Teachers push California student to undergo sexual transitioning

January 24, 2022 • 12:15 pm

I think all people of good will (except the ACLU) are on the same page with respect to transgender rights. That is, everyone, regardless of gender status, sex, or transitioning status, should be afforded moral or legal equality and treated with respect and civility. There are a few exceptions when that right conflicts with others (most notably in sports), but having such an attitude is not transphobic.

Further, any child contemplating transsexuality should be treated with respect by everyone, but not pushed to undergo transitioning. The proper course involves supportive (but not pushy) parents and friends, unbiased but empathic psychological counseling, and unbiased medical advice, which gives a full descriptions of the likely and possible outcomes of hormone therapy and surgery.  Then, if the young person still wants to transition (preferably after puberty), then have at it.

This holds for teachers in schools, of course. They can be supportive, but they have no right to push children into altering their gender.  One of the problems here, which the ACLU loves but which worries me, is this one from the AP article below (click on screenshot):

Under state and federal law, however, students have privacy rights that extend to sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Only in limited circumstances can a school notify a parent of their child’s sexual identity against their wishes.

“Outside of school, these students may similarly face potential hostility at home because of who they are,” said attorney Peter Renn of Lambda Legal. “For example, involuntarily outing a student as LGBTQ to their parents can very well lead to them getting kicked out of the home in some circumstances.”

This seems to me pretty reasonable, but I haven’t thought through it completely as it does conflict with parental “rights”. But this is all irrelevant in the case below, as the two teachers at issue actually set up a meeting to let the parents know that their daughter wanted to transition to the male gender. Read the AP report below (click on screenshot) for a case study about how schools should not deal with children undergoing gender dysphoria.

Jessica Konen is suing a California school district for pushing her daughter to become a transmale after already telling the daughter that she was “bisexual”. (Remember, there are tomboys who are often considered “bisexual” but don’t become lesbians or transmen.) The teachers apparently not only conspired to push Konen’s daughter towards transitioning, but then informed the mom about her daughter, blindsiding the mother in a set-up meeting.

The details:

A mother who claims teachers secretly manipulated her 11-year-old daughter into changing her gender identity and name has filed a legal case against a tiny California school district.

Spreckels Union School District was responsible for “extreme and outrageous conduct” that led the student on a path toward transitioning as a boy and drove a wedge between mother and child, according to the claim filed Wednesday by a conservative legal group.

Jessica Konen said two middle school teachers who ran the school’s Equality Club — later known as UBU (You Be You) — planted the seed that her daughter was bisexual in 6th grade and then introduced the idea she was transgender.

The legal claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — follows a dustup in the district last fall after the author of a book widely criticized as “anti-transgender” quoted the two teachers speaking at a conference about how to run an LGBTQ+ club in a conservative community.

. . . While Konen said her daughter had revealed she was bisexual [JAC: this bisexual identity was apparently instilled in the daughter by the teachers as well], the mother was unaware she was identifying as a boy until she was called to a meeting at the Buena Vista Middle School principal’s office in December 2019 when her daughter was in 7th grade.

She wasn’t told the purpose of the meeting until her daughter entered the room and sat across a table from her and teacher Lori Caldeira broke the news.

“I literally was caught off guard. I was blindsided,” Konen said. “I didn’t even know what to feel like because I didn’t even know where it came from.”

Konen said she began to cry.

She said her daughter was also caught by surprise. She had told teachers she wanted to notify her mom, but didn’t know they set the meeting up that day.

So the teachers not only pushed the girl to transition (see below), but also violated privacy rights by setting up this meeting. But it gets worse!

. . .When schools went to remote learning during the pandemic in March 2020, Konen said her daughter began returning to her “old self” and now uses her given name.

But it wasn’t until this fall that Konen began to question how her daughter got on the path to a different identity after the article by Abigail Shrier circulated around town.

In a leaked recording from a California Teachers Association conference, Caldeira and Kelly Baraki were quoted discussing how they kept meetings private and “stalked” students online for recruits.

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

“Check”? How insensitive can you be? (The teachers’ names are Lori Caldiera and Kelly Baraki.)  Caldiera now clams the stalking comment was a joke, but I don’t believer her. These are woke teachers with agendas that are all “push, push, push kids to transition”.

Why they do this mystifies me. Teachers are not peers on social media seeking to validate their own decisions by urging others to follow them; teachers are supposed to care for the children. At any rate, both teachers have been placed on administrative leave, and the girl is reported as having voluntarily resumed her female name and is “returning to her old self.”  The mother is quoted:

Konen said her daughter is now doing well in high school.

“She still deals with confusion,” Konen said. “She feels like she can breathe, you know, like she doesn’t have pressure on her.”

The problem with the epidemic of transitioning, nearly all from the female to the male gender, is that those with some gender dysphoria, or even typical adolescent confusion, are pushed to transition rather than urged to go slowly and get proper medical and psychological counseling. As Bari Weiss reported on her Substack column, two specialists in transgender medicine, both transgender women, are jumping off the express train to transsexuality and urging more caution. (The bolding is mine):

Their allies in the media and Hollywood reported stories and created content that reaffirmed this orthodoxy. Anyone who dared disagree or depart from any of its core tenets, including young women who publicly detransitioned, were inevitably smeared as hateful and accused of harming children.

But that new orthodoxy has gone too far, according to two of the most prominent providers in the field of transgender medicine: Dr. Marci Bowers, a world-renowned vaginoplasty specialist who operated on reality-television star Jazz Jennings; and Erica Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the University of California San Francisco’s Child and Adolescent Gender Clinic.

In the course of their careers, both have seen thousands of patients. Both are board members of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), the organization that sets the standards worldwide for transgender medical care. And both are transgender women.

Earlier this month, Anderson told me she submitted a co-authored op-ed to The New York Times warning that many transgender healthcare providers were treating kids recklessly. The Times passed, explaining it was “outside our coverage priorities right now.”

. . . in the last decade, watchful waiting has been supplanted by “affirmative care,” which assumes children do know what’s best. Affirmative care proponents urge doctors to corroborate their patients’ belief that they are trapped in the wrong body. The family is pressured to help the child transition to a new gender identity — sometimes having been told by doctors or activists that, if they don’t, their child may eventually commit suicide. From there, pressures build on parents to begin concrete medical steps to help children on their path to transitioning to the “right” body. That includes puberty blockers as a preliminary step. Typically, cross-sex hormones follow and then, if desired, gender surgery.

The NYT is reprehensible. Transsexuality is a big issue, and when two transsexual doctors who are experts in transexual medicine have something to say, the Times should publish it. But of course what these doctors say goes against The Narrative.

It’s worse than that, for the teachers weren’t even practicing “affirmative care” but deliberately pushing the girl towards transitioning. Who do they think they are? Are they experts in dealing with gender dysphoria?

Given their dereliction of duty towards their charges, both teachers should be fired.

A trigger warning for Nineteen Eighty-Four !

January 24, 2022 • 10:30 am

First of all, let’s get the title of Orwell’s book straight: it’s Nineteen Eighty-Fournot 1984. And that’s the way Orwell referred to it.

That out of the way, a British University has issued a trigger warning for that book. Click this screenshot from The Volokh Conspiracy, which mis-titles the book, to read Volokh’s take on this warning.

Volokh’s quotes are indented, while the Daily Fail quote is doubly indented. My thoughts are flush left.

Daily Mail (UK) (Chris Hastings) reports:

[S]taff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.


The advice [was] revealed following a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday….

[I]t is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’….

I think if individual faculty members want to warn students about particular books this way, they should be free to do so. And I actually support warning students generally about this—preferably in orientation, but perhaps even at the start of a class syllabus—precisely to remind them that studying the human experience at a university necessarily involves confronting the dark sides of humanity.

But I personally think it’s a mistake to offer such book-by-book advice, precisely because it reinforces the presupposition that students in university literature, history, anthropology, law, etc. classes should by default expect nothing offensive, upsetting, or explicit, and are thus entitled to be warned as to departures from this norm. The history of humanity has been in large part the history of tyranny, mass murder, slavery, rape, racism, sexist oppression, and much more. (Thankfully, it hasn’t been only that, but many serious accounts, real or fictional, will include the evil as well as the good.)

Adults who study humanity should recognize that this is so. They should be prepared to deal with it at all times in their studies. Indeed, the more they want to fight such evils, the more they should be ready to deal with it without the need for trigger warnings or other supposed protections. And the institutions tasked with educating such adults ought to seek to inculcate such a perspective, as part of their educational function.

Yes, I agree with Volokh about the book-by-book warning; but I think that professors should always use a light finger on the trigger lest they infantilize students and make them think, as Volokh notes, that anything bad is “abnormal and traumatic.” Further, as studies have shown, trigger warnings don’t work—that is, they don’t reduce the trauma of students who say they are upset by material in a given genre. If anything —and this is like “implicit bias training”—they tend to have an effect opposite to what’s intended. Volokh gives the references to those studies in his article, and dp realize that the data are based on a handful of studies.

When I thought back on the novel, which I recently reread, I scratched my head about what part of its content would require a trigger warning. The furtive sex between Winston and Julia is not at all explicit. There’s a bit of violence when Winston gets caught and tortured, but even that isn’t very graphic.  Fortunately, the Daily Fail gives the trigger warning itself, which actually applies to a module of several works, one of which is Nineteen Eighty-Four.

From the Fail:

Now staff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.

. . . Yet it is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’.

What is, exactly, “explicit material”? The violence and sex in Orwell’s book is largely implicit—described obliquely rather than graphically.

And for crying out loud: if you are offended by violence, class, race, political ideas, and so on, you should NOT be reading the newspaper! As for the other topics, you shouldn’t be reading serious literature at all.  Madame Bovary: “Warning: contains adultery, sex, and suicidal violence”.  You could use the same warning for Anna Karenina!  And violence, oy! There goes War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and even the Bible. (Do they give trigger warnings in theology class?) Ulysses and anything by Henry Miller or Cormac McCarthy are of course out completely. In fact, I defy you to think of a great work of literature that wouldn’t require a trigger warning on any of the grounds above.  I just remembered The Great Gatsby, but of course that has death by auto accident, murder, and domestic violence.

There’s a common thread in much wokeness, one first brought up by Haidt and Lukianoff in their excellent book The Coddling of the American Mind, which suggests these three principles (they call them the “Great Untruths”) for understanding the behavior of modern young people:

  1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”
  2. “Always trust your feelings”, and
  3. “Life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

It’s time to stop infantilizing people and treat them like adults. (One example: when we wrote our critique of the hit job on Ed Wilson published in Scientific American, several people warned us that we should go easy on the author—or even not criticize her views—because she was black. That outraged me, because if you believe in affirming the dignity of all people, you must treat the arguments of minorities as you would the arguments of anyone else: if you object to them, you do so strongly but civilly. To do otherwise is to be condescending, paternalistic, and, in fact, racist.)

But enough. Yes, professors can dispense trigger warnings if they want, but they should realize that there’s no evidence that they work, and that when they do so they are practicing the first Great Untruth. I don’t know how my generation got through college without mass trauma.

h/t: Anna

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 24, 2022 • 9:00 am

Today we’re featuring pictures of fungi by reader David Jorling. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. The identifications of many of the mushrooms are unknown or ambiguous, so fungus-friendly readers can help. Thanks!

At last, here are some photos I took of mushrooms while taking a walk through Tryon Creek State Park in Oregon last fall.  This park is located on the northern border of Lake Oswego, and there is a trailhead about 200 yards from my house.  The identifications I have listed below are from one of those fold-out laminated plant and wildlife guides that are purchased at the visitor center.  But my identifications should be taken with a grain of salt, as I cannot claim to have any expertise with respect to mushroom identification.

An Overhead shot of what I suspect are “Cluster Coincaps” which grow “In dense clumps on decaying conifer wood”.


I suspect these are “Cat’s Tongues“. (The foldout’s apostrophe, not mine.  I suspect all cats have only one).  The card said, “One surface has short teeth”.  I did not know that when I took the picture so I did not get close enough to inspect. The card also says it grows “On well-rotted wood” which is not the case here, but it is the whitest mushroom on the card and best matches the shape.

I think these are “Deadly Skullcaps” which grow “On wood, often in clusters”.  The card says they are “lethal little brown mushrooms”.

I think this is a “Turkeytail“, which grows “On decaying Hardwood” which appears to be the case here. Look closely and you can see raindrops on the undersides of the edges.

I am really not sure of the identity of the mushrooms in the next four photos, although “sex toys” come to mind for the first two.  These may be “Wine Slimecaps” but the caps don’t match the guide. The other possibility is “Matte Stickycaps”  which the guide says “grow under Douglas Firs”.  In this case, they are growing on one.  The caps match the texture of the caps in the photo, but the guide says they can be up to 51/2″ wide.  None of these came close.

This photo caused some delay in getting these to you.  I tried to magnify it but the result was always a bit out of focus.  Tough call on these.  Possibly “Fairy-ring  Mushroom” (which grows in grass” – but not here), or perhaps “Mower’s Mottlegill”, but the guide says they “grow in grassy areas like lawns”.   Does moss count?

I think this is a “Woodland Lepidella” although the texture of the cap doesn’t quite match.  The guide says it grows “on soil in conifer forests, clearings, and roadsides”, which was the case here.

Monday: Hili dialogue

January 24, 2022 • 7:30 am

Welcome to the the start of the “work” week: Monday, January 24, 2022. It’s National Peanut Butter Day, and it’s not too far off to say that “America runs on PB&J”, though that would infringe on “Dunkin’s” slogan.

Here’s Elvis’s version of the sandwich: peanut butter, bacon, and banana, with the sandwich fried in bacon fat. In an Elvis bio I read that one night he and the guys were sitting around at Graceland when Elvis got a hankering for his favorite version of this sandwich, made in a joint in Las Vegas. He and the guys got onto Elvis’s private plane and flew across the country to get their noms.

The recipe:

For the ingredients, you’ll need two slices of white bread, four strips of bacon, two tablespoons of peanut butter, and one sliced banana. First, fry up the bacon in a pan; while you’re doing that, spread peanut butter on one side of each piece of bread. When the bacon is done, remove it from the pan, but leave the grease.

Next, place the bread (peanut butter side up) into the pan, and place the banana slices and bacon on one piece of bread. When both pieces are toasted to your liking, put the sandwich together, give it one more flip in the pan, and press it down until the peanut butter starts to ooze.

It’s also National Edy’s Pie Patent Day (that’s the new and officially approved name of “Eskimo Pie”, though I would have preferred “Inuit Pie”), National Lobster Thermidor Day, Macintosh Computer Day (see below under 1984), Beer Can Appreciation Day, National Compliment Day, and Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day (is that like, “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!”?).

News of the Day:

*The whole editorial board of the NYT has written this op-ed piece: “President Biden’s economy is failing the Big Mac test.” That uses as an index of well-being how many Big Macs your paycheck can buy. And the number is shrinking, though the NYT is careful to give an overall positive appraisal of Biden’s economic efforts and results. But there are still those big Macs (protip: they’re overpriced. Get two damn $1 hamburgers!):

Most Americans don’t share the administration’s sunny view of its economic record, and it is little mystery why: The average worker’s paycheck doesn’t buy as many hamburgers as it did last year. (Using hamburgers to measure inflation is a twist on The Economist magazine’s Big Mac Index, which tracks the price of the classic hamburger in different currencies.) The government’s Consumer Price Index rose by 7 percent in 2021, the biggest jump since 1982. Mr. Biden’s approval rating remains low, and poll after poll finds that Americans are not pleased with his handling of the economy. Nearly two-thirds say the administration is insufficiently focused on inflation, according to a recent CBS News poll. There are similar numbers in other recent polls.

In the end, though, this is not a critical editorial despite its title:

The White House finds itself in the position of a physician who has administered a successful course of treatment but who has neglected to prepare the patient for the side effects or to give the timeline for a full recovery. A lot of pain was averted, but it’s hard to feel gratitude for things that didn’t happen. The economic outlook is strong, but it’s hard to feel gratitude for things that haven’t happened yet. Right now, the pain of inflation is front and center for most.

It’ll be a sweltering day in Chicago in January when you hear that paper give a generally critical assessment of Biden. It’s like expecting Breibart to criticize Trump. Of course Biden is far, far better than Trump, but that’s not saying a lot. He’s still chained to the “progressive left”.

*One sign that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is being taken seriously by the U.S. government:  the U.S. State Department has ordered some of its diplomats to leave the country, as well as all of the families of every diplomat:

Ukraine has been on the State Department’s highest travel advisory — Level 4: Do Not Travel — for months because of COVID-19. Last month, the embassy updated that warning to say, “Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine,” which “would severely impact the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services” to Americans.

A State Department spokesperson said Saturday that the U.S. will not evacuate Americans like in the operation conducted out of Afghanistan last August.

“American citizens should not anticipate that there will be U.S. government-sponsored evacuations. Currently commercial flights are available to support departures,” the spokesperson said.

Yep, the families are going home on commercial airlines, which, booked at the last minute, will cost a pile. Another sign of how seriously we take the threat of Russia. I still say that invasion is imminent, and Russia will come out of this smelling like a rose.

*How can you not click on this headline from the BBC?

It’s not surprising, for who wouldn’t make a break for it if your job consisted entirely of rolling around on the floor and sucking up other people’s schmutz?  A summary:

A robot vacuum cleaner made a break for freedom after giving staff the slip at a Travelodge hotel.

The automated cleaner failed to stop at the front door of the hotel in Orchard Park in Cambridge on Thursday, and was still on the loose the following day.

Staff said it just kept going and “could be anywhere” while well-wishers on social media hoped the vacuum enjoyed its travels, as “it has no natural predators” in the wild.

It was found under a hedge on Friday.

Staff at the hotel posted the story of the robot vacuum’s great escape on social media, asking for it to be returned, if found.

“Today we had one of our new robot vacuums run for its life,” the assistant manager wrote.

I’d keep the thing chained to the wall until it shows it can behave better.

*The Washington Post reports that a 75 year old Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Savin, was attempting to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean— in winter, when he vanished. the Portuguese coast guard found his overturned boat near the Azores, and of course Monsieur Savin is most likely sleeping with the fishes.  A great pity, as the guy was older than I am, and I would never attempt such a feat. Here he is in the boat that he was set to row across the pond:

The guy had guts, as this wasn’t his first trip across the Atlantic solo:

Savin crossed the Atlantic in 2019, floating 2,930 miles in a bright orange barrel-shaped vessel. He celebrated his 72nd birthday on that trip, for which he had packed wine and foie gras. He also crossed the Atlantic in a sailboat, ascended Mount Blanc and swam four times across France’s Arcachon Bay.

A successful journey this time would have madeSavin the oldest person to row across the Atlantic solo, according to Guinness World Records. The current record holder is Graham Walters, a British man who made the tripin April 2020 at age 72.

The journey was slated to take about 100 days, but he sent out distress signals that triggered the search (the issue was that his desalinization system was kaput). All you can say is “au revoir, mon ami”, as he’d had his share of foie gras.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 865,867, an increase of 2,182 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,615,280, an increase of about 4,100 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 24 includes:

  • 41 – Claudius is proclaimed Roman emperor by the Praetorian Guard after they assassinate the previous emperor, his nephew Caligula.
  • 1536 – King Henry VIII of England suffers an accident while jousting, leading to a brain injury that historians say may have influenced his later erratic behaviour and possible impotence.

A report from Wikipedia:

Late in life, Henry became obese, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (140 cm), and had to be moved about with the help of mechanical devices. He was covered with painful, pus-filled boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity and other medical problems can be traced to the jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a leg wound. The accident reopened and aggravated an injury he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult to treat. The chronic wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated, preventing him from maintaining the level of physical activity he had previously enjoyed. The jousting accident is also believed to have caused Henry’s mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament.

Oy! Here he is with his 54 inch waist (portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger):

A poster, perhaps the one that inspired Joni Mitchell’s song:

  • 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.
  • 1918 – The Gregorian calendar is introduced in Russia by decree of the Council of People’s Commissars effective February 14 (New Style).
  • 1933 – The 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, changing the beginning and end of terms for all elected federal offices.
  • 1961 – Goldsboro B-52 crash: A bomber carrying two H-bombs breaks up in mid-air over North Carolina. The uranium core of one weapon remains lost.

Here’s a photo of workers trying to recover one of the bombs. It’s said that one of them came very close to detonating.

  • 1984 – Apple Computer places the Macintosh personal computer on sale in the United States.
  • 1989 – Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, with over 30 known victims, is executed by the electric chair at the Florida State Prison.

Here’s his mugshot for the arrest of murdering Kimberley Leach. Bundy killed at least 30 women, perhaps many more:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1670 – William Congreve, English playwright and poet (d. 1729)
  • 1712 – Frederick the Great, Prussian king (d. 1786)
  • 1917 – Ernest Borgnine, American actor (d. 2012)

In my view, Borgnine’s two greatest roles were in “From Here to Eternity” and “Marty”; he played completely opposite character types in these roles. Here’s the trailer from the first movie (1953). Borgnine, as the evil sergeant, appears at 2:32:

  • 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

Here’s Neville singing what I think is his best song, in this case at “Live at Daryl’s House” (a great show):

  • 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)

The two best comedians ever to appear on “Saturday Night Live”:

  • 1968 – Mary Lou Retton, American gymnast

Those who “passed” (I dislike that euphemism) on January 24 include:

He was Winston’s dad. Randolph died of syphilis at age 45, after scuppering a promising political career.

Note that Winston Churchill died on the same day as his father, exactly 70 years later.

  • 1989 – Ted Bundy, American serial killer (b. 1946)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili needs a break from editing:

Hili: Nothing draws me to the computer. I may take a vacation today.
A: Have a rest. We will try to manage without you.
In Polish:
Hili: Zupełnie mnie mnie ciągnie do komputera, chyba zrobię sobie dziś urlop.
Ja. Odpocznij. Spróbujemy dać sobie radę bez ciebie.

From Animals in Art Through History, with the note:

It’s great playing in the snow!
Louis Wain (English, 1860-1939)
“The Tabby Toboggan Club”

Wain, was of course, mentally unstable, but his cat pictures are great:

A groaner from Bruce: (And a joke from me Q: Why did the crow sit on the telephone line? A: Because it wanted to make a long-distance caw.

From David. I’m allowed to post this because I’m a senior citizen an older adult:

God’s first tweet of the year:

From Masih. Can we spare a thought for the women of Afghanistan, blatantly lied to and now “disappeared” by the Taliban? This woman vanished after her arrest, shown here:

From Titania.

From Simon. I doubt that this headline is real . . .

Tweets from Mathew. Look how small these beetles are (just 0.4 mm)! There are more posts in the thread.

Seriously, an annelid that BRANCHES? This violates everything I know about biology. Somebody find out more!

As Matthew said in one of his contemplative moments, “If only the world were like The Dodo.” Absolutely!

That’s GEORGE MARTIN in case you don’t recognize him.

Google purifies its language

January 23, 2022 • 1:30 pm

Lawrence Krauss has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (note: this bit of the paper is largely right wing, not that Krauss is) that shows some ways the ever vigilant Google Squad is policing language. Click on the screenshot to read:

According to Krauss, the policing will work this way:

Google has created guidelines for “inclusive” language in software and documentation that describe how software should reflect the hypersensitive feelings of programmers who are immersed in woke culture and fixated on victimhood and offense. Apparently these guidelines will be enforced in the future in all new open-source projects, and the company will scrub earlier versions as well. Various other technology groups, including some at universities and professional associations, have developed their own guidelines. Microsoft recently introduced a feature for its popular Word software that can ferret out and replace noninclusive words and phrases.

He mentions some of the changes that aren’t offensive, like using “master/slave” for technology or “whitelist/blacklist” used in the usual ways, but there are some words whose offense isn’t so easily discerned:

“black box”
“senior citizen” (it is to be “older adults”)
“older version” (now to be “earlier version”)

and the all time champion:

“smartphone”.  What is that about? Is it offensive because other phone are dumb, and thus the term is ableist? No substitute has been prescribed. How about “meritocraticphone”?

“Quantum supremacy”, the point at which quantum computers exceed what conventional computers can do, is has been verboten for a while but to justify that is a stretch.

Krauss gives two reasons why this Orwellian revision of language is bad: it’s a waste of time and it makes language less colorful. But I think it’s bad for a more important reason: it reflects a policing of our whole society by a gang of Medium Brothers (as opposed to Big Brothers), and it stifles dissent. It’s the most obvious sign of how the authoritarian Pecksniffs are trying to force society to talk and think their way.

Here’s a dumbphone, which is offended by the iPhone 13:

More from New Zealand, a nation whose science is circling the drain

January 23, 2022 • 12:00 pm

I’ve written a lot about New Zealand lately, in particular the schools’ and government’s attempt to force the teaching of “indigenous ways of knowing” (mātauranga Māori) into the science classroom as a system coequal in value with modern science. That means not only equal classroom time, but equal respect, treating indigenous ways of knowing as complementary if not identical to “scientific truth”. Note that I’m not dismissing the value of mātauranga Māori (henceforth “MM”) in some spheres, even science. For MM contains “practical knowledge”, like how to catch eels, that could conceivably be inserted into science courses.

And of course MM s the worldview of the indigenous people, and thus an important part of the history and tradition of New Zealand. It thus deserves to be taught in anthropology or sociology classes. But the science within MM is precious little compared with the larger titer of myth, legend, superstition, theology, and morality that are essential to MM. This other stuff is not a “way of knowing” and thus cannot be taught in science classes. Note as well that MM is also explicitly creationist. Do Kiwis really want to confuse students by telling them that Māori creation myths are just as “scientific” as is biological evolution?  Teaching MM as science is just as fraught as teaching any indigenous “way of knowing” as science: it’s a pathway that leads inevitably to the degeneration of science education in a country.

If you want to see what’s in store for New Zealand’s secondary schools and universities, have a read of the brochure below (click on screenshot to get a free copy), which is the University of Auckland’s “five year and ten year plans” for where it wants to go vis-à-vis education and reputation. I’ve read it twice, and have concluded four things:

a. There’s no “there” there: it’s all a bunch of chirpy aspirations about making the University a world thought leader, but without any tangible steps for doing so. I’ve rarely read a “plan” so devoid of content.

b. It’s abysmally written and loaded with Māori words that you can’t understand unless you’re fluent in the language (have a look, for instance, at the title).

c. It’s basically a plan for handing over half the curriculum and its planning to Māori, including teaching MM, though they constitute only 16.5% of the New Zealand population (Asians are 15.3%).

d. There is nothing at all about science in the plan except this lame quote from the “research and innovation page” of aspirations:

Be a research partner of choice for industry, policymakers and community organisations.

• Review promotion and reward systems to appropriately recognise the value of a range of research endeavours.

• Upskill and build capability of staff and students in research impact, engagement and science communication.

(“Upskill”? Is that a word.?) At any rate, you get the sense from the above of what’s in this screed: a lot of fine-sounding words without any substance. In fact, the one mention of science I’ve just quoted is the ONLY time that word is used in the entire 28-page vision statement, while the words “mātauranga Māori” are used six times. That’s way more than “coequal”!

The sole mention of science:

One of six mentions of MM:

And what kind of vision plan says nothing about science education?

The deep-sixing of modern science in NZ is pretty much a done deal, as the Ardern government has decided that the initial agreement between the “Crown” (settlers) and the Māori—embodied in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, known in Māori as “Te Tiriti”) should be interpreted as meaning that  Māori should ultimately get not just equity (since they’re a minority of Kiwis), but extra equity: half of the money and half of the power.

Now pushback by minority groups everywhere is largely about power, which is fine because oppression is a withdrawal of power. But my reading of the government’s push is that power is to be apportioned to indigenous people so that they get at least half the say in everything.

It’s as if the government of the U.S. decided that Native Americans got not only half the research funding for science, but half the say in teaching their “way of knowing” in science classes. This just won’t do, as times have moved on. MM rarely changes, and most of it cannot be falsified, while science steams its way forward. This is not to say that Māori shouldn’t have more power than they do already (I can’t speak to that), but that the government of New Zealand apparently is so ridden with guilt that it’s ready to hand over its science and its universities—not to mention its dosh—to Māori or to anybody who claims Māori ancestry.

The money issue had escaped my mind until I read the article below, which appears at a reputable website (Point of Order) and was written by a reputable journalist, Graham Adams. His point is that the drive to establish hegemony of MM has as a main goal the acquisition of money for Māori-centric research (I know of examples of this, but they’re quite trivial)—in fact, half of all money allocated for research. If you want to hurt scientific progress in New Zealand, that’s a good way to do it. One can of course—and should—try to interest Māori in modern scientific endeavors, but that’s not what Adams is talking about.

An excerpt (my emphasis):

The incendiary stoush was sparked last July by seven eminent professors stating in a letter to the Listener that indigenous knowledge is not science and therefore does not warrant inclusion in the NCEA syllabus as being equal to science.

Yet in the five months since the letter was published, virtually no one among those opposing the professors has argued convincingly that mātauranga Māori is scientific (even if some small elements of it could be called proto-science or pre-science).

On the face of it, the debate by now should have been declared a clear win for the professors and their supporters.   In rebuttal, their principal critics — including the Royal Society NZ, Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater, the Tertiary Education Union and prominent Covid commentators Drs Siouxsie Wiles and Shaun Hendy — have not gone beyond asserting that  mātauranga Māori is a valuable and unique system of knowledge that is complementary to science.

This view is not contentious in the slightest — and was explicitly endorsed by the professors themselves in their letter.

So, if most everyone agrees that mātauranga Māori is mostly not science but is nevertheless a worthwhile and complementary form of knowledge, the obvious solution to the standoff over including it in the NCEA curriculum would be to teach it as a component of, say, social studies. But not as part of the science syllabus.

That way, you’d think, everyone wins — Māori knowledge would be taught in secondary schools, and the argument over whether it is sufficiently scientific would vanish.

However, a simple accommodation of this kind was never going to be possible because the NCEA syllabus is merely the tip of a large iceberg of policies to recast our entire science education system — from schools to universities to research institutes — as an equal endeavour between Māori and non-Māori in which mātauranga Māori is everywhere accorded the same status as science.

And thats the rub, because “status” includes money.


The NCEA syllabus represents just one small step in fulfilling a much wider co-governance programme based on a radical view of the Treaty as a 50:50 partnership between Maori and the Crown. For that reason, advocates of incorporating Maori knowledge into the science curriculum cannot afford to concede even an inch of ground to the professors and their supporters lest their stealthy revolution be undermined.

In short, the push to promote indigenous knowledge cannot be allowed to fail at any level for fear it will fail at every level.

The project to gain parity for mātauranga Māori throughout science education and funding is detailed in Te Pūtahitangi, A Tiriti-led Science-Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Published last April, it can be seen as a companion to the revolutionary ethno-nationalist report He Puapua and shows how a radical overhaul of the education system could, or should, be implemented.

This overhaul in fact gives more than equity to Māori when it comes to funding, for their research quality gets weighted 2.5 times as heavily as does research from non-Māori. This is likely to translate into big differences in research funding.  Not even in the U.S. will the NSF and NIH prioritize grants and research evaluations based on ethnicity. The NIH tried to do that, but stopped the practice when it became public and was seen as unfair. One possibility is to fund only projects that involve Māori scientists. But since there’s a paucity of Māori scientists, the NZ initiative is, I think, likely to shake out as “no funding except for projects that combine modern science with MM.”

While the University of Auckland touts how wonderful it is and how much of a world-class research institute it will be, it and the NZ government is simultaneously ensuring that the research quality and reputation of the entire country will go into the dumper. And it’s largely done out of guilt, for equity alone simply cannot justify these actions. Robin DiAngelo would make a pile in New Zealand!

In the next installment (not for a while), I’ll give some examples of MM “ways of knowing” that have been touted as scientific.

To the Democrats: How not to lose

January 23, 2022 • 10:00 am

The title above doesn’t refer to my advice, because I’m not a political pundit. Rather, it refers to the two articles below that I read in succession, finding their messages nearly identical.  One is from a liberal and the other from a right-centrist, but they’re both concerned with an issue that we often discuss here: political division that hurts the Dems.

Yet their topics aren’t so concerned so much with “How can we bash the Republicans so they lose?” as a question I consider more important and tractable, “How can Democrats act so we don’t lose?” For as the Youngkin victory in Virginia and the narrow Biden victory across America demonstrates, not to mention Biden’s plummeting approval rating, the Democrats are doing something wrong. It’s in our power to help fix that; it’s not in our power to affect Republican behavior, which is beyond the pale.

The first piece is from the Substack site “The Liberal Patriot,” and is by Ruy Teixeira, a political scientist, commentator, and Democrat. Click the screenshot to read, and I do recommend you read this one (it’s not too long if you’re lazy):

The second one is Andrew Sullivan’s latest piece (free, but subscribe if you read him often), and I refer to his main piece from Friday. Click to read:

Teixeira makes five points about what we Democrats should  be doing.  In fact, all of his points, as well as Sullivan’s, boil down to this advice: stop catering to the extreme Left and start dealing with issues that really matter to the “average” American. That has also been the message of James Carville, though nobody seems to be listening. You can’t have your “Progressivism” and your electoral victories, too.

There’s no doubt that the Democratic follies have played into GOP hands; you can’t blame everything on Sinema and Manchin.  Anyway, I’ll put Texeira’s points in my own words in bold below. All quotes from the two writers are indented; mine are flush left.

1.) Concentrating on higher voter turnout is not a knockout win for Democrats.

The 2020 election presented a pretty darn stark choice to voters. And it was indeed a high turnout election. The problem: everyone’s turnout went up, including among groups the left would have preferred stayed home. The net result of higher turnout did not significantly boost Democratic fortunes; if anything Republicans may have a benefitted a bit more from the higher levels of turnout.

2.) Emphasizing the issues of “systemic racism” and trying to mobilize people of color as the key to victory isn’t a great strategy. 

In the 2020 election, running against Donald Trump (Donald Trump!) and in the wake of a social upheaval after George Floyd’s murder that associated the Democratic party closely with a left stance on the centrality of “systemic racism” to pretty much every policy issue…the Democrats actually lost ground among nonwhite voters. They lost 7 margin points from their 2016 margin among black voters and a stunning 16 points from their 2016 margin among Hispanics (Catalist two party vote) The black share of voters in 2020 was actually slightly smaller than the black share in 2016 because, while black turnout did go up, it did not go up as much as other groups. Overall, nonwhite voters contributed less to Biden’s margin over Trump in 2020 than they did to Clinton’s margin over Trump in 2016.

So much for the assumption that the key to mobilizing nonwhites is highlighting their status as “people of color” suffering from systemic racism as the left stresses. That was tried in the 2020 election and it did not work. Nor has anything happened since 2020 that makes that approach look any better. The 2021 elections saw significant attrition of Democratic support among Hispanics and Asians and 2021 polling data indicated weakening support among nonwhites—particularly Hispanics, where the drift away from the Democrats is unmistakable.

The left’s recommended approach here is clearly not paying dividends. It should be discarded.

3.) Pushing “cultural leftism” won’t help the Democrats. I try to make this point repeatedly: the ultra-Left’s views are not congenial to the voters we need to win the election. It’s better to win than to tout pie-in-the-sky issues and programs that the average Joe and Jill (not the elite ones) don’t care about. For example:

The left in the Democratic party insists that cultural leftism is central to consolidating the “rising American electorate” that will power the Democratic party to dominance in an increasingly multicultural, multiracial America. It is a feature they say, not a bug, of current Democratic practice.

But in the process, the left has managed to associate the Democratic party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, schooling, free speech and of course race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the left but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic party. From time to time Democratic politicians like Biden try to dissociate themselves from super-unpopular ideas like defunding the police but the voices of cultural leftism within the party are still more deferred to than opposed. These voices are further amplified by Democratic-leaning media and nonprofits, as well as within the Democratic party infrastructure itself, all of which are thoroughly dominated by cultural leftism. In an era when a party’s national brand increasingly defines state and even local electoral contests, Democratic candidates have a very hard time shaking these cultural left associations.

That’s a huge problem because the median voter simply does not share the outlook embodied by  cultural leftism.

As crime rises, the “defund the police” campaign—stupid to begin with, at least couched that way—has become an albatross around our necks. So has the Democrats’ apparent desire for open borders—or at least their failure to address immigration.  Yes, I push favor speech, but come election time, you can leave those issues for later. The average voter cares about a. the economy, b. the economy, c. how the economy is affecting their lives, and d. the economy, e. schooling for their kids, f. the economy, g. the pandemic.

Although Biden was elected on a platform to “bring America together”, that’s not what he’s done. Part of his failure rests on the recalcitrant Republicans (Synema and Manchin are irrelevant here, as even getting them on Biden’s side won’t “bring America together”), but a lot of it has involved Biden’s own surrender to the Woke Left. Every time he caves to the “progressives,” he moves centrists to the Right. And don’t think they don’t notice Biden’s failure to distance himself from the Squad and their acolytes.

4.) We won’t win by arguing that Republican victories mean the end of our democracy.  Because of January 6, many people, even on this site, have taken the view that the very existence and persistence of our democracy absolutely depends on Democrats winning, for, people say, all Republicans are toned-down versions of the Q-Anon shaman. As Teixera argues:

Another key link in the left theory of the case is the assumption that voters will, if the messaging is loud enough, necessarily agree with the Democrats on the nature and extent of the current threat to democracy posed by the Republican party and therefore the need to vote Democratic. The January 6th events, especially, are continually cited as an ironclad justification for rejecting the Republicans. This approach is being repeatedly put to the test and repeatedly failing.

It didn’t work in Virginia in 2021. And it’s not generally working with voters as a whole. As the strenuously nonpartisan election analyst Kyle Kondik notes on Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

A year after Jan. 6 and nearly a year into Joe Biden’s presidency, the Republican political position appears strong — just as one might expect heading into a midterm with an unpopular president in the White House, and arguably unhampered by Jan. 6.

This brings us to my own point: the Dems are making a huge fuss about voter registration, saying that if you favor the new state laws (granted, they’re largely racist initiatives designed by Republicans to keep minorities from voting), you’re no different from George Wallace or Lester Maddox.  Well, I don’t feel that way. I don’t like the laws and I understand why they’re being passed, but, as Andrew Sullivan says, it’s not election fraud that’s a concern for most Americans (that’s why Biden shouldn’t have broached it during last week’s presser), but election subversion. In other words,  voter-registration laws, to the average American, are nowhere near as important as what happened in the Capitol on January 6.  And those laws will not facilitate such insurrections. Trump’s re-election will.


More to the point, laws — like that recently passed in Georgia — are far from the nightmares that Dems have described, and contain some expansion of access to voting. Georgians, and Americans in general, overwhelmingly support voter ID laws, for example. Such laws poll strongly even among allegedly disenfranchised African-Americans — whose turnout in 2012, following a wave of ID laws, actually exceeded whites’ in the re-election of a black president. In fact, the normalization of ID in everyday life has only increased during the past year of vax-card requirements — a policy pushed by Democrats.

And Biden did something truly dumb this week: he cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election in November now that his proposal for a federal overhaul has failed: “I’m not going to say it’s going to be legit.” No sitting president should do this, ever. But when one party is still insisting that the entire election system was rigged last time in a massive conspiracy to overturn a landslide victory for Trump, the other party absolutely needs to draw a sharp line. Biden fatefully blurred that distinction, and took the public focus off the real danger: not voter suppression but election subversion, of the kind we are now discovering Trump, Giuliani and many others plotted during the transition period. Reforming the Electoral Count Act could, in fact, help lower the likelihood of a repeat of last time. And if the Dems had made that their centerpiece, they would have kept the legitimacy argument and kept the focus on Trump’s astonishing contempt for the rules of the republic.

Back to Teixeira:

5.) The Democrats are making a mistake assuming that their razor-thin victory in 2020 gave them a mandate to completely transform America:

Any reasonably clear-eyed look at the election strongly indicated that Biden was elected to get the country back to normal by containing the covid pandemic and fixing the economy. But the need to barrel ahead with transformation was pushed consistently by the Democratic party left—pushed in fact to the point of collapse in 2021.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill was held up for months as the House’s Progressive Caucus refused to vote for it unless a truly transformational Build Back Better bill could be elaborated. .

. . . And one might add, exposing the left’s lack of understanding of what the American people most wanted, which was very simply the return of normality not transformation. While the Democratic Congress wasted months in arcane negotiations about bill structure, what programs it would and would not cover and how many trillions of dollars it all would cost, ordinary voters were trying to cope with the Delta wave and the emergence of supply and inflation problems in the economy. As they became increasingly unhappy with the Biden administration and increasingly unsure just when things would finally get back to normal, the endless, confusing negotiations went on.

Most of these points ring true to me, and I’d say I’m the average left-centrist registered Democrat.  It’s mystified me why my party spends all its time arguing about voter-registration laws that the average American doesn’t care about, or engage in Wokeist shenanigans that are repugnant to those on the center. Biden needs to get out more–seriously. As Sullivan proposes, he should sit behind a mirror every week while a focus group of average Americans beef about their worries.

Teixeira doesn’t really offer a solution for Democrats, but Sullivan does, giving a series of things “that can hurt Trump”.

Here’s what hurts Trump. Biden doing sensible deals with Manchin and Sinema on tangible areas of agreement, instead of castigating and alienating them. Insisting that our election system is, in fact, solid and legitimate. Celebrating the re-opening of schools. Firing the heads of the CDC and FDA, after their appalling performance during Covid. And imagine if Biden had given a tub-thumping speech last week not on why it’s still 1964 in America, but on why he is appalled by the soaring murder rates in many cities, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods, and opposes the catastrophic soft-on-crime policies Democrat DAs are promoting around the country. Go visit the NYPD with Mayor Adams. Work with Romney on childcare assistance. Head to San Francisco to support Mayor Breed’s attempt to rein in anarchy. Now that would hurt Trump.

Biden also seems incapable of grappling with the cultural leftism — from critical race theory to the replacement of biological sex with subjective gender — that is increasingly defining the Democrats as a party. He’s just absent, distant, irrelevant on these issues, even as they have shown to be deeply unpopular and deeply divisive. Has he said anything about education and the rights of parents, a burgeoning issue for many suburban voters? Not that I’ve noticed. Meanwhile his party becomes more and more associated with the teachers’ unions, whose refusal to teach children in person for two years is now legendary.

His capitulation to the cultural left — from federal funds for abortion to “equity” across the federal government — is puzzling. . .

Indeed it is. I am not sure about firing the heads of the CDC and FDA, as they were operating in a constantly moving empirical landscape. But I believe with every fiber of my being that doubling down on culturally leftist issues is not going to help us keep Congress this fall or the Presidency in 2024.

One more quote from Sullivan, well, because it’s there:

His silence on all these things [cultural leftist tenets] offers a chance for a future pivot, of course, to remind us that he was once Barack Obama’s vice president, and not merely Ibram Kendi’s tool. But he’s as cowed by these fanatics as the rest of his party. And I doubt he hears a smidgen of criticism of wokeness from his advisers. I mean he appointed Susan Rice to impose it on the entire federal workforce. All he hears, I suspect, is that opponents of wokeness are just racist, transphobic bigots.

Maybe a huge Republican wave this November will force Biden to recalibrate, as happened with Bill Clinton. But Biden, one is increasingly reminded, is a party man, and his party has moved so far to the left in the past five years there is no way he can pull a Sister Souljah moment without splitting the Democrats in two.

So he may well become a transitional figure like Jimmy Carter — a response to a criminal president, as Carter was, but too isolated, partisan and controlled by left interest groups to build a coalition for the future. Instead, a growing backlash including many Latinos, black voters, a slice of Asian-Americans, and suburban parents could create a viable and resilient multiracial coalition for the center right. We just have to pray that Trump is not the man who leads it.


h/t: cesar

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 23, 2022 • 9:00 am

Today is Sunday, and that means it’s John Avise Bird Photos Day.  And, as usual, the photos have a theme. John’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

No, this post is not about Covid variants— I think we’ve all heard more than enough about those darn viruses!  Instead, it’s about Corvid birds (family Corvidae), of which about 20 species (including jays, crows, and magpies) can be found in North America.   Corvids are bold, inquisitive, intelligent, and often beautiful birds that can be among a region’s most conspicuous avifaunal elements.  The state where I took each photo is indicated in parentheses.

Island Scrub-Jay, Aphelocoma insularis (California, Santa Cruz Island):

Florida Scrub-Jay, Amphelocoma coerulescens (Florida):

California Scrub-Jay, Amphelocoma californica (California):

Mexican Jay, Aphelocoma ultramarina (Arizona):

Steller’s Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri (Wyoming):

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata (Florida):

Green Jay, Cyanocorax yncas (Texas):

Canada Jay, Perisoreus canadensis (Wyoming):

Brown Jay, Cyanocorax morio (Texas):

Black-billed Magpie, Pica hudsonia (Wyoming):

Clark’s Nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana (Colorado):

Common Raven, Corvus corax (Wyoming):

Common Raven, headshot (Wyoming):

American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos (California):

Flock of American Crows (a Corvid outbreak):

Sunday: Hili dialogue

January 23, 2022 • 7:30 am

Welcome to the the week’s end (or beginning, depending on how you view it; I always thought Sunday should be to the right of the calendar. Anyway, it’s Sunday, January 23, 2022: National Pie Day. Pie is the best thing to have for breakfast.  EXCEPT that it’s also National Rhubarb Pie Day, which is not only the worst of all possible pies, but a pie made with VEGETABLES! It is not fit for human consumption.  Would you make these gritty stalks into a pie? Yes, I know people do, and those with faux leather palates actually like said pie. Since this is a matter of taste, I can’t say they’re wrong; all I can say is that they have faux leather palates.

It’s also National Handwriting Day (mine gets worse as I never write by hand any more) as well as Measure Your Feet Day. (WHY?)

News of the Day:

*As Russia prepares to invade Ukraine (I predict by Feb 10), the U.S. has refused to promise that Ukraine won’t join NATO. The latest news is that 100,000 Russian troops are still massed on Ukraine’s border, and there seems to be a Russian plot to overthrow the Ukrainian government and install a Russian stooge.

The U.S. and several of its allies have pledged to hammer Russia with economic and other sanctions if it expands an invasion of Ukraine that began in 2014. But the range of interventions available to Russia short of an outright invasion—from cyberattacks to disinformation to provocations—complicates the West’s response. Top Ukrainian officials say they believe that the Kremlin is more likely to seek to destabilize Ukraine and remove its leadership rather than launching a full-scale military invasion.

. . . The [British] Foreign Office’s statement named an ex-lawmaker as the Russian candidate for prime minister and cited Russian intelligence links with four former senior officials who fled to Russia in 2014 when their boss, then-President Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted during mass street protests.

Putin has ripped off his shirt, flexed, and is getting ready to mount his horse.

*As NBC News ends its daily newscast: “There’s good news tonight!”  Here’s mine. Axios reports that a federal judge in Florida has barred the University of Florida from preventing its professors from testifying against voting-restriction bills.  I’ve written about this before, but here’s the Axios quick summary (h/t Jean)

Catch up quick: The order comes after three professors brought a lawsuit against the University of Florida for being prohibited from serving as expert witnesses or filing amicus briefs in cases against the state.

  • The professors were told that their actions could be considered against the university’s best interest.
  • Three other professors — a pediatrics professor and two law professors — later joined the lawsuit.

What he’s saying:  “UF has bowed to perceived pressure from Florida’s political leaders and has sanctioned the unconstitutional suppression of ideas out of favor with Florida’s ruling party.”

*Holy bouncing boulders, Batman! The NYT reports pretty good evidence of boulder tracks, indicate bouncing rocks, on the surface of Mars. This indicates seismic activity that rattles the bounders in a way that leaves traces. To wit:

If a rock falls on Mars, and no one is there to see it, does it leave a trace? Yes, and it’s a beautiful herringbone-like pattern, new research reveals. Scientists have now spotted thousands of tracks on the red planet created by tumbling boulders. Delicate chevron-shaped piles of Martian dust and sand frame the tracks, the team showed, and most fade over the course of a few years.

A study of these ephemeral features on Mars, published last month in Geophysical Research Letters, says that such boulder tracks can be used to pinpoint recent seismic activity on the red planet. This new evidence that Mars is a dynamic world runs contrary to the notion that all of the planet’s exciting geology happened much earlier, said Ingrid Daubar, a planetary scientist at Brown University who was not involved in the study. “For a long time, we thought that Mars was this cold, dead planet.”

Here are two photos of the boulder tracks:

Why do they mostly go in a straight line? That’s easy: the boulders are being bounced downhill by Marsquakes. What I don’t know is where Marksquakes come from, though I could look it up. On Earth, many earthquakes come from the shifting of the crust along fault lines, but there are other causes as well. I suspect Mars, which has no continental plates, has no fault lines, either. But some knowledgable reader will fill us in, right?

*The Democratic Party of Arizona has voted to reprimand Senator Kyrsten Sinema, giving her a gentle potch in tuchas for her desire to keep the filibuster (which in turn stymies Democratic legislation. This vote has no practical consequences for her, but it may presage this being her last term as an Arizona Senator (she has four more years till she’s up for re-election:

Sinema had said on Wednesday that although she backed the Democrats’ voting rights bills, she feared that eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote requirement for major legislation would add to the country’s divisions. With Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) joining Republicans in opposition to filibuster changes, Democrats’ immediate hopes of passing voting rights legislation were dashed.

. . .Sinema, who does not face reelection until 2024, could face a primary challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego, who told CNN this week that he had been encouraged to run by other Senate Democrats.

Arizona’s other Senate seat is held by Mark Kelly (D), who had wavered on the filibuster but ultimately backed scrapping it to pass the voting rights bills. He is up for reelection in November, and his seat is expected to be among the most competitive in the nation this year.

*Escaped simians on a Pennsylvania highway!  The New York Times reports this:

The Pennsylvania State Police said that a pickup truck with an enclosed trailer full of 100 monkeys had collided with a dump truck and that four of the monkeys had escaped.

The cynomolgus monkeys, which are often used in scientific research and can cost up to $10,000 each, had been on their way to a lab in Florida when the crash happened at about 3:20 p.m. on Route 54 near Interstate 80 in Montour County, about 150 miles northwest of Philadelphia, the State Police said.

No people were hurt, but troopers and state wildlife officials responded as the search for the monkeys intensified into the evening hours. A State Police helicopter was also put on standby but had not been deployed for aerial reconnaissance, Trooper Lauren Lesher, a State Police spokeswoman, said.

As of Saturday morning, only one monkey was unaccounted for, according to state troopers.

Well, they would have died from the cold, but they were bound for death anyway: they were being used for virus research. I wish they’d all gotten away in a warmer clime, where at least they’d have a chance.  Here’s a cynomolgus monkey, also known as the crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis):

*From Canada’s National Post, an article summarized by reader Chrstopher:

It seems like the Toronto District School Board isn’t the only one (remember they banned a book club from reading Marie Henein’s autobiography and Nadia Murad’s memoir of her time as an ISIS captive?) Now the Waterloo District School Board has banned a board member, a 20-year teacher, from school property, suspended her without pay and reported her to authorities for offending against the Ontario Human Rights Act. Why? She said she wasn’t sure it was appropriate to have books in elementary school libraries that encouraged gender transition, specifically one that dismissed the decision of whether to transition and lose the possibility of children in the future with the child’s reply “It’s cool.” And this was at a meeting intended to identify inappropriate books and cull them, but they were expecting to throw out racist and misogynistic authors like Enid Blyton, not to hear this kind of heresy.

Now I don’t think any teacher or library should ban these books, but neither should the school suspend a teacher who calls them into question. Canada needs to learn more about American-style freedom of speech!

*This looks like a great post-retirement job for me—but only if they’d let me serve Tatylor’s Landlord (click on the screenshot):

*Reader James gives us the news from the Religion Poisons Everything Department. He cited a piece in the Daily Fail, but this one in News WWC gives a bit more information.

A mother-of-two who jumped through an ice hole in a frozen river to mark Orthodox Epiphany was swept away, presumed dead, by strong currents in front of her screaming children.

A deeply distressing video shows the woman, 40, plunge into the Oredezh River near Vyra, a village south of St Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday.

There was immediate panic after the woman, a lawyer from St Petersburg was pulled beneath the ice by a powerful current of around 10ft a second.

Her distressed children scream and one is heard crying ‘Mama, Mama’, as a woman tries to comfort them.

A mother-of-two, 40, jumped into a frozen river to mark Christian Orthodox Epiphany on Wednesday

Here’s the plunge, and the video (on the fail: warning–distressing: children scream) shows her disappearing immediately. Her husband immediately jumped into the water, but the woman had already been swept away by the icy water:

The lawyer, from St Petersburg, intended to dip in the waters to mark Christian Orthodox Epiphany in a tradition followed annually by hundreds of thousands of Russian believers.

People believe that water blessed for the annual ceremony possesses special healing properties.

Some people go into the icy waters on their own, while others often take part in the celebration in groups as they remembered the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

A hole had been cut into the thick ice and the air temperature was around -5C when the woman jumped in.

On the video you can her hear two children scream as the woman disappears. Divers were brought in but couldn’t find her body, either. Now if there hadn’t been religion, this woman would have lived and her two children would have a mom. It’s just God’s plan, I suppose. . . .  he wants people to plunge into ice holes.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 865,116 an increase of 2,152 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,611,193, an increase of about 6,500 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 23 includes:

Here’s a Rajput painting of war elephants. Sometimes they had blades fitted to their tusks (second photo)!:

  • 1556 – The deadliest earthquake in history, the Shaanxi earthquake, hits Shaanxi province, China. The death toll may have been as high as 830,000.
  • 1849 – Elizabeth Blackwell is awarded her M.D. by the Geneva Medical College of Geneva, New York, becoming the United States’ first female doctor.

Here she is; she later gave up private practice to engage in medical education:

All 16 defendants, of course, were convicted and sentenced to death: a bullet in the back of the head in the cellars of the Lubyanka.

Here’s a pro-neutrality speech by Lindy in 1941. He was a true Nazi sympathizer, an anti-Semite (note his mention of pro-war “Jews” below), and they should remove his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, from the Smithsonian.

Below: “A memorial disc containing some of the ashes of Ed Headrick [Wham-O’s general manager], on display at Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, London”

Here’s the photo of the captured Pueblo sailors flipping the bird to the photographer. Note the photo caption: “North Korean Propaganda Photograph of prisoners of USS Pueblo. Photo and explanation from the Time article that blew the Hawaiian Good Luck Sign secret. The sailors were flipping the middle finger, as a way to covertly protest their captivity in North Korea, and the propaganda on their treatment and guilt. The North Koreans for months photographed them without knowing the real meaning of flipping the middle finger, while the sailors explained that the sign meant good luck in Hawaii.”

  • 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.
  • 1997 – Madeleine Albright becomes the first woman to serve as United States Secretary of State.
  • 2002 – U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl is kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan and subsequently murdered.

Pearl was beheaded, and the Pakistani courts acquitted the main suspect. Pearl in captivity:

DCA98 – 20020203 – –, PAKISTAN : This undated photo received 30 January, 2002, shows Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl at an undisclosed location with a gun pointed to his head. US media reported that Pakistan police confirmed 03 February, 2002, that Pearl had been killed and his body recovered. A body identified as Pearl by police was found in Karachi on a roadside and then taken to a civilian hospital. The US State Department is not confirming the report. EPA PHOTO HO/-/jpr/rix


  • 2020 – The World Health Organization declares the COVID-19 pandemic to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1783 – Stendhal, French novelist (d. 1842)
  • 1832 – Édouard Manet, French painter (d. 1883)

Here’s Manet’s “Woman with a Cat” (1875):

  • 1862 – David Hilbert, German mathematician and academic (d. 1943)

Hilbert looking cool:

Perhaps the greatest jazz guitarist ever Reinhardt was even greater since he used only two fingers on the fretboard, the others having been injured in a fire accident. Here he is swinging with his longtime music pal, Stéphane Grappelli:

Here’s Giant Baba in 1964. He had gigantism, and was 6′ 10″:

Another giant baba:

Those who exited stage down on January 23 include:

  • 1516 – Ferdinand II of Aragon (b. 1452)
  • 1803 – Arthur Guinness, Irish brewer, founded Guinness (b. 1725)
  • 1806 – William Pitt the Younger, English politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (b. 1759)
  • 1883 – Gustave Doré, French engraver and illustrator (b. 1832)

I love Doré. Here’s his engraving of Puss in Boots:

Here’s Pavlova, who had abnormally arched feet and thus also invented the modern pointe shoe:

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

“The White Cat’ by Pierre Bonnard:

  • 1973 – Kid Ory, American trombonist, composer, and bandleader (b. 1886)
  • 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)

Dali had a pet ocelot named Babou. Can you name another famous person who had a pet ocelot?

  • 2004 – Helmut Newton, German-Australian photographer (b. 1920)

Here’s Newton’s well known photo “Woman Examining Man“:

  • 2005 – Johnny Carson, American talk show host, television personality, and producer (b. 1925)
  • 2015 – Ernie Banks, American baseball player and coach (b. 1931)
  • 2021 – Larry King, American journalist and talk show host (b. 1933)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s still a bit wary of Szaron:

Hili: Take him away from there.
A: Why?
Hili: I don’t like it when somebody looks at me from above.
Hili: Zabierz go stamtąd.
Ja: Dlaczego?
Hili: Nie lubię jak ktoś patrzy na mnie z góry.

From Stephen:

From Stash Krod: An R. Crumb cartoon showing how prescient the artist was:

From Malcolm. All the claims here are “verified” on Wikipedia. Curiously, Triboulet suffered from microcephaly.


From Titania. I visited one university where professor had to undergo “furry training” to deal with students who identify as animals (they sometimes wore horns or tails), but I had no idea that catering to the needs of furries could go this far!

Two from Simon. First, Boris Time!

Isn’t it pretty to think so?

From Reader Sue. I posted this recently, but I love the new interpretation (the goat reminds me of a Twitter muttonhead).

From God. Who would put out a Christmas card like this. What are they trying to say?

Tweets from Matthew.  Pity that the water’s gone from here:

Every cat needs one of these!

How fantastic: the joy of jumping around!

Be sure to enlarge and read this concise but important piece of science:


Caturday felid trifecta: Ten best cat commercials of all time; a menacing kitten; a massive cat rescue in Philly; and lagniappe

January 22, 2022 • 2:16 pm

Everything’s late today because I had to deal with keruffles over the Nature and Scientific American letters.

Now this is a post we’ve really needed: the best cat commercials of all time (click on screenshot to watch ’em all!):

Here’s my top three, in reverse order.

First, a Taylor Swift commercial, a distant third but still good. I believe those are her cats, too:

Here’s an ancillary one; let’s call it 3B. You have to say this about Swift: she loves her moggies!

The second best. Very clever:

This is undoubtedly the best cat commercial of all time, and bears repeated watching. Its from EDS (Electronic Data Systems), and I believe aired during the Superbowl:


A cute piece from the Guardian (click on the screenshot):

A snippet:

In the 15 years since we last had a kitten, I’d forgotten how much worry is involved: you have to take constant care to avoid stepping on it, and you have to check that it’s not in the dishwasher before you turn it on. You spend half your day looking under things for it, and the other half patiently letting it unknit your jumper from the sleeves inwards, because at least you know where it is. It’s asleep whenever you want to play with it, then it stands on your plate while you’re eating.

At first I spent a lot of time trying to exhaust the cat by playing with it, but it never gets tired of anything. My wife bought a little plastic fishing rod with a length of string and a small stuffed fish at the other end. Using this to entertain the cat is actually a bit like fishing, but unlike a sea bass, the cat is always biting. Eventually, I learned to prop up the rod between two sofa cushions so I could read.

The kitten came knowing how to use a litter box, which is a plus, although the thing it does immediately afterwards – deftly flicking the turd into the middle of the room, like a golfer hitting out of a sand trap – I don’t know where it learned that.

One morning, about a week after its arrival, I come downstairs to find the kitten riding the tortoise around the kitchen

“When you’re no longer cute,” I tell it, “none of this will be tolerated.” In the meantime, however, it seems to understand that everything it does is potentially Instagrammable.


Kolony Kats is a group of people who help feral cats in the streets of Philadelphia. They have a good Facebook page that shows the structures they put up for the cats to get warmth, food, and water, and, most of all safety (one structure for multiple cats is below). All cats are neutered, and the tame ones are put up for adoption. Here are two posts showing the care they give these cats, even taking them to a cardiologist.

They don’t importune you for donations, and it’s hard to find even how to donate, but if you want to throw a few bucks their way, go here. It’s an awesome group.


Lagniappe: The world’s fastest cat fight.

h/t: Ginger K.