Words and phrases I detest

August 16, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’m suffering from severe sleep deprivation again, and it’s aggravated because after a night or two, the anxiety that causes insomnia is worsened by the fear you won’t get to sleep when you do wake up (anxiety is a prime cause of insomnia). So it goes, and I have no explanation for why this came on again.  One thing insomnia teaches you—or at least taught me—is how great you feel after a good night’s rest. And when I get such a night lately, I work like a demon the next day to make up for lassitude.

Sadly, today is not one of those days.  You’ll simply have to do with a small post on some of the words and phrases I dislike (yes, some are proper usages), and I can’t even guarantee that I’ve not posted some of these before. But here we go. As always, I’ll take my examples from HuffPost if I can: the examplar of “with it” usage.

1.)  At first blush. 

This phrase is way outmoded. It’s supposed to mean “at first glance” or the like, but if you’re a language originalist, the meaning arose this way (from The Free Dictionary):

Without prior knowledge; at first glance. The earliest use of this expression dates from the sixteenth century, when blush meant not a reddening of the cheeks with embarrassment but “glimpse.” Thus, “Able at the first blushe to discearne truth from falsehood,” wrote Philip Stubbes (The Anatomie of Abuses, 2:7) in 1583.
However, even if you use it without referring to the earliest meaning, the phrase meaningless to someone today. If you ask someone who said it, “what do you mean by blush?”, they won’t be able to answer. In other words, it’s a fancy but shopworn phrase that doesn’t convey anything tangible to modern speakers. “At first glance” or “at first sight” actually means something to people.  An example from HuffPost (click to go to article):

2.) “Dropped”, meaning “came out”, as in “Rihanna’s new album just dropped.”

This is purely “with-it” jargon, meant to show that you speak use the argot of the cool kids.  But when I hear it I always envision a vinyl record falling on the ground and breaking. To me, using it means the speaker is unconsciously seeking approbation through conformity, like saying “fam” for “family.”

From HuffPost, a really cool headline because it mentions not only “drops”, but also Beyoncé (overrated, in my view) and, of course, Twitter. If it weren’t for Twitter, HuffPost would have nothing to write about.

3.) “Bright line” means a hard and fast line that divide things into (usually) two classes without confusion.

The OED’s first meaning, however, is in physics:

 1. Physics and Astronomy. A line of relative brightness in the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation coming from a given source, due to the presence of a particular element or molecule in the source; = emission linen. at emission n. Additions.

The second meaning is the one we, unfortunately, have to hear:

 2. Chiefly U.S. A clear distinction or boundary. Frequently in to draw a bright line and variants. Often used in legal contexts;

Now this is perfectly acceptable usage, but it grates on my ears, perhaps because I think that most people use it without knowing what it means. Further, the adjective “bright” doesn’t mean “hard and fast” or “uncrossable”, making the usage confusing, like “sea change”.

It’s even worse when it’s used below, for there is a mixed metaphor here. “Bright line” is a line of division between objects or ideas, while “line in the sand” means “a line that cannot be crossed.” You can make a sentence that uses this phrase properly, but HuffPost does not, for the headline below refers to Obama’s refusal to back off the Obamacare program. It has nothing to do with a “bright’ line. “Line in the sand” is sufficient.

Now I know that usage changes, and that these phrases aren’t improper usage. They’re here because they grate on me, and if someone uses them in conversation, the laws of physics may compel me to say something like “at first what?”  So don’t bother to comment me that usage changes and the like.

And, of course, you’re invited to add your own choice of the phrases that burn your onions.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 16, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from reader Bruce Cochrane, whose notes and IDs are indented. You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Although my young adult dream, after an incredible year as a VISTA volunteer in Northern Idaho, was to settle in the Pacific Northwest, career demands have taken me elsewhere: Indiana, North Carolina, Florida (26 years) and finally Ohio (15 years and counting).  What I found was that, wherever I ended up, there were natural sites worth seeing and photographing.  In Ohio, it’s been the prairies in bloom.

Adams County is home to the “Edge of Appalachia”, a region of very high biodiversity.  My wife and I were fortunate enough to find a superb vacation rental property there and have stayed there often.  In particular, we go every August to celebrate Alice’s birthday and see the prairie plants in bloom.  A favorite site of ours is Chaparral Prairie, a Nature Conservatory property near West Union, where most of these photos were taken.

One of the most showy plants is the Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), a tall very showy flower that is usually purple but also occasionally shows up as a white (alba) variant (reminds me a bit of Sewall Wright’s classic work on Linanthus parryae).  It is also an excellent source of nectar for butterflies.

Blazing Star in bloom:

Blazing Star in purple and white:

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) feeding on Blazing Star flower:

There are many other flowers to enjoy, including Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), and Ironweed (Veronia gigantea).

Rattlesnake Master.  Its name derives from the use of its nectar by Native Americans as a remedy for snake bites incurred during ceremonial snake handling:



Another common prairie plant is the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), which is also widely used as a landscape plant:

When flowering together, these create a lovely landscape:

Let’s not forget the animal kingdom.  We always set up a moth light at the cabin, and in some years, the results are spectacular.  The most spectacular are Luna Moths (Actias luna), and in 2019, we counted 21 of them on our porch.  Here’s the only one we saw this year:

And finally, our only introduced species – Felis catus.  This is Alexander, a stray who greeted us on the porch last year.  He came home with us and has proven to be a delightful addition to our (rather large) cat family:

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

August 16, 2022 • 6:30 am

It’s the Cruelest Day: Tuesday, August 16, 2022, and National Rum Day. Be sure to have your tot! Below is one site’s choice of the world’s best rum:

When sipping the Appleton Estate 21 Year Old rum, one can’t help but notice the serendipitous scent of green apple on the nose.

Honeysuckle and molasses envelop the palate, creating an unusually dry mouthfeel for a rum this old. Its complexity is a testament to master blender Joy Spence’s knack for nuance — and it doesn’t hurt that Appleton Estate has been making rums in Jamaica’s Nassau Valley since 1749.

This runs from $150 up:

It’s also National Bratwurst Day, True Love Forever Day, National Airborne Day and Tell a Joke Day,  Here’s mine; where’s yours?

The three wise men approached the manger where the newborn messiah rested. One of them tripped as he neared the infant, and in great pain yelled, “Jesus Christ!”  Mary responded, “Hey! That’ll be a great name for the baby!”

I’ll be here al year, folks.

There’s a Google Doodle today, celebrating the winner of the 2022 Best Doodle Competition.  A bit about this one:

Today, Google has announced that Sophie Araque-Liu of Florida is the grand prize winner, with the company publicly displaying her artwork for the entirety of August 16.

We’re told Araque-Liu’s work, entitled “Not Alone,” resonated with the Doodle for Google judges, particularly in the way it encourages the viewer to accept help from those around them. “Not Alone” draws your focus to the center, with an impactful depiction of a hug between two family members. The central artwork replaces the second “o” of “Google,” which otherwise consists of stark red brushstrokes.

Click to see what the Doodle links to:

Wine of the day: I had the bottle below with turkey chili, and it was a great complement. What we have here is an Italian red made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot—the classic blend of Bordeaux. But this neither tasted nor smelled like Bordeaux: such is terroir. 

At only $18, this is one of the best sub-$20 wines I’ve had this year. It’s absolutely terrific, and the first scent you detect is cherries—lots of them. It’s also gutsy, with a lot of tannins, and it could use a few more years in the bottle, though it’s drinking great now.

You can see some of the reviews here, with James Suckling saying this:

This is a fantastic red with so much cherry, currant, ash, tobacco, earth and walnut aromas. It’s full and layered with firm tannins that provide form, texture and structure. Linear and long. Really excellent for the vintage. Give it two or three years to come together, but already a beauty. Try after 2024.

Had I read that before I drank the wine, I would have bought more and held onto it longer (this is my sole bottle). If you see this puppy around $20, buy it and store it (it’ll only get more expensive), or serve it now to special guests. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Note that tomorrow is Black Cat Appreciation Day. If you have one, send me a photo and one or two sentences, and I’ll post any pictures I get tomorrow or Thursday. NOTE: The deadline for sending pictures is 6 p.m. Chicago time TODAY. Thanks!

Stuff that happened on August 16 includes:

Miners going to BC from Alaska had to check in because they were crossing a border, and then it was a tough haul (the pass is 3,759 feet or 1,146 metres high). There were 1500 steps cut in the snow for prospectors to cross the mountains, and for this you had to pay a fee. Not only that, but you had to carry your stuff over repeatedly. As Wikipedia notes:

To be allowed to enter the Klondike and take part in the gold rush, Canadian officials required that stampeders take one ton of goods with them, to try to ensure they were prepared to survive on the frontier. This was broken down into a year’s supply of food, which was half of the weight, as well as another 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of equipment. The supplies and food requirements were broken down into two lists.[7] The clothing items included: a waterproof blanket, 6 pairs of wool socks, 2 flannel over shirts, and a medicine chest. The list continues with the essential clothing needed. Some of the supplies required included: rolled oats, flour, salt, and bacon. The weight ranged from 20 to 400 pounds (10–180 kg) for one ingredient. This list was taken very seriously, as there was rarely a return journey after the Klondike was reached.

Here are the “Golden Steps” with antlike prospectors climbing them. Such is the lust of humans for gold:

This is a grim tale:

On August 16, 1920, Chapman was struck in the head and killed by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays during a game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. At the time, pitchers commonly dirtied balls with soil, licorice, and tobacco juice, and scuffed, sandpapered, scarred, cut, or spiked them, giving a “misshapen, earth-colored ball that traveled through the air erratically, tended to soften in the later innings, and, as it came over the plate, was very hard to see.”  Mays threw with a submarine delivery, and it was late afternoon. Eyewitnesses recounted that Chapman did not react to the pitch at all, presumably unable to see it. The sound of the ball striking Chapman’s skull was so loud that Mays thought it had hit the end of Chapman’s bat; he fielded the ball and threw to first base.

Here’s a video showing Carl Mays throwing his “submarine” pitch, often to the inside to brush back the batter.

Here’s “Fiddlesticks,” starring Flip the Frog:

The wings were swept forward to provide a better left at slow speeds, as well as to move the center of gravity for the plane in front of the wing to allow the bomb bay, with its heavy cargo, to be at that center. Here’s a photo:

Da Nooz:

*There is not much new to report on the condition of Salman Rushdie. He’s off the ventilator, and is speaking and apparently making jokes, which is fantastic. The only thing new, which is concerning, is this sentence from People magazine:

Author Salman Rushdie was removed from a ventilator Saturday, but his injuries are “life changing,” says his son, Zafar Rushdie.

I worry about what “life changing” means here. Yes, he may lose an eye and some use of his arm, but could it be much worse. For obvious reasons I want any incapacitation to be as minimal as possible, for he’s a brave man, didn’t deserve what happened to him, and still has a lot to give us.

*How far Rudy Giuliani has fallen! Once an admired mayor of New York City, now a liar, blackguard, and shill for Trump. And now, according to The Washington Post, Rudy is the target of a criminal probe in connection with attempts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

Attorney Robert Costello said that lawyers for the former New York mayor were told by the office of Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) on Monday that Giuliani is a target of the ongoing probe. Giuliani has served as a lawyer for former president Donald Trump. The New York Times first reported the story.

Costello said he and Giuliani “plan to be in Atlanta on Wednesday” to testify as scheduled before the special grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the case. Giuliani had sought to delay or avoid travel to Atlanta to testify, citing recent surgery to have a heart stent implanted. “We are not going to deal with this postponement issue anymore,” Costello said.

Although he will appear at the Fulton County courthouse this week, Costello said that Giuliani plans to cite attorney-client privilege if asked about his interactions with the former president regarding the 2020 election.

Well, he may not be able to say whether Trump urged him on, but he can’t plead attorney-client privilege with respect to his own actions.

Willis’s office has been consistently pressing high-profile witnesses to testify, and won a federal court victory Monday in a related matter.

In that case, a federal judge denied Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) request to toss his subpoena in Georgia prosecutors’ investigation, signaling that he must testify in the probe. Graham plans to appeal the decision, his office said in a statement released after the verdict.

It’s going to be an interesting year. . .

*The NYT has an interview with Jennifer Doudna, who shared the Nobel Prize with  Emmanuelle Charpentier in 2020 for developing the CRISPR-Cas9 system of gene editing. Here’s one exchange; the stuff about the ethics will be covered by Matthew in his upcoming book:

A lot of the discussion about the possibilities of gene editing are still to do with things that are way off in the future. In my lifetime — I’m 40 years old — how is my world most likely to be touched by CRISPR? Certainly in the food that we eat: I think CRISPR will have an impact in the near term — I’m talking about the next few years. There already is  a CRISPR tomato. that was approved in Japan.

[Sidenote: The CRISPR tomato went on sale to the public in Japan beginning in Sept. 2021. It was genetically edited to have high amounts of gamma-aminobutyric acid; the company that sells the tomato claims the GABA can help support lower blood pressure and promote relaxation.]

We’re going to see a lot more of that, and we’ll also see CRISPR being used to mitigate some of the effects of climate change. Those are two very real, tangible kinds of outcomes. I think that we’ll probably see CRISPR being used for things like diagnostics. There are F.D.A./E.U.A.-approved diagnostics for Covid-19, for example, that are based on CRISPR. Then in the slightly longer term, I suspect we’re going to see increasingly that there will be CRISPR-based therapies or even preventive treatments. This is still very much in the realm of research, but it’s interesting that there is already an ongoing clinical trial by a company called Verve that is looking at using CRISPR to reduce the genetic predisposition to atherosclerosis, meaning cardiovascular disease. That highlights what will be, I think, possible in the future. We’ll have knowledge about our own genetics and a way to intervene.

*News from reader Ken regarding the looniest person in Congress and her family:

Seems Colorado congresswoman Lauren Boebert et la famille are ready to step up and challenge the Palins of Wasilla, AK as the class act of the political class.

Here’s a recording of the 911 call regarding their current contretemps. And here’s the rest of the story as reported by The Denver Post.

From that article (listen to the call if you can):

Garfield County Sheriff’s deputies decided to let neighbors of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert settle a dispute between themselves and the congresswoman’s husband after he reportedly threatened them and destroyed their mailbox.

But 911 calls from the incident, obtained by The Denver Post, show just how upset and nervous the neighbors were over their run-in with Boebert’s husband, Jayson Boebert.

The calls also provide additional context into what the neighbors, in Silt, said amounted to excessive speeding, property damage, possible drunken driving and threats made from a man whose family openly and regularly carries their firearms.

“I’m sure he’s loaded to the hilt. Do you know who his wife is? Lauren Boebert. She’s loaded. They all have guns,” one neighbor told a 911 dispatcher. “He just got chest to chest, face to face, looking to fight.”

*The BBC reports that, as one might expect, the Iranian government is blaming Rushdie for bringing on his own stabbing attack. (h/t Divy). After all, it was  Ayatollah Khomeini who offered $3 million to the person who would execute Rushdie.

Iran’s state broadcaster daily Jaam-e Jam highlighted the news that Rushdie might lose an eye following the attack, saying “an eye of the Satan has been blinded”.

As news emerged of Friday’s attack, eyes turned to Tehran where the fatwa – religious edict – calling for the writer’s assassination was first issued more than three decades ago.

But on Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani – giving the country’s first official reaction – said Tehran “categorically” denied any link, adding “no-one has the right to accuse the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

However, he said freedom of speech did not justify Mr Rushdie insulting religion in his writing.

“In this attack, we do not consider anyone other than Salman Rushdie and his supporters worthy of blame and even condemnation,” the spokesman said during his weekly press conference in Tehran.

“By insulting the sacred matters of Islam and crossing the red lines of more than 1.5 billion Muslims and all followers of the divine religions, Salman Rushdie has exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people.”

First the foreign minister says that Iran isn’t responsible, but then goes ahead and reiterates the fatwa, saying that Rushdie himself is to blame! It’s not “freedom of speech” to announce a bounty for killing a writer. Below is an Iranian cleric saying that, like Rushdie, Masih Alinejad should be forced to live underground for criticizing Islam and its tenets. And remember, under sharia law the punishment for apostasy is death.

*And here’s the Wokeaholic Tale of the week, involving Devin Jane Buckley, a scholar of Romantic poetry who was invited to talk about her field at Harvard.

My talk at Harvard would have re-capped my dissertation, which challenged a conventional reading of British Romanticism that has dominated my field for decades. You can read a brief abstract of my argument (and if you want, the 300+ page manuscript) here.

Then the students found out that Buckley was opposed to putting trans females who were predators (not all trans females) in female prisons. That got her disinvited, and she gives all the woke, gory details in her post on the 4W feminist site, “All emails from when Harvard canceled me.”  The emails are a chilling example of ideological conformity and its results. (h/t: Ann) A precis:

I was invited to give a lecture at Harvard on British Romanticism, but on April 18th I received a notification by email from one of the colloquium co-coordinators that I was disinvited because someone at Harvard discovered that I had written articles for 4W criticizing gender ideology and that I served on the board of Women’s Liberation Front, a feminist nonprofit which is currently suing the state of California for housing men in women’s prison facilities.

The students who invited her to speak on poetry found out that Devin was opposed to jailing predatory transwomen with biological women, and she was disinvited as fast as Bob’s your uncle. Here’s an email from one of the grad students who invited Devin:

“Dear Devin,

I have some bad news. As we were preparing the application for next year’s funding, my co-coordinator looked you up on google to include the correct details about you on the application. She was surprised to find that your public profile is largely rooted in controversial issues regarding trans identity and that you’re on the board of an organization that takes a public stance regarding trans people as dangerous and deceptive. Since you’re mostly engaging in the public sphere as more of a polemicist than Romanticist, this puts the colloquium and the department and myself in an uneasy position.

My co-coordinator has refused to extend to you a formal offer to speak at our colloquium. I can’t fight for you on this. I wasn’t even aware of your online presence before Erin found it, and to be honest I didn’t know this was so much a part of your public identity. Even if I were to push your visit past Erin, it will be near impossible to get our two faculty members to sign onto funding your visit once they learn of your online presence. Really, it’s not so much because of your own personal conviction regarding trans identity. It’s more about the public stance you’ve taken and how you’ve recently crafted a professional presence around these issues.

I’m so sorry we can’t extend the formal invitation I promised you. You’ve done cutting-edge work in the study of Romanticism and religion. Maybe we can work out some other kind of engagement elsewhere in the future.

I’m willing to explain further about this if you want. I’m very sorry again.



Part of Buckley’s response to Harvard:

. . . If it is unacceptable for me to speak at Harvard on British poetry and philosophy because I am a feminist, then I invite Harvard to purge its libraries and museums of all those who hold views unacceptable to Harvard. If I am to be silenced, then why do the tomes and treatises of history’s innumerable sexist, racist, homophobes still sit on Harvard’s hallowed shelves and continue to be cited with reverence? Harvard should cleanse them all and leave nothing but the purity of empty space.

It’s difficult to discern whether those who cancel feminists like me won’t or can’t understand us when we critique gender. My suspicion is that most people do not believe that a male can become female. They simply remain silent on the matter for the sake of their careers. I want to call them moral cowards, but I also have sympathy for those who must do this to survive, such as adjuncts who struggle to find non-academic jobs and continue to hang on desperately to exploitative part-time labor at wealthy universities which advertise themselves as bastions of social justice.

Your email disinviting me states that I am “on the board of an organization that takes a public stance regarding trans people as dangerous and deceptive.” This is a mischaracterization. Never has my organization, Women’s Liberation Front, made the claim that a person is dangerous simply because he or she identifies as trans. Rather, our organization opposes ideology and policy dangerous to women. This includes laws which allow males entry into women’s spaces on the basis of self-attested gender identity. This is happening right now in women’s prisons.

From another of her emails to Harvard:

. . .Since there is no reason to expect that I would say anything at all about gender ideology while delivering a lecture on nineteenth-century poetry and philosophy, I can only conclude that the threat I pose is metaphysical.

Much like a witch in good old Puritan New England, very presence on campus must not be permitted lest I hex someone with a single glance. I created a “hostile environment” by existing.

I can’t help but wonder what the reach of my dark aura is. If I stand just outside the gate of Harvard can I still curse those inside? Or do I need to be on campus? Or do my powers spread as wide spread as wide as the United States? Or earth? Or perhaps I’ve made the entire universe a hostile environment.

The most annoying thing about this is that a professor from another school emailed the English Department to protest Buckley’s deplatforming, and the chair of English at Harvard responded this way:

“The invitation and disinvitation of Devin Buckley did not come from the English department but from two students who took it upon themselves to handle this situation without asking for guidance (the students were working as leaders of a graduate student colloquium). Their actions do not represent the Department or Harvard University. What we have learned from this incident is that we need clearer rules for how speakers are invited and what paths to take if and when there is a question about an invitation.

Well if that’s the case, why doesn’t the Department invite Buckley to speak? You know why. They secretly agree with the students and don’t want to make waves. They are all reprehensible invertebrates.

Here’s a video of Buckley discussing the contretemps with Harvard:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s back from the woods. I have an alternative title: “Mother, make my bed soon, For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

Hili: I’ve been in the forest.
A: And what?
Hili: It’s still there.
In Polish:
Hili: Byłam w lesie.
Ja: I co?
Hili: Jeszcze jest.


From Merilee one of many great animal cartoons by Jimmy Craig:

Kitty Whack-A-Mole from Malcolm:

From Jesus of the Day:


Titania mocks a “free speech butter”. The original article, a defense of free speech, is by Kenan Malik at the Guardian.

From Luana: the worst fossil mount ever. Where are the other two leg, for one thing?

From Simon: A smart and greedy dog analogized to an academic.

From Malcolm: “nice shadow work”:

Ducks on a skylight:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, an 11 year old girl led from the train to the gas chamber:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. A. R. Wallace did not like this book!

A series of tweets showing degree of relatedness of living animals to humans. Here are the first two:

Stephen King responds to the attack on Rushdie:

What I’m reading

August 15, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’m doing a bunch of reading trying to balance science with non-science (the latter mostly fiction). Click on the book cover reproductions to go to the Amazon links.

Science: Flights of Fancy by Richard Dawkins.  It’s a good book and I learned a lot, though it’s centered more on the adaptation of flight than on concepts. However, Richard does bring in a lot of the ideas (the genic viewpoint, adaptive compromise, the necessity of step-by-step adaptation, and so on) from his earlier works. I’m wondering if this isn’t Richard’s equivalent of Darwin’s book on earthworms, where he instantiated with worms his idea that even small changes can add up to big results over a long period of time. The book seems to be written for young adults, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot. Nota bene: there will be an “event”

More science: A lot of stuff on the Galápagos to prepare me for lecturing in February. (I prepare well in advance!) It’s good to revisit the old stuff, so I reread these books:

I haven’t read The Voyage of the Beagle for decades, and it was instructive to go through it again. The section on the Galápagos is very short, and I’d forgotten that it didn’t contribute much to The Origin. Reading this and other sources, it’s clear that Darwin did not have an “aha moment” in the islands, and in fact only used them trivially in constructing his big theory. One reason is that he messed up his collecting notes, especially for finches and tortoises, and thus was unable to suss out their meaning until others (notably the ornithologist John Gould) properly classified the species. I was also surprised at how judgmental Darwin was about animals, finding them “odious”, “horrible” and “ugly” (he has very few kind words to say about the marine iguanas!). But he was young: only 22 when he embarked on the 5-year voyage. The book is alternatingly boring and absorbing, the latter when he comes close to thoughts about evolution (he was a creationist on the trip). There is far too much geology, since Darwin was more engaged with geology than biology when he went aboard.

It’s interesting to contrast the sickly Darwin of his later years with the robust youth described in his journal, a time when he’d camp out in the snow in a blanket and ride all day through swamps in the rain, not to mention hiking up every mountain he saw.

Beagle, which made Darwin’s reputation as a naturalist, was published three years after his return to England, and within five years after that he was a full-fledged advocate of evolution and natural selection. But he was timorous, and only published his ideas when forced to by Wallace’s coincidental discovery of natural selection in 1858.  The Origin, which came out in 1859, was published fully 23 years after the Beagle returned to port.

Here’s a good book on the influence of the Galápagos on biological thought, beginning with the discovery of the uninhabited islands in the 16th century and continuing on to the present day. Darwin’s own trip to the archipelago occupies about 1.5 chapters.

And I went back to the Galápagos section of Janet Browne’s magisterial two-volume biography of Darwin: Voyaging and The Power of Place. The first book ends as he arrives home on the Beagle, never to leave England again. This is truly the definitive biography of Darwin, and I was amazed, on rereading the Beagle section, at how much scholarship Browne managed to sneak into a biography that is truly a page turner. You MUST read this book: both volumes.

Fiction: I once again started Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinchbut for some reason found it unreadable: the writing seemed too self-conscious to me. Only rarely do I start a book and not finish it, so I’ll never know how it comes out.

On the advice of two friends, I got the book below instead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015—a year after Tartt’s book won the same prize. I’ve just started it, but it’s a parallel narrative of two young people: a blind French girl who flees Paris for Saint-Malo with her father, and a German youth who’s destined to fight for the Nazis. As I’m only a wee bit into it, I can’t pass final judgment, but it hooked me instantly, and I can see why it was so lauded. This one I know I’ll finish.

This is, of course, your impetus to tell us all what you are reading, and whether you recommend it.

A gloomy time for medical education

August 15, 2022 • 9:45 am

Early this morning I received an email from a friend mourning the loss of meritocratic standards in colleges (indeed, everywhere), implying that it’s hopeless to fight the rising tide that values equity above quality. Then I got an email from another friend, whose school is promoting a “healthy at any size” initiative which began with this goal:

Implement a “Decline to Weigh” initiative at Student Health and Counseling Services to increase access to health care

Stigmatizing people for being overweight is immoral; as Grania used to point out to me, people know when they’re overweight. But it’s a different issue when it comes to going to the doctor. If you don’t want to be weighed, you’re withholding valuable information that could save your life. You should not encourage others to decline to have a doctor take their weight. Not only that, but promoting the idea that being obese is actually healthy—or at least not harmful—endangers other people, reinforcing obese people’s feeling that they’re actually in pretty good shape. The overweight, after all, are a stigmatized minority (true), who must be told that they’re healthy (often not true).

This same message—that offending minorities must be avoided even if it endangers people’s health—is the theme of Heather Mac Donald’s long but must-read essay in City Journal, which highlights the decline in admissions and evaluation standards in medical schools, all in the name of equity. Yes, it’s a conservative paper, and yes, Mac Donald tilts more rightward than I, but the facts are the facts, and you can’t depend on the New York Times or Washington Post to monitor medical schools and report on how standardized tests and medical-school evaluations are being downgraded. For those papers, too, value equity above merit. And without facing the facts, we can’t even begin to fix facts that are unacceptable.

The the other theme of Mac Donald’s piece is how those doctors who speak up for merit, or even cite the mere facts about the disparities among different groups in achievement and test scores, are being called racists or even demoted. I won’t discuss that, for we know how this kind of ostracism works.

Click to read Mac Donald’s piece. It’s long but we need to know these things:

A few quotes:

And so medical schools and medical societies are discarding traditional standards of merit in order to alter the demographic characteristics of their profession. That demolition of standards rests on an a priori truth: that there is no academic skills gap between whites and Asians, on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics, on the other. No proof is needed for this proposition; it is the starting point for any discussion of racial disparities in medical personnel. Therefore, any test or evaluation on which blacks and Hispanics score worse than whites and Asians is biased and should be eliminated.

The U.S. Medical Licensing Exam is a prime offender. At the end of their second year of medical school, students take Step One of the USMLE, which measures knowledge of the body’s anatomical parts, their functioning, and their malfunctioning; topics include biochemistry, physiology, cell biology, pharmacology, and the cardiovascular system. High scores on Step One predict success in a residency; highly sought-after residency programs, such as neurosurgery and radiology, use Step One scores to help select applicants.

Black students are not admitted into competitive residencies at the same rate as whites because their average Step One test scores are a standard deviation below those of whites. Step One has already been modified to try to shrink that gap; it now includes nonscience components such as “communication and interpersonal skills.” But the standard deviation in scores has persisted. In the world of antiracism, that persistence means only one thing: the test is to blame. It is Step One that, in the language of antiracism, “disadvantages” underrepresented minorities, not any lesser degree of medical knowledge.

. . . .The solution to such academic pressure was obvious: abolish Step One grades. Since January 2022, Step One has been graded on a pass-fail basis.

The assumption in all of this is a kind of cultural blank slate-ism: if some groups score lower than others on tests, the tests must be “structurally racist.” (No matter that test companies do extensive research to ensure that this doesn’t occur.)


Though mediocre MCAT scores keep out few black students, some activists seek to eliminate the MCATs entirely. Admitting less-qualified students to Ph.D. programs in the life sciences will lower the caliber of future researchers and slow scientific advances. But the stakes are higher in medical training, where insufficient knowledge can endanger a life in the here and now. Nevertheless, some medical schools offer early admissions to college sophomores and juniors with no MCAT requirement, hoping to enroll students with, as the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai puts it, a “strong appreciation of human rights and social justice.” The University of Pennsylvania medical school guarantees admission to black undergraduates who score a modest 1300 on the SAT (on a 1600-point scale), maintain a 3.6 GPA in college, and complete two summers of internship at the school. The school waives its MCAT requirement for these black students; UPenn’s non-preferred medical students score in the top one percent of all MCAT takers.

According to race advocates, differences in MCAT scores must result from test bias. Yet the MCATs, like all beleaguered standardized tests, are constantly scoured for questions that may presume forms of knowledge particular to a class or race. This “cultural bias” chestnut has been an irrelevancy for decades, yet it retains its salience within the anti-test movement. MCAT questions with the largest racial variance in correct answers are removed. External bias examiners, suitably diverse, double-check the work of the internal MCAT reviewers. If, despite this gauntlet of review, bias still lurked in the MCATs, the tests would underpredict the medical school performance of minority students. In fact, they overpredict it—black medical students do worse than their MCATs would predict, as measured by Step One scores and graduation rates. (Such overprediction characterizes the SATs, too.) Nevertheless, expect a growing number of medical schools to forgo the MCATs, in the hope of shutting down the test entirely and thus eliminating a lingering source of objective data on the allegedly phantom academic skills gap.

One more:

The medical school curriculum itself needs to be changed to lessen the gap between the academic performance of whites and Asians, on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics, on the other. Doing so entails replacing pure science courses with credit-bearing advocacy training. More than half of the top 50 medical schools recently surveyed by the Legal Insurrection Foundation required courses in systemic racism. That number will increase after the AAMC’s new guidelines for what medical students and faculty should know transform the curriculum further.

According to the AAMC, newly minted doctors must display “knowledge of the intersectionality of a patient’s multiple identities and how each identity may present varied and multiple forms of oppression or privilege related to clinical decisions and practice.” Faculty are responsible for teaching how to engage with “systems of power, privilege, and oppression” in order to “disrupt oppressive practices.” Failure to comply with these requirements could put a medical school’s accreditation status at risk and lead to a school’s closure.

Is this the way you want your doctors to be trained? No, it’s a way to ensure equity—not equal opportunity, but equal representation of all groups among medical schools and doctors. To do that, you deemphasize medical knowledge and emphasize critical race theory.

I see this as not only depressing, but irrational. If there’s a shortage of minority students in med schools (or other schools), one way of fixing it is simply to lower standards. But does that help minorities achieve the knowledge they need?

Because I do want more representation of minorities in med schools, I recommend another way: an extensive program of mentoring along with perhaps pre-med-school evaluations and “make up” courses. This seems much more sensible and efficacious than simply lowering the standards by which medical students are evaluated. In the end, the latter strategy yields an eroded health-care system with more people dying or getting substandard care. If you deny that this is the result, then why have any tests and standards in the first place? Or are the existing standards too high? Given the importance of health and life, and American’s desire for a great health-care system, I don’t think so.

I know that I’ll be called “alt-right” for pointing this out, and even for highlighting Mac Donald’s article. But if we really want to solve the problem of unequal representation, we must begin with the facts, which is unequal performance among groups. Then, if we want to maintain quality medical care, which I think everyone wants, we need to level performance among groups. But not by lowering the bar for tests; instead, you give special mentoring and attention to underachievers. If they don’t make it after this, then they shouldn’t be doctors. But to devise a solution that creates more equity and also maintains quality medicine, mentoring and monitoring is the only solution.

I’ve done a lot of soul-searching this morning, having been inundated with emails from people who are sick of a crazy “progressivism” that levels the playing field by lowering standards.

But do I really need to write about it again?

And I decided “yes,” for two reasons. First, there are many people who agree with what I said, and the more people speak out, the more society will change. That’s what happened when the New Atheists made it okay to be an open atheist, and now America is secularizing faster than ever. True, “DEI” initiatives are different, for once in place they are hard to remove. (If you hire a gazillion DEI officers, they’re not going to fire them when equal opportunity is at last achieved. This ensures a constant drumbeat of “structural racism”.)

And then I wondered, “Am I getting obsessed with this issue? After all, Trump and the Right are looming, and they’re dangerous, too.”  I tender my usual answer: there are plenty of people in the mainstream media who call out Republicans, but few who highlight the excesses of the Left—particularly those on the Left.

And a decline in the quality of medicine is not innocuous: people’s lives are at stake.  No, I am not obsessed: I am reacting to a society that is obsessed—obsessed with inequities but unable to do the hard work needed to really solve the problem. It’s a lot easier to signal your virtue and lower standards than to set up programs mentoring lots of medical students.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 15, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have another informative contribution from Athayde Tonhasca Júnior; his narrative is indented and the photos (credited) can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Cognitive dissonances: chocolate vs midges, wine vs wasps

Theobroma cacao. Named after the Greek theos (god) and broma (food), the cacao plant is, as any chocoholic would agree, the’ food of the gods’.

Cacao beans made their way to Europe as medicine: the cocoa drink cacahuatl (bitter water) of the Maya and Aztec peoples was considered a palliative to abdominal pains and other illnesses. When someone thought of sweetening the paste made of cacao beans, chocolate left the apothecary’s shelf for the kitchen and then for the factories. Joseph Fry – who created the first chocolate bar and Easter egg – Henri Nestlé, Rodolphe Lindt, Milton Hershey and many others helped build an ever-growing industry. Today, Americans and Europeans consume more than US$100 billion worth of chocolate annually, produced mostly in West Africa.

Fig. 1. A possible Maya lord sits before a container of frothed chocolate. Wikipedia (image in the public domain).

Not many people know that chocolate production, and by extension the livelihoods of countless small-scale cacao farmers in the developing world, depend on the finicky pollination requirements of the cacao flower.

Cacao blooming occurs simultaneously and extensively: in a short time, the plant’s trunk and main branches are covered with thousands of flowers. This feature is known as cauliflory.

Fig. 2. Cacao flowers sprouting from a tree trunk © Kurt Stueber, Wikimedia Commons.

The flowers cannot self-fertilize, so they are entirely dependent on pollinators. But the blossoms are small, have a convoluted hooded shape and face downwards. So bees, hoverflies and other common flower visitors do not bother with them, or just can’t reach their pollen and nectar. If flowers are not fertilized, they abscise (drop off) the next day: only 1 to 10% of all flowers develop into a fruit.

Fig. 3. A cacao flower © Crista Castellanos, Wikimedia Commons.

Fig. 4. Cacao beans in a pod © Aude, Wikipedia.

This apparently inefficient reproductive apparatus makes no sense until we are reminded that the cacao plant originated from the rainforests of Central and South America. These are hot, dense, dark and moist environments, choked with rotten wood and decomposing leaf litter. This type of habitat is hostile to many sun-loving pollinators, but it’s perfect for one group of insects – biting midges.

These are ceratopogonid midges (family Ceratopogonidae), of which the 1,000 or so species from the genus Forcipomyia are particularly important for our story. Male and female flies spend most of the day hidden in the forest’s shady spots, coming out in swarms of enormous numbers in the early morning and late afternoon to collect nectar from cacao flowers. Adults live for about a week, but there are about 12 generations per year. Thanks to their small size – 1 to 3 mm in length – midges can squeeze their way into the pollen-producing anthers of the unreceptive cacao flowers. For pollination to happen at a satisfactory scale, all it takes is a few pollen grains attached to the thoracic hairs of a fraction of the millions of pesky flies.

Fig. 5. A male Forcipomyia sp. midge © Christophe Quintin, CC BY-NC 2.0

Traditionally, cacao has been grown in shaded areas intercropped with native trees that were spared when the forest was cleared for cultivation. Today, cacao often grows in open plantations, which do not have the damp and shady conditions required by biting midge larvae. Also, within commercial plantations, the time of peak flower abundance may be out of synch with the peak of midge populations. The loss of midge habitat may explain in part why cocoa production has been decreasing, even though demand has increased annually.

However limited our knowledge about midge pollination, it’s far more than what we know about other potential candidates: aphids and thrips. In some situations, these may pollinate more cacao flowers than midges. Whatever the relative contribution of these insects, it’s evident that the cacao plant is a peculiar customer; it has no use for the traditional pollinators (bees, moths, bats or birds).

Fig. 6. Advertisement for Cadbury’s cocoa in The Graphic, 1885. Wikipedia (image in the public domain).

I saw a wasp upon a wall
And did not like his face at all:
And so the creature had no time
To wonder whether he liked mine.

‘Plain Murder’, by A.G. Prys-Jones

As you undergo an epiphany about midges, you may find room to accommodate wasps in your positive thoughts.

Social wasps (yellowjackets in America) of the genera Vespula such as the common (V. vulgaris) and the German wasp (V. germanica) surely are contenders for the accolade of most hated and feared insects. That’s a shame, because there is more to them than being flying thugs.

Adult wasps feed mostly on high-energy sugars and carbohydrates from foods such as nectar and fruit. They are not covered with fuzzy hair, so are much less efficient pollinators than bees. Even so, wasps are thought to be the main pollinators of ivy (Hedera spp.), which flowers late in the year, a time when the number of bees diminishes. Because of their high energy content, ivy fruits are important for many farmland and garden birds, so wasps contribute to their food supply.

Fig. 7. A German wasp © Richard Bartz, Wikimedia Commons.

But no sugar will do for the larvae – they need protein. Which is provided by the adults in the form of soft-bodied invertebrates such as caterpillars, flies, spiders and beetle larvae. Researchers in New Zealand (Harris, 1991. N. Zealand J. Zool. 18: 159–169; Brock et al., 2021. Biol. Rev. 96: 1645–1675) estimated that wasps capture ~0.8 to 4.8 million prey items per hectare per season (1.4 to 8.1 kg of prey/ha), which is equivalent to what is taken by all insectivorous birds in the same area. The figures elsewhere are likely to be lower, but nonetheless it is evident that wasps are voracious predators, and thus gardeners’ and farmers’ allies.

Fig. 8. A common wasp captures a horsefly © Robert Goossens, Wikimedia Commons.

Wasps may spoil your picnic, but without them, your hamper could have been deprived of bread, beer and wine.

Yeasts – especially Saccharomyces cerevisiae – have been fundamental to baking, brewing and winemaking throughout human history.

Fig. 9. Marmite, a black goo made from yeast extract (a by-product of beer brewing). This quintessentially British product was discovered by the German scientist Justus Liebig (1803-1873) of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum fame © WestportWiki, Wikimedia Commons.

In nature, yeast cells are found primarily on ripe fruits during the summer months. Since S. cerevisiae is not airborne, it must rely on vectors to move from plant to plant. For years it has been assumed that birds or bees were responsible for transporting yeast cells, but nobody could explain how they survived the winter. Italian and French researchers (Stefanini et al., 2012. PNAS 109: 13398–13403) suspected that wasps were involved because they feed on yeast-harbouring grapes, and their nests are hibernation havens for microorganisms.

The research team analysed samples from vineyards around Italy to find several species and hundreds of strains of yeast in the wasps’ guts. Some were related to wine strains of S. cerevisiae, others were similar to bread strains. Also, yeasts persisted through the winter in the insects’ guts, and were transferred to the larvae via the food regurgitated by the queen. And there’s more: S. cerevisiae produced spores, germinated and mated inside wasps’ guts (Stefanini et al., 2016. PNAS 113: 2247–2251). The results demonstrated a strong connection between social wasps and the diversity and abundance of yeasts.

Fig. 10. Wasps breaking and eating grape berries © Thomas Quine, Wikimedia Commons.

Wasps may be a nuisance now and then, but possible clashes with us are easily avoided. They are not aggressive outside the nest; when they hover persistently over your bottle of lemonade or sandwich, they are interested only in the food and will not deliberately attack you. If a wasp flies towards your food, wait for it to go away; flapping your arms increases the chances of entrapping it, which could end up in tears. However, wasps will defend their nest aggressively if disturbed or threatened. If you find yourself near a nest, retreat without producing much vibration or noise.

So next time someone asks what’s the point of wasps, you can say they are fascinating creatures with complex social organisation; they help control pests, and your wine or beer may depend on them. So there.

Fig. 11. A Michelangelo moment thanks to humble wasps.

Monday: Hili dialogue

August 15, 2022 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Monday, August 15, 2022: I’d call it the “Ides of August” but I know some classical scholar would say I’m wrong. It’s not only National Lemon Meringue Pie Day, but also Julia Child‘s birthday (August 15, 1912 – August 13, 2004).

I loved Julia, and once ran into her and her husband Paul in Harvard Yard (they lived behind the Museum of Comparative Zoology). They were TALL! Here’s a brief but engrossing Nightline video on her life:

It’s also Cupcake Day in Australia, I Love Cowboys and Cowgirls Day, National Best Friends Day, and National Failures Day.

Stuff that happened on August 15 includes:

Here’s a short documentary on the first transit of the Canal. Some years back I went through it while lecturing on a Scientific American cruise, and it was both fascinating and a tight fit.

Here’s Post (with an eyepatch) and Rogers in August, 1935; this may have been shortly before the fatal flight:

Remember this scene?

Here’s Schumann’s jump to freedom. He moved to Bavaria where he got a job and got married, but killed himself in 1998.

An American defector to North Korea! Here’s a short and rare interview he gave to Al-Jazeera:

Here’s an hourlong documentary featuring many of the musicians on one day (how many can you recognize?):

Da Nooz:

*Best news of the day (for me, at least): it looks as if Salman Rushdie is going to survive. The Washington Post quotes his agent, the only source of medical information we have:

Author Salman Rushdie has been taken off a ventilator and “the road to recovery has begun,” his agent said Sunday, two days after the renowned novelist was stabbed in the neck and abdomen at an event in western New York.

“The injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction,” Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, said in a statement to The Washington Post, adding that the recovery process would be lengthy.

Rushdie’s son Zafar also released a statement on Twitter on Sunday morning confirming that his father was taken off the ventilator and was “able to say a few words.”

“Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty & defiant sense of humor remains intact,” Zafar Rushdie wrote.

That’s great to hear: the guy is cracking jokes! Here’s a tweet from Rushdie’s ex-wife, Padma Lakshmi:

*Are we headed for a Chernobyl-type accident as a result of the Ukraine war? Multiple sources, including the NYT, report that a nuclear power plant in Ukraine is being shelled, almost certainly by Russians.  Many civilians, fearing the worst, have already fled the area.

Shelling near a nuclear power complex in southern Ukraine killed a foreman from the facility at his home in a neighboring town, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday.

The Ukrainian company that oversees the nation’s nuclear power plants, Energoatom, said that Russia had directed at least six shells at the town of Enerhodar, where most of the workers at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant live.

The town is under Russian occupation, and the Russians have blamed the Ukrainians for the shelling of the giant nuclear complex — Europe’s largest — and nearby residential areas. However, the Ukrainians have said that it is the Russians who are firing on civilians, suggesting the intent is to discredit the Ukrainian Army.

. . . The Zaporizhzhia plant is the first active nuclear power complex to be caught up in a combat zone. The United States and European Union have called for the establishment of a demilitarized zone, as the fighting in and around the plant and its active reactors and stored nuclear waste has sparked grave concern that an errant strike and resulting fire could cause a meltdown or release radiation.

The Washington Post adds that 42 countries have called for Russian troops to evacuate the site, and Ukrainian President Zelensky has declared that Ukrainian troops will specially target Russian troops who shoot at the nuclear plant.

*A Palestinian attack on a bus in Jerusalem wounded eight people, including five Americans, one of them pregnant.

Around 1:30 am local time Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET), police said in a statement that a “terrorist armed with weapons shot at a bus and vehicles in a parking lot near the Old City of Jerusalem.”

Two Americans are being treated at the Hadassah Medical Center, and three at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, according to the hospitals. At least two of the Americans injured were tourists, the hospitals said. Israeli media earlier reported that four American victims were tourists and members of the same family.

Two of the victims are listed as in serious condition, while the other six victims are mildly and moderately injured, according to emergency services. One of the wounded was pregnant, and underwent an emergency caesarean operation. Both mother and baby are in serious condition, according to Shaare Zedek hospital.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem said they are “shocked and saddened” by the attack. They confirmed that US citizens were among the victims and that they were gathering more information.

The suspect was an Israeli citizen, and eventually turned himself in:

The shooter fled the scene, with security forces, the Shin Bet and the IDF in pursuit. Police said a helicopter from the Israel Police’s aerial unit assisted in the search. The suspect later turned himself into police. The weapon he carried with him was seized, according to a police spokesperson.

The suspect is an Israeli citizen from East Jerusalem, a security source told CNN. He was not known for any terror related offenses, but had a criminal record and had spent time in prison, the security source told CNN.

The source said the suspect — whose identity has not been released — was born in 1996. Israeli media has described him as a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship.

The fact that he turned himself in rather than fleeing to friendly territory suggests that perhaps he’s seeking money for his family through the Palestinian Authority’s odious “pay for slay” program—which is partly (and unwittingly) funded by the American taxpayer. (We give the Palestinian Authority money that they manipulate to fund terrorists.) In fact, Arabs Israelis who attack Jewish Israelis get a special bonus! (The program gives money to terrorists who attack Jewish civilians in Israel.)

*Well, Biden’s Build Back A Little Bit Better bill is about to be law, and I approve. Thank Ceiling Cat that Manchin and Sinema signed on in the Senate! Each of them, of course got a little pork for their barrel, but, according to the AP, Sinema’s pork is a little more rancid because her catering to special interests is so blatant.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who single-handedly thwarted her party’s longtime goal of raising taxes on wealthy investors, received nearly $1 million over the past year from private equity professionals, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists whose taxes would have increased under the plan.

For years, Democrats have promised to raise taxes on such investors, who pay a significantly lower rate on their earnings than ordinary workers. But just as they closed in on that goal last week, Sinema forced a series of changes to her party’s $740 billion election-year spending package, eliminating a proposed “carried interest” tax increase on private equity earnings while securing a $35 billion exemption that will spare much of the industry from a separate tax increase other huge corporations now have to pay.

The bill, with Sinema’s alterations intact, was given final approval by Congress on Friday and is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden next week.

Sinema has long aligned herself with the interests of private equity, hedge funds and venture capital, helping her net at least $1.5 million in campaign contributions since she was elected to the House a decade ago. But the $983,000 she has collected since last summer more than doubled what the industry donated to her during all of her preceding years in Congress combined, according to an Associated Press review of campaign finance disclosures.

There are two ways to get this pork: get something for your state, as Manchin did, helping reassure your reelection. Or you can take Sinema Street and rake in campaign contributions to the same end. In fact, Sinema’s pretending this tax exemption is good for Arizona. Here’s her Big Lie:

Sinema’s office declined to make her available for an interview. Hannah Hurley, a Sinema spokesperson, acknowledged the senator shares some of the industry’s views on taxation, but rebuffed any suggestion that the donations influenced her thinking.

“Senator Sinema makes every decision based on one criteria: what’s best for Arizona,” Hurley said in a statement. “She has been clear and consistent for over a year that she will only support tax reforms and revenue options that support Arizona’s economic growth and competitiveness.”

Yeah, as if. . . .

*The Elders of Zion, whose sham Protocols laid out the definitive plan for Jewish World Domination, are packing it in and retiring to Florida. Or so said a funny spoof article in a Forward article from 2009, with the headline of “Elders of Zion to Retire” over this picture:

An excerpt:

The Elders of Zion, the venerable and shadowy Jewish organization that controls the international banking industry, news media and Hollywood, has announced that it is disbanding so that members can retire to Florida and live out their golden years on the golf course.

“We had a good run,” said one senior Elder, reminiscing over old photographs of world leaders in his musty, wood-paneled office at an undisclosed location. “Maybe we ran the world for just a little too long. Anyway, now it’s Obama’s problem.”

After a humiliating year left most of its financial holdings, as well as the entire civilized world, on the verge of collapse, the organization has re-defined its mission in terms of bridge games and making it to restaurants for the Early Bird Special.

The announcement comes after a year in which many of the Elders’ most prized institutions suffered disheartening failures. The vaunted global banking system, which lay at the heart of Jewish world domination for almost two centuries, collapsed with astonishing rapidity, requiring trillions of dollars in bailout funds. The newspaper industry, through which the Elders have controlled world opinion, is in shambles, with prominent papers declaring bankruptcy and forcing millions of readers to form their own opinions. And, in the unkindest cut, Hollywood suffered the humiliation of losing the Oscar for Best Picture to Indian film “Slumdog Millionaire.”

. . . Even before this past year, though, the Elders were facing hard times as they struggled to stay relevant and attract young members. The organization has tried to project a more youthful image, setting up a Facebook page and founding a new “Hipsters of Zion” youth division, which has sponsored a number of singles nights. But youngsters haven’t been interested.

“World domination just doesn’t resonate with the younger generation of Jews,” said Marvin Tobman, a professor of non-profit management at San Diego State University and expert on Jewish communal life. “They want the fun of fixing the world, not the responsibility of running it.”

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s on the prowl:

Hili: I’m going to check whether this bird can fly.
A: You don’t need to bother.
In Polish:
Hili: Idę sprawdzić, czy ten ptak umie fruwać.
Ja: Możesz się nie fatygować.
And a picture of Szaron:


A humorous bit on atheism sent by Heather (I don’t know who the comedian is):

From Ivan, a Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson:

From In Otter News. Be sure to put the sound up on this one:

The Tweet of God. Y*hw*h is angry about the Southern Baptists:

Salman Rushdie on free speech and the abysmal attack on Charlie Hebdo after terrorists killed its writers and artists:

Masih Alinejad is a tough interviewer. Here she takes apart Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, once Iran’s ambassador to Iran and now the Nancy Schrom Dye Chair in Middle East and North African Studies at Oberlin College.  Here she tries to get him to admit that Iran, by killing innocent citizens (durng Mahalatti’s tenure), was committing human rights violations. Look at how Mahallati tries his best to avoid answering the question (if you look up “weasel” in the dictionary, you’ll see his picture). I wish all journalists were as tough as Masih, who is absolutely relentless here.

They speak in Farsi but there are English subtitles.

From Malcolm; a cat is flummoxed by a tattoo on her staff:

From Barry (I may have posted this before): a raptor gets a human’s snack:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: Another young person (14 years old) killed with a phenol injection in the heart (can you imagine what that is like?):

Tweets from Professor Cobb. Listen to this ferocious kitten!

They found the bear coat-color mutation that changes the color of the American black bear (Ursus americanus) to brown: it’s a single “missense” mutation, which prevents a workable protein from being made. From the paper:

Additional genomic and functional studies identified a missense alteration (R153C) in Tyrosinase-related protein 1 (TYRP1) that impaired protein localization and decreased pigment production.

This is an interesting game, but I don’t think it’s better than “Stray”:

“Everybody wants to rule the world”

August 14, 2022 • 1:00 pm

Everybody wants to rule the world“, released by “Tears for Fears” in 1985, is to me one of the few great pop songs to come out of the mid-Eighties. It was written by band founder Roland Orzabal along with Ian Stanley, and Chris Hughes. The lyrics, which you can see here, are mostly opaque, but strongly remind me of looming doom, particularly when Winston Smith shacks up with Julia before the hammer comes down in Ninteen Eighty-Four. 

But the lyrics, while a bit haunting, are what you make of them. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

The song’s lyrics have elicited different political interpretations. A writer for The Economist called the track “a Cold War anthem” and noted its “timeless message”, stating that “the song’s lyrics speak to the anxieties of every age”. Marc Ambinder from The Atlantic used the lyrics “Say that you’ll never, never, never need it / One headline, why believe it? / Everybody wants to rule the world” in his article about the United States government’s use of “original classified authority” and the abuse of power between the branches of government. Dominic Pino of National Review described the track as a “conservative pop song”, noting the lyrics’ tension between “personal ambition” and “channeling that personal ambition to good ends”, comparing these themes to James Madison’s concerns about private interest in the Federalist Papers. Curt Smith challenged this interpretation.

I have no interpretation—only the emotion reaction mentioned above. The song is great almost entirely because of its complex melody, though the voice of the lead singer, Curt Smith, is a major plus. The guitar solos and drumming are also fantastic. It made it to #2 on the British charts, and all the way to #1 in America. (It’s also got a good beat and you can dance to it.)

I’ve put up two live versions, the first from 1985 when the song had just become a hit:

This one, with three backup singers and an orchestra, is from 2007—22 years later. It’s more harmonious, and the guitar solo longer, but I love the energy of the earlier version.

The song is extraordinarily complex in melody; the more you listen to it (as I do on my iPod Nano while walking), the more you hear in it. In this video, song analyst and musician Rick Beato breaks it down.  I urge you to watch the video, as it will show you why this is really a work of musical genius. (Beato-s series of “What makes this song great?” is wonderful.)

A Māori scholar/musician explains mātauranga Māori

August 14, 2022 • 11:15 am

A Kiwi sent me this just-posted “Shape of Dialogue” video, which, although quite long for me (2 hours!), has an explanation of mātauranga Māori (MM) by a part-Māori scholar and musician, Charles Royal.  Royal’s webpage shows that he’s not only an expert in “indigenous knowledge”, but also “Advise[s] and Lead[s] Projects and People, particularly to do with the ‘creative potential’ of the indigenous Māori dimension of Aotearoa-New Zealand.”

My correspondent recommended this interview with Royal as “a very good resource for those seeking to understand mātauranga Māori. Charles is very smart, reasonable and balanced, and I’d encourage you to have a listen.” The correspondent adds, “You will see that they go back and forth on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, but there’s no doubt that Charles is pro-science.”

The podcast is also here if you want to download it.

I listened to the whole thing, and you’re welcome to do it, but unless you’re interested in a lot of NZ history, I’d concentrate on three segments. And if you’re interested in the relationship between MM—”indigenous science”—and modern science, just listen from 1:24:40 to the end (see below).

Here are three relevant bits.

25:25-about 35 minutes.  Royal’s definition of MM. The term “mātauranga Māori” doesn’t seem to have been used in New Zealand before 1980, but it did exist as a “fragmented, incomplete, and disorganized” body of traditional knowledge held by the indigenous people, though parts of this “way of knowing” are more organized than others. Royal discusses where the repositories of this knowledge are to be found. As we’ve learned in earlier posts, Royal affirms that it’s largely “practical knowledge”: things like how to fish or harvest plants.

1:06:58-to about 1:15:00 Royal’s definition of “indigeneity”.

1:24:40 to the end of the podcast. The discussion turns to the relationship between MM and science—the fracas started with a letter to “The Listener” by seven professors at the University of Auckland.  Royal does see MM as a “kind of science,” , and “intergenerational body of knowledge” (“efficacious knowledge”), but not equivalent to modern science.  He adds that MM is not a mature science but a “way to live in the world”. but it might have become a mature science had it not been suppressed by colonization. I don’t agree with him, especially because he claims it’s not really the same as modern science, nor does it aspire to be.

Note: at 1:44:30: Royal discusses whether MM should be taught in science classes as coequal to modern science—per recent national curriculum guidelines. Royal can’t answer that question, and says that “there isn’t the research” to address it.  But I think that we already know enough, based on the non-empirical nature of much of MM, its concentration on practicality rather than theory, and its addition of theology, morality, and legend, to say that while teaching MM is necessary and valuable in New Zealand to educate the citizens in the sociology, history, and anthropology of the country, it should not be taught in science class as the Maori alternative to modern science.

I’d recommend, then, that if you’re interested in the compatibility of MM and modern science as forms of science teachable in school, listen from 1:24:40 to the end of the podcast—about 42 minutes.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 14, 2022 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and regulars here will know that today’s the day for themed bird photos from another regular, biologist John Avise. John’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.


Nuthatches (family Sittidae) are one of my favorite avian groups because the species are very easy to identify and have interesting behaviors. With equal facility, these cute little birds spiral either right-side-up (head-up) or upside-down (head-down) tree trunks and major tree limbs where they use their slightly upturned, chisel-like bills to probe for insects, seeds, or other food items hidden under the bark.  All nuthatches are cavity nesters.  North America is home to four nuthatch species (all of which I’ve photographed), but more than a dozen other species (one of which is shown below) inhabit various parts of Europe, Asia, or Africa.

Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis):

Another Red-breasted Nuthatch:

Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla):

Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea):

Another Pygmy Nuthatch (this species is the western U.S. counterpart of the eastern U.S. Brown-headed Nuthatch):

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis):

Another White-breasted Nuthatch:

White-breasted Nuthatch flying:

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea):

Another Eurasian Nuthatch: