Another educator risks his job by objecting to mandatory and ideologically narrow diversity training

April 13, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Bari Weiss has a guest writer on her Substack site Common Sense this week: high-school math and philosophy teacher Paul Rossi from Grace Church School in Manhattan, a coeducational private college-prep school that serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade. His topic is the antiracist training he’s required to take, but abhors as harmful, divisive, and above all stifling to students’ ability to think freely and explore ideas. Rossi, still employed at the school, recognizes that by writing this he’s “risking not only my current job but my career as an educator, since most schools, both public and private, are now captive to this backward ideology.” He’s the Jodi Shaw of Grace Church School, and I worry that he’ll suffer the same fate as Shaw: a resignation that’s more or less forced, or, alternatively, outright expulsion if he refuses to sign the school’s agreement that they cooked up for him.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Rossi says he’s more or less forced to “treat students differently on the basis of race” and to discuss their dissents not with other faculty, but with a special “Office of Community Engagement,” which always bats away his objections.  A longish excerpt (read more at Bari’s site) serves to show the problem:

Recently, I raised questions about this ideology at a mandatory, whites-only student and faculty Zoom meeting. (Such racially segregated sessions are now commonplace at my school.) It was a bait-and-switch “self-care” seminar that labelled “objectivity,” “individualism,” “fear of open conflict,” and even “a right to comfort” as characteristics of white supremacy. I doubted that these human attributes — many of them virtues reframed as vices — should be racialized in this way. In the Zoom chat, I also questioned whether one must define oneself in terms of a racial identity at all. My goal was to model for students that they should feel safe to question ideological assertions if they felt moved to do so.

It seemed like my questions broke the ice. Students and even a few teachers offered a broad range of questions and observations. Many students said it was a more productive and substantive discussion than they expected.

However, when my questions were shared outside this forum, violating the school norm of confidentiality, I was informed by the head of the high school that my philosophical challenges had caused “harm” to students, given that these topics were “life and death matters, about people’s flesh and blood and bone.” I was reprimanded for “acting like an independent agent of a set of principles or ideas or beliefs.” And I was told that by doing so, I failed to serve the “greater good and the higher truth.”

He further informed me that I had created “dissonance for vulnerable and unformed thinkers” and “neurological disturbance in students’ beings and systems.” The school’s director of studies added that my remarks could even constitute harassment.

A few days later, the head of school ordered all high school advisors to read a public reprimand of my conduct out loud to every student in the school. It was a surreal experience, walking the halls alone and hearing the words emitting from each classroom: “Events from last week compel us to underscore some aspects of our mission and share some thoughts about our community,” the statement began. “At independent schools, with their history of predominantly white populations, racism colludes with other forms of bias (sexism, classism, ableism and so much more) to undermine our stated ideals, and we must work hard to undo this history.”

Students from low-income families experience culture shock at our school. Racist incidents happen. And bias can influence relationships. All true. But addressing such problems with a call to “undo history” lacks any kind of limiting principle and pairs any allegation of bigotry with a priori guilt. My own contract for next year requires me to “participate in restorative practices designed by the Office of Community Engagement” in order to “heal my relationship with the students of color and other students in my classes.” The details of these practices remain unspecified until I agree to sign.

Can you believe that oath he has to swear to? What is this—the Cultural Revolution? Well, yes, a form of it. Rossi also notes that many students have told him that they’re frustrated at the school’s “indoctrination” but are afraid to speak up against it. They’re never allowed to challenge the tenets of Critical Race Theory in class.

What this does, of course, is to stifle discussion and also to force—nay, brainwash—students into a narrow ideological mindset from which departure is heretical. As a private school in Manhattan, Grace is undoubtedly very expensive and has a lot of smart students. Yet their inquisitiveness and their dissent is being squashed flat.

I’ll add one more excerpt which shows how a “Cultural Revolution” is overtaking this school, as it is with many others:

Every student at the school must also sign a “Student Life Agreement,” which requires them to aver that “the world as we understand it can be hard and extremely biased,” that they commit to “recognize and acknowledge their biases when we come to school, and interrupt those biases,” and accept that they will be “held accountable should they fall short of the agreement.” A recent faculty email chain received enthusiastic support for recommending that we “‘officially’ flag students” who appear “resistant” to the “culture we are trying to establish.”

I expect that soon students will be waving copies of “White Fragility” as they denounce their teachers, who will be forced to wear paper dunce hats and signs around they’re necks—if they’re not fired. Rossi describes his suggestion that Glenn Loury be included among his students’ reading assignments, but that the administration nixed it on the grounds that “the moment were are in institutionally and culturally, does not lend itself to dispassionate discussion and debate.” Apparently, discussing Loury would “confuse and enflame students.”

Can you believe that? The students are denied the chance to learn that black thinkers don’t all agree with each other. But again, that’s the Cultural Revolution, Jake.

You’ll be familiar with Rossi’s description of what is happening, as it’s what’s happening in Smith College, the Dalton School in NYC, and almost every other school where mandatory “diversity training” is instituted.  Pushing back can cost you your job, as Jodi Smith and others have learned. But it’s heartening that people are willing to risk this because they’re committed to a kind of liberalism that unites rather than divides.

Oh hell, I want to reproduce Rossi’s ending as well:

One current student paid me a visit a few weeks ago. He tapped faintly on my office door, anxiously looking both ways before entering. He said he had come to offer me words of support for speaking up at the meeting.

I thanked him for his comments, but asked him why he seemed so nervous. He told me he was worried that a particular teacher might notice this visit and “it would mean that I would get in trouble.” He reported to me that this teacher once gave him a lengthy “talking to” for voicing a conservative opinion in class. He then remembered with a sigh of relief that this teacher was absent that day. I looked him in the eyes. I told him he was a brave young man for coming to see me, and that he should be proud of that.

Then I sent him on his way. And I resolved to write this piece.

At the end of this post, Bari gives an email address where you can write to Rossi expressing support, advice, or commiserating with him if you’re in a similar situation:


h/t: Luana

The Friendly Atheist is not so friendly, damns Richard Dawkins as “transphobic” for comparing transexualism with transracialism

April 13, 2021 • 10:45 am

The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, isn’t being very friendly, nor charitable, to Richard Dawkins. This is based on a tweet that Dawkins made comparing “trans-racialism”—as in the case of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who pretended she was black—with transsexualism. Hemant has thus deemed Richard “transphobic” and implicitly demanded that he be removed from the board of directors of the Center For Inquiry (CFI; the Richard Dawkins Foundation is now part of CFI).

Hemant’s headline is misleading and clickbaity, and, more important, he doesn’t reproduce or correct Dawkins’s own explanation issued yesterday. Click on the screenshot below.

Hemant is greatly exercised by Dawkins’s first tweet below.

Now nobody ever claimed that Richard was great in getting his points across in a tweet, which is why he often has to issue subsequent tweets, like the second one above.

Let’s “unpack” the first tweet.  First, many of us know the story of Rachel Dolezal, who pretended for several years that she was black, rising to positions of authority in the Spokane, Washington NAACP. She had felt she was black for many years, attended a historically black college, and then simply told people she was black, adopted a black persona as well as darkening her skin, and was an activist in antiracist causes. Her parents (who had adopted several black children) eventually “outed” Dolezal, and she was fired from her position and has been widely shamed.

I’ve always felt some sympathy for Dolezal because her narrative, at least, does parallel that of transsexual people. I don’t think she was lying to gain anything (indeed, if you assume a black identity, Critical Race Theory tells you that you’re losing your privilege and will be oppressed). Rather, as best I can see, she actually felt that she was more black than white. That’s confirmed by an article in the Guardian, which says this:

As she wipes away the tears, it’s hard not to think that she deserved a little of the humanity she has shown to others. Yet behind the pain is a determination not to be forced from the identity she has embraced.

“I really feel it hasn’t affected it at all because I wasn’t identifying as black in order to make people happy or make people upset or whatever. I wasn’t seeking fame. I was being me,” she says. “Of course, it’s affected me in really practical ways of not having a job. It’s really difficult to navigate public spaces. It’s been incredibly hard for my kids. There have been some real experiences, but one of them is not how I identify changing.”

Far from it. Her answer to her critics is to name her unborn son after Langston Hughes, the African American poet and leader of the Harlem Renaissance.

Yes, race is not sex, but there are parallels between Dolezal’s “race dysphoria” and the “gender dysphoria” of transexual people. In both cases you have a cognitive dissonance that causes psychological pain. In both cases you don’t have a choice about how you feel. The source of the dysphoria may have different origins, like hormonal causes for transsexuals and cultural dissonance in transracialism, but in both cases it manifests itself (if you believe Dolezal, which I do) as profound dissatisfaction with your persona and a desire to assume another identity. To do that when you’re white, you have to lie about being black, for you can’t get surgery or hormone treatment to assume another racial identity. But have some charity: it’s not “pretense” or a “lie” in the usual sense: you’re dong what you must to resolve the psychological pain you feel for feeling a identity different from what biology has vouchsafed you.

The parallel between transgenderism and transracialism was the subject of a big fracas a while back, when in 2017 feminist philosopher Rebecca Tuvel from Rhodes College published an article in Hypatia (“a journal of feminist philosophy”) called “In defense of transracialism“, noting the parallels between transracialists like Dolezal and transsexuals.  Tuvel was excoriated, just as Mehta has excoriated Dawkins, for being transphobic.  But Tuvel’s article was a philosophical one, as she wasn’t even sure that Dolezal’s “transition” was genuine. And Tuvel did say this:

You can read about the article and the upshot here and here. Tuvel was immediately demonized, the journal apologized, vowed to tighten up its review standards, and then the journal’s editor and eight associate editors resigned. But the article is still up, and that is excellent. Such discussion is valuable and should not be suppressed.

What irked people about Tuvel’s piece is that it seemed to them that, despite the parallels, it’s fine to want to change your gender but not at all okay to want to change your race. To me this is a distinction without much of a difference, and the reasons people want to make it a difference speaks powerfully about the hegemony of race above all traits. It’s simply not okay to assume the identity of a black person when you’re born white, even though you’re giving up “privilege”. (It is, however, apparently okay to make the opposite racial transition: the familiar “passing for white”, even though that isn’t based on dysphoria but an attempt to gain social and economic advantage).  Many of us have defended Tuvel’s article, including Russell Blackford and other philosophers.

Hemant, however, doesn’t even mention Tuvel’s article. Instead, he vilifies Dolezal for lying and calls Dawkins a “transphobe”:

In 2015, Dolezal became the subject of controversy when it became public knowledge that her parents were both white. That alone wouldn’t be an issue except that, until that point, she had flat-out lied in public about having a Black parent. She passed herself off, on paper, as Black. She already benefitted from the privilege of being white, but decided it wasn’t enough. When confronted about it, she said she self-identified as Black… and it’s that comment that has made her infamous.

She wasn’t simply vilified for identifying as Black (whatever that means) so much as lying about it to gain some kind of edge in her professional career.

Trans people, on the other hand, aren’t changing genders just for the hell of it. They sure aren’t doing it because it gives them some kind of advantage in society. More to the point: They don’t “choose to identify” as the other gender as if it’s some kind of light switch; they are the other gender. If they undergo surgery or take hormones or request a change on their driver’s license, it’s to correct a mistake, not because they wanted to be another gender on a whim.

So back to Dawkins. He’s comparing a liar, whose lie he passes off as genuine, to trans people, whose truths he dismisses. He’s comparing race to gender, as if they’re the same thing, in a way that allows bigots (including right-wing Christians) to use his words as a weapon against trans people. He also defines trans women as “men [who] choose to identify as women” (and vice versa) when that’s not the case at all.

It’s not merely a question. There’s nothing to “discuss.” It’s transphobic rhetoric — red meat for conservatives — that someone who supposedly values reason should know better than to promote. It’s as if he watched the whole J.K. Rowling debacle and thought I want to get in on that.

This is uncharacteristically unempathic of Hemant, toward both Dawkins and Dolezal.  I don’t think Dolezal was changing racial identity “for the hell of it”; I think she felt she was born in the wrong race and wanted to do something about it. It was not a “whim” or a “light switch.”

And Dawkins did not, as Hemant claims, “deny the basic humanity of transgender people”. Granted, Richard could have used some better language when he said that “some men choose to identify as women”. Though that’s literally true, the word “choice” implies a frivolous decision rather than a psychological imperative. (We have no “free choice” in such matters anyway.) And Richard could have been a tad more sensitive when saying “you will be vilified if you deny that [transexual people] are literally are what they identify as.”  Yes, he’s correct in that statement, but there are nuances here, as we’ve discussed several times on this website. In most ways transssexual people can be regarded as members of the gender they assume, but not in every single way.

At any rate, the idea that Dawkins is denying the humanity of trans people is defused by his “clarifying” tweet, and even without that I don’t see where anyone’s “humanity” was denied. I see a bit of an awkward tweet and a wokeish overreaction by Hemant.

Indeed, Hemant gets so worked up in his post that he almost demands that CFI get rid of Dawkins as a board member (his emphasis):

Here’s a more pressing question: What is the Center for Inquiry going to do about this?

When Donald Trump banned trans people from the military, CFI’s president denounced it by saying “We stand proudly with the transgender community as an ally in the fight for equal treatment.”

Well, the foundation that Dawkins began is now a division of CFI. Dawkins is on CFI’s Board of Directors. In the past, when one of CFI’s affiliates posted a transphobic comment online, the organization acted quickly to take it down and reiterate its support for the trans community.

So what will they do now? Do they stand with Dawkins, who mischaracterizes trans people and suggests that those who reject trans identities are unfairly maligned, or do they stand with trans people?

At this point, they don’t have the luxury of choosing both.

The next-to-last paragraph is a gross mischaracterization of Dawkins’s argument, I think. It is true that people who raise arguments against the acceptance of say, transsexual women as completely identical to biological women are unfairly maligned (viz., J. K. Rowling), and the “unfortunate” word “choice”, which is technically accurate, should be interpreted charitably, not as an attempt to denigrate transsexual people.

These days, a more charitable attitude is needed by many of us, but especially by the censorious Left, which seems gleefully eager to pounce on awkward tweets or even purely innocuous statements and deeds (i.e., wearing Hawaiian shirts!), and then damning the transgressors for good. This kind of reaction will not produce social progress. And it’s sad to see that Hemant, at least in this case, has joined the ranks of the Unempathic Offended.

h/t: Barry

Hawaiian shirts are now “problematic” symbols of colonialism

April 13, 2021 • 9:15 am

Oy! I wake up this morning to find, thanks to the Guardian, that my beloved Hawaiian shirts—technically, “aloha shirts“—have gotten the stink-eye from the Perpetually Offended. According to the paper—or rather, according to a Princeton academic, clearly empowered to be an arbiter of culture, these colorful shirts, worn by locals (Asians, Native Hawaiians) and immigrant mainlanders alike, are now “problematic.” The article below, which shows eminent people like Bill Murray and Rihanna wearing Hawaiian prints, tells us that we are being colonialists by wearing them.

An excerpt from the article:

The return of the Hawaiian shirt has been celebrated in the style press, as celebrities including Bill Murray, Rihanna and Sophie Turner have been seen to wear them.

But according to Zara Anishanslin, a fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton [she’s also an associat4e professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware], people should think twice before wearing the garments.

“They are the fashion equivalent of a plantation wedding,” said Anishanslin. “They could be seen as fashionable embodiments of the history of American colonization, imperialism and racism against Hawaii’s indigenous inhabitants. People might want to think twice about whether the look is worth the weight of its associative past.”

Yes, they could been seen that way—if you’re looking hard for reasons to police culture. But the Hawaiians themselves don’t seen them that way. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they were supposedly invented by a Chinese inhabitant of Hawaii, though the origin of this garment is still somewhat of a mystery:

According to some sources, the origin of Aloha shirts can be traced to the 1920s or the early 1930s, when the Honolulu-based dry goods store “Musa-Shiya the Shirtmaker” under the proprietorship of Kōichirō Miyamoto, started making shirts out of colorful Japanese prints. It has also been contended that the Aloha shirt was devised in the early 1930s by Chinese merchant Ellery Chun of “King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods”, a store in Waikiki. Although this claim has been described as a myth reinforced by repeated telling, Chun may have been the first to mass-produce or to maintain the ready-to-wear in stock to be sold off the shelf.

So in what sense are they the result of “American colonization and imperialism”?  Answer: they’re not. And if native Hawaiians and, in fact, nearly everyone wears them, what harm is being done? Even if there were an “associative past”, which is highly doubtful, the aloha shirt is an object of pleasure, brightening up the islands and bringing more color to an already colorful place. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re wearing an aloha shirt. An island custom is “Aloha Friday,” when many workers, including lawyers and businessmen, wear these shirts instead of more formal attire.

But it gets worse, for the white-supremacist “Boogaloo Boys“, who advocate revolution, have adopted the aloha shirt as an unofficial uniform. The article goes on:

Hawaiian shirts have also been co-opted by the “Boogaloo” movement: white supremacists who advocate war against the federal government.

Not true! While some in the Boogaloo movement are white supremacists, others are allies of people of color, including the Black Lives Matter movement. The unifying aim of the Boogaloos is civil war against the government, not white supremacy. But never mind, for Dr. Anishanslin has a narrative to spin. There’s more.

About five years ago, Hawaiian shirts became part of the “dadcore” trend. Then the “Boogaloo” movement chose to combine them with camouflage trousers, body armour and weapons.

“It might not be an aesthetically pleasing combination but it’s a smart one, in terms of picking out your fellow members of the group in the crowd,” Anishanslin said.

Frankly I don’t give a rat’s patootie about what Anishanslin or any other Pecksniff thinks. I don’t wear my aloha shirts with camo pants, body armor, or weapons, so I’m not worried about accusations of being a proud boy.  I have a pretty big collection of aloha shirts, and intend to keep wearing them. Here’s a bit of my closet:

Anishanslin’s solution: anti-racist aloha shirts. Once again an object of joy is turned into a political statement:

Anishanslin also believes celebrities such as Cara Delevingne and Justin Bieber who have recently worn Hawaiian shirts have a chance to help to reclaim them.

“Why not design Hawaiian shirts that use anti-gun, anti-racist, pro-peace iconography and slogans?” she said. “Why not, perhaps importantly, hire indigenous designers to create them?”

And then they show Justin Bieber, who by wearing a racist Aloha shirt, is being a racist, for, as Ibram Kendi tells us, if you’re not an antiracist, you’re a racist. There is no middle ground:

Isn’t it often the case that the advocates of this kind of cultural fascism are white? Indeed, Anishanslin is clearly a PONC (person of no color):

This fracas about aloha shirts is a prime example of performative wokeness: pretending you’re engaging in helping the downtrodden while actually doing noting to help them—what you’re doing is singling yourself out as particularly moral and perspicacious.  What, exactly, is the harm done when white people wear aloha shirts along with all their other fellow Americans in Hawaii?

h/t: David

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 13, 2021 • 8:00 am

Alas, alas, the photo tank
Is running rather low;
I ask you to send pictures in,
Or this feature soon will go.

But today we have a series of bird development photos (and, as lagniappe, of a rescue kitty) by Leo Glenn. Leo’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

It’s been a while since I’ve contributed photos, but I wanted to heed your pleas. My photos are poorly organized, so it’s always a time-consuming process to put a collection together. I’ve created a “For Jerry” folder now, though, so hopefully the frequency of my contributions will increase. With spring just around the corner, I selected a series of photos I took in 2013. We were fortunate to have a robin build a nest in the cherry tree in our front yard at a height that allowed me to take photos. I thought it might be interesting to take a photo each day to track the growth of the chicks. The photos aren’t the greatest quality, as I tried to be as quick as possible to minimize the amount of disturbance (and taking the photos required some climbing), but I thought the speed of their growth was remarkable, and maybe of interest to your readers. They went from hatchlings to fledglings in 13 days.

American Robins (Turdus migratorius)

Day one – You can see the hole in the egg, partially covered by the first chick’s wing, where the second chick is beginning to peck its way out.

Day three:

Day five:


Day seven: I had to double check the date stamp on this photo, as it didn’t seem possible that they could have grown so much in two days. But it’s correct.

Day nine:

Day eleven:

Day thirteen:  One had already fledged, but I managed to get a shot of this one, still sitting on the nest.

And finally, for the ailurophiles, this poor fellow showed up at our doorstep in November of 2019, in seriously bad shape. He was emaciated (he weighed only 6.5 lbs), covered in fleas and ticks, and was in what appeared to be the final throes of a severe respiratory infection. We already have two rescue cats, and his prospects looked pretty dim, but my daughter insisted that we do what we could for him.

And here he is today. Meet Arty, my shadow and constant companion. His health is still very fragile. He’s a severe asthmatic, has a compromised immune system, and is on several daily medications. We’ve had three emergency vet visits, involving several days on oxygen, with antibiotic and steroid injections, but he’s a tough little guy.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

April 13, 2021 • 6:30 am

It’s Tuesday, April 13, 2021: National Peach Cobbler Day (a dessert on offer at some of the BBQ restaurants I visited in Texas). It’s also Scrabble Day (celebrating the 1899 birthday of the game’s inventor, Alfred Butts), and Thomas Jefferson Day (he was born April 13, 1743).

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) marks the 151st anniversary of the opening of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, showing some of the items on display.

News of the Day:

There’s been another shooting of a black man by a Minnesota cop; this time a 20 year old named Daunte Wright was killed by a single shot from a cop (the cop’s race was unspecified, but of course is vital in cases like this). Wright was pulled over for an expired registration when the incident took place. Apparently bodycam footage shows that the cop mistook her (it was a woman) gun for a taser. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but there will be an investigation. According to the NYT, “protests, violence, and looting” broke out in a suburb north of Minneapolis. Joe Biden reacted with the proper restraint and condemnation of violent protest::

President Biden said he had watched the body-camera footage, which he described as “fairly graphic.”

“The question is: Was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.

“In the meantime,” he added, “I want to make it clear again: There is absolutely no justification — none — for looting, no justification for violence.”

Wright’s mother has also called for calm.

Speaking of police killings, there’s an op-ed in the WaPo called “How toxic masculinity helped kill George Floyd.” The argument for that motivation or cause is, shall we say, extremely thin (if you hold it sideways, it disappears). The editorial is ludicrous and should not have been published. It shows that the Post is not just woke, but woke to the point of losing any semblance of journalistic standards.

The lockdown has eased in England, as shops, hairdressers, and PUBS have reopened after a Johnson-imposed lockdown.  I’ve missed my trips to the UK and especially those great, well-kept pints of real ale. Oh for a Taylor’s Landlord!

The BBC reports that a deaf sheepdog in Norfolk named Peggy has learned to respond to hand signals and body language instead of whistles and calls. The link gives more information, but I’ve put a video below. (There’s a similar situation with a deaf dog named Gus, though he transitioned from sheep to goats.) [h/t: Jez]

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 562,007, an increase of just 476 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll stands at 2,961,025, an increase of about 10,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on April 13 includes:


  • 1861 – American Civil War: Fort Sumter surrenders to Confederate forces.
  • 1870 – The New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art is founded. [See above]
  • 1873 – The Colfax massacre, in which more than 60 black men are murdered, takes place.

Some details from Wikipedia:

The Colfax massacre, sometimes referred to by the euphemism Colfax riot, occurred on Easter Sunday, April 13, 1873, in Colfax, Louisiana, the seat of Grant Parish. An estimated 62-153 black militia men were killed while surrendering to a mob of former Confederate soldiers, members of the Ku Klux Klan and the White League. Three white men also died in the confrontation.

In the wake of the contested 1872 election for governor of Louisiana and local offices, a group of white Democrats armed with rifles and a small cannon, overpowered Republican freedmen and state militia (also black) occupying the Grant Parish courthouse in Colfax. Most of the freedmen were killed after surrendering; nearly 50 were killed later that night after being held as prisoners for several hours. Estimates of the number of dead have varied, ranging from 62 to 153; three whites died but the number of black victims was difficult to determine because many bodies were thrown into the Red River or removed for burial, possibly at mass graves.

Here’s a picture from the time: “All native men were forced to crawl the Kucha Kurrichhan on their hands and knees as punishment, 1919″.  This was also ordered by General Dyer before the massacre because a group of Indians had assaulted a female missionary on that street. Dyer was a nasty piece of work. 

This is another massacre of the innocents, one that gave considerable leverage to the Indian independence movement. Dyer was removed from duty but not otherwise punished. To some, he was even a hero!  Here’s a re-creation of the massacre from the movie “Gandhi”:

  • 1943 – The Jefferson Memorial is dedicated in Washington, D.C., on the 200th anniversary of President Thomas Jefferson’s birth.
  • 1958 – American pianist Van Cliburn is awarded first prize at the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Here’s a report on his prize (you can see his whole performance here):

Here’s Poitier’s award, presented by Anne Bancroft. Poitier is still alive at 94.

  • 1976 – The United States Treasury Department reintroduces the two-dollar bill as a Federal Reserve Note on Thomas Jefferson’s 233rd birthday as part of the United States Bicentennial celebration.
  • 1997 – Tiger Woods becomes the youngest golfer to win the Masters Tournament.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1519 – Catherine de’ Medici, Italian-French wife of Henry II of France (d. 1589)
  • 1570 – Guy Fawkes, English soldier, planned the Gunpowder Plot (probable; d. 1606)
  • 1743 – Thomas Jefferson, American lawyer and politician, 3rd President of the United States (d. 1826)
  • 1866 – Butch Cassidy, American criminal (d. 1908

Here’s Cassidy (seated, right) with a bunch of his thuggish associates, the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Harry Longabaugh, “the “Sundance Kid”,  is seated on the extreme left:

  • 1906 – Samuel Beckett, Irish novelist, poet, and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1989)
  • 1909 – Eudora Welty, American short story writer and novelist (d. 2001)
  • 1919 – Madalyn Murray O’Hair, American activist, founded American Atheists (d. 1995)
  • 1924 – Jack T. Chick, American author, illustrator, and publisher (d. 2016)

Many of us read and enjoyed Chick’s over-the-top Christian pamphlets, especially the ones about evolution. Here’s a few frames from his famous “Big Daddy” strip, in which a Christian student dismantles his evolution-teaching professor:

  • 1939 – Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2013)

Those who went to a greater glory on April 13 include:

This financier and businessman was known for his power as a trencherman. Here’s an account of his meals from Wikipedia:

Brady’s enormous appetite was as legendary as his wealth, though modern experts believe it was greatly exaggerated. It was not unusual, according to the legend, for Brady to eat enough food for ten people at a sitting. George Rector, owner of a favorite restaurant, described Brady as “the best 25 customers I ever had”. For breakfast, he would eat “vast quantities of hominy, eggs, cornbread, muffins, flapjacks, chops, fried potatoes, beefsteak, washing it all down with a gallon of fresh orange juice”. A mid-morning snack would consist of “two or three dozen clams or Lynnhaven oysters”. Luncheon would consist of “shellfish…two or three deviled crabs, a brace of boiled lobsters, a joint of beef, and an enormous salad”. He would also include a dessert of “several pieces of homemade pie” and more orange juice. Brady would take afternoon tea, which consisted of “another platter of seafood, accompanied by two or three bottles of lemon soda”. Dinner was the main meal of the day, taken at Rector’s Restaurant. It usually comprised “two or three dozens oysters, six crabs, and two bowls of green turtle soup. Then in sumptuous procession came six or seven lobsters, two canvasback ducks, a double portion of terrapin, sirloin steak, vegetables, and for dessert a platter of French pastries.” Brady would even include two pounds of chocolate candy to finish off the meal.

I’m in awe!

  • 1956 – Emil Nolde, Danish-German painter and educator (b. 1867)

Here’s a fine cat painting by Nolde:

  • 1993 – Wallace Stegner, American novelist, short story writer, and essayist (b. 1909)
  • 2006 – Muriel Spark, Scottish novelist, poet, and critic (b. 1918)

If you haven’t read any Spark, I recommend The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was made into a movie starring Maggie Smith, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

Likewise, Grass’s early novels, especially The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, and Dog Years, are terrific.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Malgorzata explains the dialogue:

Old people are grumpy, pessimistic and fearful. The fact that both Andrzej and Hili find the situation (in the world) terrifying may be a sign that they are both old and not a verdict on the state of the world.

The dialogue:

Hili: All this horrifies me.
A: Me too.
Hili: We are getting old.
In Polish:
Hili: Przeraża mnie to wszystko.
Ja: Mnie też.
Hili: Starzejemy się.
And a photo of Szaron (on the first floor windowsill) with the caption, “A view from Paulia’s balcony”.
In Polish: Widok z Pauliny balkonu.

From Facebook:

From Bruce:

An optical illusion from Jesus of the Day:

Titania finds more examples of opposite actions that are both racist:

This was on the news last night. Michael Fisher, once a master sergeant in the Marine Corps, gives the first salute to his newly-commissioned son, Second Lieutenant Triston Fisher, who followed in his dad’s footsteps to become a jarhead. It’s a moving moment, and dad calls his son “sir,” for a Second Lt. outranks a Master Sergeant.

Reader Barry says this about the tweet below:

“Not your favorite mammal, …but his reaction to what he sees on the television screen fascinates me. Why does the dog react this way? It seems to ‘know’ that Darth Vader is a menacing character. Is the dog reacting to the heavy breathing? Is it because Vader is dressed in black and towers over everyone? Is it the music? I’d love to hear from a dog specialist and ask what’s going on, how it is that a dog can have such a reaction to a two-dimensional moving image with music. Amazing.”

Tweets from Matthew. I read this Crick anecdote somewhere before. The guy had moxie—and principles!

Look at that head stabilization!

Two people with futuristic cat carriers. I’ve seen these devices on the Internet, but never in person:

I truly wonder whether this memorandum is for real:

There is no insect funnier-looking than this one!

The pathetic Michael Egnor thinks the existence of stuff proves God

April 12, 2021 • 2:00 pm

I have mixed feelings toward pediatric neurosurgeon, Catholic, and intelligent-design (ID) advocate Michael Egnor. I feel sorry for him because his ID activity is simply a waste of time, much of it spent attacking atheism (mine!) rather than advancing evidence for intelligent design. Where is the evidence for ID that was supposed to convince us all about a decade ago? Egnor’s given up on that endeavor to engage in invective towards evolutionists and atheists, thinking that denigrating scientists will help his cause. It hasn’t. For that’s simply an ad hominem tactic that will convince nobody who hasn’t already drunk the Kool-Aid (or the communion wine). My other feeling is that I deeply dislike the guy because he’s simply nasty. Acceptance of ID has declined since it first surfaces a few decades ago, and teaching it in schools has been ruled a “religious activity” that violates the First Amendment.

You can see evidence of the man’s egnorance and incivility in Egnor’s latest piece at the ID site Mind Matters News (click on screenshot).  Here he argues, as the title says, that evidence for God (which God? he doesn’t say) is scientific: in fact, more scientific than any other proposition. However, Egnor’s “scientific argument” consists of mounting Aquinas’s broken-down old Nag: the First Cause Argument. To summarize, Egnor’s entire argument for God is this: “the existence of stuff proves God.” That’s truly pathetic.  First Cause arguments for God have been made for centuries, but also found unconvincing for centuries.

First, Egnor shows how offended he was by my critique of a Mormon’s claim that “we can have God and vaccines, too, ergo science and religion are compatible”.  According to Egnor, I am benighted on both the scientific and religious front:

Atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is a fountain of nonsensical arguments against the existence of God. If a scholar wanted to write a review paper on the most ridiculous arguments against God’s existence so far in the 21st century, he would need look no further than Coyne’s blog. . .

Coyne misunderstands both the nature of scientific evidence and the nature of the evidence for God’s existence.

And by my writings I have done “incalculable damage” to the world:

The real scandal is not that these New Atheists don’t believe in God — regrettably, disbelief in God is fairly common in our willfully ignorant and distracted society. The real scandal is that intellectuals like Coyne merely pretend to understand evidence for and against God’s existence. They use their scientific credibility to buttress arguments that are embarrassingly ignorant. They mislead many people who have neither the time nor the inclination to look into these questions deeply and objectively.

Their forays into issues like faith and science in fighting COVID-19 do incalculable damage to so many souls by denying the scientific fact that God exists. God’s existence is far more thoroughly proven using the scientific method than any other theory.

Has somebody not gotten their jab because of me? I seriously doubt it. And look at that last sentence! God’s existence is more thoroughly proven via science than any other theory!

How can I have gone so wrong? Well, first, says the benighted physician, I don’t understand how science works:

. . . as Thomas Aquinas. pointed out in the 13th century, nothing can be proven to exist using deductive proof because deductive proofs only work with logical forms, which are essences. Essence and existence are separate concepts. For example, to prove that wolves, dinosaurs, or unicorns exist, we would need evidence. We can’t prove (or disprove) that they exist by deduction alone.

All of science depends on inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning begins with evidence and then proceeds by a logical chain to the most reasonable conclusion. Newton used inductive reasoning when he began by studying the motion of objects in gravitational fields and applying logical and mathematical rules to arrive at his law of gravitation. Darwin used inductive reasoning by studying the diversity and distribution of species and animal breeding. Then, by using logical rules, he drew analogies to speciation in nature. All scientific theories, whatever their merit, depend on inductive reasoning.

Yes, but much of science also depends on deductive reasoning, or a combination of the two called “abductive reasoning.” In fact, a lot of modern physics began as deductive processes based almost entirely on rumination. The General Theory of Relativity is such a theory. Of course to verify a theory like that one needs evidence, but that evidence can also come from deductions from a theory. One could predict, for example, that if gravity can bend light, as Einstein posited, then light from a star passing by a big celestial body might curve in its path, giving us a false idea of the star’s real position. This is a deduction, and was verified in 1919 by Dyson and Eddington, who observed the position of stars during a solar eclipse, showing starlight bent, as predicted, by the Sun. Their result has been verified several times over.

But never mind. Had my understanding of the scientific method been so terrible, I never would have had a successful career in science, for my papers would never have been accepted and published.

But my theological misunderstanding, says Egnor, is even lamer: for I can’t grasp that the very existence of stuff around me is evidence for God. That’s what Aquinas’ First Cause argument says: “Everything has a cause; there was a cause for stuff; and all causes eventually regress to the First Uncaused Cause, which is God by definition.” To Egnor, this piece of logic is absolutely convincing:

The Big Bang, to take an example, was not an event in the natural world. It was a singularity, which means that it is undefined and undefinable both mathematically and in conventional physics. Similarly, a cosmological singularity — for example, a black hole — is also a supernatural entity. That just means it is outside of nature. We never observe black holes just as we never can observe the Big Bang. We can only infer — by inductive reasoning — the existence of supernatural entities such as black holes by their effects in the natural world.

This inductive reasoning is precisely what proofs of God’s existence do. We cannot observe God in this life because he is not part of this world. He is supernatural. But we can observe his effects in the natural world just as we inferred the existence of the Big Bang and black holes by observing their effects. It is the same sort of reasoning.

I’ll put the next bit in bold because it’s so stupid:

There is one difference though: the evidence and the logic pointing to God’s existence is overwhelmingly stronger than the evidence and logic supporting any other scientific theory in nature. Aquinas’s First Way proof of God’s existence, for example, has exactly the same structure as any other scientific theory. The empirical evidence is the presence of change in nature. Because infinite regress is logically impossible in an essentially ordered chain of change.

I’m not going to get into the claim that the existence of black holes and the Big Bang are “supernatural” entities.  In fact, we can observe the residua of the Big Bang (leftover microwave radiation pervading the Universe), and there are theories that it is not supernatural: a totally empty universe is physically unstable and the Big Bang is a naturalistic result of that. Further, we can see black holes directly: here’s a picture of one taken with radio waves (and color visualized) just two years ago. The “black hole” or event threshhold is visible in the center. Is it supernatural? Don’t make me laugh.

As for the black holes in the First Cause argument (also called the Cosmological Argument), I needn’t reiterate them; just go here or here for a quick overview. One of the objections is that even if there were a First Cause, it wouldn’t have to be a theistic God, i.e., the God who, according to Egnor, continues to interact with the world, even becoming a wafer during Mass.

I’ve wasted enough time on Egnor, for I’m actually giving him what he wants: publicity and attention. While he continues to attack me on the ID websites, I’ll leave the bugger alone except to point out that his own faith—Catholicism—has been and continues to be one of the chief religious vehicles for immorality and harm in the world.

Egnor thinks he has an airtight argument for God (he doesn’t), but he has no argument at all for his Catholic God.  Will he wave the Bible at me to prove that? Then I’ll wave the Quran back at him. What else can you say about a man who thinks that this is a scientific argument:

The evidence and the logic of Aquinas’s First Way is immeasurably stronger than the evidence for any other scientific theory — for Newtonian gravitation, quantum mechanics, relativity, the Big Bang, etc., because every instance of change in nature is evidence in Aquinas’s First Way. Every galaxy that emits light, every wave on the ocean, every leaf that turns brown in the fall, every electron that moves in an atom is evidence for God’s existence.

The American Library Association’s “challenged book” list for 2020, censoriousness of the Right, and much more about race and less about LGBTQ issues than previously

April 12, 2021 • 10:00 am

The American Library Association (ALA) issues a yearly list of “most challenged” books: those books that people most often ask to be removed from schools or libraries. This year’s list (2020) showed only about half the number of challenges than the year before, but a much higher concentration of books dealing with racism than with LGTQ issues compared to the 2019 list. This shows that race has not only become a much bigger flashpoint of censorship than sexuality, but that the challenges seem to come largely from the Right, so that the Left has no monopoly on these attempts at censorship.

The ALA keeps track of these requests to demonstrate what people want to censor, though the number of challenges is relatively small (156 last year and 377 in 2019). Further, the ALA suggests that most book challenges—estimates range between 82% and 97% of them—are never reported. Apparently there is no efficient reporting mechanism for these challenges; the ALA says that “lists are based on information from media stories and voluntary reports sent to OIF [the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the ALA] from communities across the U.S.”

Below are the last two lists (with the reasons given for the attempted banning), followed by my assessment of which end of the political spectrum objected.

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020

Find more shareable statistics on the Free Downloads webpage.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. Of the 273 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

      1. George by Alex Gino. Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
      2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
      3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
      4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
      5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
      6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
      7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
      8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
      9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
      10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

Of these books, I’d say only two would represent challenges by the Left (To Kill a Mockingbird for use of the “n-word” and Of Mice and Men for “racist stereotypes”). Challenges from the Right would seem to be involved in the other eight, given that their content is anti-racist, anti-police, or pro-LGBTA. Eight of the ten were challenged at least in part because they deal with race, two of them (noted above) for being racist and the other six for, surprisingly, being anti-racist. This represents palpable pushback against anti-racism.

While I’ve read only one of the books singled out for antiracism (The Bluest Eye), I found it not only good, but also not anti-racist of the Critical Theory genre. I of course don’t favor attempts to censor any of these books. All should be available at libraries and schools, though librarians or teachers may want to put age limitations on them. Censorship is never justified, and thank Ceiling Cat for the good librarians who realize that.

Here’s the list from 2019, which is substantially different from last year’s:

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019

View the Censorship by the Numbers infographic for 2019

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 377 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2019. Of the 566 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

      1. George by Alex Gino. Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
      2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin. Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
      3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller. Reasons: challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
      4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth. Reasons: challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
      5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis. Reasons: challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
      6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. Reasons: challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
      7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Reasons: banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
      8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier. Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
      9. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Reasons: banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
      10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole. Reason: challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content

In contrast to last year, 8 of the ten were challenged for their LGBTQ content, almost certainly by the Right (these books clearly are not anti-LGBTQ people!). I’m not sure who would object to The Handmaid’s Tale, but almost certainly the Right because it’s an anti-patriarchal book. And then there’s Harry Potter, a series again is more anathema to the Right than the Left. (Witchcraft and wizardry, oh my!)

Again we see concrete attempts to censor from the Right, showing that, at least in this smallish sample, the Right has its own “cancel culture”.

All of this goes to show that freedom of speech is not an issue of either Right or Left, because both sides, had they the power, show a censorious streak.  It also shows that, probably because of the George Floyd killing, race has come much more to public attention this year, but in this case the reaction has been to call for removal of antiracist books. Again, while I may object to what’s in some of them, I would never call for their banning or removal.

The Guardian‘s article on this year’s list gives more detail about attempts to censor the books. I read it after I drew the conclusions above, but those conclusions are so obvious that the Guardian and I reached them independently:

“Two years ago, eight of 10 books were challenged for LGBTQ concerns,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, OIF director, told School Library Journal. “While George is still No 1, reflecting the challenges to LGBTQ materials that we see consistently these days, there’s been a definite rise in the rhetoric challenging anti-racist materials and ideas … We’re seeing a shift to challenging books that advance racial justice, that discuss racism and America’s history with racism. I think the list is reflecting the conversations that many people in our country are having right now, and it’s a reflection of our rising awareness of the racial injustice and the history of racial injustice in our country.”

Well, it’s more than a reflection of “conversations” and “rising awareness”: it’s an attempt to stifle conversation, especially conversations that call people’s attention to bigotry. We can’t have a conversation if you can’t access books by one side of the issue.

Fie on all these censors; let a thousand books line the library shelves!

h/t: Ginger K

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

These aren’t really wildlife, but these photos of old Antarctic expedition huts are of immense interest, at least to me. The photographer is Michael Hannah, a paleontologist at the University of Victoria at Wellington, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. Mike’s captions are indented.

Here are some pictures of the “heroic era” huts on Ross Island, Antarctica along with some comments. I’ve included a couple of Ponting’s original photos. [Herbert Ponting, the photographer on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition in 1910-1913.]

It was always thrilling to work in Antarctica, where over five drilling seasons I was involved in a lot of amazing science. But one of my proudest achievements was to be made an official guide to the historic huts on Ross Island. In the end I never guided anyone through them – but the appointment is listed on my CV!

There are three huts in the vicinity of McMurdo Station and Scott Base. The oldest dates back to Captain Scott’s first expedition (1901 – 1904). It was built at Hut Point, now just across the way from McMurdo Station.

This wasn’t a very comfortable hut. Designed in Australia, it had wide verandas all around to keep the sun off and was poorly insulated and as a result it was cold and miserable – the expedition never used it as accommodation. They stayed on their ship Discovery which was frozen in nearby.


The hut was prefabricated and you can still see the code marks used to match up the various pieces.

There is not a lot to see inside – which is not the case with the next two huts.


Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds dates from his first Antarctic expedition (1907 – 1909). This small hut is probably my favourite – it is preserved almost exactly as it was when the expedition left it.

This visit there showed lots of snow blown against the hut

Under that snow is the jerry-built garage and a pile of junk. Conservators have argued about what is junk and what should be preserved! On a later visit it looked like this:

Going inside is like stepping back in  time – clichéd I know, but true. Unfortunately, I made a mistake with my camera and my pictures are pretty rubbish. Here are a few of my better ones:

On of the beds had a headboard constructed of old packing cases -which carry Shackleton’s signature – this image is not upside down.

The Cape Royds hut is very close to the world’s most southern rookery of Adele penguins – and i was lucky enough to be there while they were nesting.

For an insight into the appalling sex life of the Adele Penguins, you should look up the publication by George Murray Levick, a scientist with the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic Expedition. The publication was so scandalous it was never publicly released at the time. [JAC: I did post on Levick a while back.]

Of course the most famous hut on Ross Island is the one built by Scott for his 1910-1913 expedition. The hut was also used by Shackleton’s Ross Sea party who were there to support his attempt to cross the continent in 1914-1917.  So the hut when I saw it was as the Ross sea party left it – not Scott. However, since then the Antarctic Heritage Trust who look after all these historic sites have restored it to as it was in Scott’s day. Part of this was the reconstruction of wall made of packing cases that Scott had originally put up to separate the officers from the men.

This was a much more successful hut. Well insulated and warm. The interior contains relics of both Scott’s expedition and Shackleton’s Ross Sea party.  The hut is dominated by the large mess table:

The table was made famous in this photo by Scott’s photographer Herbert Ponting. I think this is Scott’s party celebrating Christmas dinner around the table.

This set of bunks was known as “the tenements”:

This is Ponting’s picture of the tenements.  The people I recognise are (from left to right) Apsley Cherry-Garrard, (author of The Worst Journey in the world), “Birdy” Bowers and Captain Titus Oates, both of whom died along with Scott on the return Journey from the pole.

Ponting’s darkroom is still there.

Tucked away next to one of the bunks is this pencilled note:

It was written by a member of the Ross Sea Party – W. Richards (I know nothing about him). The top names on the list are (Victor) Hayward – spelt wrongly here, (Aeneas) Mack(intosh) and (Arnold Spencer-) Smith, all of whom died during the expedition. The final entry – Ship (?) refers to the ship that transported them to Antarctica – the Aurora. It was blown out to sea before they had unloaded their supplies and couldn’t make it back leaving the entire party short of supplies. They didn’t know what happened to it so they were unsure if it would be back to pick them up.

Monday: Hili dialogue

April 12, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on a wet Monday, April 12, 2021: National Grilled Cheese Day (the sandwich must be paired with tomato soup, as the combination for some reason is not only felicitous, but also imperative). It’s also National Licorice Day, Drop Everything and Read Day, and International Day of Human Space Flight, honoring the exploration begun on this day by Yuri Gagarin when he orbited the earth once in 1961. Since there were no provisions for a safe re-entry of his Vostok capsule, he parachuted out by himself at 8000 feet and landed safely.

This is the 60th anniversary of Gagarin’s orbit; here’s a very brief documentary:

Wine of the Day: Here’s an Italian red made from the Freisa grape, a varietal I haven’t had. The first link goes to where I bought it for about $20 and some tasting notes. I drank it with homemade turkey chili (I didn”t go meatless for a week as I’d planned). It was delicious, full of fruit and the taste of cherries; the only problem was that it was pretty tannic, a problem that may resolve after I let the remnants sit overnight. Also, it was the first alcohol I’ve had since I went to Texas.

News of the Day:

With talks underway in Vienna for the U.S. to resume its 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (as I’ve said, a “deal” will accomplish nothing to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons), a mysterious blackout hit the Nantanz nuclear facility, now being rebuilt. It looks as if Israel is sending a message to Iran, as it may have done with the mysterious fire that occurred there a year ago.

Empathy in the animal world: the Washington Post reviews a new book about animal behavior, “When Animals Rescue: Amazing True Stories about Heroic and Helpful Creatures,” by writer Belinda Recio. Her thesis is that animals are feel humanlike emotions, like altruism and kindness, far more often than we think. The reviewer, a journalist, says that the treatment is too anecdotal, and there may be other explanations for these behaviors, but concludes:

If it is anthropomorphic to say that animals genuinely care for one another, then why isn’t it also anthropomorphic to say that they are hungry or thirsty or sexually aroused? Yet those who hesitate to attribute “higher” ethical motives to other species rarely have a problem discerning in them the more “primitive” drives that humans are also subject to.

Wisely, Recio stays out of this contentious debate. She lets the stories speak for themselves. We cannot help but be delighted by them, if not transformed.

But the readers should be informed by Recio about possible alternative explanations for the behaviors. If these might not rest on a shared set of emotions with animals, then we can’t be “transformed.” It is not a particularly trenchant review. I’d recommend Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (h/t: Barry)

Important squirrel news: the Washington Post has a piece about how an amateur wildlife photographer, Dani Connor, became famous overnight by taking the video (below) of a red squirrel emitting noises of pleasure as it eats seeds.  The squirrel was one of an litter orphaned when its mother was killed by a car, and she cared for the four babies. Now she has a Patreon account and can make a living from her photography. Good for her!

When the pandemic began hitting the U.S. and Europe hard, I predicted that India, with a poor and crowded population and insufficient medical facilities, would be hit even harder. I was pleased that it wasn’t: there is even a New Yorker article by Sid Mukherjee about this anomaly. Now, however, the pandemic is beginning to hit my beloved India, with reported cases undergoing the biggest surge ever. As Reuters notes:

New cases in the world’s second-most populous country have totalled the most of anywhere in the world over the last two weeks. India’s overall tally of 13.21 million is the third-highest globally, just shy of Brazil and below the worst affected country, the United States.

The second surge in infections, which has spread much more rapidly than the first one that peaked in September, has forced many states to impose fresh curbs but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has refused to impose a national lockdown given the high economic costs.

Here’s a daily graph of daily new cases, which reached about 169,000 yesterday.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 561,527, an increase of just 294 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll stands at 2,950,823, an increase of about 10,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on April 12 includes:

This is considered the beginning of the Civil War, and happened soon after Lincoln took office in March. I can’t find a date for the formal declaration of war, but you can still visit the ruined fort in Charleston Harbor:

  • 1928 – The Bremen, a German Junkers W 33 type aircraft, takes off for the first successful transatlantic aeroplane flight from east to west.  This is a year after Lindbergh’s solo flight, and the Bremen had a three-man crew, ergo it’s not remembered so much. Here’s the plane that made it, landing in a peat bog in Newfoundland:

If you’re in Georgia, as I was in 2013, I recommend visiting the house in Warm Springs where Roosevelt died. (He was with his mistress Lucy Mercer when stricken with a fatal cerebral hemorrhage, and Lucy was hustled out of the house before Eleanor arrived.) Here are a few photos of the cottage that I took.

The house:

A poignant message on the wall from FDR’s cook:

The room in which he was sitting when stricken by the hemorrhage:

The bed in the next room where he died:

  • 1955 – The polio vaccine, developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, is declared safe and effective.
  • 1961 – Cold War: Space Race: The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to travel into outer space and perform the first manned orbital flight, Vostok 1.
  • 1983 – Harold Washington is elected as the first black mayor of Chicago.

Washington was a good mayor, and I especially liked him because he was fond of the monk parrots who nested in a tree across from his apartment, which was in Hyde Park. He died the year after I moved to Chicago.

  • 1999 – United States President Bill Clinton is cited for contempt of court for giving “intentionally false statements” in a civil lawsuit; he is later fined and disbarred.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1777 – Henry Clay, American lawyer and politician, 9th United States Secretary of State (d. 1852)
  • 1883 – Imogen Cunningham, American photographer and educator (d. 1976)

An underappreciated photographer, Cunningham was one of the first women to photograph nudes, which was considered scandalous. Here’s one of her famous pictures, “Three Dancers, Mills College. 1929.” © The Imogen Cunningham Trust, 2012.

And I can’t resist adding this photograph by Judy Dater showing an aged Cunningham (she was 90) with her camera and a nude, “Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud at Yosemite
1974.” (It has its own Wikipedia entry.) Wikipedia notes, “The photo was the first adult full frontal nude photograph published in Life magazine.”

  • 1916 – Benjamin Libet, American neuropsychologist and academic (d. 2007)
  • 1923 – Ann Miller, American actress, singer, and dancer (d. 2004)

Here’s Miller, a great dancer now forgotten, paired with Fred Astaire in “Easter Parade.” Judy Garland gives them the stinkeye:

  • 1932 – Tiny Tim, American singer and ukulele player (d. 1996)
  • 1947 – David Letterman, American comedian and talk show host
  • 1981 – Tulsi Gabbard, American politician

Those who kicked the bucket on April 12 include:

  • 1912 – Clara Barton, American nurse and humanitarian, founded the American Red Cross (b. 1821)
  • 1945 – Franklin D. Roosevelt, American lawyer and politician, 32nd President of the United States (b. 1882)
  • 1981 – Joe Louis, American boxer and wrestler (b. 1914)
  • 1988 – Alan Paton, South African historian and author (b. 1903)
  • 1989 – Abbie Hoffman, American activist, co-founded Youth International Party (b. 1936)

Here’s the famous Yippie the year he died (he committed suicide with an overdose of phenobarbital):

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes a plea:

Hili: Education is important.
A: That’s true.
Hili: How to teach Kulka that my bowls are sacrosanct and untouchable?
A: It’s not possible.
In Polish:
Hili: Edukacja jest ważna.
Ja: To prawda.
Hili: Jak nauczyć Kulkę, że moje miseczki są święte i nietykalne?
Ja: To nie jest możliwe.

Paulina photographed Szaron and Kulka out on the tiles:

Caption: Night, cats, and Paulina with her camera.  (In Polish: Noc, koty i Paulina z jej aparatem.)

From Pyers:

From Nicole:

From Jesus of the Day. This happens to be true.

This is what’s called a “burn.” Apple Martin, Gwynnie’s daughter, isn’t keen on her mother’s “morning routine”, though Apple has one too. See more here.


When you get roasted by your gen z daughter… #motherdaughter #goop #fyp #gwynethpaltrow

♬ original sound – Goop


And I found this, too, which is one reason I dislike Gwynnie. She actually had a video made about getting ready for the Met Gala and posted it on Twitter!

From Barry.  Whipped cream sounds are to d*gs as opening tuna cans are to cats.

Second tweet: what is that cat drinking??

Tweets from Matthew, who says to notice the little nose nudge at the end to get things just right. But I’m disturbed by the bear’s personal pronoun, “they”. Is this a genderfluid bear?

I could tell you what this is, but that would deprive you of the joy of discovery. Check out the thread itself.

If this swarm can really move faster than a single caterpillar, I don’t understand why. Is this true?

Coincidence—or corporate collusion?

The Skeptic magazine is skeptical about two sexes in humans; a clear thinker sets them straight

April 11, 2021 • 1:15 pm

It seems to be a dirty little secret in biology that most animals, including humans, have two and only two biological sexes. Gender (one’s assumed identity) may fall along a spectrum, but not sex. There are two. Only two. In animals, males make little wriggly little gametes—the sperm. Females make the large immobile gametes—the eggs. It is the capacity to produce one type of gamete or the other that is the biological definition of sex.

But this is a “dirty little secret” because is seems to contravene the view that if gender can take many forms, so can biological sex. In other words, denying the reality of what’s real is seen as politically expedient. And so we see scientific journals, science writers, and scientists themselves deny that there are just two sexes in humans—denying that sex is bimodal. (Yes, there are developmental aberrations and intermediate conditions, but they are vanishingly rare and are not “sexes” in the biological sense: they are the developmental derailing of the two sexes that have been favored by evolution.)

The denial of discrete sexes in humans is an ideological rather than a scientific position. It’s an embarrassment that the Society for the Study of Evolution took this position in an official statement, an embarrassment I highlighted in 2018. Conflating gender and sex, their statement said this:

We, the Council of the Society for the Study of Evolution, strongly oppose attempts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to claim that there is a biological basis to defining gender as a strictly binary trait (male/female) determined by genitalia at birth. Variation in biological sex and in gendered expression has been well documented in many species, including humans, through hundreds of scientific articles. Such variation is observed at both the genetic level and at the individual level (including hormone levels, secondary sexual characteristics, as well as genital morphology). Moreover, models predict that variation should exist within the categories that HHS proposes as “male” and “female”, indicating that sex should be more accurately viewed as a continuum. Indeed, experiments in other organisms have confirmed that variation in traits associated with sex is more extensive than for many other traits. Beyond the false claim that science backs up a simple binary definition of sex or gender, the lived experience of people clearly demonstrates that the genitalia one is born with do not define one’s identity. Diversity is a hallmark of biological species, including humans.  As a Society, we welcome this diversity and commit to serving and protecting members regardless of their biological sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.

Notice the conflation of “sex” with “gendered expression of sex”, the claim that “sex should be more accurately viewed as a continuum”, and the “false claim that science backs up a simple binary definition of sex”. To a sentient biologist, that statement is “not even wrong” except in a very few species of animal.  The ideological motivation for the statement becomes clear in the last sentence above.

Another scientist, Sarah Hearne, writing in the British magazine The Skeptic (motto: “reason with compassion”), makes the same conflation, and also for ideological rather than scientific reasons. You can read her piece by clicking on the screnshot below.  Fortunately, Hearne’s errors about sex have been corrected by a piece at The Quackometer (see further down).


Hearne, a graduate student in marine ecology, writes popular science well, and she gets off to a good start by showing that the concept of “species” is a bit slippery. There are intermediate cases, cases where we can’t determine whether two populations are species, and asexual groups in which determining “species” is pretty much subjective. (Allen Orr and I discuss this in our technical book Speciation.)

Hearne then goes on to show that the concept of an “individual” also breaks down in some groups, though is pretty easily definable in humans (of course there are rare exceptions, like conjoined twins). But these two episodes are just the prelude for her big point: that biological sex, like species, is an indefinable concept. Her main point is although we can define sex by gamete type, recognizing sex by other characteristics, like presence of breasts, hairiness, and on so, is much more difficult.  Ergo “nature abhors the clean division” of two sexes.

That her argument is political becomes clear at the end of her piece: one’s sex is a social construct, ergo can be declared at will by anyone. And women are oppressed:

One thing nobody is disputing is that recognising women as a group is important. Women face problems that men do not, and men face problems that women do not. Identifying these problems, identifying their causes, and fixing them is key to making the world a better place.

But we should also bear in mind that women aren’t discriminated against because they have vaginas, or breasts, or even because they have babies. Having babies makes it easier to discriminate against us, but the pay gap still exists for childfree women. It goes back to gender – the “socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities” that have led women to be less valued than men in society.

Those social constructions may have had biological roots long ago, but that’s no reason to continue perpetuating them unquestioningly. If someone says they are a woman and are seen by society as a woman then they experience the same socially constructed barriers and stigmas that all women experience to varying degrees.

Yes, but biological males declaring themselves as women become “trans” in the gender sense but not in the biological sense. (I always wonder, if sexes are not discrete, why there are “trans males” and “trans females.”  What is being transited?) A transgender woman is a “gender woman” but not a “biological woman”. This is clarified by Andy Lewis in the Quackometer piece below, which pinpoints Hearne’s fundamental error (the title gives a clue). Click on the screenshot to read it:

Hearne’s mistake, in Lewis’s words:

But Hearne is making a fundamental error here: she is conflating the ontology and epistemology of sex. That is, she is confusing two different sets of questions…

  1. What is a sex? How many sexes are there? And how do we characterise a sex? (the ontology of sex – what exists?)
  2. How do we recognise the sex of an individual? What features indicate sex? (the epistemology of sex – what can we know?)

Hearne starts off well by explaining the universally accepted biological definition of a female as the sex that produces ova. This is where she could have stopped. There is no disagreement here in the peer reviewed biology. But that would have meant her article failed, as unlike the terms “species” and “individual” in biology, the definition of what a sex is is clear cut and defined by reproductive role associated with a gamete type. The sexes are not like species where evolution has produced a myriad of variants over millions of years. The sexes of male and female appear to be a well conserved and stable reproductive strategy that has existed unchanged for between about 500 million and 1.3 billion years. Sex is a stable biological phenomenon, across vast evolutionary time, that we can easily define.

So, to give the impression that “female” is not clear-cut, Hearne switches from ontology to epistemology. We are not supposed to notice this switch. And to be fair, I doubt she realises she is doing it.

Hearne is trying to convince us that although biologists might have a definition of each sex, our knowledge of an individual’s sex may well be unknown because we cannot use the biologists definition in any practicable way in ordinary circumstance. Therefore – tada – “woman” is an unreliable concept.

That’s really all you need to say to refute her claim (remember, we’re dealing with biological sex, not gender). But Lewis has a few more points to make as well. First, what about the “intermediate” conditions that supposedly efface the binary nature of biological sex in humans? Lewis:

A common objection that crops up here are congenital development conditions. The existence of so-called intersex conditions is often seen as an ontological threat to our understanding of sex rather than an epistemological problem. That is, there is a claim that such congenital conditions lead to a need to redefine what a sex is and its characterisation (often expressed as “sex is a spectrum”). Instead it is a medical/biological problem of knowing what sex someone (or a butterfly) is when the usual secondary sex characteristics may be ambiguously formed. No peer reviewed biology paper has ever attempted to characterise sex as some sort of spectrum of possibilities despite absolute convictions about the matter from ideological positions.

That’s true. The non-binary nature of sex in humans appears only in ideological arguments, like that of the Society for the Study of Evolution. The ideological arguments are, as Lewis notes, the main point of Hearne’s piece:

The purpose of such arguments presented here in The Skeptic magazine is for us to be convinced that sex is arbitrary and not objectively knowable and to abandon objective attempts to define terms like male, female, man and woman. It is a textbook example of postmodernist denialism of science, reason and objectivity, using sleight of hand to undermine understanding. Such arguments are now so common and fashionable, even among those educated in medicine and biology, that recently the Endocrine Society in the US felt it needed to publish a position statement on the fact that sex is real, binary and immutable, and that recording sex accurately was vital in healthcare and research as we should not conflate sex and gender.

The rest of the argument presented in the Skeptic article then goes off on the predictable route of defending gender ideology that the only meaningful expression of sex (or gender) is through self-declaration – that you can be a man or woman only meaningfully though “identifying” as either. We are supposed to ignore the inherent incoherence and circularity here as otherwise we would would not be “kind” or, even worse, horrible bigots. We just have to accept that one can be a woman when the word “woman” has been denied any sort of objective meaning.

The denial of binary sex in humans (and many other animals, like my beloved Drosophila), is as irksome to me as it would be for a chemist to hear that the chemical elements are not discrete but form a continuum from hydrogen up to heavy elements: a continuum between copper, silver, and gold so that you can’t identify an atom as one or the other. That’s nonsense, of course, but no more nonsensical than denying the discreteness of biological males and females. The only difference is that there are no ideological implications of recognizing discrete chemical elements.