Meet the new Botany Pond babies!

June 13, 2021 • 2:15 pm

Meet Shirley Rose with her ten ducklings, who jumped down to the pond on June 3:

The “fam” resting in a clump on the grass. Doesn’t Shirley Rose look proud? She’s been a great mother, defending her brood against all comers and rounding up any straggler ducklings who get lost and peep piteously for mom.

Why did the duckings cross the road? Who knows? Note the duckling stopping to drink from a mud puddle.

And the gang foraging in the grass at 13 days old. Their peeping is endearing.

Misty (named after the ballerina Misty Copeland because of the hen’s graceful neck and demeanor) hung around the pond all spring, and we didn’t really want another duck breeding there, so we never fed her. Nevertheless, she persisted, eking out stray duck pellets and nesting somewhere we don’t know. She appeared at the pond with five gorgeous ducklings on May 28, two days before Shirley’s brood appeared. Fortunately, the two groups managed to keep themselves sorted out, and there was no rancor (or ducknapping) between the broods. Both Misty and Shirley Rose are terrific moms.

Meet Misty & Co.: The very first few minutes in the water after their big morning leap:

Mom anxiously overlooking her brood:

Resting under the apple tree with Mom just two days ago, when it was hot. It’s easy to miss them as they’re cryptically colored, and the yellow and brown pattern makes the ducklings look like sun-dappled forest floor:

An afternoon nap:

Misty giving her babies diving lessons on June 4, when they were just a week old:

One day later, the brood practices more dives. A big ol’ turtle nearby doesn’t care. Video by Jean Greenberg.

The two broods near each other on June 2. Misty’s are five days old, Shirley’s only three. Video by Jean Greenberg:

Should police and the media release the ethnicity of unapprehended criminal suspects?

June 13, 2021 • 12:30 pm

To me the answer to the question above is a no-brainer: “Of course.” If someone who did a crime is on the loose, then anything that might help apprehend him (most criminals are men) could be useful. That includes height, weight, presence of glasses, facial hair, clothing, and ethnicity. In fact, of all of these identifiers, ethnicity is the hardest to change if you’re fleeing the cops.

And yet the media often (as in this case) quails at specifying the ethnicity of perps, as if somehow that would lead to stereotyping. But I don’t see how it could, unless it simply reinforces those bigots who would say, “See, another X did a crime.” But bigots don’t become more bigoted that way, and it seems to me that the advantage of helping police apprehend a criminal outweighs any considerations of reinforcing racism.

In fact, in this case the newspaper at issue refused to report any identifying information (though clearly race was the hot button) even though the cops already had. And they explained that they left out the information because it might “reinforce stereotypes.” Right then and there you know the criminal is black or Hisptanic.

The incident was the mass shooting in Austin Texas on Friday night, a shooting that injured 30 people, two critically. Here’s the first report (now archived) of two suspects on the loose from the Austin American-Statesman (click on screenshot)

Notice that this was published Saturday morning.  At the bottom of the article, however, is this “editor’s note”:

But in fact the description isn’t too vague to help cops apprehend the suspect, or the public to identify him.  Below is the bulletin issued yesterday morning by the Austin Police Department with the “vague description of the suspected shooter” (click on screenshot). It’s not that vague, and says that one suspect is “described as a black male, with dread locks [sic], wearing a black shirt and a skinny build.”  Surely this is of value in helping apprehend somebody. If someone is caught but doesn’t have dreadlocks, it would be easy to find out if he had them right before the shooting.

The paper clearly saw the police report, which came out the same day as the article above, and I strongly suspect that the paper didn’t describe the one suspect (not yet apprehended when the article came out) not because of vagueness, but because the suspect was an African-American. In fact, I know this is the reason because the newspaper says so: publication of the description “could be harmful in perpetuating stereotypes.”  As I said, this is a strong clue that the suspect is either black or Hispanic, so the disclaimer above is doubly ludicrous.

Here’s the police report.

When the suspect was arrested, a later report in the paper (curiously, with the same time of filing) still does not give details of who the suspect is (which is now less relevant except for those who keep track of race). But it has exactly the same disclaimer at the bottom! That makes even less sense.

While there’s no pressing need for a paper to describe someone who’s apprehended, I highly doubt that they’re withholding information because it could “perpetuate harmful stereotypes.” Instead, they’re withholding it because they think the paper will look racist if it identifies an apprehended suspect as an African American.

And their claim that “We will update our reporting” goes up there with “the check is in the mail” as One Big Lie. Remember, we’re talking about a mass shooter here, not a shoplifter or petty burglar.

The updated report:

I’ve seen the unwillingness to identify the ethnicity of unapprehended suspects in other media reports, but that often involves simply omitting identifying details rather than making an explicit statement about why they’re doing it.

We’ve come to a pretty pass when the fear of being called “racist” is so strong that it keeps journalists from giving information that might reduce crime. But sometimes criminal justice must outweigh social justice, particularly when the latter is—as it is here—misguided.

Punctuated equilibrium is dead; long live the Modern Synthesis

June 13, 2021 • 9:30 am

“If [Ernst] Mayr’s characterization of the synthetic theory [of evolution] is accurate, then that theory, as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy”.—Gould, 1980

“If Steve Gould’s characterization of punctuated equilibrium involves the evolutionary mechanisms that he and Niles Eldredge proposed, then that theory, as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence in Gould’s writings.”—Coyne, this post

Punctuated equilibrium (PE) was first proposed in a paper by Niles Eldredge and Steve Gould (“E&G”; reference below) in 1972, the year before I entered graduate school. When I entered Harvard in 1973  it was a huge deal, heavily promoted by Gould, a professor in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, as a replacement for the view of evolution most people held (“neo-Darwinism).  Not a little of the theory’s popularity came from Gould’s nonstop promotion of it as well as his extraordinary ability to write popular science.

At first the theory was largely about the pace of evolution. Instead of imperceptibly gradual change in a species over time (the view Darwin proposed, though Darwin did note in the Origin that evolution could also be rapid), Eldredge and Gould proposed that the pace of evolution was jerky, with big changes occurring relatively rapidly over evolutionary time little evolution happening the rest of the time. (This of course concerned only morphology, and was tested largely using hard parts—the parts most often preserved in fossils.)

Most of us microevolutionists were willing to go with the data, and some fossil data did seem to show an episodic pattern of morphological change. But of course there was argument about this, for what constitutes “big” versus “small” change in fossils? Further, the fossil record is often incomplete, so missing strata can make a gradual change look like a near-instantaneous big change.

Nevertheless, the theory that the pace of evolution could vary widely sat comfortably within the neo-Darwinian paradigm, which predicts that change will be rapid when natural selection is strong, and small when selection is weak or nonexistent. I remain open about the prevalence of the pattern, for I don’t know all the data.

But, over time, PE became more than a hypothesis about the relative rate of evolutionary change in fossil lineages. It morphed into a theory of evolutionary process—a theory that was pretty much “non-neo-Darwinian” and also much more controversial. And while the pattern may be right, the processes proposed by E&G are so wrong that I’d call them “definitively falsified”.

Over time, the following six assertions became part of Gould and Eldredge’s theory, and were proposed by the pair themselves:

a.) The claimed observation that most of the times species in the fossil record didn’t change (i.e., exhibited “stasis”) was not due to weak selection or an absence of selection, nor was it due to “stabilizing selection”: the kind of selection in which the average character in a population is the most fit, and extremes are selected against. That is the classic explanation for a lack of evolutionary change over time. These explanation were rejected by E&G in favor of two other explanations:

1.) Organisms have “developmental constraints”: there may be selection, say, to make individuals of a species bigger, but the species doesn’t get bigger because it either lacked genetic variation for bigger size or, alternatively, attaining a bigger size would have negative effects on the average fitness of the species (for example, if food is scarce, getting bigger might lead to faster starvation).

2.) Gene flow among populations of a species means that no population could change in response to local selection pressures because there was a constant influx of genes from other populations that didn’t experience such selection. This constant mixing of genes from populations undergoing different forms of selection averaged out to no net change in the appearance of a fossil species.

b.) Punctuated change in morphology can occur only when the genome is somehow “shaken up”, and this shake-up occurs during speciation events—when one lineage branches into two or more lineages. Absent such splitting events, a species stays static.

c.) The genomic discombobulation that somehow releases a species from its stasis—that is, loosens the developmental constraints—occurs when, as supposedly happens during most speciation events—a small peripheral population undergoes a form of “genetic revolution”, a kind of speciation in which reproductive barriers arise during an interaction between natural selection and genetic drift (random changes in the proportion of gene variants that are most prevalent in small populations.) At the time of this theory, several evolutionists, including Sewall Wright and Hampton Carson, had proposed that some types of evolutionary change require genetic drift in small populations. Without those population “bottlenecks”, these proponents said, species don’t change much. E&G drew on these ideas to buttress the episodic nature of evolution. One problem here is that there was and is little evidence that this kind of drift-associated change occurs, and almost no evidence that it’s ever associated with the appearance of a new species. Evolutionists have repeatedly put species through extreme bottlenecks—as few as two individuals—and have never seen that lead to even the beginning of reproductive isolation. (Reproductive isolation is the sine qua non of speciation to evolutionists.)

d). These claims all combine in the following way to lead to a punctuated evolutionary pattern. A big, widespread species is resistant to evolutionary change for the reasons mentioned above. Then, a small peripheral isolate population, cut off from the rest of the species, forms. Being small, it undergoes genetic drift, which releases the evolutionary constraints and allows the isolate to undergo rapid and substantial evolution.  Eventually, the isolate rejoins the main population, but by that time it’s evolved reproductive isolation from the other populations and is thus a new species. For reasons unexplained, the isolate quickly replaces the other populations. And voilà!—one sees a big change in the fossil record as the small and changed population supplants its ancestral species.

e.) But there’s another way that big morphological change can occur rapidly, too—one that was promoted by Gould: macromutation. This is the notion that changes in an animal’s appearance, behavior, physiology, and so on, don’t need to occur in small, incremental steps (the “Darwinian” pattern) but can occur via mutations that make big jumps, creating “hopeful monsters” (“saltations”). This idea was popularized by Richard Goldschmidt in the 1930s, and was revived by Gould in PE. Gould, for example, said this in a 1982 paper in Science.

 I envisage a potential saltational origin for the essential features of key adaptations. Why may we not imagine that gill arch bones of an ancestral agnathan moved forward in one step to surround the mouth and form proto-jaws? (Gould, 1980)

When called out for the absence of adaptations based on such huge mutations, Eldredge and Gould backtracked, claiming that PE was “never meant as a saltational theory”.  As you see, and this is true of other parts of PE, Gould in particular waffled about what the mechanisms of episodic fossil change really were.

f.) One of the most important parts of PE, worked out largely by Gould, was the claim that major features of adaptive evolution, and evolutionary trends in general, like the increase in body size in many lineages (“Cope’s Rule”) was due to species selection. This is a process of differential speciation and extinction that is said to occur not within species (that’s just classical Darwinism), but among species.  A further claim was that the changes within species had little to do with selection itself (they may have resulted from drift)—or at least little to do with the process of differential speciation and extinction.

So, for example, an increase in body size among a group of mammals over time would be explained by species selection this way: each species attains its average body size either by drift or by forms of selection that have no relationship with the persistence, speciation rate, or extinction of species. But it may happen that, for other reasons, the biggest species either speciate faster or go extinct more slowly. Over time, then, we’d see a pattern among lineages of an increase in body size, but this has nothing to do with classical Darwinian selection on gene forms.

The problem with this is that species selection cannot account for complex adaptations like jaws so easily. Each feature of an adaptation would have to evolve by a process of differential extinction or speciation, and evolving a complex adaptation would take a gazillion years.  That’s because species selection is much slower than individual Darwinian selection since the former relies on replacement of species over evolutionary time, while the latter relies on the rapid replacement of gene forms within a species, which can occur over a few thousand generations or fewer. Further, the evidence for species selection as a general explanation of evolutionary trends is very thin. In his last big book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a 1400-page, poorly written monster that I actually read (and wish I hadn’t), Gould winds up admitting that he can’t adduce a single good example of species selection. However, in the last chapter of my book with Allen Orr, Speciation, we do make a case that a limited form of species selection may operate in nature and can explain evolutionary trends but not adaptations themselves. Species selection is just not as ubiquitous as Gould thought.


So apart from a) and the presence of genetic drift, virtually every part of PE is “non-neo-Darwinian”: processes that aren’t considered widely as part of the modern evolutionary synthesis. That doesn’t mean that they’re wrong, but when examined closely, the evidence for these ancillary assertions is virtually nonexistent. Although to G&E, PE represented a Kuhnian “paradigm shift”, closer examination shows that these components (peak shifts, connection of morphological change with speciation, restriction of response to selection by developmental constraints, saltation, widespread species selection etc., etc.) are individually not common, and in tandem seem impossible to form the basis of a convincing theory. Despite that, Gould claimed that PE put neo-Darwinism to rest (see his quote at the top of the article).

Now I could write in detail why the assertions above are dubious, and why PE as a mechanism of evolutionary change is almost certainly wrong, bu that case has already been made. It was first made by three of my colleagues, Brian Charlesworth, Russ Lande, and Monty Slatkin, in a 1982 paper in Evolution that pretty much put the mechanism of PE to rest. You can read that paper below; it’s a classic not of modern evolutionary genetics, and also a paradigm of close examination and debunking of a popular theory (click on screenshot for the pdf). The debunking involved a massive mustering of evidence from genetics, population-genetic theory, laboratory experiments, field experiments, artificial selection, and geology. The last bit of their conclusions says this:

We have also demonstrated, as has Orzack (1981), that punctuationists have often severely distorted the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Punctuationists are mainly criticizing oversimplified versions of neo-Darwinism (which are currently popular in some fields) rather than the original statements of this theory and the evidence which has been used to support it. Furthermore, some of the genetic mechanisms that have been proposed to explain the abrupt appearance and prolonged stasis of many fossil species are conspicuously lacking in empirical support. Thus, we do not feel logically compelled to abandon neo-Darwinism in favor of the theory of punctuated equilibria.

This paper of Charlesworth et al. was expanded and brought up to date by the new “Perspectives” paper of Hancock et al. in Evolution (reference below, pdf here).

And here is the abstract, supporting the conclusions of Charlesworth et al. (my emphasis)

The Modern Synthesis (or “Neo-Darwinism”), which arose out of the reconciliation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Mendel’s research on genetics, remains the foundation of evolutionary theory. However, since its inception, it has been a lightning rod for criticism, which has ranged from minor quibbles to complete dismissal. Among the most famous of the critics was Stephen Jay Gould, who, in 1980, proclaimed that the Modern Synthesis was “effectively dead.” Gould and others claimed that the action of natural selection on random mutations was insufficient on its own to explain patterns of macroevolutionary diversity and divergence, and that new processes were required to explain findings from the fossil record. In 1982, Charlesworth, Lande, and Slatkin published a response to this critique in Evolution, in which they argued that Neo-Darwinism was indeed sufficient to explain macroevolutionary patterns. In this Perspective for the 75th Anniversary of the Society for the Study of Evolution, we review Charlesworth et al. in its historical context and provide modern support for their arguments. We emphasize the importance of microevolutionary processes in the study of macroevolutionary patterns. Ultimately, we conclude that punctuated equilibrium did not represent a major revolution in evolutionary biology – although debate on this point stimulated significant research and furthered the field – and that Neo-Darwinism is alive and well.

So the best you can say about the mechanism of PE, a claim I’ve heard many times, was that it furthered the field of paleobiology—brought paleontology to the “high table of evolutionary biology”, as someone asserted. Well, while it did stimulate debate about the relative frequency of rapid versus gradual change in the fossil record, the falsity of its claims about mechanism was already known to evolutionary geneticists when PE was first proposed! Charleworth et al. simply collected all the theoretical and empirical work that showed the falsity of the mechanism.

I remember debating this issue with Steve Gould in our conference room at Harvard, asking him to explain the details of PE’s mechanism. Gould got more and more exercised, and wound up tarring me by telling me that I was just a “hidebound gradualist.”  I still wear that label with pride.

Later, Brian Charlesworth and I had several exchanges criticizing PE in the journal Science (see Coyne and Charlesworth references below).

It apparently wasn’t enough for E&G to point out a pattern in the fossil record that might have been real (I still don’t know how ubiquitous “jerky” evolution is). No, they wanted to go further—to be Kuhnians and tear down the wall of evolutionary theory, erecting the new paradigm of PE in its place. Well, such an endeavor is fine, but the new paradigm hasn’t worn well, and in fact was stillborn when first proposed.

I’m not sure whether paleobiologists still teach punctuated equilibrium as a viable theory, but if you hear that claim, remember this: PE as a pattern in the fossil record may well be correct, but as a mechanism of evolutionary change is “not even wrong.”

Addendum: I don’t want to go through the Charlesworth et al. and Hancock et al. papers in detail, as you can read them for yourselves. But if you have specific questions about the mechanism of PE that I can answer briefly, put them in the comments.

Stephen Jay Gould (left) and Niles Eldredge (right) flanking their mentor, Norman D. Newell (seated) on the occasion of Dr. Newell’s 90th birthday celebration at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in February, 1999. Photo by Gillian Newell. Source.


Charlesworth, B.R. Lande, and M. Slatkin1982 A Neo-Darwinian commentary on macroevolutionEvolution 36474– 498.

Coyne, J. A. and B. Charlesworth.  1996.  Mechanisms of punctuated evolution (technical comment). Science 274:1748-1749. (includes response by Elena et al.)

Coyne, J. A. and B. Charlesworth. 1997.  Punctuated equilibria (technical comment).  Science 276:338-340.

Eldredge, N. and S. J. Gould. 1972. Punctuated equilibria:  An alternative to phyletic gradualism. Pp. 82-115 in T. J. M. Schopf, ed. Models in Paleobiology. Freeman, Cooper, San Francisco.

Gould, S. J. 1980. Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?. Paleobiology 6 119-130.

Hancock, Z.B., Lehmberg, E.S. and Bradburd, G.S. (2021), Neo-darwinism still haunts evolutionary theory: A modern perspective on Charlesworth, Lande, and Slatkin (1982). Evolution.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 13, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today is Sunday, and so we have a themed collection of bird photos from John Avise. His IDs and captions are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.

Birds with State Names

For the past three Sundays, Jerry has posted my photographs of official State Birds.  This week’s post features several avian species that are not the official bird of the state but nevertheless bear a state’s common (and sometimes Latin) name.  (Note that for the two Carolina species pictured, North or South are not specified in the monikers.  And remember also the odd fact that the California Gull is the official State Bird of Utah!). [JAC: You should know the story about how the gull became Utah’s state bird.]

California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus:

California Condor, head portrait:

California Gnatcatcher, Polioptila californica:

California Gull, Larus californicus:

California Thrasher, Toxostoma redivivum:

California Thrasher, head portrait:

California Towhee, Pipilo crissalis:

Another California Towhee:

Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis:

Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus:

Florida Scrub-Jay, Aphelocoma coerulescens:

Louisiana Waterthrush, Seiurus motacilla:

Tennessee Warbler, Vermivora peregrina:

Tricolored Heron (formerly Louisiana Heron), Egretta tricolor:

“Oregon Junco” (actually a distinctive race of the Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis):

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola:

Sunday: Hili dialogue

June 13, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Sunday, June 13, 2021: Cupcake Lover’s Day (again, the apostrophe implies that only a single lover of cupcakes is being honored). It’s also National Children’s Day, Weed Your Garden Day, World Softball Day, and Race Unity Day.

Wine of the Day: I wanted a good heavy red to go with my weekly steak, and I had a hankering for my first love: the Rhones. Lord knows when I bought this bottle, but the price is written on the label along with the advice “decant”, meaning the wine store guy probably told me that this would have a sediment. Well, it had better, being an 11-year-old southern Rhone.

I just looked up my favorite wine guy’s assessment of this wine, which is this:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
The powerful, rich 2010 Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Anonyme reveals an off-the-chart level of extract, lots of glycerin (nearly 16% natural alcohol) and copious black cherry, blueberry, forest floor, lavender and graphite characteristics. This full-throttle red requires 3-4 years of cellaring and should keep for two decades.
Rating: 95+
(For Parker, a rating that high means a spectacular wine.) I’m not going to say I detected lavender and graphite, but there was a hint of loam from Northern Ireland, damp grizzly bear fur, and, seriously, dark black cherry. The wine was dark ruby, could evolve for some additional years, and the second glass was much better than the first. I put it under vacuum and left it for tomorrow, when I expect it will be even better.

News of the Day:

Yes, there were three mass shootings on Friday night in three separate states, with two killed and at least 30 injured.

Austin, Texas: 14 wounded, two critically
Savannah, Georgia: one killed and seven wounded
Chicago, Illinois: one killed, nine wounded

As Neil Young sang in “Ohio,” “How many more?” Or to quote Bob Dylan, “How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died.”

CNN reports that a scuba diver got swallowed by a humpback whale and spent 30 seconds in the whale’s mouth before the leviathan spit him out! Michael Packard, a lobster diver, was ingested about 45 feet down before the whale realized it had bit on something it couldn’t chew. This situation seems to be a first, though there wasn’t really any danger of Packard being swallowed since the throat of humpbacks are too narrow to accommodate humans.   (h/t: Bill, who adds, “I’m sure those in the Abrahamic tradition will use this story as affirmation of the story of Jonah.”)

An op-ed by Timothy Egan in the NYT, “Biden may be the calm between two storms“, warns of Democratic wokeness sabotaging our chances of governing the country by losing elections in 2022 or 2024. The message: stay on positive accomplishments like economics and vaccination, and stay away from defunding the police and forcing schools to teach CRT.

Bad idea of the year department: An old plantation in North Carolina tweeted this, canceling the Juneteenth event meant, as reader Ken says, “commemorate the hardships that Emancipation visited upon plantation owners and returning Confederate soldiers.” OY!  You can read more about this misstep, and the troubles ahead for Latta Plantation, here.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 599,678, an increase of 384 deaths over yesterday’s figure. We will pass 600,000 deaths by tomorrow or Tuesday.  The reported world death toll is now 3,811,523, an increase of about 9,700 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on June 13 includes:

Here’s a portrait of “Die Luterin”, as von Bora was called, painted during her lifetime by Lucas von Cranach the Elder.  She helped Luther develop important elements of his new doctrine, and they even had kids (are there any Luthers left?)

  • 1774 – Rhode Island becomes the first of Britain’s North American colonies to ban the importation of slaves.
  • 1893 – Grover Cleveland notices a rough spot in his mouth and on July 1 undergoes secret, successful surgery to remove a large, cancerous portion of his jaw; the operation was not revealed to the public until 1917, nine years after the president’s death.

Here’s the last known photograph of Cleveland, taken the year before he died (1907). Note, though, that Wikipedia says it was not a cancer but a benign epithelioma. Fix it, Wikipedia!

  • 1898 – Yukon Territory is formed, with Dawson chosen as its capital.
  • 1927 – Aviator Charles Lindbergh receives a ticker tape parade down 5th Avenue in New York City.

Here’s a film of that parade, though the sound cuts out after about five seconds (it resumes after a minute):

Here’s Marshall in 1957. As a lawyer, he’d successfully argued the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which eliminated segergation in public schools, before the Supreme Court.

Here’s the Times’s front-page article about the papers:

  • 1997 – A jury sentences Timothy McVeigh to death for his part in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1831 – James Clerk Maxwell, Scottish physicist and mathematician (d. 1879)
  • 1865 – W. B. Yeats, Irish poet and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1939)

Here’s Yeats (one of my favorite poets) as a young man; there’s no date for this photo. Irish poets learn your trade!

  • 1897 – Paavo Nurmi, Finnish runner and coach (d. 1973)
  • 1918 – Ben Johnson, American actor and stuntman (d. 1996)

I will keep showing this scene from The Last Picture Show with Ben Johnson starring as Sam the Lion. This is his Soliloquy at the Water Tank, just as good as any soliloquy of Shakespeare. (Johnson won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role).

Those who “passed” on June 13 include:

  • 1965 – Martin Buber, Austrian-Israeli philosopher and theologian (b. 1878)


  • 1986 – Benny Goodman, American clarinet player, songwriter, and bandleader (b. 1909)
  • 2010 – Jimmy Dean, American singer and businessman, founded Jimmy Dean Foods (b. 1928)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili is impatiently waiting on the windowsill to come inside (Andrzej has to go out and carry her in; she refuses to walk in on her own!)

Hili: Could you let me inside?
A: Wait. I will just finish this sentence.
Hili: You always have excuses.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy możesz wpuścić mnie do domu?
Ja: Zaczekaj, tylko dokończę to zdanie.
Hili: Zawsze masz jakieś wymówki.


From Facebook:

From Bruce:

A groaner from Nicole:

This tweet was sent to me by reader Jay (I retweeted it; do read the article), who adds “Twitter is now hiding links to the article as ‘potentially sensitive content.'” What the hell?

Two tweets from Ginger K.  The first is via our friend Masih, showing the natural reaction to being forced to cover your head for school.

And some science:

Tweets from Matthew. This quote comes from a contrarian “scientific” journal:

This is a modern day ripoff of Winsor McCay’s fabulous cartoon strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend:

Matthew tweeted one of his beloved optical illusions:

I’m curious about whether a plane will even start after 435 days of inactivity.

This isn’t exactly true. For instance, you can swap “rectangular” with “green” or  “little” with “old” without changing the meaning:

Duck news!!

June 12, 2021 • 2:00 pm

I haven’t reported the fact that in the last two weeks we’ve had two new crops of ducklings (a total of 15), as it’s very crowded with people on campus during graduation and I didn’t want to draw a lot of folks to the pond who might disturb the ducklings. (I do, however, spend a lot of time explaining ducks to those who show up and spot the babies).

But the babies are now past the sensitive stage, and I’ll soon show some pictures of our two new broods: one from Misty (five ducklings) and one from Shirley Rose (ten ducklings). I have lots of adorable pictures, as well as video and some bonus video of our turtles courting each other in the pond. The other thirteen are now teenagers and, I calculate, should start flying within two weeks. I’ll have photos of those as well.

I’m also very happy to report that all the ducks, young and old, are coexisting without rancor, something I was really worried about.  Further, Honey has reclaimed her brood of four, and they’re a tight little family again, although her “babies” now look like miniature Honeys.

In the meantime, have a picture of one of our new ducklings, as well as one of me feeding Honey out of my hand just this afternoon.

It’s hot  today, and all the ducklings, both new ones and teenagers, are having a snooze in the shade.

One of Misty’s five ducklings on the day it entered the water for the first time.

Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) feeding mealworms to America’s most famous mallard (photo by Jean Greenberg):

Why the big increase in U.S. murders? Andrew Sullivan has a theory which is his.

June 12, 2021 • 12:45 pm

We know two things: that the murder and shooting rate in America has gone sky high, especially in big cities, and we know that, at the same time, many on the Left are trying to defund the police. Now police reform is one thing (I do approve of social workers going along on calls that require that kind of treatment), but deeply cutting police budgets right now is a recipe for disaster—disaster for both human lives and for the Democratic Party.

In Chicago, for instance, 289 people have already been killed this year, and the year is barely half over. But that’s already 16 more people killed than in all of 2020! If you extrapolate the present rate to the entire year, it would represent an increase of about 96% over 2020! In the article below, which reports similar increases elsewhere and tries to find a cause, Andrew Sullivan summarizes the data, drawing from the New York Times:

Here’s the NYT summary of the data, to start with:

Homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, according to criminologists … Homicides in Portland, Ore., rose to 53 from 29, up more than 82 percent; in Minneapolis, they grew to 79 from 46, up almost 72 percent; and in Los Angeles the number increased to 351 from 258, a 36 percent climb … Homicides in Philadelphia are up almost 28 percent, with 170 through May 9, compared with 133 in the same period last year; in Tucson, Ariz., the number jumped to 30 from 17 through May 13, an increase of 76 percent.

By any measure, that’s a huge increase. Yes, we’re still in a relatively low crime environment. But the suddenness of the rise and its scale are striking.

Clearly, now is not the time to reduce policing, and clearly not the time to eliminate policing, which some “progressives” do indeed want. For another thing is certain: reducing policing will just raise the rate of crime, especially violent crime, and will cost more lives. The increase in homicides isn’t explained by a big increase in murders by white police, but, according to stats compiled in recent years, largely by black-on-black crime.  Increasing the murder rate by reducing policing (a “solution” that both Sullivan and I deplore) will simply lead to a disproportionate loss of black lives.

Click on the screenshot to read the article:

Here are the possible reasons for the increase in murders and shootings considered by Sullivan, and why he rejects some.

a.) The pandemic.  Doesn’t seem feasible to Sullivan because lockdowns tend to reduce rather than increase crime, a reduction that in fact was observed in much of the world.

b.) Poverty caused by the pandemic. Again, doesn’t seem feasible because crimes that enrich the perp, like burglary, larceny, and drug offenses, dropped from previous years. So did “food insecurity.”

c.) “The fentanyl crisis”.  Doesn’t seem plausible because opioid peddling isn’t connected with much crime.

d. Defunding the police.  Not likely, for not much defunding has yet taken place.

But what does seem likely to Sullivan is the next hypothesis:

e.) A wariness by police to do “proactive” or heavy law enforcement following the murder of George Floyd and its sequelae, which included increased demonization of police. 

There’s no doubt that there’s a temporal correlation between homicides, shootings and the murder of Floyd, but of course correlation isn’t causation. Here, though, is a plot Sullivan presents of shots fired over time during the Floyd “era” (Minneapolis, of course, is where Floyd was murdered):

The spike in shootings followed Floyd’s death almost immediately, and has risen to double its pre-murder rate since then. Sullivan thinks that, in this case, the correlation does represent causality:

Of course, that is not causation. But it’s one hell of a correlation — and no other event seems relevant. It’s as if the Floyd murder, and the subsequent urban chaos, sent a signal: the cops are on the defensive. Which means murderers can go on the offensive. And once lawlessness establishes itself, it tends to compound. A few gang murders can soon morph into tit-for-tat urban warfare.

Sullivan supports this thesis with other data as well, including the widespread opprobrium directed toward the police, which partly explains, I think, the attrition of police forces in many places. Why be a cop when everybody hates you (“all cops are bastards”) and your job may be insecure?

After this relentless assault, regular police officers noticed. Many quit:

In Chicago, 560 officers retired in 2020 in a police department that had about 13,100 sworn officers as of March, records show. That’s about 15% more cops retiring than during the previous year, when the number of retirements rose by nearly 30%. In New York City, 2,500 cops retired last year, nearly double the number in 2019, according to the New York Police Department, which has about 34,500 uniformed officers. In Minneapolis, about 40 officers retired last year, and another 120 took leaves of absence. That’s nearly 20% of a police department.

But manpower was not the most significant factor. What truly mattered, Cassell argues, is that the police pulled back from the kind of aggressive, pro-active policing that has been shown to be most helpful in reducing fatal civilian shootings — but also most likely to lead to fatal encounters with the police. In Minneapolis, for example, “police stops and officer-initiated calls dropped more than half, use-of-force incidents fell by two-thirds while traffic-related incidents and patrols became far less common.” Residents complained that the cops were slow to come, or were in the neighborhoods with their windows up.

Plainclothes police details have been cut sharply in some places. All this, says Sullivan has taken its toll on the cops, who now “refrain from the kind of pro-active policing that can lead to exactly the kind of incidents that can become viral–aggressive intervention against armed criminals before they kill.

Now Sullivan admits that this is just a guess, but it’s at least supported by independent data, unlike my own earlier hypothesis, which was that the pandemic just made people edgy and desperate, leading to more killings.

Sullivan’s “guess” may well be right, though he hastens to add that he’s not arguing against police reform or shifting some police activities to mental health professionals.

Being a cop is a job I wouldn’t want to have, though I can see its appeal to authoritarian personalities. But it also appeals to those who want to make the community safer, for I do not believe that all cops are evil. I even believe that many cops are on an even keel, not racist, and try to do an honorable job (remember, if nothing else, that many cops are black).  But Sullivan sees a big irony here, for “defunding the police” is an official part of the Black Lives Matter agenda. So Sullivan ends this way:

This is not an argument against police reform or even against shifting some core responsibilities — mental health incidents, for example — to other kinds of professionals. It is an argument that pro-active policing has been more important in restraining crime than many have acknowledged; that removing it, before reforming the entire system, is extremely dangerous; and that elite complacency in the face of lawlessness and destruction in the summer of 2020 helped ignite a cycle of murder that is very hard to unwind. When crimes are committed with impunity, more crimes will be committed. And the victims will not be at Yale.

So this scenario prompts a question of supreme irony: what if the final legacy of Black Lives Matter is that it actually succeeds in its core goal, and that in the future, far fewer African-Americans are shot by the cops. And what if the price of this symbolic victory is, in fact, a huge increase in the numbers of innocent black lives lost to civilian murder? That’s a trade-off worth discussing, before it becomes a new norm that’s very hard to undo.

“Progressophobia” demolished by Bill Maher: “Kids, there actually was a world before you got here.”

June 12, 2021 • 11:00 am

Reader Tim found this video from Bill Maher’s latest show in which the host attacks “progressophobia”—the claim that everything, including morality and social justice, is getting worse. This is palpably untrue, as Steve Pinker shows for many aspects of society in his book Better Angels. (Maher says the term “progressophobia” was coined by Pinker.) Yet for simply documenting progress (while noting that it’s not always steady and some areas regress), Pinker has been demonized. This baffles me.

I’m not sure why the “”progressophobes” persist. Some people seem to have an interest in claiming that the world is getting worse in nearly every way. I suppose this comes from the fear that if you admit that things like race relations and civil rights are getting better, you’re undercutting your mission in some way. After all, if equal opportunity (or even numerical equity) finally obtain in colleges, then diversity and inclusion administrators will be out of a job. And if your self-importance and the attention you get from others depend on complaining about lack of progress, then real progress undercuts those traits.

But I don’t see why we can’t fight to improve things at the same time we admit that they have improved. Who but a historical ignoramus (or Kevin Hart; see below) could clam that the rights of people of color haven’t improved in the last 75 years? I’m not going to bother to list all the ignominies visited on African-Americans, even when I was a little boy, that are diminished or gone. And do I need to add here that there’s still substantial room for improvement: improvement in housing, income, education, and so on? Or that racism has not completely disappeared?

I often tell the story of arriving at the College of William and Mary in 1967 on a Greyhound bus. At the bus station there were two bathrooms for each sex and two water fountains. It took me a minute to figure out what that meant. Only a few years before, those bathrooms and water fountains had been labeled “white” and “colored”. (William and Mary is in Virginia.) The labels had been removed, probably in 1964.

This bit by Bill Maher, in which he underlines moral progress, will surely dispel the claim that he’s an alt-righter (maybe he was an anti-vaxer, but he’s still on the Left). It’s one of his better bits, honest but humorous. And he takes “progressophobia to bits, asserting “There is a recurring theme on the far Left that things have never been worse,” and giving the example of Kevin Hart telling the New York Times, “You’re witnessing White power and White privilege at an all-time high” (article here).

Now no chronicler of progress, least of all Pinker, would claim that progress has been steadily upward, or in some areas, there’s been actual regression. Maher notes in this segment that areas that have worsened include the environment, the degree of homelessness in Los Angeles, and “the prospects for maintaining an actual democracy in America”.  But seriously, if you were a Jew, a black person, a gay person, or a woman, would you rather have lived in 1850 or now? This is a no-brainer.

Caturday felid trifecta: Really adventurous cat; One-eyed Hawaiian surfing cat;Shanghai company takes in pregnant mother, rears eight kittens; and lagniappe

June 12, 2021 • 9:30 am

Here’s a three-minute video from The Dodo about an adventurous and sociable cat named Cathode (I love her name).  She kayaks, bicycles, skis, and parachutes!  And Cathode even gets her own helmet for riding a motorcycle.  Kudos to her staff Rèmy for giving her such a good life.


From Bored Panda (click on screenshot) we have the story of Kuli, a one-eyed Hawaiin cat who loves to surf and swim in the Pacific. Some notes:

Kuli, the one-eyed cat, has been surfing with his owners Alexandra Gomez and Krista Littleton for over a year in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was only 6 months old when he began riding waves.

Kuli, whose name means “to look blind,” is fine with water, probably because his owners used to bath him when he was recovering from eye surgery. The kitty was rescued from the streets when he was tiny and malnourished, weighing only one pound.

“His first time in the water, we just let him float on the board by himself near the shoreline and I would paddle around with him,” Ms Gomez told dailymail. “Before we knew it we were looking for waves to surf.” The kitty is safe and sound, he wears a life jacket when needed!

More info: Instagram (h/t: laughingsquid)

His owners even bought a board so he could join them surfing. (The theory is that because he required frequent baths for his eye injury, he got used to water.)

From Instagram:

A gif of Kuli swimming:

And at this link there’s a video of Kuli surfing (click on previous link).


From We Love Animals we have a short tale of a packaging company in Shanghai (click on link):

This story was written by Angela Sy, an employee at Holmes & Marchant, a packaging agency in Shanghai.

“We have lots of office pets, almost all of them rescues! I share their transformation story and hopefully show that anyone can make a difference in an animal’s life,” Angela shared.

Recently, Angela shared a story on Bored Panda with the title “My colleague brought a pregnant stray cat into our office, now the family of nine has their own meeting room.”

According to her post, her colleague Yvonne was on the way to work when she met a heavily pregnant stray cat. The stray was thin and looked very young.

She sat outside the office building and meowed at people who passed by or walked in. “It’s like she was asking for help for her babies and herself,” Yvonne said.“

Despite being a stray cat, she was warm and sweet. She was so friendly that she immediately rubbed her face on anyone who gave her attention.

Luckily, Angela’s company had some cat owners who could give the pregnant mama some TLC to get her ready for her delivery date.

“We took her to our office and called her Boba because she was so round!”

“We placed her in a spare meeting room, where we prepared her a litter box, cushy bedding, and all the food (dry, canned tuna, fresh fish, milk) she could want.”

“There was a storm one night. When we came to work the next day, we found D-Day had arrived! Boba gave birth to eight kittens.”

Newborn kittens: four boys and four girls!

There were two gingers, one calico, and five tabbies

After two weeks, all kittens slowly opened their eyes!

“When the kitties hit one month, we moved them to a bigger meeting room so they could all move freely”

And now the office has its own equivalent of a cat cafè.

“One big family! Our officemates come to this room to visit the kitties or try to get some work done, no matter how impossible it is!”

Boba is going to get neutered and they’re trying to find homes for all the babies. I love their names, some of which are given in the post:

奶盖 or Milk Topping

珍珠 or Pearl

去冰 No Ice

仙草 or Grass Jelly




Lagniappe from reader Markus:

I am teaching introduction to evolutionary biology at Wayne State University Detroit. This online winter semester, student Emily Smith shared the picture below showing her still less than a year old cat named Lux tending to our coverage of Darwin’s finches with clear interest. I thought it’s a classic, and suggested Emily to send it your way; she agreed.

Lux and a finch (which species?)

h/t: Divy

Readers’ wildlife photos (and a video)

June 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your photos, please.

Today’s selection comes from Rachel Sperling, whose notes and IDs are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Apart from the video, these were all taken in Connecticut and the New York section of the Appalachian Trail, which I’m hiking with a friend.

A pair of mute swans (Cygnus olor) on the reservoir near my house.

A pair of black vultures (Coragyps atratusamid some glacial erratics in northern Connecticut. I think this is a bit north of their normal range. I used to see them fairly often when I lived in Maryland.

Canada goose (Branta canadensis) on Lake Zoar in Connecticut. Nothing terribly exciting about a Canada goose, but this one was sitting on some eggs, and it was around Mothers’ Day, so I thought it was sweet.

Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) on the Appalachian Trail in New York.

Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)on the Appalachian Trail:

Pink ladyslipper (Cypripedium acaule) on the Appalachian Trail.

A couple of millipedes (Apheloria virginiensis) on a trail in Sharon, Connecticut. The one on the right is giving a ride to an inchworm, but I’ve no idea which species of Geometer moth it might be.

Finally (for now – I’ll be back on the trail this weekend, I hope!) here’s a video I took back in December of 2017, when I was living in New Hampshire. My cat Lloyd (Felis catus) was intensely interested in a supremely unruffled American goldfinch (Spinus tristis). I don’t know much about bird intelligence, apart from what I’ve read about crows, ravens, and parrots, so it surprised me that the goldfinch would understand that it was safe from the cat.