (d. 1923)

Two divine Sarahs:

  • 1905 – Felix Bloch, Swiss physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1983)
  • 1925 – Johnny Carson, American comedian and talk show host (d. 2005)
  • 1940 – Pelé, Brazilian footballer and actor

Here are some highlights of Pelé’s career, though the film quality isn’t great:

  • 1954 – Ang Lee, Taiwanese-American director, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1960 – Randy Pausch, American author and academic (d. 2008)

Pausch, a professor of computer science, human–computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and gave the “Last Lecture” (that’s what the venue was named, but his was almost, but not quite, his last lecture). The lecture was given at CMU on CMU on September 18, 2007; Pausch died on July 28 of the next year.

  • 1984 – Meghan McCain, American journalist and author

Those who lost the last of their nine lives (or however many they had) on October 23 include:

  • 1872 – Théophile Gautier, French journalist, author, and poet (b. 1811)
  • 1939 – Zane Grey, American dentist and author (b. 1872)
  • 1950 – Al Jolson, Lithuanian-American actor and singer (b. 1886)

Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in a Jewish Lithuanian village. He’s infamous for his blackface portrayal in The Jazz Singer (1927), the first “talkie” movie, but he also fought against discrimination on Broadway. As we see so often, his legacy is complicated. Here he is singing in whiteface:

And here’s Mother Maybelle singing her signature song, “Wildwood Flower”, at the Grand Old Opry, accompanied by Flatt and Scruggs.

If you’re an American evolutionist, you’ll have seen Chick’s comics attacking science and evolution in favor of Christianity. He especially hated “professors” and Catholics (Chick was a Baptist). Here’s one of his panels:

And Chick himself:

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast


Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Andrzej have a deep conversation. Malgorzata explains:

“Rationalism is not valued any more in many circles of many societies. Hili asks whether it has a chance to return to favor, but Andrzej is skeptical because of the irrational opinion of people even in their everyday lives (kitchen talks).”

Hili: Does rationalism have any chance?
A: Lately it’s been in trouble even on the kitchen level.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy racjonalizm ma szanse?
Ja: Ostatnio ma kłopoty nawet na kuchennym poziomie.

And little Kulka on a shelf. Do you think she’s related to Hili?

From Taner. The sign, in Turkish, apparently says, “Entry prohibited to cats who will not let themselves be petted.”

From Nicole:

Bruce calls this a “groaner’ meme, and it is, but it’s also interesting:

Masih reports on women’s protests in Afghanistan. Yes, these women are brave and alive, but perhaps not long for some of them. . .

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew: I showed you the first one yesterday, but look at the second tweet below! What’s wrong with this picture?

A capybara chilling with my favorite wild canid: the fennec fox (Vulpes zerda). They are also the world’s smallest canid, weighing in between 1 and 2 kilos.

WHO’S a bad boy? How did this cat get stuck in a toilet?

Hear the sounds of Mars! Matthew orders you to put your headphones on before listening. But if there’s no microphone on Mars, is there any sound? (Answer: no.)

This population of jaguars on the Brazilian Pantanal lives almost exclusively on fish (see the paper). They even fish cooperatively!

A mysterious tweet from Dr. McAlister that she clarified when Matthew inquired (below):