Why keep a landline?

June 25, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’m in a conundrum that many share: I have a cellphone and an AT&T landline (at home), as well as a work phone. I never get calls on my landline and I use it only when I’m calling my cellphone because I’ve misplaced it in my flat and need to find it by making it ring. But I can do that on Skype, too, for you can use Skype as a telephone, buying ten bucks’ worth of calls, which will last for months (overseas calls by phone using Skype can be as low as 2¢ per minute, and of course video calls are free).

So why do I keep a landline. Laziness, I suppose, but also I have the fantasy that one day I won’t have my cellphone and need to call 911, which you can’t do on Skype. In that case I’d use the regular phone. But I always have my cellphone, so that is an improbable event.

I pay about $45/month to keep the damn landline (I also have AT&T wireless), but while I use the wireless, I never use the landline. Give me one reason why I should keep it!

It’s strange, as I usually have no trouble getting rid of stuff I never use, but this is an exception.

I just found an article from 2020 (I knew I would) called “8 reasons you should consider keeping your landline“. It turns out that it’s somewhat of a geezer thing: 60% of adults over 45 have a landline, and I bet that many fewer under 30 would have one.

The reasons given:

1.) “It’s a connection to your past.”  I don’t give a hoot about that.

2.) “The sound quality is better.” It’s fine on my cellphone.

3.) “It costs almost nothing.” Not for me, as I don’t have a phone bundled with cable.

4.) “You need it for medical devices or security systems.” I don’t use these things, and anyway I suspect these will now be compatible with cellphones.

5.) “You send and receive faxes”.  Nope. I would get them at work, but who faxes any more? People can send documents as pdf files.

6.) “You need your phone to work when you lose power”  Both cellphones and Skype on my computer work fine, and I keep both devices charged.

7.) “You really just don’t see the need for a smartphone.”  Seriously? Smartphones have greatly improved my life and my ability to get work done. Yes, I know we lived without them, but we used to live (or die) without antibiotics.

8.) “You want 911 access tied to your location.” I think that my iPhone 13 is as well, but you can always tell 911 where you are.

None of these reasons are convincing for me. Maybe I’ll ditch the landline.

You? Do you have one? If so, why?



Caturday felid trifecta: The insect-repelling effect of catnip; Chubbs the cat found ten years after having gone missing; cat fights off nasty coyote

June 25, 2022 • 9:20 am

This article from ScienceAlert also references supporting scientific papers, though I haven’t read them. What it shows is that catnip has a side effect on felids (beyond getting them stoned) that is likely to be adaptive. Yes, it gets them high, too, but perhaps they are attracted to the high because of the other benefits of ‘nip.

Click to read:

An excerpt:

Not satisfied with merely rolling among its foliage, many kitties will tear and crumple the leaves, prompting researchers to investigate the purpose of this wanton destruction.

What appears to be an act of pure hedonism could also have a more medicinal purpose. According to a new study, the additional damage to the leaves releases significant amounts of insect-repelling compounds into the air, bathing the cat in a natural pesticide.

While N.[Nepeta] cataria is the most commonly recognized cat intoxicant, a number of plants including valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and a species of kiwifruit called silver vine (Actinidia polygama) also contain compounds that induce odd behaviors in domestic and wild cats.

Two such chemicals are nepetalactol and nepetalactone – figure-eight-shaped molecules classed as iridoids, which are produced by plants like catnip and silver vine to ward off insect attacks.

Nepetalactone also happens to titillate a set of receptors inside feline nasal cavities, triggering a cascade of responses that make a quick roll in the leaves impossible to ignore.

Previous research joined the dots, demonstrating the cat’s vigorous actions bruise the leaves of catnip and silver vine enough to release sufficient amounts of nepetalactone and nepetalactol to serve as a repellent against the mosquito, Aedes albopictus.

That species of mosquito is known to carry several pathogens, including yellow fever, Zika virus, and nematodes, so repelling it may be a palpable advantage to a cat.

Note that the cat’s olfactory receptors and behavior have evolved to make a cat crave a roll in the ‘nip. It’s similar to how the pleasure or orgasms is a cue that’s evolved to compel us to reproduce. And it explains why they roll in the stuff. Eating it may also provide some protection. At any rate, you can see the rolling effect if you put the nip on the ground, but stalks of fresh herb will do even more.

But wait! There’s more.

Sixteen healthy lab cats participated in the study, which involved watching their behavior as samples of intact, crumpled, and torn catnip and silver vine leaves and cocktails of iridoids in petri dishes were placed in front of their cages.

The team also conducted a range of other tests on the efficiency of various plant extracts and iridoid mixtures as a mosquito repellent, and the concentrations of volatile compounds surrounding cat-damaged leaves.

Taken altogether, it was clear that the extra damage done by ripping at the leaves really helped get the party started a lot faster.

“We found that physical damage of silver vine by cats promoted the immediate emission of total iridoids, which was 10-fold higher than from intact leaves,” says lead author Masao Miyazaki, an animal behavior researcher from Iwate University in Japan.

Not only was the total concentration higher in both plant types, the mix of iridoids was more complex in torn silver vine leaves, making for a more potent repellent at lower concentrations.

Cats who were exposed to these mixtures were also affected for a longer duration, suggesting their biology has been ‘fine-tuned’ to maximize the insect-repelling doses of silver vine.

Why do they mention only silvervine and not catnip? Did they not study the ‘nip, or did they just assume that the repellant effects of catnip would be similar to that of silvervine? At any rate, if you want to give your cat the advantage of the insecticide, which house cats probably don’t need, crush up some fresh stalks of catnip for them.

If you want another example of an animal applying naturally occurring anti-parasite chemicals, try this one, which will make you a hit when you tell the story at parties (click to read):


This first headline is paywalled if you’re not a Times subscriber (I’m not, but I had it free the other day), so if clicking on the first one doesn’t work, go to the second.

From the BBC (click to read. I love that the BBC news posts this as “news”. You’d never find this in the NYT!)

Yes, it’s another example of a cat lost for years and years before it was found. Thank Ceiling Cat for the Microchip Era, and if your cat ever goes outside, or even escapes outside, please get it microchipped.  Here’s the tale:

A cat that went missing from its home in Dorset 10 years ago has been reunited with its owner after being found 260 miles away.

Chubbs disappeared from his family home in Weymouth in 2012, leaving his owner Donna Gallacher distraught.

The tabby was found in Greater Manchester and taken to a vets where a microchip revealed his true owner.

Ms Gallacher, who searched for him for years, said she never gave up hope of finding him.

The story was originally revealed in the Dorset Echo after the cat was found in the market town of Ashton-in-Makerfield.

Hedgehog rescuer Kelly told the BBC she regularly spotted Chubbs following schoolchildren around when she dropped her daughter off at school in the mornings.

“I thought at first it was someone’s pet following them instead of turning around,” she said.

There’s a picture of Chubbs and staff in the first headline (isn’t he a handsome moggie?), and here he is from the BBC. This photo was taken in 2012 before Chubbs went missing (photo by Donna Gallacher):

Apparently Chubbs was STOLEN, and was found flea-bitten and toothless!

[Kelly] added: “The day that I picked him up he was slowly walking across the main road in random directions, weaving between moving cars and narrowly being missed.

“I couldn’t leave him there to get run over so I picked him up from the centre of the road and took him into my car.

“He was so friendly and lovely, but extremely skinny, covered in fleas, soaking wet – it had been raining heavily the night before – and generally looking like a stray.”

The soggy moggy was taken into Rutland Vets who then emailed Ms Gallacher.

“I didn’t know anything until I got this email from the vets and when I saw Chubbs’ name my heart skipped a beat,” she said.

The 40-year-old, who believes the cat was originally stolen by someone on holiday in the coastal town, added: “The vets said Chubbs looked as though he was on his last legs – he has no teeth and is covered in mats.

Chubbs can’t walk properly now, either, and may have kidney problems. That’s so sad; what a rough life he must have had! But he’ll live out his years in comfort not:

“It broke my heart thinking I might have to say goodbye to him but he’s been getting stronger every day,” she said.

“He’s happy now and I’m going to let him live out his older years. Until then he’s going to be a very spoilt old man.”

Most importantly, she said he had not forgotten her after all this time.

“He follows me around and won’t leave me alone, he hasn’t stopped purring,” she said.

“And he remembers his name – when I call him his head comes straight up.”


Finally, here’s a video of a brave and wily cat using multiple tactics: aggression, hiding behind a chair, and climbing a post to escape the jaws of a coyote. And it did!

According to KTVU in Houston, an hour away from the town where the attack occurred, it was filmed by the owner of the portch, who tried to scare off the coyote (but only by banging on the door). However, it wasn’t his cat (see below). The article reports that coyotes are pretty common in Surfside and in Houston, and have killed pets before.

The video was recorded on a home surveillance camera in Surfside, Texas on June 9, and showed the scene unfolding between the two animals.

In the footage, the cat could be seen trying to hide and escape from the coyote. While the cat suffered many close calls, the feline was able to climb up the home’s banister to safely get away.

Resident Tony Gray told FOX Television Stations Group he saw the encounter happen on his porch deck in real-time.

“You can hear me bang on the door to scare off the coyote. That’s why he ran off,” Gray said. “He was a fighter and luckily the coyote was a skittish pup.”

The 45-year-old posted the video on social media, writing “Island life… Someone almost lost a cat.”

. . . .It’s currently unclear who the cat belongs to or where the cat went to after the incident.

“This was my first up-close experience and hopefully the last,” Gray concluded.


h/t: Ginger K., Malcolm

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 25, 2022 • 8:00 am

A few kind readers sent in wildlife photos, but I’m going to conserve them for a day or so to accumulate a reasonable stash.  Today, then, we have three photos: a sign and two astronomy pics that show part of the “planet parade” of a few days ago.

The astronomy came from reader Bryan Lepore yesterday, whose notes are indented (click photos to enlarge them):

I send the best picture I could get of the planet parade this morning. I used an iPhone 13 and iOS with nothing added. I used Night Sky as an aid for identification of the planets.Venus is among the tree tops on the left. The planet just above the treetops on the right is probably Jupiter, though Saturn was near it.

… I also got some bats (not shown). Clearly s learning experience – the luminosity would change as the clouds filtered the light, so Jupiter could become as dim as Saturn usually is, and there was no reference as the clouds hid planets alternately. A learning experience.Come to think of it, I’d like to include a neat photo of Mars and Jupiter together from last week – I didn’t know they’d line up today :

From Dan Fromm. I think someone should collect a website of various “animal crossing” signs. (Actually, I bet there is one.)

Here’s a photo from a recent field trip to the Dominican Republic.  Photo by Mark H. Sabaj Perez, Sr. Collection Manager, Ichthyology, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
I think it is a Solenodon crossing sign.  Location, on the road from Duverge to Puerto Escondido.

What is a Solenodon? From Wikipedia:

Solenodons (/sˈlɛnədɒnz/, meaning “slotted-tooth”) are venomous, nocturnal, burrowing, insectivorous mammals belonging to the family Solenodontidae /sˌlɛnəˈdɒntɪd/. The two living solenodon species are the Cuban solenodon (Atopogale cubana), and the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus). Threats to both species include habitat destruction and predation by non-native cats, dogs, and mongooses, introduced by humans to the solenodons’ home islands to control snakes and rodents.

Here’s a photo (not mine or Dan’s, but from the Internet) of the Hispaniolan solenodon. Because it’s threatened, there should be a sign. The guy is wearing gloves because the creature has a bite with venomous salive.  More:

Today, the solenodon is one of the last two surviving native insectivorous mammals found in the Caribbean, and one of the only two remaining endemic terrestrial mammal species of Hispaniola.


Saturday: Hili dialogue

June 25, 2022 • 6:30 am

Welcome to CatSaturday, June 25, 2022, National Strawberry Parfait Day, a treat made from fruit, Greek Yogurt, and granola. Is it dessert or breakfast? You be the judge.

It’s also National Catfish Day, Statehood Day (in Virginia), and World Vitiligo Day.

On this day in 1947, Anne Frank’s diary was published (see below). Google has a special Doodle for that. Click on the screenshot and swipe right to get a summary of her life in hiding:

Stuff that happened on June 25 includes:

Here’s the photo, captioned by Wikipedia as “Barricades on rue Saint-Maur during the uprising, 25 June 1848”. It’s a daguerrotype:

Here’s Custer the year before he was killed by a coalition of Native American groups, including Lakota led by Crazy Horse. Here’s a photo of Custer a year before his death:

Here’s a photo from Wikipedia labeled “Paul Pelliot examining manuscripts in the Library Cave, 1908.” Most of them date between the late 4th and early 11th centuries and deal with a variety of subjects from mathematics to song and dance:

  • 1910 – The United States Congress passes the Mann Act, which prohibits interstate transport of women or girls for “immoral purposes”; the ambiguous language would be used to selectively prosecute people for years to come.
  • 1910 – Igor Stravinsky‘s ballet The Firebird is premiered in Paris, bringing him to prominence as a composer.

Here’s the Suite of The Firebird performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra:

  • 1944 – The final page of the comic Krazy Kat is published, exactly two months after its author George Herriman died.

Krazy Kat, one of my (and Matthew’s) favorite comic strips, had a magnificent run. Here’s the final strip which leaves unanswered the question of whether Krazy Kat has drowned (read more here). And yet, in the very last panel, Krazy appears to live on, back and floating in the drink. Click to enlarge:

A first edition in English in good condition can cost as much as $4,500, but in Dutch (called Het Achterhuis) could run you $12,500:

A bit of the original flag, designed by three queer artists and 30 volunteers, is still preserved in San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society Museum. Here it is:

Campbell, shown below, ruled from only June 25 to November 4, 1993, when she lost an election to the Liberals. She was the first and still the only womb-carrying Prime Minister of Canada (at least they’ve done better than the U.S. on that count!):


*This public Facebook post from Seth Andrews gives most of the big news:

I for one am not keen to rehash the overturning of Roe v. Wade this morning: the news is full of it, with liberals predictably (and rightly) mourning while conservatives rejoice. I’ll point out just a few articles of note.

*The NYT Editorial Board has penned a powerful editorial outlining the disastrious consequences of the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v Wade. Just a short quote:

The implications of this reversal will be devastating, throwing America into a new era of struggle over abortion laws — an era that will be marked by chaos, confusion and human suffering. About half the states in the United States are expected to enact laws that restrict or make abortion illegal in all or most cases. Many women may be forced by law to carry pregnancies to term, even, in some cases, those caused by rape or incest. Some will likely die, especially those with pregnancy complications that must be treated with abortion or those who resort to unsafe means of abortion because they can’t afford to travel to states where the procedure remains legal. Even those who are able to travel to other states could face the risk of criminal prosecution. Some could go to prison, as could the doctors who care for them. Miscarriages could be investigated as murders, which has already happened in several states, and may become only more common. Without full control over their bodies, women will lose their ability to function as equal members of American society.

*An op-ed from the NYT uses Maine as one example of “How to outmanuever the Supreme Court“. (The author is Aaron Tang, professor of law at UC Davis and former clerk for Sonya Sotomayor.) The first bit involves the Supreme Court’s recent decision stipulating that taxpayer-funded school vouchers can be used to send kids to religious schools:

Let’s start with the Carson case. Anticipating this week’s decision, Maine lawmakers enacted a crucial amendment to the state’s anti-discrimination law last year in order to counteract the expected ruling. The revised law forbids discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and it applies to every private school that chooses to accept public funds, without regard to religious affiliation.

The impact was immediate: The two religious schools at issue in the Carson case, Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy, said that they would decline state funds if, as Maine’s new law requires, accepting such funds would require them to change how they operate or alter their “admissions standards” to admit L.G.B.T.Q. students.

The legislative fix crafted by Maine lawmakers offers a model for lawmakers elsewhere who are alarmed by the court’s aggressive swing to the right. Maine’s example shows that those on the losing end of a case can often outmaneuver the court and avoid the consequences of a ruling.

No change of policy, no vouchers. This may itself end up in the courts, but we’ll see.

What about the approval of NY’s open carry law? States can severely limit which areas (universities, public transportation, and so on), and can also force gun owners to purchase firearm liability insurance.

As for today’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, states also have options, says Tang:

Lawmakers should act vigorously to ensure that abortion providers are able to serve out-of-state patients unable to obtain care in their home states. At the national level, the Biden administration should argue that Food and Drug Administration rules permitting the use of mifepristone to terminate a pregnancy override contrary state laws. Congress should also continue working to enact the Women’s Health Protection Act to enshrine a right to abortion as a matter of federal law, even though the filibuster remains an obstacle.

The problem, of course, is that none of the red states will want to act to neutralize these new laws, so things will wind up pretty much as we expect.

*But which states are likely to retain abortion provisions, and which likely to limit them severely or strike them down? Below is a map from the Washington Post that gives you an idea.

First, the key:

First, 13 states with “trigger bans,” designed to take effect as soon as Roe is overturned, will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next, with lawmakers moving to activate their dormant legislation. A handful of states also have pre-Roe abortion bans that could be brought back to life.

Elsewhere in the country, the post-Roe landscape is less certain.
Below, the “trigger states” are in red, states likely to ban abortion are in orange, ones likely to retain Roe-like standards are in purple, and those that are uncertain are in off-white. Note that if you’re a woman in the South or Southeast, you’re screwed. (Click to enlarge, and the map at the Post site is interactive, telling you what the laws are or what pending laws stipulate.

*Moving on The Economist has a gloomy editorial that judges both Biden and Harris as potential Democratic candidates for President in 2024, and finds both wanting. I agree, but who can we run?  My take is that Biden is too old and befuddled, as well as too woke, and Harris is simply ineffectual, and doesn’t get handed the nomination simply because she’s been VP. The Economist says this, among other things. A quote:

No Democrat relishes the idea of [Biden} fighting another presidential campaign.

Yet his aides have described plans for one—because if Mr Trump runs again, it seems Mr Biden wants to. He rightly fears a second Trump term would be calamitous; yet the fact that he thinks he is the likeliest impediment to that points to another Democratic problem. If Mr Biden steps aside, the vice-president, Kamala Harris, is expected to be the Democratic nominee. And many fear she would lose to Mr Trump or one of his imitators, because of another combination of dire fundamentals and poor political skills. If America was not ready for a woman president in 2016, it is probably no readier for a black woman now. And Ms Harris, a Californian progressive unused to competitive elections, was exposed during her brief primary tilt in 2019 as an awkward campaigner with few fixed views. Mr Biden shone by comparison.

The question, then, is can Democrats bypass them both? “Literally every conversation I’ve had with a Democrat over the past three months has started with this,” says a veteran activist. The conventional wisdom is, no. The diversity of the Democratic coalition makes its members cling to protocols, such as the vice-president’s claim to be next in line, as a defence against schism. And bypassing a black woman would outrage the identitarian left. Yet a growing sense of panic is challenging that view. A flurry of recent reports in the New York Times and elsewhere feature quotes from unnamed Democrats calling on Mr Biden not to run and for a competitive primary, in which Ms Harris could participate (and show off the skills her supporters will say she has acquired in the West Wing) if she wished.

They suggest either Bernie Sanders (no chance) or center-left candidates like Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, or Cory Booker. Make no mistake about it: I’m voting for any Democrat, but I wouldn’t mind filling in my dot for any of those last three.

*A bloodhound named Trumpet won the big prize—Best in Show—at the 146th competition of the Westminster Kennel Club D*G show. I believe it’s the first time a bloodhound has won this competition.

Rounding the finalists’ ring with a poised and powerful stride, Trumpet beat a French bulldog, a German shepherd, a Maltese, an English setter, a Samoyed and a Lakeland terrier to take the trophy.

“I was shocked,” said handler, co-breeder and co-owner Heather Helmer, who also goes by Heather Buehner. The competition was stiff, “and sometimes I feel the bloodhound is a bit of an underdog.”

After making dog show history, does Trumpet have a sense of how special he is?

“I think he does,” his Berlin Center, Ohio-based handler said.

After his victory, Trumpet posed patiently for countless photos, eventually starting to do what bloodhounds do best — sniff around. He examined some decorative flowers that had been set up for the pictures, not appearing to find anything of note.

*Finally, I call your attention to the Official Labsite Artist® Kelly Houle, who is selling her artwork to warm up and finance her big project of creating a huge illuminated manuscript of Darwin’s Origin. She does a nature painting a day (“Daily Paintworks”) that are auctioned on eBay and they’re quite lovely. Also, even at the “buy it now” price they are terrific bargains for the quality. See the list of her available Paintworks here, and she also has an etsy store with intriguing stuff. (Note: I don’t get any financial benefit from these sales!)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is inspecting the crops:

Hili: The raspberries will be ripe soon.
A: I’m afraid they won’t for another two weeks.
Hili: You may be mistaken.
In Polish:
Hili: Te maliny będą niedługo dojrzewać.
Ja: Obawiam się, że będą dojrzałe dopiero za dwa tygodnie.
Hili: Możesz się mylić.

Kulka and Szaron on the windowsill:




From reader Malcolm, a lovely ring:

From reddit. Turtle Fail, though a few manage to stay on the log:

🔥Turtles adjusting the center of balance to stay on the trunk🔥 from NatureIsFuckingLit

From Facebook, bringing zoology up to date:

Titania hasn’t tweeted in ages, and God’s tweets have suddenly become lame; I have no idea what happened. We await their revival. In the mantime, I scrounge (send me any good tweets you have).

Would you hold it, try the restrooms, or go in the bushes?

I was going to post about this article by J. K. Rowling, but I’ll let you read it for yourself (if you’re not paywalled(, adding only that a.) it’s very good and b.) it shows that the trans activists rushing to push “affirmative therapy” or hormone blockers on young people with gender issues are going to get a lot of pushback as the data come in.  Read some Jesse Singal if you want to see how “alternative facts” form a lot of this kind of ideology, and why careful and non-tendentious therapy is a better alternative than a rush to judgement.

From the Auschwitz Memorial, honoring Anne Frank and her diary (see above). There’s an actual photo of two of the pages below:

Tweets from Matthew. What is this first insect, not identified by the poster?

And another two beetle tweet I founs in the same thread. The translation of the first one:

“Males of Apoderus jekelii fight like comparing neck lengths. I think that the potter’s wheel is an extreme example, but it is no wonder that you can fly with such a neck and eat leaves. The female head is short, and the larger the male, the longer the neck (base of the head).”

The second one below is translated thus:

“By the way, Rokurokubi is not the Apoderus jekelii but the Apoderus jekelii. I think it’s closely related to Japanese Apoderus erythra. It has the same unusual silhouette, but the members of the Apoderus jekelii have a long chest, so it feels like a crane and is somewhat functional.”
This implies that the insect above is a beetle in the genus Apoderus.. Some of these do have long heads, but I would have thought that these individuals were weevils.

I wonder whether Watson and Crick were interested in this talk.

I tried to raise these, but despite the fact that I’m not bad at growing plants, I couldn’t keep these “living rocks” alive:

Watch closely to see the rapid (but not injurious) leopard attack:


San Francisco’s best public high school reinstates merit-based admissions after a lottery system produced miserable failure

June 24, 2022 • 1:00 pm

In May of last year I described the situation at Lowell High School in San Francisco, which had decided, for reasons we all know, to drop the merit-based admission system adopted in favor of a lottery system. Previously, Lowell was San Francisco’s best high school, the sixth best in California, and #82 in the national rankings.

You already know what happens when a school like Lowell prioritizes equity above merit in admissions. I quoted a yahoo! article at the time:

San Francisco’s Lowell High School, regarded as one of the best in the nation, is seeing a record spike in Ds and Fs among its first batch of students admitted in fall 2021 through a new lottery system instead of its decades-long merit-based admissions.

Of the 620 first-year students admitted through the lottery, nearly one in four (24.4%) received at least one letter grade of D or F in the said semester, according to internal records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. This marks a triple increase from 7.9% in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019.

Principal Joe Ryan Dominguez attributed the rise in failing grades to “too many variables.” Last month, Dominguez announced his resignation from the school district, citing a lack of “well organized systems, fiscal responsibility and sound instructional practices as the path towards equity.” [JAC: Donguez took over only last fall!]

The lottery system was born out of a long, contentious battle that began in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Proponents of the new system argue that the merit-based system was racist as it resulted in an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students, while opponents say it would harm Asian students – who make up the majority of Lowell’s population – and undermine the benefits of a competitive academic environment.

Discussions regarding a long-term policy are still being held. Outgoing District Superintendent Vincent Matthews has proposed an extension of the lottery system, while critics such as Members of the Friends of Lowell group and Lowell’s own Chinese Parent Advisory Council continue to lobby for the return of the old system.

The San Francisco School Board, which introduced the lottery system at Lowell, saw three of its members removed in February after a recall election initiated over misplaced priorities, including what many felt were “anti-Asian” policies.

The school’s principal resigned after only one year on the job.

Now sf.gate reports that the year of trial has resulted in a return to the system of merit-based admissions (click on screenshot):

An excerpt:

Lowell High School will return to academic-based admissions, the San Francisco Board of Education decided Wednesday evening in a 4-3 vote.

The board’s decision restores merit-based admissions for the 2023-24 school year at Lowell, which had been suspended during the pandemic in favor of lottery-based admissions.

The board had decided in early 2021 to make the lottery-based admissions permanent, but a Superior Court judge ruled late last year that the board had violated California’s open meeting law. The judge’s ruling came too late for the 2022 academic year.

The board’s vote on Wednesday turned down a recommendation from Superintendent Vince Matthews to keep the lottery system in place for another year.

The vote was pretty close, but still. . . .  What with the recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chelsea Boudin, maybe we have a glimmer of sanity peeking through the darkness.

What this vote and policy change means is what we all know: pure equity is incompatible with a merit-based system, simply because minorities don’t perform as well in schools, and thus don’t have credentials good enough for admission. As someone who favors some forms of affirmative action, I suggested some ways in my earlier post to make the system a bit more equitable, but I’m not fully happy with any of them. What will solve this problem is only one thing: setting in place equal opportunity for all at birth. And we’re decades away from that.

h/t: cesar

Roe v. Wade is history

June 24, 2022 • 11:09 am

Here’s the headline that we were fearing but expecting, especially given the earlier leak, but I suspect most of us are still depressed by it.

You can find the Court’s decision in Dobbs et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al. here (Alito wrote the majority opinion).

And click below to read the NYT article:

The vote was, as we knew it would be, 6-3, and you can find the decision here. What will happen now is that each state will make its own ruling, and states may even take steps to prevent its residents from going out of state to get an abortion.

A quote from the NYT:

The decision, which echoed a leaked draft opinion published by Politico in early May, will result in a starkly divided country in which abortion is severely restricted or forbidden in many red states but remains freely available in most blue ones.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voted with the majority but said he would have taken “a more measured course,” stopping short of overruling Roe outright. The court’s three liberal members dissented.

It’s a horrible day for America and especially for American women.  I will make just three points and let the readers discuss this.

1.)  Most Americans agree with Roe v. Wade. Of course, that doesn’t bear on its constitutionality, but you can make an argument that the right to privacy allows the government to legalize abortion. Here’s what CNN said an hour ago:

In a May CNN poll conducted immediately after the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion, Americans said, 66% to 34%, that they did not want the Supreme Court to completely overturn its decision. In CNN’s polling dating back to 1989, the share of the public in favor of completely overturning Roe has never risen above 36%.

Just 17% of Americans in the CNN poll said they’d be happy to see Roe vs. Wade overturned, with 12% saying they’d be satisfied, 21% that they’d be dissatisfied, 36% that they’d be angry, and 14% that they wouldn’t care. Most Democrats (59%) and nearly half of adults younger than 35 (48%) said they’d be angry. And a 59% majority of Americans said they’d support Congress passing a law to establish a nationwide right to abortion, with just 41% opposed.

2.) For a laugh, read what the 6 conservative justices who killed this precedent said during their hearings when asked about it. To a man and woman, they either equivocated or invoked stare decisis, i.e., respect precedent. They were lying; they knew how they would one day vote to overturn it. But of course you are expected to lie if you want that black robe.

3.) Some of the laws made by the red states, like the one already in force in Louisiana, will not allow abortions even in cases of incest or rape: a palpably immoral decision. Only Ceiling Cat knows the various restrictions that the Republicans have in store for controlling women’s reproduction.

We’ll all have more to say about this in the coming days, usually involving cursing Roberts et al. but now just react, vent your spleen, or whatever. It’s 6-3 against real progress from now on.

Oh, and then there’s this for “originalist” Thomas:

Yet another word for “women”

June 24, 2022 • 10:30 am

As you know, we have a spate of new words for “woman” or “women”, all devised to either efface the distinction between biological women and transwomen, or to include transmen (many of whom still have male genitals, have periods and can bear children) together in a group with biological women.

If you say, “trans women are women”, then you are forced to make up new words to refer to biological women who are physiologically and reproductively different from tranwomen. So far these words have included “people who menstruate”, “chestfeeder”, “womxn” and others I can’t recall.  Yet the activists haven’t seemed to settle on one word that fits all.

Lately they’ve added a new one as a euphemism for “biological women + transmen who can have children”. This was brought to my attention by Nellie Bowles, whose Friday weekly summaries on Bari Weiss’s Substack site are both informative and snarky.

Here’s from her latest summary (her emphasis):

New slur for women arrives: “Womb carriers.” You have to hate women a lot to refer to Native American women who suffered horrific abuse as “womb carriers.” Verso Books, the ultra-trendy Brooklyn publisher and cultural hub, brings us the latest slur for females.

Because nothing really disappears on the Internet, I found the Verso tweet, which they’ve apparently removed because so many people mocked or criticized the usage. Yes, the sterilization and forced adoption (as well as forced away-from-home schooling) of Native Americans in Canada and America are well known, and are reprehensible and immoral. The problem is with how “women” are semantically described. I’m wondering what J. K. Rowling will have to say about this. What you can’t deny is that “womb carriers” is simply a synonym for “biological women”.

Speaking of “womxn“, Bowles also reports there’s a controversy about how to pronounce it (I had the same issue with “Latinx”.) The word was, I believe, introduced by feminists to take the word “men” out of “women” or “man” out of “woman”, but now is also being used to include transwomen.


For some dark humor, take a look at University of California, Irvine’s Womxn’s Center, a publicly funded institution now debating how to pronounce womxn. So as not to leave out the blind community who can’t see the X, the new thinking is: “say it as wom-inx or woma/en-x, or wom-ux.” Wominx. Womux. (h/t Aaron Sibarium)

I never say either word, preferring “Hispanic” to “Latinx”, and I don’t think it’s in me to say “womb-carriers.”

Some humor brought to our attention by reader Jez:

Indigenous science center set up at Otago University before they could decide what “indigenous science” consists of

June 24, 2022 • 9:15 am

This short article from Stuff bears on the controversy about whether indigenous Māori “ways of knowing”, or Mātauranga Māori (“MM”)should be taught as science in New Zealand science classes. This is the Ardern government’s plan, and is supported by many Kiwi educators and educational administrators (see my many posts here). I oppose the teaching of MM in general in science classes, as most of it isn’t science.

Like all sensible people, I think that MM is an important part of the history, anthropology, and sociology of New Zealand, and should definitely be taught in classes within those areas. But only a small part of MM can be construed as science: its”practical science”, like how to grow crops or catch eels. The rest of MM is a gemisch of straight-out superstition, theology, legend, morality, and other non-science topic, yet those are to be seen as science as well. And MM is explicitly creationist. Do we want that taught in biology classes.

If you try to learn about MM, as I have, you’ll find it confusing, as different writers, including Māori writers, differ about exactly what MM is—and how much of it is “science”. Some say it’s all science and should be taught as such, others say that it’s completely different from modern science, and should not be equated with it.

This confusion is reflected in this short new article from the mainstream publication Stuff in NZ. Click to read for free:

The report is that Otago University (actually “The University of Otago” in Dunedin on NZ’s South Island) is starting a Centre for Indigenous Studies, which will either include or constitute (it’s not clear from the article) a “Centre for Indigenous Science”, which itself will be within the Division of Sciences.

The first bit of the report (not the liberal use of Māori words, most of which are unintelligible to non-Māori speakers in the country; it is a way of flaunting one’s virtue in respecting indigenous culture—at the expense of clarity.

It’s about being aspirational, inspirational and authentic – from next year, the University of Otago will offer students a different way of learning.

The Centre of Indigenous Studies – a first of its kind – will support and develop scholarship based on ngā kaupapa Māori, Associate Professor Anne-Marie Jackson (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu o Whangaroa, Ngāti Wai) says.

. . . At a minimum, it would be a nurturing environment for students, or tauira, who would be encouraged to contribute to their communities and the world as well as Māori research, she said.

. . .It would also normalise excellence.

“There might be a student, kid, or whānau member who sees us, and they can see themselves standing right where we are.

“We can teach anyone the academic skills… our graduates achieve highly in their work, but also come out the end of the process as a whole person with their mana intact.”

Indeed! Who would want their mana to be eroded?

But who could object to such a Centre, so long as it doesn’t confuse people about how much of MM is “modern science” and how much falls under anthropology, history or sociology? The problem is that the Centre’s founders don’t seem to have decided what indigenous science in New Zealand really is (my emphasis):

In a statement to media, Jackson said for the rest of the year, she and colleagues would speak with iwi and wider networks to settle on a shared understanding of what indigenous science looked like.

[JAC: “iwi” are large groupings of Maori into what is roughly equivalent to what used to be called “tribes” in the U.S.]

. . . What exactly will be offered is yet to be determined. Like Otago’s other centres, such as the Centre for Sustainability and Centre for Science Communication, it could offer postgraduate or specialist programmes.

The Centre of Indigenous Science would be based within the Division of Sciences. Division pro-vice-chancellor Professor Richard Barkersaid the centre’s time had come.

I think Professor Jackson and her colleagues have things backwards here. How can you set up a center for teaching Māori science when they haven’t settled what “indigenous science looks like”? What courses will they have?

This is of course a reflection of the confusion about the nature of “science” embedded in MM, but the fact that the Centres are done deals shows more than anything that their creation comes from ideology and not academic need or, indeed, scientific reality.  First get your ideology and definitions in place, and then shape the science curriculum to fit it.

There’s a bit more:

“As a country we need to value and apply more mātauranga to help address the biodiversity and climate crises. This is a huge moment for Otago and tertiary education worldwide.”

Maybe when they decide exactly what MM is, and how its rules and methods differ from that of “regular” modern science, they’ll figure out how it can give new insights into the climate and biodiversity crisis beyond that we have already.

One thing we know already: when Māori had sole control of the land, they weren’t any better stewards of the environment than were the “colonials”. the passage below is from the “effectiveness of environmental stewardship” part of the Wikipedia article on MM which, believe me, has been scrutinized anything that could be construed as anti-Māori:

Archeology and quaternary geology show that New Zealand’s natural environment changed significantly during the period of precolonial Māori occupation. This has led some academics to question the effectiveness of Māori traditional knowledge in managing the environment. The environmental changes are similar to those following human occupation in other parts of the world, including deforestation (approximately 50%), the loss of the megafauna, more general species extinctions and soil degradation due to agriculture. The models favoured by academics today describe precolonial Māori as accessing resources based on ease of access and energy return. This would have involved moving from one location or food source to another when the original one had become less rewarding. Historically academic models on precolonial environmental stewardship have been closely tied to the idea of the ‘Noble Savage’. and the now debunked hypothesis of multiple ethnicities being responsible for different aspects of New Zealand’s archeological record.

And of course they weren’t very good stewards of the flightless moas, driving all nine species of these magnificent flightless birds to extinction by clubbing them to death for food. I’m not denigrating this environmental degradation, for it was what was expedient at the time, and there was no study of conservation of extinction then.  But since an important part of MM is to pass on Māori tradition, we’ll need to know what unique insights MM now offers into biodiversity loss and global warming. Science has already given us a good idea of what causes these problems—anthropogenic greenhouse gases and habitat loss—and we need to know what new things Mãori science has to offer us.

In the meantime, Otago University had better get its curriculum and construal of MM into place—quickly!



Readers’ wildlife photos

June 24, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison. They’re birds, with one mammal thrown in for fun. Click the pictures to enlarge them.

BTW, I have enough photos for less than a week, so once again this feature is circling the drain.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, May 6-11, 2022

Malheur NWR, in the high sagebrush desert of southeastern Oregon, is, alas, recently best known for having its headquarters taken over in 2016 by anti-government extremists.  Much more significantly, it’s a migratory stopover on the Pacific Flyway and a rich breeding ground for resident wildlife.  Even in the current severe drought, snowmelt from 9,700-foot Steens Mountain provides water to the Donner und Blitzen River at the head of the refuge.  During our May visit, an unseasonable storm was the biggest challenge for the birds (and the birdwatchers).

Steens Mountain:

Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) in the snow:

Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) female in the snow:

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea), several hundred miles north of the species’ normal breeding range in the California Central Valley.  Maybe it got confused in the storm.

Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) singing on a rainy and snowy morning:

American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) huddling together for warmth… or is it love??

Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) nesting in a cave.  Look closely to see mom, dad, and a fluffy youngster:

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) on her nest:

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla):

MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei):

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger):

Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus):

Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis):

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia):

American Badger (Taxidea taxus):

Friday: Hili dialogue

June 24, 2022 • 6:30 am

Good morning on the TCCIF Day: Friday, June 24, 2022. It’s National Praline Day, celebrating the Southern confection that is the sweetest and most cloying of all candies (I love ’em!).

Source and recipe

It’s also St John’s Day and the second day of the Midsummer celebrations (although this is not the astronomical summer solstice, see June 20).  Here are the related holidays:

Stuff that happened on June 24 include:

  • 1314 – First War of Scottish Independence: The Battle of Bannockburn concludes with a decisive victory by Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce.
  • 1497 – John Cabot lands in North America at Newfoundland leading the first European exploration of the region since the Vikings.

We’re not sure where he landed, but Canada has designated this spot in Bonavista Bay as the Official Landing Site (see caption). It’s marked with a statue of Cabot:

(From Wikipedia): A statue of John Cabot gazing across Bonavista Bay in eastern Newfoundland

She was queen for 24 years; here’s a painting from 1580:

  • 1880 – First performance of O Canada at the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français. The song would later become the national anthem of Canada.
  • 1916 – Mary Pickford becomes the first female film star to sign a million-dollar contract.

Here’s Pickford in the year she signed that contract, and she has a cat!

The details: “On June 24, 1947 Kenneth Arnold claimed that he saw a string of nine, shiny unidentified flying objects flying past Mount Rainier at speeds that Arnold estimated at a minimum of 1,200 miles an hour (1,932 km/hr).”  The story gets quite complicated, but seems likely it was either a fraud or a mistake.

  • 1950 – Apartheid: In South Africa, the Group Areas Act is passed, formally segregating races.

Ironically, exactly 45 years later there was a moment of reconciliation, involving (of course) the great Nelson Mandela.

And here’s a video of the moment of victory and the presentation of the trophy. As Wikipedia says, “During the remarkable post-match presentation ceremony Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey bearing Pienaar’s number, presented him with the Webb Ellis Cup. During his acceptance speech, Pienaar made it clear that the team had won the trophy not just for the 60,000 fans at Ellis Park, but also for all 43,000,000 South Africans.”

How long was it? Over 11 hours! From Wikipedia (my emphasis):

The match began at 6:13 pm (British Summer Time, or 17:13 UTC) on Tuesday, 22 June 2010, on Court 18 at Wimbledon. At 9:07 pm, due to the fading daylight, play was suspended before the start of the fifth set. After resuming on Wednesday, 23 June, at 2:05 pm, the record for longest match was broken at 5:45 pm. Play continued until the final set was tied at 59 games all, at which point the daylight faded again, and so play was suspended once more at 9:09 pm. Play resumed again at 3:40 pm on Thursday, 24 June, and eventually Isner won the match at 4:47 pm, the final set having lasted for 8 hours, 11 minutes.

In total, the match took 11 hours, 5 minutes of play over three days, with a final score of 6–4, 3–6, 6–7, 7–6, 70–68 for a total of 183 games. It remains, by far, the longest match in tennis history, measured both by time duration and also by number of games. The final set alone was longer than the previous record for longest match.

Here’s a 9-minute summary of the match (the end is at 2:55):

Because this is a subspecies (all Galápagos tortoises are considered members of the same species, C. nigra), it may be possible to resurrect this genetically differentiated population because individuals highly related to George’s population (perhaps discards from sailors over a century ago) have been found on Wolf Island.

Here’s a photo of Lonesome George at Galápagos National Park headquarters in 2006. He was probably 101 or 102 years old.

Here’s a photo clearly showing the partial collapse. It doesn’t seem like this happened a year ago, does it?

Da Nooz:

*The Senate passed the bipartisan gun bill, assuring it will become law. The vote was 65-33, and even Mitch “666” McConnell voted with the Dems. The stipulations:

It would enhance background checks for prospective gun buyers ages 18 to 21, requiring for the first time that juvenile records, including mental health records beginning at age 16, be vetted for potentially disqualifying material. The bill would provide incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws that allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed by a judge to be too dangerous to possess them. And it would tighten a federal ban on domestic abusers buying firearms, and strengthen laws against straw purchasing and trafficking of guns.

It also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for mental health programs and to beef up security in schools.

Don’t expect the Republicans to allow tighter regulations to be passed in the future.

*I haven’t seen the January 6 hearings in Congress today, but I’ve been reading about them. And the noose is tightening around Trump’s neck. Today’s hearing apparently centered on the way Trump tried to manipulate the Department of Justice into overturning the election. This may be the straw that brings the indictment, as he apparently pressured several officials. Here’s a bad one:

Shortly before the attack on Congress, senior Justice Department officials resisted Trump’s attempt to oust the acting head of the department, Jeffrey Rosen, if Rosen didn’t agree to have the agency publicly suggest that the election results were invalid.

“The president didn’t care about actually investigating the facts,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who helped lead the hearing, said Thursday. “He just wanted the Department of Justice to put its stamp of approval on the lies.”

Rosen testified Thursday that the Justice Department “held firm” against political pressure to take sides over the 2020 election results. Rosen said he told Trump that the department could not seize voting machines from the states because there was nothing wrong with the machines; Trump grew agitated.

Rosen wasn’t the only DoJ official pressured by Trump.

The GOP was dead wrong that nobody would pay attention to the hearings. It’s revelations like this one that are turning the public against Trump.

*But wait! It gets worse! The feds searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, a DoJ official whom Trump decided to designate as “acting Attorney General” in hopes that Clark would help overturn Biden’s election. Searches imply warrants and warrants could lead to charges.

Federal investigators searched the home of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark this week, according to a person familiar with the matter, in an escalation of an inquiry into efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Investigators searched Mr. Clark’s suburban Virginia home on Wednesday, said the person, who declined to say what specific items investigators were trying to obtain. The search came in advance of Thursday’s hearing by the House Jan. 6 select committee focusing on Mr. Trump’s efforts to enlist senior Justice Department officials, including the acting attorney general, into a wide-ranging effort to stop Joe Biden from becoming president.

The Justice Department is conducting its own parallel investigation of Jan. 6 separate from the House committee. The raid of Mr. Clark’s house is the clearest indication yet that prosecutors have moved beyond the violence at the Capitol itself and are examining the actions of senior officials involved in Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in office.

I swear: Merrick Garland is going to hand down some indictments.

*In another 6-3 ruling (get used to that vote), the Supreme Court has struck down New York State’s law that a citizen who wishes to carry a concealed handgun in public must show a special need to do so. (The opinion, written by Clarence Thomas, is here. Guess who dissented!)

The 6-3 ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, is the court’s first significant decision on gun rights in over a decade. In a far-reaching ruling, the court made clear that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right “to keep and bear arms” protects a broad right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense. Going forward, Thomas explained, courts should uphold gun restrictions only if there is a tradition of such regulation in U.S. history.

The state law at the heart of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen required anyone who wants to carry a concealed handgun outside the home to show “proper cause” for the license. New York courts interpreted that phrase to require applicants to show more than a general desire to protect themselves or their property. Instead, applicants must demonstrate a special need for self-defense – for example, a pattern of physical threats. Several other states, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, impose similar restrictions, as do many cities.

The lower courts upheld the New York law against a challenge from two men whose applications for concealed-carry licenses were denied. But on Thursday, the Supreme Court tossed out the law in an ideologically divided 63-page opinion.

*The NYT reports an explanation by Thomas that appears buy the widest possible interpretation of the Second Amendment:

Justice Thomas wrote that citizens may not be required to explain to the government why they sought to exercise a constitutional right.

“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” he wrote.

*From Ken:

The federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc has reversed an earlier 2-1 panel decision holding that an Arkansas law requiring that state contractors pledge not to participate in the BDS boycott of Israel violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. The en banc court’s rationale is that such boycotts constitute mere “economic activity” rather than “speech.”
The decision runs contrary to a long national tradition of treating political boycotts as speech. It also seems inconsistent with the US Supreme Court’s holding in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) that spending money on political causes constitutes protected free speech.
I expect this issue may require resolution by SCOTUS.
Stay tuned.

*You know of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, the state’s premier college (“The Buckeyes”). Well, did you know that its official name is really “The Ohio State University”, and the school just patented the word “The”? (Even the schools the Wikipedia entry is under “Ohio State University” without the article.) They need to protect their brand!

The Ohio State University has successfully trademarked the word “THE,” in a victory for the college and its branding that is sure to produce eye rolls from Michigan fans and other rivals.

Stating the full name of the school has become a point of pride for Ohio State’s athletes when introducing themselves on television during games. The three-letter article “THE” has also become an important part of the school’s merchandise and apparel.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved Ohio State’s application Tuesday. The trademark applies to T-shirts, baseball caps and hats.

. . .For Ohio State, the university doesn’t have an absolute right to use the word “THE” on apparel, Mr. Gerben said. There are numerous other trademark registrations that include the word “THE” in clothing as part of a phrase.

The trademark, however, could stop another party from using just the word “THE” as the name of a brand, he said.

LOL!!!  The wags immediately emerged on Twitter:

Reactions from a patent attorney:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili apparently foraged for her own wild dinner:

A: Breakfast?
Hili: I already had my breakfast on the grass, now I will have a nap.
In Polish:
Ja: Śniadanie?
Hili: Już jadłam śniadanie na trawie, teraz się prześpię.
And a photo of Szaron:


A groaner from Bruce:

From Merilee. And yes, you can buy one for your d*g:

From Gregory.  I’d ask what the Mormons had been drinking when they made this code, but they don’t drink. “BYU” is, of course, Brigham Young University.

New Israeli fighter pilots:

Irrefutable proof that rock and pop music have gone way downhill!


Really cool animal living in the skin of another. Phronima (note spelling) is a genus of deep-sea amphipod. Watch the video!

From Simon: Raptors are really good at this:

Do I have to say again that cats are smart? Remember the tweet the other day when a cat feigned a leg injury so he could get inside?

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a sad tale of escapees:

Tweets from Matthew. Sound up to hear the baby sloth:

RIP Mr./Ms. Clam! How did they now it was dead, and, most important, how do they know it died of “natural causes”?

An invasive species. How did it get here?