Monday: Hili dialogue

January 25, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning and top o’ the week to you: it’s Monday, January 25, 2021, and National Irish Coffee Day, a concoction I rather like, and appropriate for these freezing days. It’s also Burns Night, a time to celebrate his birthday (see below) by reciting his poetry, eating haggis, and drinking whisky; A Room of One’s Own Day, celebrating the birth of Virginia Woolf on January 25, 1882; Macintosh Computer Day; and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. Is there anyone who doesn’t like to pop the stuff? Here’s a bunch of New Jersey high school students setting the world record for bubble popping:


Wine of the Day: I made chili with ground beef, and for that you need a gutsy red, preferably (because the dish is spicy) nothing too expensive. This inexpensive Cotes-du-Rhone fills the bill (you can pay more, but I paid $14; the trick is to find a wine store like Vin Chicago, with knowledgable staff but low overhead). It’s an unusual wine given the appellation, as it’s 100% Syrah, and that means stuffing.  I should have let it age, but this was at hand yesterday.

It was an excellent bottle: ready to drink but I’d like to see how it improves over time (sadly, I had but one bottle). Redolent of raspberry fruit, but full-bodied, it tasted like a cross between a Zinfandel and a Beaujolais.  As the reviewer said, “I’d pay $30+ for a Syrah of this quality and be very happy,” I was even happier for paying less than half that.

News of the Day:

Big kerfuffle in Chicago: the school board has said that it’s safe for teachers to resume in-class teaching in secondary schools, but the teacher’s union has said no: they ain’t teaching live until they get vaccinated.  Since a vaccination takes at least 5-6 weeks to confer full immunity, this has created something of an impasse, and it’s a big deal here. The school board has paused classes until Wednesday, but there may be a strike.

If you’re interested in such things, this year’s Superbowl, to be held on February 7 in Tampa Bay, Florida will now feature the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay quarterback unwisely let go by the New England Patriots, is 43, and old for a player, but still the best in the league.  And his team beat the Green Bay Packers 31-26, with Brady firing some great touchdown passes. Old is not passé! Brady has six Super Bowl rings and could get a seventh, covering most of his fingers.

Will Biden get his legislative agenda through the Senate? Not if the GOP invokes the filibuster, which means you need 60 votes to get legislation passed. Two writers at the Washington Post aren’t optimistic:

Much of the current conflict over the Senate rules comes courtesy of veteran Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who transitioned to minority leader Wednesday after six years as majority leader.

Just hours after Biden’s inauguration, moments after a smiling Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was first recognized as majority leader, McConnell pointedly noted on the Senate floor that the country elected a smaller House Democratic majority, an evenly split Senate and a “president who promised unity.”

“The people intentionally entrusted both political sides with significant power to shape our nation’s direction,” he said. “May we work together to honor that trust.”

Two days earlier, he had notified his Republican colleagues in the Senate that he would deliver Schumer a sharp ultimatum: agree to preserve the legislative filibuster, the centerpiece of minority power in the Senate or forget about any semblance of cooperation — starting with an agreement on the chamber’s operating rules.

The calculations for McConnell, according to Republicans, are simple. Not only is preserving the filibuster a matter that Republicans can unify around, it is something that potentially divides Democrats, who are under enormous pressure to discard it to advance their governing agenda.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 419,207, an increase of about 1,900 deaths over yesterday’s figure. We may pass half a million deaths in less than a month. The reported world death toll stands at 2,140,425, an increase of about 8,700 deaths over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 25 includes:

  • 1533 – Henry VIII of England secretly marries his second wife Anne Boleyn.
  • 1858 – The Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn is played at the marriage of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Victoria, and Friedrich of Prussia, and becomes a popular wedding processional.
  • 1881 – Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company.
  • 1890 – Nellie Bly completes her round-the-world journey in 72 days.

Here’s Bly (real name Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) at 26. Three years earlier, she became famous by feigning insanity and getting herself committed to the New York City Mental Health Hospital on Blackwell’s island to write an exposé about the horrible conditions there. Then, of course, she made her famous journey, following Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Carrying just a small satchel with a few clothes, and $200 in cash, she made it in 72 days, mostly traveling alone.  Her Wikipedia article summarizes an extremely interesting life; there’s a lot more!

  • 1909 – Richard Strauss’s opera Elektra receives its debut performance at the Dresden State Opera.
  • 1915 – Alexander Graham Bell inaugurates U.S. transcontinental telephone service, speaking from New York to Thomas Watson in San Francisco.
  • 1947 – Thomas Goldsmith Jr. files a patent for a “Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device”, the first ever electronic game.
  • 1961 – In Washington, D.C., President John F. Kennedy delivers the first live presidential television news conference.

Here’s ten minutes of that 37-minute press conference:

Actually, Charles “Tex” Watson was also convicted. (Fix that, Wikipedia!) Of the five convicted, Watson, Krenwinkel, and van Houten remain alive and incarcerated.   Here are the three women convicted:

Note the Xs carved in their forehead, aping Charlie’s swastika.

This was a close one. For the only time in history, a nuclear briefcase was activated (Yeltsin’s), but then de-activated when the Russians determined that the missile was headed away from their country.

  • 1996 – Billy Bailey becomes the last person to be hanged in the U.S.A.

Bailey chose hanging over lethal injection because he didn’t want to be “put to sleep”. For his last meal, he requested a well-done steak, a baked potato with sour cream and butter, buttered rolls, peas, and vanilla ice cream. Have a look at that link to see other prisoners’ last meals, which I find fascinating. Eichmann even got a bottle of kosher wine! (Alcohol is forbidden to U.S. condemned prisoners.) But a well done steak! Oy!

Here are the gallows used to hang Bailey:

  • 2011 – The first wave of the Egyptian revolution begins throughout the country, marked by street demonstrations, rallies, acts of civil disobedience, riots, labour strikes, and violent clashes.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1627 – Robert Boyle, Anglo-Irish chemist and physicist (d. 1691)
  • 1759 – Robert Burns, Scottish poet and songwriter (d. 1796)
  • 1874 – W. Somerset Maugham, British playwright, novelist, and short story writer (d. 1965)
  • 1882 – Virginia Woolf, English novelist, essayist, short story writer, and critic (d. 1941)

Here Jodie Comer reads a poignant letter that Vita Sackville-West sent to her lover Woolf (you can hear the reply here). Very good letters and, at least on Comer’s part, a fantastic reading. They don’t make love letters like that any more!

Doby was my academic grandfather, the advisor of my Ph.D. advisor. Here he is at the scope, probably looking at chromosome squashes.

  • 1949 – Paul Nurse, English geneticist and biologist, Nobel Prize laureate
  • 1981 – Alicia Keys, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and actress

Those who started the Big Sleep on January 25 include:

  • 1586 – Lucas Cranach the Younger, German painter (b. 1515)
  • 1640 – Robert Burton, English physician and scholar (b. 1577)
  • 1891 – Theo van Gogh, Art dealer, the brother of Vincent van Gogh (b. 1857)

Theo and his brother both died young; they are buried side by side in Auvers-sur-Oise (go see the place if you’re in Paris). Vincent shot himself, of course, and Theo died of syphillis.  The simple gravesite is immensely touching. Always at odds with each other, the brothers reconciled only in death.

  • 1947 – Al Capone, American gangster and mob boss (b. 1899)
  • 1990 – Ava Gardner, American actress (b. 1922)

I still think she was the world’s most beautiful woman, and remains so:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili urges Andrzej to work harder on Listy:

Hili: We can’t stop our efforts.
A: I totally agree.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie możemy ustawać w wysiłkach.
Ja: Całkowicie podzielam twoje zdanie.
Szaron is looking sad, but he’s really only shy:

I can’t resist yet another Bernie meme from Mark. And it’s one of my favorite albums:

I can’t stop myself; here’s another Bernie album-cover meme from Gregory:

From Jesus of the Day. I’ll try to see if this is a real sign. Yes. it seems to be real, and appears to be at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Titania, following the unrestrained exultation of the newsperson here, compares Joe Biden to the first two rulers of North Korea. Be sure to listen to the over-the-top video.

From Gethyn, a remarkable find:

. . . and in case you’ve forgotten what the Cookie Monster looks like:

From Simon. Look at that cat!

From Barry, we have a cat severely in need of rehab!

If you want Cat Crack (a product of Canada), you can buy it on Amazon.

Tweets from Matthew. Here’s a moving clip in which the team of Nepalese climbers who recently made the first winter ascent of K2 (second highest peak on Earth) march to the summit arm in arm, singing the Nepalese National Anthem. Sound up (the fancy music is, of course, superimposed on the clip):

There are a gazillion ways to address this question; I’ll let readers find their own answers (put them below, please):

I just keep getting these memes from readers, and believe me, there are more to come in the next few days’ Hili posts:

And some peace to end with, for peace comes dropping slow, dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings  Sound up.

Is there “post journalism” news?

January 24, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I used to get angry when I read the newspaper because of the foibles of politicians and other miscreants it described, or things like laws being enacted to make it impossible for women to get abortions. In other words, I didn’t like bad news, but I had to read it anyway. One must be informed.

Now, however, I get angry for another reason: the ideological bias of every news source I read, whether on the Right or Left. In fact, I don’t know of a news source whose bias isn’t worn on the sleeve. On the Left we have HuffPost, one of the most egregious examples, but also the New York Times and the Washington Post, both of which have gone nearly completely woke. Even in the editorial sections you’re hard pressed to find a conservative columnist (remember the firing of the NYT op-ed editor because he allowed an editorial by Senator Tom Cotton to be published?)  The Right is even worse, with places like Breitbart or The Daily Wire having an absolutely predictable take on everything. I’m told the Wall Street Journal has a very good news section, but it’s editorially hard on the Right, and I’m not sure I want to subscribe to a paper like that.

I suppose what I’d like is a paper whose news is objective, not ideologically slanted in tone and the subjects chosen for coverage, and whose editorial section makes me think—challenges me with heterodox opinions that go against my own, or at least, if on the Left, has thoughtful and unpredictable takes.  I know of no such paper. I am reading some Substack blogs like Andrew Sullivan’s and Bari Weiss’s, because sometimes they do surprise me but they’re also thoughtful, even when I disagree. But they don’t replace the news. They are commentary on the news.

In other words, the news situation is very dire. The thesis of this City Journal article by Martin Gurri (click on screenshot below) is that the mainstream media (MSM to the cognoscenti) has entered a “post-journalism” phase in which objectivity of news coverage isn’t the goal. That goal has been replaced, argues Gurri, by journalism that caters to a niche audience, aims to keep it coming back by scaring it, and makes no pretense of evenhanded coverage. That’s what the WaPo and NYT seem like to me.

Gurri is a former CIA employee and now a news media analyst, and City Journal is published by the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, but that’s no reason to dismiss Gurri’s argument. (By the way, it really irks me when people dismiss an argument solely because it comes from one portion of the political spectrum, or if the writer has said one or a few wrong or dumb things in another venue. Do not do that on this site, where we try to stick to arguments and not reject them because they come from this or that person or ideology. Scientists argue about the data and its meaning, and don’t worry about the ideology of their opponents.)

But I digress. There’s a lot I agree with in Gurri’s views, and I’ll give a few excerpts. You can can address his arguments in the comments, and you might tell me what news sources I would find more to my liking.


Gurri mostly goes after the Times, but his arguments could apply to any slanted paper. Here’s his definition of “post-journalism” journalism:

Led by the New York Times, a few prominent brand names moved to a model that sought to squeeze revenue from digital subscribers lured behind a paywall. This approach carried its own risks. The amount of information in the world was, for practical purposes, infinite. As supply vastly outstripped demand, the news now chased the reader, rather than the other way around. Today, nobody under 85 would look for news in a newspaper. Under such circumstances, what commodity could be offered for sale?

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Times stumbled onto a possible answer. It entailed a wrenching pivot from a journalism of fact to a “post-journalism” of opinion—a term coined, in his book of that title, by media scholar Andrey Mir. Rather than news, the paper began to sell what was, in effect, a creed, an agenda, to a congregation of like-minded souls. Post-journalism “mixes open ideological intentions with a hidden business necessity required for the media to survive,” Mir observes. The new business model required a new style of reporting. Its language aimed to commodify polarization and threat: journalists had to “scare the audience to make it donate.” At stake was survival in the digital storm.

The experiment proved controversial. It sparked a melodrama over standards at the Times, featuring a conflict between radical young reporters and befuddled middle-aged editors. In a crucible of proclamations, disputes, and meetings, the requirements of the newspaper as an institution collided with the post-journalistic call for an explicit struggle against injustice.

The battleground was the treatment of race and racism in America. But the story began, as it seemingly must, with that inescapable character: Donald Trump. . . .

Trump, of course, was the bugbear who sold a gazillion digital subscriptions to the New York Times and other Left-wing venues (I don’t know about Right-wing ones). And Gurri dates the change in journalism to an article in the NYT in 2016 that more or less declared that slanting of news was understandable, if not okay:

In August 2016, as the presidential race ground grimly onward, the New York Times laid down a marker regarding the manner in which it would be covered. The paper declared the prevalence of media opinion to be an irresistible fact, like the weather. Or, as Jim Rutenberg phrased it in a prominent front-page story: “If you view a Trump presidency as something that is potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that.” Objectivity was discarded in favor of an “oppositional” stance. This was not an anti-Trump opinion piece. It was an obituary for the values of a lost era. Rutenberg, who covered the media beat, had authored a factual report about the death of factual reporting—the sort of paradox often encountered among the murky categories of post-journalism.

The article touched on the fraught issue of race and racism. Trump opponents take his racism for granted—he stands accused of appealing to the worst instincts of the American public, and those who wish to debate the point immediately fall under suspicion of being racists themselves. The dilemma, therefore, was not whether Trump was racist (that was a fact) or why he flaunted his racist views (he was a dangerous demagogue) but, rather, how to report on his racism under the strictures of commercial journalism. Once objectivity was sacrificed, an immense field of subjective possibilities presented themselves. A vision of the journalist as arbiter of racial justice would soon divide the generations inside the New York Times newsroom.

Rutenberg made his point through hypothetical-rhetorical questions that, at times, verged on satire: “If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?” Rutenberg assumed that “working journalists” shared the same opinion of Trump—that wasn’t perceived as problematic. A second assumption concerned the intelligence of readers: they couldn’t be trusted to process the facts. The answer to Rutenberg’s loaded question, therefore, could only be to “throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of a half-century” and leap vigorously into advocacy. Trump could not safely be covered; he had to be opposed.

The part about assuming readers were dumb rings true: which paper now doesn’t have articles whose headlines are “X: here’s what you need to know.”

Gurri then gives a potted history of the Times‘s descent into post-journalism, exacerbated by, he claims, their and Mueller’s failure to turn up much on Trump and his associates in the “Russiagate” affair. While that looked like a coverage failure for the paper, it produce plenty of clicks—and money:

Yet what looked like journalistic failure was, in fact, an astonishing post-journalistic success. The intent of post-journalism was never to represent reality or inform the public but to arouse enough political fervor in readers that they wished to enter the paywall in support of the cause. This was ideology by the numbers—and the numbers were striking. Digital subscriptions to the New York Times, which had been stagnant, nearly doubled in the first year of Trump’s presidency. By August 2020, the paper had 6 million digital subscribers—six times the number on Election Day 2016 and the most in the world for any newspaper. The Russian collusion story, though refuted objectively, had been validated subjectively, by the growth in the congregation of the paying faithful.

This led to two video “town hall” discussions between the younger journalistic staff and the editors, the first being executive editor Dean Baquet, a black man. The first meeting was in August of 2019, and dealt with how to cover Trump, and whether to refer to him as a racist in the news section. Already, as Gurri percipiently notes, Twitter had begun to be an editor of the paper, and this remains the case. The future of the paper was limned by one young staffer in that meeting:

If Trump lied or made racist statements, journalists had a moral duty to call him out as a liar and a racist. This principle was absolute and extended to all subjects. Since, as one of them put it, “racism and white supremacy” had been “sort of the foundation of this country,” the consequences should be reported explicitly. “I just feel like racism is in everything,” this questioner asserted. “It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting.”

And so it was. This had already been instantiated in the 1619 Project, which wasn’t really journalism—nor was it history—but a unique attempt of a paper to bend the minds of Americans and their children (it’s used in school curricula) towards a specific ideology.

It led as well to the debacle that prompted the second town hall meeting: the publication of Tom Cotton’s NYT editorial, “Send in the Troops”, arguing that troops should be sent in to quell violence when there were unruly demonstrations (he was referring to racial unrest). That opinion was shared by most Americans, but the young Times staffers argued that Cotton’s editorial caused harm, even endangered them. That, of course, was ludicrous, but it also spelled the end of true conservative op-eds in the paper.  Look at the op-eds these days and you might find Ross Douthat spouting some weak conservative beer and criticizing Trump, but you’ll never see an op-ed like Cotton’s again. (Cotton’s editorial is now adorned with caveats and explanations inserted by the paper, and never appeared in the print edition.)


The day after the Cotton op-ed appeared online, Times employees sent a letter to Times decision makers, expressing “deep concern” over the piece. This document marked the logical culmination of the process that Rutenberg’s article had begun four years earlier. Objectivity now jettisoned, the question at hand was whose subjective will should control the news agenda.

The letter’s authors made a number of striking assumptions. First, the backdrop was an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, a story “that does not have a direct precedent in our lifetimes.” The place of the New York Times in that struggle was at issue. Second, some opinions were dangerous—physically so. Cotton’s opinion fell into that category. “Choosing to present this point of view without added context leaves members of the American public . . . vulnerable to harm” while also jeopardizing “our reporters’ ability to work safely and effectively.” Third, the duty of the newspaper was less to inform than to protect such “vulnerable” readers from harmful opinions. By allowing Cotton inside the tent, the Times had failed its readership.

This was the essence of post-journalism: informational “protection”—polarization—sold as a commodity. Objectivity had crumbled before the dangerous Trump. On the question of who decided the danger of any given piece, the newsroom rebels presented a number of broad demands. Future opinion pieces needed to be vetted “across the desk’s diverse staff before publication,” while readers should be invited to “express themselves.” The young reporters felt that they had a better fix on what readers wanted than did their elders. Given the generational divide on social media, this was almost certainly true.

All that rings pretty true. Where I disagree with Gurri is his prognostication.  He feels that the road the Times went down will reach a dead end, for the younger generation, who, by and large, control what the paper prints via kvetching on Twitter, are not its main consumers. Gurri sees this as untenable, but doesn’t realize that the writers for the paper are drawn from the generation who doesn’t read it, and the writers, combined with social media, will guide the direction of the Times. I see nothing that will stop this trend, which is why I think Wokeness will increase under Biden. What is there to stop it given that even Left-centrists cave to the Outrage Culture, quaking in fear of being called racists? But let me end with Guri’s prediction:

Revolutions tend to radicalization. The same is true of social media mobs: they grow ever more extreme until they explode. But the New York Times is neither of these things—it’s a business, and post-journalism is now its business model. The demand for moral clarity, pressed by those who own the truth, must increasingly resemble a quest for radical conformism; but for nonideological reasons, the demand cannot afford to leave subscriber opinion too far behind. Radicalization must balance with the bottom line.

The final paradox of post-journalism is that the generation most likely to share the moralistic attitude of the newsroom rebels is the least likely to read a newspaper. Andrey Mir, who first defined the concept, sees post-journalism as a desperate gamble, doomed in the end by demographics. For newspapers and their multiple art forms developed over a 400-year history, Mir writes, the collision with the digital tsunami was never going to be a challenge to surmount but rather “an extinction-level event.”

Well, what will die is good journalism, the kind practiced by the “good gray Times.” What will not die are news sites themselves—at least not for a while. And the most valuable thing that will go extinct is objectivity, the heartbeat of a democracy in which citizens are supposed to make up their own minds.

Sci Am op-ed: Lander the wrong choice as Biden’s science advisor because he won’t use science as a “tool for justice”

January 24, 2021 • 9:30 am

Recently President Biden named biologist Eric Lander, a well known professor of biology at MIT and co-founder of the famous Broad Institute, to be the new Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a position that Biden made into a Cabinet-level post. Lander played a big role in the Human Genome Project and was, under Obama, co-chair of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

I’m not a huge fan of Lander as a human being. When I was doing work for the defense in criminal cases involving DNA profiling, Lander was frequently on the other side, an expert witness for the prosecution who worked closely with the FBI.  I felt that Lander was overly zealous in trying to adopt DNA profiling and its attendant statistics before the method and the stats were ready for prime time. He is, to my taste, too ambitious and self-aggrandizing.  And, in Lander’s written history of the development of CRISPR-Cas9 system, he almost completely ignored the contributions of the two women who actually won the Nobel Prize for it—Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier—in favor of touting his own boy, Feng Zhang at the Broad. (Zhang didn’t share the Nobel.)

Despite Lander’s personality and ambition, it’s undeniable that he has the chops and the experience to do the Cabinet-level job of advising Biden on science. As I said, he was a major player and organizer of the Human Genome Project, he helped set up the Broad Institute, a reputable and highly funded research organization, and he’s had government experience under the Obama administration. Since the remit of Lander’s new job is to advise the President on science and technology, he’s certainly highly qualified.

But a consortium of women scientists, “500 Women Scientists“, finds the choice of Lander wanting, and explained why in a new op-ed in Scientific American. The problem, as they see it, is that the government in general, and science advisors in particular, are not sufficiently diverse. Lander’s problem—they do mention his personality, but that’s not the main issue—is that he’s a white male: just more of the same. The 500 Women Scientists group has written six stories already for Sci Am, so one might suspect that the journal itself supports their views.

Given the diversity of both cabinet positions and science advisors already appointed by Biden, however, I think the authors are misguided. Click on the screenshot to read:

The issues are several. First, the consortium sees the position as one that should be filled by a woman or member of a minority group, as there’s not sufficient diversity in the government and in science decision-making. But if you first look at the Biden cabinet itself, you see an overall diversity that, in fact, exceeds even “equity”. Here’s my tally so far, as best I can suss out ancestry. I’ve included Kamala Harris since she’s part of Cabinet meetings, and I’ve included all people listed in the Wikipedia article on Biden’s cabinet-level appointments and nominees.

And here’s the breakdown of those 24 people by sex and ethnicity, with the overall proportions in the American population given in parentheses. You can see that there is indeed “equity” here in the sense that representation in the Cabinet reflects representation in the population as a whole (source for population statistics is given below):

This is surely a Cabinet that “looks like America,” and that’s great.

But what about science? The consortium who wrote the op-ed feels that there aren’t enough women and people of color among them, and Lander, as the cabinet-level advisor, is therefore clearly a suboptimal choice. Yet the group mentions the several women and minority men already appointed by Biden for other science posts—and they don’t even add Rochelle Walensky, a highly qualified woman whom Biden just appointed to head the Center for Disease Controls and Prevention. That is surely a position as powerful, if not more so, than Lander’s. After all, the CDC head implements policy, while Lander just advises on policy. Further In the midst of the pandemic, head of the CDC is arguably the most important science post going, and Walensky has a real chance—literally a life and death one—to ensure that resources (vaccines) are equitably distributed.  Now there’s a chance for equity!

As reader Mark reminds us in the comments, Biden has filled another science post—that of Assistant Secretary of Health—with a transgender woman, Rachel Levine.

From the op-ed:

We applaud the return of science back to the White House after four years of unprecedented damage. We celebrate the nomination of leaders like Deb Haaland—a Native American woman chosen to lead the Department of the Interior, which is largely responsible for managing tribal land—and Michael Regan—a leader with experience in environmental justice tapped to run the Environmental Protection Agency. We have cheered the nominations of people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of an administration that systematically chipped away at their rights and protections. Nominations that reflect America’s diversity of backgrounds and experiences should be the norm. That we are now celebrating so many firsts speaks to how far we still have to go to make society equitable and just.

. . . To pursue this agenda, the Biden-Harris team has equipped Lander with some of the greatest minds leading in science and society. The OSTP deputy director for science and society, Alondra Nelson, is a social scientist and distinguished scholar of race and social inequalities. She is one of the world’s most respected experts on the history of science, medicine and technology, and she wrote a book about the history of grassroots organizing around medical rights for civil and human rights. Maria Zuber and Frances H. Arnold will serve as co-chairs of the PCAST.

But that’s not enough. Lander is a straight white male, and that’s not great, despite his qualifications and experience in administration, both private and governmental. His Caucasianicity (he is Jewish, though) apparently means that he’s not sufficiently keen to use his position to effect social justice. This whole discussion presume that there are different ways that a white man would advise Biden from the way a white woman would advise Biden, and that would differ from the way a black Man, a Hispanic Man, or a black woman would advise Biden. It presumes, in other words, that one’s point of view is deeply connected with one’s sex, gender or ethnicity. I find that doubtful when it comes to science. (My emphases in the following.)

Despite this slate of diverse leadership, we can’t help but notice that the recently announced nomination of presidential science adviser Eric Lander fails to meet the moment. His nomination does not fill us with hope that he will shepherd the kind of transformation in science we need if we are to ensure science delivers equity and justice for all. We had high hopes that the Biden administration would continue its pattern of bold nominations when envisioning a newly elevated cabinet position of science adviser. There was certainly no shortage of options, with a deep bench of qualified women and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) whose expertise and experience can transform the place of science as a tool for justice.

As you see, the issue is not just Lander’s race and sex; it’s that the consortium sees promulgation of social justice and equity as perhaps the most important remit of Lander’s job. There’s the last sentence above, asking for science to be a “tool for justice”, as well as these statements:

The late Ruth Bader Ginsberg told us, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Yet high-level decision-makers in the U.S. federal government have continued to be overwhelmingly white and male, especially when it comes to science leadership positions. From a historic lack of federal leadership on environmental justice to health disparities born of systemic racism and economic inequality, science policy reflects and amplifies inequities within science. The Biden administration has a huge opportunity to change the face of scientific decision-making, particularly amidst a global pandemic, calls for racial justice from research institutions across the country, and the looming impacts of climate change.

. . . and this:

Lander, an MIT geneticist and former co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)—exemplifies the status quo. With this nomination, the opportunity to finally break the long lineage of white male science advisers has been missed. This was a chance to substantively address historical inequalities and transform harmful stereotypes by appointing someone with new perspectives into the top science adviser role. Despite a long list of supremely qualified people that could have held this position and inspired a whole new generation of scientists, the glass ceiling in American science remains intact.

Every statement above is questionable, either on the grounds of truth (I’ve just shown that four very important science advisors are women, one of them a Native American, and another is a black man. Further, the head of the CDC is a woman.  Where, exactly, is the glass ceiling in Biden’s science appointments?

And I disagree with the consortium that an important function of the science advisor is to “deliver equity and justice” or that science should serve as a “tool for justice.” That is Woke ideology that misunderstands what a science advisor should do. Certainly an advisor should not deliver injustice, or promulgate policies that are unfair or bigoted, but the function of a science advisor is to advise Biden on science. The rest of the Cabinet, and of the Biden administration (including ethicists at the CDC) are charged with taking into account whether policies are just, which is also the purview of the Congress. Science is not a tool to bend society to the wishes of the woke—or to any other ideology—it’s a tool for finding out what’s true in the Universe.

I should note that the Consortium also makes a virtue of necessity, recasting Frances Arnold’s retraction of a paper as evidence of her integrity:

In 2018, Arnold won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and she was the first woman to be nominated to all three National Academies (Science, Engineering, Medicine). She has also demonstrated her commitment to scientific integrity, retracting a paper she had published when evidence of its flaws came to light.

I’m sorry, but it’s not a virtue to retract a paper when you find out it’s wrong (in this case, the data could not be reproduced). It is what every scientist is supposed to do, and, as my dad used to tell me, “Jerry, you don’t get praised for doing what you’re supposed to do.” Arnold in fact apologized for the retraction, saying that she didn’t do her job well and was “busy when this was submitted” (i.e., she didn’t properly oversee the paper). That is a fault, not a virtue. But she did correct herself. Her tweet:

But while overlooking Arnold’s missteps, the consortium refuses to overlook Lander’s. Those include his overly self-serving omission of Doudna and Charpentier’s contributions to the CRISPR system (a bad move, I think), and Lander’s having toasted James Watson at Watson’s 90th birthday party. Watson, of course, is a racist, and toasting him is seen by the Consortium (as it was by many others) as a “gross error in judgment”. Watson’s downplaying of Rosalind Franklin is also mentioned, though he later apologized for that.

In 2018, Lander was pressured to publicly apologize for making a gross error in judgement—and in leadership—by toasting James Watson, who was forced to step down from leading Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory after a long history of racist and sexist comments, and who himself failed to acknowledge the contributions of Rosalind Franklin.

It’s part of this self-righteous criticism that the consortium overlooks Arnold’s deficiencies—believe me, if Lander retracted a paper, that would have been seen as a flaw—turning them into a virtue, while not forgiving Lander for toasting one of his colleagues (Watson in fact started the Human Genome Project for the government), despite apologizing for it. The self-serving history of CRISPR was a genuine misstep, something I wouldn’t have done, but I can’t find myself damning Lander for toasting one of his former colleagues on his 90th birthday. Yes, Watson is a flaming racist, but that’s not all there is to the man. But in the end, there is no forgiveness among the Woke. Praising Watson? Not in the cards. Damning a colleague for toasting him? Virtue flaunting.

Once again I prognosticate that Wokeness will not abate under the Biden administration. On the contrary, it will intensify. And this sanctimonious piece is surely infused with Wokeness. Of course Biden should take ethnicity and gender into account when he appointed his Cabinet. But he did! And he should also have taken into account experience and competence. He did that, too! His appointment of his science advisors reflects both considerations, and though I’m no fan of Eric Lander, I don’t agree with the consortium that his new appointment is a problem.

Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week

January 24, 2021 • 8:00 am

John Avise continues with his “Faux Duck o’ the Week” series, featuring waterfowl that people think are ducks but aren’t. Your job is to look at the photos and then guess the species. After you try or give up, go beneath the fold to see John’s ID, his Faux Duck Facts, and a range map. John’s captions are indented, and click on photos to enlarge them.

Breeding adult swimming from afar:


Breeding adult swimming close-up:

Frontal view:

Standing between two gulls:

Typical rocky habitat:

Click “continue reading” to see the ID, some Fun Faux Duck Facts, and a range map. Continue reading “Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week”

Sunday: Hili dialogue

January 24, 2021 • 6:30 am

It’s the Sabbath for  non-Jewish people and animals that aren’t felids: Sunday, January 24, 2021, and National Peanut Butter Day. It’s also National Eskimo Pie Patent Day (patented on this day in 1922; the name is being changed because people find it offensive; it’s now called “Edy’s Pie” though I prefer “Inuit Pie”), National Lobster Thermidor Day, Beer Can Appreciation Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day (how does one do that?), and in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, it’s Uttar Pradesh Day.

News of the Day:

Famous talk-show host Larry King died yesterday in Los Angeles; he was 87. His real name was Larry Zeiger, the son of Orthodox Jews, and he was married eight times to seven women. A photo of him with his kids and last wife, Shawn Southwick, is below.  He was a nonbeliever; a quote from Wikipedia:

After describing himself as a Jewish agnostic in 2005, King stated that he was fully atheist in 2015. In December 2011, King stated that he would like to be cryogenically preserved following his death. In 2017, he stated “I love being Jewish, am proud of my Jewishness, and I love Israel”

I guess he’s frozen now.

The Russians made a huge mistake by detaining dissident Alexsei Navalny when he returned to Russia—after they poisoned him!  That was too much for many Russians, and yesterday there were huge country-wide protests against the government, with demonstrators throwing snowballs at the cops and thousands of them arrested. To its credit, and probably Biden’s, the U.S. State Department protested the arrest of Navalny and the crackdown on protestors.

Is this the beginning of the end for Putin? I hypothesize that it is.

A photo (and caption) from the NYT:

Demonstrators clashing with the police on Saturday in Moscow. Credit: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The horrible stuff that Trump did, especially at the end of his tenure, just keeps on surfacing. The New York Times just reported that Trump had a plan to oust Attorney General Rosen, replacing him with a Justice Department loyalist who would force Georgia to overturn its election results. Only the pledge of JD officials to resign should this happen stayed Trump’s hand. This may be an important part of Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial, and it reminds me of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre in 1973.

Faith versus Fact: According to the Guardian, a holy man in Sri Lanka had a revelation from Kali, the goddess of death, about how to make a syrup that would destroy the coronavirus. Hundreds of people and even some politicians besieged the man’s village to get the syrup. Now the holy man himself, along with several members of his family and one prominent politician, have tested positive for the virus. Protip: science trumps revelation. (h/t: Jez)

The Guardian has an article about how eight nonbelievers find meaning in life.  But they chose photos that make some of them look like loons! Was this deliberate? (h/t Matthew).

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 417,390, a large increase of about 3,200 deaths over yesterday’s figure. We may pass half a million deaths in less than a month. The world death toll stands at 2,131,726, a big increase of about 13,600 deaths over yesterday’s total, or abut 9.4 deaths per minute.

Stuff that happened on January 24 includes:

Here’s Sutter’s Mill in 1850, where flecks of gold were found in the effluent, setting of a huge stampede of men searching for riches:

  • 1857 – The University of Calcutta is formally founded as the first fully fledged university in South Asia.
  • 1908 – The first Boy Scout troop is organized in England by Robert Baden-Powell.

Here is Powell, President Taft, and British ambassador Bryce in 1912, reviewing the Boy Scouts of Washington D.C. Taft was our fattest President, tipping the scales at 325-350 pounds. He had a special bathtub made to accommodate his corpulence (the rumor that he got stuck in it is, however, untrue):

From Wikipedia: “Despite having hidden for twenty-eight years in a jungle cave, he had known since 1952 that World War II had ended. He feared coming out of hiding, explaining, “We Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive.” He wasn’t the last Japanese soldier to surrender, either: Teruo Nakamura gave up in December of 1974! Below the first picture is one of Nakamura.

Also from Wikipedia: “This newspaper photograph was described as Yokoi’s first haircut in 28 years.”

Nakamura after his surrender in 1974; he was given a necklace of flowers:

Notables born on this day include:

  • AD 76 – Hadrian, Roman emperor (d. 138)
  • 1670 – William Congreve, English playwright and poet (d. 1729)
  • 1712 – Frederick the Great, Prussian king (d. 1786)
  • 1862 – Edith Wharton, American novelist and short story writer (d. 1937)
  • 1917 – Ernest Borgnine, American actor (d. 2012)

Here’s the famous final scene in the movie “Marty” (1955), in which Borgnine plays an Italian butcher who rejects a girl because his friends don’t like her.  Eventually realizing that she’s a great girl and he cares for her, he calls her up for a date at the end. (The movie won a Best Picture Oscar.)

  • 1918 – Oral Roberts, American evangelist, founded Oral Roberts University and Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (d. 2009)
  • 1928 – Desmond Morris, English zoologist, ethologist, and painter
  • 1941 – Neil Diamond, American singer-songwriter and guitarist
  • 1941 – Aaron Neville, American singer
  • 1943 – Sharon Tate, American model and actress (d. 1969)
  • 1947 – Warren Zevon, American singer-songwriter (d. 2003)
  • 1949 – John Belushi, American actor and screenwriter (d. 1982)

A classic from Belushi:

  • 1968 – Mary Lou Retton, American gymnast

Those who snuffed it on January 24 include:

  • AD 41 – Caligula, Roman emperor (b. 12)
  • 1895 – Lord Randolph Churchill, English lawyer and politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer (b. 1849)
  • 1965 – Winston Churchill, English colonel and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1874)

Note that Winston died exactly 70 years after his father.

Here’s a video hagiography of Hubbard by the Church of Scientology:

  • 1989 – Ted Bundy, American serial killer (b. 1946)
  • 1993 – Thurgood Marshall, American lawyer and jurist, 32nd United States Solicitor General (b. 1908)
  • 2017 – Butch Trucks, American drummer (b. 1947)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Her Highness indulges in her regular habit: she jumps in the windowsill when she wants to come inside. Andrzej then goes to the door and calls her, but she doesn’t budge: she waits until he comes to the windowsill, picks her up, and carries her indoors!  Here’s the Queen waiting outside:

A: Why aren’t you coming when I call you?
Hili: Because I like it when you carry me inside.
In Polish:
Ja: Dlaczego nie przychodzisz jak cię wołam?
Hili: Bo lubię jak mnie wnosisz do domu na rękach.

And little Kulka is resting. Look at the lovely patterns on her tummy!

Caption: A picture of Kulka taken by Paulina

In Polish: Zdjęcie Kulki – zrobione przez Paulinę.

From Facebook. “If the mitten isn’t fitting, you must be acquitting.”


From Marianne Williamson, for crying out loud:


Another Bernie meme from reader Andrée:

From Julian. Don’t worry, it all comes right: if you count, you’ll see 7 ducklings at the beginning and seven at the end. Somebody should cover that grate or make the holes smaller.

From reader pyers: the famous British food writer Nigella Lawson deliberately made this dish on Inauguration Day:

From Simon: “Level two Bernie.”

Ying and yang cats from gravelinspector:

Tweets from Matthew. An obsessive, but that’s what we need on Twitter, so long as they’re not ideological obsessives:

Poor Matthew! Poor Brits!

This is a fantastic space picture, and it’s real!

A Tik Tok burrowing owl. Sound up, though I don’t know the song:

World’s oldest representational art: an Indonesian warty pig from 45,000 years ago

January 23, 2021 • 1:45 pm

Here from Science Advances via National Geographic, is the painting of a wild pig from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. AT 45,000 years old, it’s world’s oldest cave art, and in fact the oldest known representational art of any sort.


Here’s the paper reporting it (click on screenshot), and a free pdf is here:

The very oldest art comes not from Europe or Africa, but from Indonesia; but surely there was much earlier representational art. The subject is presumably a Celebes warty pig (Sus celebensis), a species still with us, and the artist presumably an anatomically modern human (H. sapiens sapiens).

Here’s the subject. Not a bad representation, eh?

From Wild Pig, Peccary & Hippo Specialist Groups.

And a few words from the authors (“AMH” means “anatomically modern humans”)

On the basis of the presently available evidence, we are unable to definitively conclude that the dated figurative rock art depiction from Leang Tedongnge is the handiwork of cognitively “modern” members of our species. However, this seems to be the most likely explanation given the sophistication of this early representational artwork and the fact that figurative depiction has so far only been attributed to AMH everywhere else in the world.

If so, the dated pig image from Leang Tedongnge would appear to provide some of the earliest evidence, if not the earliest, for the presence of our species in Wallacea. The minimum age of this artwork is compatible with the earliest established indications of AMH from excavated deposits in the Lesser Sunda islands, which formerly provided the oldest archaeological evidence for H. sapiens in Wallacea (~44.6 ka cal BP). Hence, dating results for the Leang Tedongnge painting underline the view that representational art, including figurative animal art and depictions of narrative scenes, was a key part of the cultural repertoire of the first AMH populations to cross from Sunda into Wallacea—the gateway to the continent of Australia.

Like Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan is pro-Biden but worried

January 23, 2021 • 11:00 am

If you didn’t like Bari Weiss’s reservations about potential problems with the Biden administration, which include its truckling to the Woke, you’re really not going to like Andrew Sullivan’s latest piece at The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot below). For Sullivan has a take almost identical to Weiss’s, and yet I sympathize with some of his worries.

Click on screenshot to read it (you’ll probably need a subscription, but I’ll give a few quotes). One note: You are free to say what you want in the comments, including that you’re not worried about this stuff, but please don’t tell me that I’m not allowed to have concerns—that now I should be celebrating rather than nitpicking. I am in fact doing both!

Like Weiss, Sullivan begins (and ends) by expressing some fealty towards Biden and hopes that his administration will succeed. He notes that Biden’s Inaugural speech was uninspiring and in fact anodyne, and Sullivan’s right. But, as I’ve noted before, in those words we saw the real Joe: a decent and straightforward man with a vision, however unrealistic it is. He is not an orator. Sullivan:

But [Biden’s Inaugural speech] matched the occasion: it was conventional, banal even, and anodyne. And how much we’ve missed banality! Biden boldly asked us to be against “anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness,” and to reaffirm the “history, faith and reason” that provides unity. Sure. Okay. At that level of pabulum, who indeed could differ? And a nation united in pabulum is better than one divided into two tribal camps waging an “uncivil war” against each other about everything.

And if Biden sticks to this kind of common ground, it will serve him well. He is lucky, in many ways, to succeed Trump. Any normal inauguration would feel transcendent after the sack of the capitol.

After praising Joe for his pandemic response, economic stimulus package, energy plan, and so on, Sullivan gets down to business. Here are his areas of concern (Sullivan’s quotes are indented, mine flush left).

1.) Immigration.  The Democrats really need to put together a sensible immigration policy that doesn’t say “open borders” to Americans. If they don’t do this, they’re shooting themselves in the foot, and risk big losses in the midterm elections.

But Biden has also shown this week that his other ambitions are much more radical. On immigration, Biden is way to Obama’s left, proposing a mass amnesty of millions of illegal immigrants, a complete moratorium on deportations, and immediate revocation of the bogus emergency order that allowed Trump to bypass Congress and spend money building his wall. Fine, I guess. But without very significant addition of border controls as a deterrent, this sends a signal to tens of millions in Central to South America to get here as soon as possible. Biden could find, very quickly, that the “unity” he preaches will not survive such an effectively open-borders policy, or another huge crisis at the border. He is doubling down on the very policies that made a Trump presidency possible. In every major democracy, mass immigration has empowered the far right. Instead of easing white panic about changing demographics, Biden just intensified it.

2.) Equity versus equality. It behooves all of us to understand the difference. I hope that Biden does! At present he seems to be bowing before Critical Theory in his executive orders:

Biden has also signaled (and by executive order, has already launched) a very sharp departure from liberalism in his approach to civil rights. The vast majority of Americans support laws that protect minorities from discrimination, so that every American can have equality of opportunity, without their own talents being held back by prejudice. But Biden’s speech and executive orders come from a very different place. They explicitly replace the idea of equality in favor of what anti-liberal critical theorists call “equity.” They junk equality of opportunity in favor of equality of outcomes. Most people won’t notice that this new concept has been introduced — equity, equality, it all sounds the same — but they’ll soon find out the difference.

In critical theory, as James Lindsay explains, “‘equality’ means that citizen A and citizen B are treated equally, while ‘equity’ means adjusting shares in order to make citizen A and B equal.” Here’s how Biden defines “equity”: “the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”

In less tortured English, equity means giving the the named identity groups a specific advantage in treatment by the federal government over other groups — in order to make up for historic injustice and “systemic” oppression. Without “equity”, the argument runs, there can be no real “equality of opportunity.” Equity therefore comes first. Until equity is reached, equality is postponed — perhaps for ever.

I’m not sure that Biden’s definition adheres to the equity limned by Lindsay. All we can do is wait and see what Biden proposes. His executive order does seem to conflate “equity” and “equality of opportunity,” so someone should at least tell Joe the difference.

I think that for the near future the Democratic policy should be a combination of both equity and equality: some affirmative action but with the real work—and the hard work—being done on the level Sullivan notes in the paragraph just below. For the truth is that until equality is reached, equity won’t follow except though some kind of affirmative action. Like Sullivan, my goal is equality: equality of opportunity for all, which means removing the barriers to achievement that have impeded oppressed groups for decades. That takes a huge influx of effort and money into poor communities, and I’d hope we have the will and the funds to do that. But I’d throw some equity in there, too, for a government that at least doesn’t in part include representatives from all groups loses its credibility. Sullivan sees Biden adhering to the Ibram X. Kendi view of racial equity. I’m not yet sure of that, but Biden does seem to be going in that direction.

Sullivan saying, correct, what we really need to do:

Helping level up regions and populations that have experienced greater neglect or discrimination in the past is a good thing. But you could achieve this if you simply focused on relieving poverty in the relevant communities. You could invest in schools, reform policing, target environmental clean-ups, grow the economy, increase federal attention to the neglected, and thereby help the needy in precisely these groups. But that would not reflect critical theory’s insistence that race and identity trump class, and that America itself is inherently, from top to b

3.) Gay and gender issues. Like me (I think), Sullivan is in favor of equality based on sex and gender (including transgender people), but has some worries that the Biden administration will neglect those issues in which sex and gender issues mandate some inequality:

Biden’s executive order on “LGBTQ+” is also taken directly from critical gender and queer theory. Take the trans question. Most decent people support laws that protect transgender people from discrimination — which, after the Bostock decision, is already the law of the land. But this is not enough for Biden. He takes the view that the law should go further and insist that trans women are absolutely indistinguishable from biological women — which erases any means of enforcing laws that defend biological women as a class. If your sex is merely what you say it is, without any reference to biological reality, then it is no longer sex at all. It’s gender, period. It’s socially constructed all the way down.

Most of the time, you can ignore this insanity and celebrate greater visibility and protection for trans people. But in a few areas, biology matters. Some traumatized women who have been abused by men do not want to be around biological males in prison or shelters, even if they identify as women. I think these women should be accommodated. There are also places where we segregate by sex — like showers, locker rooms — for reasons of privacy. I think that allowing naked biological men and boys to be in the same showers as naked biological women and girls is asking for trouble — especially among teens. But for Biden, this is non-negotiable, and all objections are a function of bigotry.

And in sports, the difference between the physiology of men and women makes a big difference. That’s the entire point of having separate male and female sports, in the first place. Sure, you can suppress or enhance hormones. But you will never overcome the inherited, permanent effects of estrogen and testosterone in childhood and adolescence. Male and female bodies are radically different, because without that difference, our entire species would not exist. Replacing sex with gender threatens women’s sports for that simple reason.

Now people have said these are “quibbles” I’m less worried about locker rooms than about sports, prisons, rape counseling and women’s problems. Granted, these are not as pressing as are issues of inequality, climate change, and economics.) But they’re not quibbles, for a). they bear on issues of fundamental fairness, and those issues won’t go away; and b). the way Biden’s administration works this out will have consequences for the acceptance of the Democratic Party as a whole—for our continuing control of the House and Senate (the Supreme Court is already lost for several decades). And remember, Biden casts himself not as a messenger of Wokeness, but as a healer. If he’s to heal, he has to realize that most Americans want a sensible immigration policy, want equality but only a temporary remediation of inequity via affirmative action, and don’t want untreated biological men serving time in women’s prisons or participating in women’s sports. So far Biden’s policies seem to me way too conciliatory towards Critical Theory. That is to be expected if he’s clueless about Critical Theory and also keen to not be called a racist by more leftist Democrats.

Sullivan ends this way:

I wonder if Joe Biden even knows what critical theory is. But he doesn’t have to. It is the successor ideology to liberalism among elites, a now-mandatory ideology if you want to keep your job. But Biden’s emphatic backing of this illiberal, discriminatory project on his first day is relevant. He has decided to encourage “unity” by immediately pursuing policies that inflame Republicans and conservatives and normies more than any others.

And those policies are obviously unconstitutional. . .

. . . I want Biden to succeed. I want Republicans to moderate. I want to lower the temperature. I want to emphasize those policies that really do bring us closer together, even though many may still freely dissent. Biden says he wants to as well. But none of that can or will happen if the president fuels the culture war this aggressively, this crudely, and this soon. You don’t get to unite the country by dividing it along these deep and inflammatory issues of identity. And you don’t achieve equality of opportunity by enforcing its antithesis.

I’ve quoted too freely here, and you should pay the $50 per year to read Sullivan (and perhaps Bari Weiss), because they’re good writers, because they may have views that don’t exactly jibe with yours, and because you need to read something besides the New York Times and Washington Post, which have already caved to Critical Theory. Actually, I pay $4 per month to read the NYT, so I’m paying more to read Sullivan (and Weiss, if I subscribe) than to read whole newspapers. I’ll live.

Yes, we can and should celebrate the unexpected victory of the Democrats as well as their takeover of Congress. But remember too that Biden promised to heal, and you won’t heal America by imposing Critical Theory on it.


Caturday felids trifecta: Why people are obsessed with cats; lynx climbs on a logging truck; the rapping cat man of Atlanta (and lagniappe)

January 23, 2021 • 9:30 am

Happy Caturday! We have the usual three items today, plus lagniappe if you’ve been a good girl or boy (or whatever). First, a New Woker video from Open Culture, “Why Humans are obsessed with cats“, narrated by Abigail Tucker, a writer who produced the 2017 New York Times bestseller The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World (that was the book I wanted to write!). She’s also married to columnist Ross Douthat, but I won’t hold it against her.

There’s more text at the Open Culture site, but the nice seven-minute video below says most of what’s important. Her take on why cats are so appealing is spot on. Tucker brings up toxoplasmosis, but I don’t pay attention to that.  Pay attention instead to the “werewolf cat” and then the Bengal Cats at about 5:20.


From reader Rick we get a three-minute video showing a magnificent lynx. The gorgeous cat jumps atop a Canadian logging truck to suss out the operator and his vehicle. Look at the size of its paws!

Here are the YouTube notes:

Occurred in February 2020 / Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada “I am a logger from Alberta, Canada. I was stopped on the road with my skidder and looked back and to my great surprise, there was a Lynx standing by the tire on my machine. I quickly climbed on the roof and started videoing. He then jumped up on the tire, looked at me, and then jumped again on the arch of my skidder. Only a few feet from me now, he sat and curiously watched me. After a few minutes, he jumped back down on my tire and then with one great big leap, jumped off the tire back on the ground and slowly walked back into the forest never to be seen again.”

This lynx looks a bit thin, as if it needs a few snowshoe hare sandwiches.



Here’s a Washington Post article about rapper Sterling Davis, who gave up his singing and traveling life to. . .

. . . change litter boxes at the Atlanta Humane Society. Then in 2017, he gave himself a new nickname — “TrapKing” — and started a company to humanely trap stray cats, get them spayed, neutered and microchipped, and return them to where they came from. He says the name is a play off the term “rap king,” an honorific bestowed on hip-hop’s best lyricists.

Click on the screenshot to read the piece. I’ll give an excerpt and show a few photos:

Davis, 40, now runs his company, TrapKing Humane Cat Solutions, from his RV, visiting predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout the metro Atlanta area to trap feral felines and educate people about the importance of caring for strays.

“I like to teach kids that the ‘crazy cat lady’ down the street who is feeding all the strays isn’t actually so crazy,” he said. “She’s doing what she can to help. And anyone can do the same.”

The practice of TNR — trap, neuter, release — is the humane alternative to euthanasia for stray cats, Davis added.

“Strays don’t usually do well in homes, but they help with rodent populations,” he said. “So it’s important to neuter them and return them where you got them in order to humanely control their numbers.”

(from WaPo): Sterling Davis with some traps set for stray felines. (Timothy Phillips)

When he went out on his own with his company, Davis sold all his belongings and lived in a van covered with “TrapKing” stickers so that he could afford to have cats neutered and spayed, he said. He now gets funding from donations, mostly through his website, and says he takes a small salary from the company.

He’s since upgraded to an RV, which he shares with three cats named after some of his favorite singers — Damita Jo (Janet Jackson’s middle name), Bowie and Alanis Mewissette.

The back of his RV is outfitted with plenty of room for cages holding the stray cats he picks up each day after enticing them into traps with treats of chicken or mackerel, he said.

Sterling Davis with some trapped cats before taking them to be neutered and microchipped. (Sterling Davis)

The Humane Society now covers the cost of spaying and neutering, said Davis, so he’ll park at the shelter at night to be the first one in the door the next morning. Before the pandemic hit, he also spent a lot of time speaking at schools about his affinity for felines.

. . .With so many stray cats roaming the streets, his cause often feels overwhelming, admitted Davis.

“But if we can get kids to care about these cats and especially teach boys that it’s okay to love them, maybe there’s some hope,” he said.

Boys: please love cats!

Sterling “TrapKing” Davis gives a presentation about cats at an Atlanta school in November 2019. (Mary Tan)


Lagniappe: Reader Will Meyer sent a picture of his cat and wants to know if other readers have seen this phenomenon:

Do other cats do this Walrus Pose?  Or is it just our Manny?  We’ve known many cats over the years and no other crossed their back legs like this.  Your views?

I haven’t seen it, but perhaps other readers have. Here’s Manny:

h/t: Steve, Barry

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Roger Sorensen from St. Cloud, Minnesota sends some frigid plants. Click photos to enlarge; Roger’s captions are indented.

Central MN has been under overcast still air for the past week, with morning fog that has left some remarkable accumulations of rime ice on plants. Rime ice occurs when supercooled water droplets freeze on contact. Supercooled water droplets are still in liquid state when temperatures are below the freezing point (32ºF / 0ºC).
These are all from my back yard, where I maintain pollinator gardens of native perennials. In the winter they are also favored by Chickadees, Finches, and other birds who glean the seeds from the inflorescences.
Common ornamental yewTaxus baccata:

Joe-pye weedEutrochium purpureum:

Blue wild indigoBaptisia australis. This retains it leaves in winter and has dramatic blue-black seed pods.

Wild sennaSenna hebecarpa:

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. The birds, especially Chickadees, really go for these seeds.

Anise hyssopAgastache foeniculum. This is another bird favorite.

The empty seed pod of Common milkweedAsclepias syriaca:

The empty seed pod of Swamp milkweedAsclepias incarnata:

Big leaf aster, Eurybia macrophylla. This is one of the few shade tolerant asters and blooms into fall still providing pollen while other plants are long past flowering:

Blue vervainVerbena hastata. The birds do not find these seeds palatable.

Common goldenrod with Buckthorn leafSolidago canadensis and Rhamnus cathartica. Both are non-native invasive, Buckthorn especially so. I missed this one in my annual “Buckthorn Bust.”

White bur oakQuercus macrocarpa:

Saturday: Hili dialogue

January 23, 2021 • 6:30 am

It’s the Sabbath for cats and Jewish people: Saturday, January 23, 2021, and National Pie Day. It’s also National Rhubarb Pie Day, the worst pastry ever invented. I have no truck with this pie (the odious rhubarb is often mixed with strawberries, to the great detriment of the latter), though I know some people favor this gritty, sour vegetable in pies. It’s also National Handwriting Day. I notice that mine has degenerated over the years, perhaps due to either age or my complete failure to write anything by hand in the age of computers.

Wine of the Day: Here we have an inexpensive ($10-15) and delicious Italian wine, the Sartarelli Verdicchio Castelli Di Jesi Classico from 2019, made from the Verdicchio grape and the first example I’ve ever had (quaffed with an omelette made with tomatoes and Tilamook aged sharp cheddar) The wine was surprisingly viscous and extremely fruity, with notes of orange blossom, honey, and peach; and it was slightly off-dry. I’d think that this would be the ideal accompaniment to spicy Indian or Chinese food, though I usually take those with beer. If you see this one, do snap it up. It’s a great bargain.

News of the Day:

The BBC reports that in Nigeria, a 13 year old boy, sentenced to a decade in jail for “making uncomplimentary remarks about God during an argument with a friend in northern Kano state,” has had his sentence overturned by a secular appeals court. (Kano is one of the states that has a parallel system of Sharia law.) The court also overturned a death sentence against a man “for using lyrics deemed blasphemous against the Prophet Muhammad.” The singer will be retried, but the 13-year old better get his tuches out of Nigeria. Others are still serving long sentences for blasphemy—a travesty in this day and age.

Over at the Washington Post, George Conway III, a co-founder of the Republican Lincoln Project (and spouse of Kellyanne Conway), has a long essay about what criminal charges Trump may face as a private citizen. Conway, who thinks the President’s behavior was indeed criminal, goes through all the possibilities, none of which seem to include a Presidential pardon.  A quote:

“. . . Trump is the extreme case. He has proved that over and over again. Bringing him to whatever justice he may deserve is, now more than ever, essential to vindicating the rule of law, which, now more than ever, must be a critical governing policy of the new administration. Vindication of the rule of law is precisely why many Americans, including myself, voted for Biden.”

After lots of waffling and  intimations about when Trump’s impeachment trial will begin (it was first said to be immediate, then within two weeks), Chuck Schumer has announced that, by bipartisan agreement, Trump’s trial will start on February 9. I still think the trial is a good idea, although I’d bet a fair amount that Trump won’t be convicted. As is becoming more clear,  Republicans simply won’t vote for it. But a trial will still be a reminder that there must be an accounting if a President engages in the kind of actions that Trump did.  I do wonder if the Senate can bar Trump for life from holding federal office.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 414,170, large increase of about 3,900 deaths over yesterday’s figure. We may past half a million deaths in less than a month. The world death toll stands at 2,118,135, a big increase of about 15,800 deaths over yesterday’s total, or abut 11 deaths per minute.

Stuff that happened on January 23 includes:

  • 393 – Roman Emperor Theodosius I proclaims his eight-year-old son Honorius co-emperor.
  • 1556 – The deadliest earthquake in history, the Shaanxi earthquake, hits Shaanxi province, China. The death toll may have been as high as 830,000.

Why so many dead? As Wikipedia notes, “Most of the population in the area at the time lived in yaodongs, artificial caves in loess cliffs; these collapsed in great numbers, causing many casualties.”

  • 1849 – Elizabeth Blackwell is awarded her M.D. by the Geneva Medical College of Geneva, New York, becoming the United States’ first female doctor.

Blackwell, a great feminist, spent her early career organizing clinics and hospitals, and later engaged in many varieties of social reform. Here’s a photo:

  • 1937 – The trial of the anti-Soviet Trotskyist center sees seventeen mid-level Communists accused of sympathizing with Leon Trotsky and plotting to overthrow Joseph Stalin‘s regime.

Every one of the defendants was found guilty and given nine grams of lead in the head in the cellars of the Lubyanka. Trotsky, who had escaped, later got an ice pick in the head.

If anyone should be canceled, it should be Lindbergh, who was a Nazi sympathizer. But of course we don’t hear a peep. Here’s a very short video Lindberg urging the U.S. to stay out of World War II.

  • 1950 – The Knesset resolves that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
  • 1957 – American inventor Walter Frederick Morrison sells the rights to his flying disc to the Wham-O toy company, which later renames it the “Frisbee”.

Here’s Morrison, in a mock space suit, promoting his discs, then called the “Pluto Platters”, in the 1950s. Now, of course, they’re called Frisbees.

  • 1986 – The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts its first members: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
  • 2002 – U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl is kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan and subsequently murdered.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1737 – John Hancock, American general and politician, 1st Governor of Massachusetts (d. 1793)
  • 1783 – Stendhal, French novelist (d. 1842)
  • 1832 – Édouard Manet, French painter (d. 1883)

Here’s Manet’s “Woman with a Cat” (ca. 1880):

Woman with a Cat c.1880 Edouard Manet 1832-1883 Purchased 1918

Hilbert was a mathematical polymath(ematician), and here he is looking quite natty:

  • 1897 – Subhas Chandra Bose, Indian freedom fighter and politician (d. 1945)
  • 1964 – Mariska Hargitay, American actress and producer

Hargitay played the character Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Taylor Swift named one of her cats, a Scottish Fold, after Benson. Here Olivia Benson meets Olivia Benson.


Those who snuffed it on January 23 include:

  • 1516 – Ferdinand II of Aragon (b. 1452)
  • 1803 – Arthur Guinness, Irish brewer, founded Guinness (b. 1725)
  • 1883 – Gustave Doré, French engraver and illustrator (b. 1832)

Doré is one of my favorite illustrators. Here’s his version of Puss in Boots (notice the mouse hanging from his belt):

  • 1944 – Edvard Munch, Norwegian painter and illustrator (b. 1863)
  • 1947 – Pierre Bonnard, French painter (b. 1867)

Here’s Bonnard’s “The White Cat”, a bit etiolated!

Here’s Robeson, a hero of mine, singing to Scottish miners. The Youtube notes:

Extract from Mining Review 2nd Year No. 11 (1949) The highlight of this 1949 issue is the visit of American actor and singer Paul Robeson to Woolmet Colliery near Edinburgh. Robeson was also a renowned (and often persecuted) left-wing political activist and he made several visits to British mining communities. On this occasion he sings “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” for miners in the canteen, a song about an American trade unionist who was allegedly framed on a murder charge and executed in 1915. Robeson had long been something of a hero to the British mining community, ever since he starred in the film Proud Valley (d. Pen Tennyson, 1940) as an American sailor stranded in Cardiff who finds work in a Welsh colliery (the newsreel opens with a short clip from the film).

If the clip below doesn’t play, go here.

  • 1985 – James Beard, American chef and cookbook author for whom the James Beard Foundation Awards are named (b.1905)
  • 1989 – Salvador Dalí, Spanish painter and sculptor (b. 1904)
  • 2004 – Helmut Newton, German-Australian photographer (b. 1920)

Newton was a great fashion photographer. Here’s one of his photos (I can’t identify the model).

  • 2011 – Jack LaLanne, American fitness instructor, author, and television host (b. 1914)
  • 2015 – Ernie Banks, American baseball player and coach (b. 1931)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is weary from the day’s editing, but Andrzej soldiers on.

Hili: Maybe we could switch off the computer and go to sleep?
A: Just let me read this article.
In Polish:
Hili: Może zgasimy już ten komputer i pójdziemy spać?
Ja: Pozwól mi tylko przeczytać ten artykuł.

Kulka’s out in the snow again. She can’t be stopped:

Two inauguration memes. Good for Garth Brooks: after all, he’s a country singer!

And, from Jean, the best take yet on Bernie In Mittens:

A fake Time Magazine cover sent by Bruce:

Here’s a guy who trained his dogs to pray before eating!  I guess he doesn’t know that Catholic philosopher Edward Feser asserts that dogs can’t go to Heaven.

A tweet from Simon, who said, “I know it’s dogs, but he looks so much better!”

From Barry: “A male cardinal and a bronze cat”:

From Ginger K.: Another Biden reversal of Trump policy. I can’t verify that the button was real: some sources imply it was, while others have doubts.

Tweets from Matthew. As somebody said, you don’t stand on the shoulders of giants to accomplish good science—you stand on the shoulders of a whole crowd.

Well, everyone makes mistakes. This one could be seen as a double entendre:

I can’t vouch for this, but if it’s wrong I’ll let Matthew take the heat:

Bemused ducks! My ducks, too, get puzzled when they fly into the frozen pond and skid upon landing.