Monday: Hili dialogue

We’re slowly squeezing our way out of the Annus Horribilis of 2020: it’s November 30, 2020: National Mousse Day.  (Hili misread it as “National Mouse Day”, became all excited, and I had to give her the bad news.) It’s also Methamphetamine Awareness Day and Cyber Monday, the latter encouraging online shopping.  Estimates are that today will the biggest online shopping day in history, with over $13 billion to be spent.

News of the Day:

Wisconsin finished its state-wide recount of Presidential votes, funded by $3 million from the Trump campaign’s coffers. The upshot: Biden still wins, and even garnered 87 more votes than he had before. Some voter fraud! And the good news is that Trump spent nearly $34,500 for each Democratic vote added to the total.

More good news: the rumor continues that the Bidens will get a cat when they move into the White House, the first since W.’s black cat India. (I mistakenly thought that the Clintons’s Socks was the last First Cat.) They already have to d*gs, which is enough, for crying out loud, but I’m not believing a White House cat until they really have one.  After all, this is what the New York Times reports:

In an interview with Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Biden hinted that if her husband won the presidency, she would not mind getting a cat.

“I’d love to get a cat,” she said. “I love having animals around the house.”

The cat’s breed and name were not immediately available. Representatives for Mr. Biden did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Yeah, and I’d love to have a private chef, too, but I’m not getting one.

The downside of d*gs was instantiated yesterday when Biden sustained a hairline fracture in his foot from playing with his German Shepherd. He’ll have to wear a boot for a while.  See: a d*g could kill the President! You don’t play with cats like that (though Biden might trip over one.)

People are already blaming the accident on the Bidens’ cat, even though they don’t have one yet!

Thomas Friedman tells us why we should worry less about Iran’s getting nukes (it would be suicidal for them to use first against Israel, so he says, but perhaps they don’t care, getting all those virgin in Paradise and all) and worry more about precision-guided missiles, which it used in 2019 to destroy one of Saudi Arabia’s most important oilfields. This is the issue Biden will face, compounded by the new alliances between Israel and countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

 Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 266,758, an increase of about 800 from yesterday’s figure.  The world death toll is 1,466,289, an increase of about 6,500 over yesterday’s report. 

Stuff that happened on November 30 includes:

  • 1782 – American Revolutionary War: Treaty of Paris: In Paris, representatives from the United States and Great Britain sign preliminary peace articles (later formalized as the 1783 Treaty of Paris).
  • 1803 – The Balmis Expedition starts in Spain with the aim of vaccinating millions against smallpox in Spanish America and Philippines.

The upside (from Wikipedia): “Jenner himself wrote, ” ‘I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.'”
The downside (ditto): “The expedition sailed on Maria Pita and carried 22 orphan boys (aged 8 to 10) as successive carriers of the virus. . .”

  • 1803 – In New Orleans, Spanish representatives officially transfer the Louisiana Territory to an official from the French First Republic. Just 20 days later, France transfers the same land to the United States as the Louisiana Purchase.
  • 1872 – The first-ever international football match takes place at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow, between Scotland and England.
  • 1936 – In London, the Crystal Palace is destroyed by fire.

Here’s a photo of the Palace a few days after it was destroyed:

  • 1954 – In Sylacauga, Alabama, United States, the Hodges meteorite crashes through a roof and hits a woman taking an afternoon nap; this is the only documented case in the Western Hemisphere of a human being hit by a rock from space.

Here’s where the meteorite crashed through the roof and ceiling:

Mrs. Hodges, mayor, police chief examine hole caused by a meteorite that struck Mrs. Hodges in Sylacauga. University of Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Here’s the unfortunate victim. Look at that bruise—good thing it missed her head!

Hodges was napping on her living-room couch at mid-day when the meteorite came through the ceiling, hit a console radio, and smashed into her hip. Awakened by the pain and noise, she thought the gas space heater had exploded. When she noticed a grapefruit-sized rock lying on the floor and a ragged hole in the roof, she assumed children were the culprits. Her mother, Ida Franklin, rushed outside and saw only a black cloud in the sky. Alabamians in and around the area saw the event from a different perspective, with many reporting that they had seen a fireball in the sky and heard a tremendous explosion that produced a white or brownish cloud. Most assumed it involved an airplane accident.

(From National Geographic): Moody Jacobs shows a giant bruise on the side and hip of his patient, Ann Hodges, in 1954, after she was struck by a meteorite. PHOTOGRAPH BY JAY LEVITON, TIME & LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
Here’s Mrs. Hodges recuperating, smiling while Mr. Hodges examines the errant meterorite:

It is a great album, and here’s my favorite song from it in 1987. This is a live performance, but clearly lip-synched:

According to Wikipedia, the song was written by Steve Porcaro of Toto:

The first version of “Human Nature” was written and composed by Steve Porcaro of Toto. He wrote the song when his first-grade daughter came home crying after a boy pushed her off the slide. He blurted out three reasons for the incident to comfort her: the boy liked her, people can be strange, and it’s “human nature”. He recorded a rough demo of the song in their studio while the Toto song “Africa” was being mixed

  • 1995 – Official end of Operation Desert Storm.
  • 2005 – John Sentamu becomes the first black archbishop in the Church of England with his enthronement as the 97th Archbishop of York.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s the Teatro Olimpico:

(From Wikipedia): Teatro Olimpico. Theater located in Vicenza, designed in 1580 by the architect of the Renaissance Andrea Palladio. It is generally considered the first permanent covered theater of modern times. View of the stage wall (Scaenae frons), the stage, and the orchestra pit.
  • 1554 – Philip Sidney, English soldier, courtier, and poet (d. 1586)
  • 1667 – Jonathan Swift, Irish satirist and essayist (d. 1745)
  • 1835 – Mark Twain, American novelist, humorist, and critic (d. 1910)
  • 1874 – Winston Churchill, English colonel, journalist, and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1965)
  • 1912 – Gordon Parks, American photographer and director (d. 2006)

Here’s one of many photos taken by Parks of black life in Washington, D.C. (did you know he also directed the movie Shaft?):

  • 1924 – Allan Sherman, American actor, comedian, singer, producer, and screenwriter (d. 1973)
  • 1929 – Dick Clark, American television host and producer, founded Dick Clark Productions (d. 2012)
  • 1936 – Abbie Hoffman, American activist and author, co-founded the Youth International Party (d. 1989)
  • 1937 – Ridley Scott, English director, producer, and production designer
  • 1943 – Terrence Malick, American director, producer, and screenwriter

Malick’s film “Days of Heaven” (1978) is one of the finest American movies (far outstripping “Tree of Life”, a pretentious epic), and perhaps the most beautifully filmed ever. Here’s the trailer:

  • 1947 – David Mamet, American playwright, screenwriter, and director

Those who expired on November 30 include:

  • 1900 – Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, novelist, and poet (b. 1854)
  • 1954 – Wilhelm Furtwängler, German conductor and composer (b. 1886)
  • 1979 – Zeppo Marx, American actor and comedian (b. 1901)

Zeppo was the “straight” Marx brother, and, with Gummo, the least famous of the five. In the five Marx Brothers films he was in, Zeppo played the straight man. Here he is:


Zeppo’s real name was Herbert Manfred Marks,

  • 1996 – Tiny Tim, American singer and ukulele player (b. 1932)
  • 1999 – Charlie Byrd, American guitarist (b. 1925)
  • 2007 – Evel Knievel, American motorcycle rider and stuntman (b. 1938)
  • 2018 – George H. W. Bush, American politician, 41st President of the United States (b. 1924)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is weary of the world:

Hili: Every day is a challenge.
A: That’s true, but what do you have in mind?
Hili: What to do, where to go?
In Polish:
Hili: Każdy dzień jest wyzwaniem.
Ja: To prawda, ale co masz na myśli?
Hili: Co robić, dokąd iść?

From Facebook:

An illusion from rock. The two blocks aren’t just gray: they’re the same gray:

From David. I think they used whatever sticker they had for “seedless”!

Tweets from Matthew. The first one is a groaner:

More about the putative White House cat:

The aliens took their monolith back!!!

. . . instead of a palooka, which is what I am.

This really doesn’t need translation. And one day I will see the Aurora. Sound up.

This is really a weird collection of dreams!

Matthew says that this is “a book of genuine but rude UK names” (names of people):

Matthew discovers what we’ve known for a long time:

Here’s the frog!

(Actually, as several readers noticed this morning, it’s not a frog but a toad. I don’t know from toads.) I’ll insert here some words that Greg Mayer sent me when I just asked him the difference between frogs and toads, and whether each group is monophyletic (has all the descendants from one common ancestor):

The English language is inadequate for the diversity of tailless amphibians (order Anura), because there were only two kinds of anurans in England: frogs and toads. Each of them belongs to a family, usually called “true frogs”, Ranidae, and “true toads”, Bufonidae. The other 30+ families of anurans are shoe-horned into the two English common names. Sometimes there are species with the common name “toad” and “frog” in the same family.

The families of true frogs and true toads do express two major tendencies in anuran adaptation to the environment: long-legged, smooth-skinned, semi-aquatic jumpers, often greenish– frogs; and short-legged, warty, terrestrial hoppers, often brownish– toads.

The species in the photo is a true toad (family Bufonidae), but without a better picture and/or locality data, I couldn’t go further. It does look like a Bufo.

So, did you spot the frog toad in this morning’s photo from Alex Kleine? Here’s the reveal, with a circle around the beast and then successive enlargements:

A kerfuffle about diversity and inclusion at the University of Chicago

Actually, the word “kerfuffle” may not be appropriate here, as this is a pretty serious conflict between, on the one hand, a professor who takes issue with his department’s policies about diversity and inclusion, and, on the other, students and alumni, who, outraged by the professor’s opinion, have taken steps, in a letter/petition, to get the professor severely punished for expressing his views on YouTube.

The whole issue is concisely summarized by my law-school colleague Brian Leiter on his website Leiter Reports (click on the screenshot):

The (associate) professor is Dr. Dorian Abbot in our Department of Geophysical Sciences, who posted four YouTube videos, with slides, taking issue with some initiatives about diversity and inclusion. His talks emphasized the need for a meritocracy rather than “quotas” of minority applicants, and as well as asserting that it’s not the business of universities to promote social justice. Unfortunately, although I watched the videos earlier, Abbot has taken them down, though his slides are still online (see the first sentence of Leiter’s excerpt below). Here’s one slide that was guaranteed to cause problems for him:

Here’s another of Abbot’s slides. (The “Holdomor” refers to the Soviet genocide by famine of the kulaks (rich peasants) in 1932-1933 in Ukraine.

This stuff is guaranteed to anger those who see social-justice work, at present, as one of the most pressings things a university can do in its official capacity. Further, criticizing identity politics, when they’re the predominant kinds of politics on campus, is just not on. The backlash against Abbot was strong and severe (and probably predictable), and is summarized by Leiter below.

Have a look especially at the letter to Abbot’s department from 162 people affiliated with the University of Chicago and Geophysical Sciences (their names are unfortunately blacked out, though I think signers should make their names public). The letter demands all kinds of accounting and punishments for what Abbot did.  These including giving Abbot’s graduate and undergraduate students a way to opt out of his mentorship and teaching, making a departmental statement that Abbot’s videos were “unsubstantiated, inappropriate, and harmful to department members and climate” (the exact “harm” that occurred isn’t specified), and measures like this:

[The department should] Implement accountability measures to address patterns of bigoted behaviour in both the department’s hiring/promotion/tenure process and teaching opportunities. For example, faculty who persistently engage in bigoted behaviour should be prevented from taking on teaching roles, new graduate students/post-docs/staff, and committee responsibilities.

Below is part of Leiter’s post about the issue, and I have to say that I agree with much of it. I don’t agree with everything Abbot said on his videos or in his slides (as I’ve repeatedly said, I favor some form of affirmative action in hiring professors or accepting graduate students), but neither do I agree that Abbot, for exercising his free speech as a professor, and raising issues that do deserve some discussion, should be demonized and punished in this way.

My preferred response, were I a student or faculty member who took issue with Abbot’s claims, would be counterspeech: rebutting them. The anger evinced in the letter to his department seems to me a huge overreaction, but in line with many responses to “anti-woke” stuff on college campuses. But of course the letter-writers have every right to say what they want about Abbot and demand that he be punished. I don’t think he should suffer demonization in this way, as it represents a chilling of speech: if you oppose the au courant ideology, you will be attacked big time, and who wants to undergo that?

I recommend you look at the links. From Leiter, and  note that there’s a petition supporting Abbot’s freedom of speech that you can sign:

You can see the slides that formed the basis for his presentations to his colleagues here,  herehere, and here; his own account of events is here.  I agree with some of what he has to say, and disagree with other parts.  But his views are not “hateful,” “harmful” or out of place in a university that values free discussion on important issues.

For dissenting from “diversity” orthodoxy, Professor Abbot has now been subjected to a disgraceful public denunciation by postdocs and graduate students in Geology (and other UChicago science departments (complete with fictitious claims about “aggression” and “safety”).  The public version of the letter omits the names of the benighted grad students and postdocs.  But some faculty and postdocs have gone public with their delusional responses:  for example, Assistant Professor Graham Slater’s Twitter thread is here  (do review the actual slides to see how unhinged this take is), and the reaction of a geology postdoc at Chicago, Michael Henson (also here).

There is now a petition in support of Professor Abbott here which I encourage readers to sign.

Leiter adds this:

There’s very little extramural speech that ought to have any bearing on hiring or promotion decisions in universities, but open contempt like that above for academic freedom and lawful expression–which are foundational to the academic enterprise–probably should count against someone.  (We’ve touched on this issue before.)  If people like Slater and Hanson carry on like this now, what kind of damage will they do to their departments and disciplines once they have tenure?

I don’t like anyone being punished or demonized for exercising freedom of speech, but the people who will suffer from this are not those who came out against Abbot, but Abbot himself. Perhaps he didn’t realize what a beehive he was entering with his YouTube videos, for much of the country is simply unaware of social-justice conflicts. But freedom of speech is paramount, and if people don’t like what Abbot said, they can avoid him, leave his mentorship (but not his classes, I think!), or criticize him. And that’s as far as it should go. We needn’t call for his head on a platter.

A charity eBay auction for a fancy autographed and illuminated copy of “Faith Versus Fact”

We have a lovely book up for auction, with all the proceeds going to charity! But first, some backstory.

In 2015, artist Kelly Houle and I collaborated to produce a multiply-autographed and wonderfully illustrated and “illuminated” copy of my first trade book, Why Evolution Is True (2009). I’d been collecting signatures of luminaries in the book for five years, and, when there were quite a few, Kelly added some wonderful artwork (see the preceding link) and we auctioned it off on eBay. All the proceeds went to Doctors Without Borders, and charity auctions on eBay are hosted for free, without eBay taking a cut.

Amazingly, we got over $10,300 for the book, and so the charity made out well. Kelly and I were immensely pleased. Here’s the 2015 auction result (click for the link to eBay):

Well, in 2015 I wrote another book, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, and again I’ve been collecting signatures for five years, schlepping the book from meeting to meeting, and friend to friend, with the plan of auctioning it off again for charity. Kelly again agreed to do the art, and so we were off.

The result is below: we have even more signatories than before, including three Nobel Laureates, and you can see a list and photos of the signatures (many signers wrote messages) below. I’m sure you’ll recognize most of the signers; my intent was to get as many secularists and humanists as possible. We wound up with 28 signatures—not including mine and Kelly’s, which are both in there too.

It’s now time to release the book to the buying public and see what they’ll offer for it.

It’s just gone up for auction now, at this link, and the auction will run for ten days. This time all the proceeds go to Helen Keller International, a wonderful and efficient charity that helps prevent malnutrition, disease, and blindness—largely in children (see below). The organization was founded by Keller herself along with George Kessler, and it’s worth reading a bit of the backstory in the organization’s Wikipedia entry. A bonus this time is that Friends of Helen Keller International will match our donation dollar for dollar, so the buyer will have twice the positive impact as usual.

The auction copy, a hardback:

Here’s the alphabetical list of signers, with Wikipedia links to each one:

Kelly also signed her cover illustration (see below):

Can you find them all?

Inside front cover:

Half title page:

Inside back cover:

Closeup: Annie Laurie Gaylor, James Randi, and Richard Dawkins:

Full title page (signed by JAC with his cat drawing):

Kelly drew a curled-up cat on the dedication page:

From Kelly (henceforth, her words are indented):

I illustrated the title page that falls after the introduction with a quote from Faith vs Fact: and my adaptation of a painting by Maria Sibylla Merian showing the stages of Cocytius antaeus [Giant Sphinx Moth] from her book Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. Merian observed and drew insects at a time when butterflies and moths were thought to appear spontaneously from the ground.

The whole illumination is held up by a pen, an important tool of science for recording observations. The banner has another quote from Faith vs Fact translated into Latin: “fides non virtus in scientia.”

Illustrating this page was a challenge because of the paper. I wasn’t able to use my calligraphy pen, so it’s all done with a regular ball-point pen and colored pencils. I added very dry gold mica paint to the pen nib and holder.

Pupal stage as observed and drawn by Merian:

Pen nib with caterpillar, larvae, and small moth after Merian:

Jerry’s initials “JAC”: in cat calligraphy [and Kelly’s signature]:

Kelly illuminated the chapter headings as well:

Finally, we have lagniappe from Kelly:

I’ve added something special to the book, too. It’s an anamorphic mirror portrait of James Randi. The mirror will come with the book. If you go to the page with James Randi’s signature, turn the page and set the mirror down right behind it, his image appears in the mirror. Like magic, but it’s not.

Again, if you’re interested in this item, know someone who might be, or are willing to advertise the auction on social media, feel free to do so. Again, the link is here.

Further, Kelly has some auction artwork on her own eBay shop for which 10% of the proceeds go to HKI as well.  Those donations, too, will be doubled with a kick-in by the Friends of HKI.


We selected Helen Keller International as the recipient charity because of its good work in preventing blindness and malnutrition, its big bang for the donor’s buck, its sterling reputation, and the fact that the vast majority of its donations go to helping people, not to administration or promotion. Kelly found this charity when it was recommended as one of the best charities to donate to by Peter Singer on his page “The Life You Can Save“. As that site says,

“Our charities have been rigorously evaluated to help you make the biggest impact per dollar. Find an organization you support, or simply split your donation between them all. When you support one of the recommended charities, The Life You Can Save does not charge any fee or receive any monetary benefit from that transaction.”

The low overhead of HKI:

Every penny of the auction funds will go to HKI, and the bang is doubled because of HKI’s current donation-matching protocol.

Their work is international, and in several areas of help (click on all screenshots to go to the sites):

HKI receives the highest rating—four stars—from Charity Navigator:

If you have big bucks, or know someone who does—and who is a humanist or secularist—you might call their attention to this auction. We hope, of course, to raise as much dosh as possible.

Thanks to the signers, and to Melissa Pugh for collecting some of the signatures at the 2016 Reason Rally.

Spot the frog!

We’re back with another “spot the. . .” feature, originally started by Matthew as a “spot the nightjar” contest. Today’s photo comes from Alex Kleine, who says this:

Since the wildlife photo tank has been running low, I thought I’d might entertain the readers with another “find the camouflaged animal” game.

The story came as I was walking on a path at West Rock State Park in Connecticut near Lake Wintergreen when I stumbled upon this well-camouflaged frog. I do not know the species of this particular one though your readers could help venture a guess. Attached to this message firstly is the game photo, along with the answer highlighted in red and some other photos of the frog after the game has been completed.

Hopefully the photo quality isn’t too blurry with the smartphone camera I used at the time.

Can you spot it? (I count this one as “pretty hard”.)  The reveal comes at 1 pm Chicago time. Click the photo to enlarge.


Readers’ wildlife photos

Robert Lang, reader, physicist, and world-class origami artist, is also a photographer of his local wildlife (he lives in California).  Today we get some photos taken from his place, which encompasses Marx Brothers Meadow (see below). Robert’s text is indented, and click on the pictures to enlarge. (I’m working on getting larger pics embedded.)

It’s acorn season in Marx Brothers Meadow (*), and the California Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus californicus) come hang out for hours at a time munching and sleeping, right outside the window over my desk. They have grown accustomed to my presence, though, and pretty much ignore me when the noms beckon. (In fact, there are three out there as I write this.) One of the things I hadn’t noticed before was how shaggy their winter coat is, as you can see here.

But the main purpose of today’s collection is birds, which also regularly visit, especially this time of year. I keep my camera at hand, and most of these were shot through the window from my work desk.

First, we have the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), which are very common, and don’t seem to hold it against me that Edison took out their granary when they replaced the telephone pole at the corner of the lot last year. No doubt they’re re-stocking somewhere nearby. They’re not content to wait for the acorns to fall; they pull them right off of the tree.

Also raiding the tree is the California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

But they’ll also pick up the odd stray that makes it to the ground if they can get to it before the deer.

The acorn woodpeckers are by far the most common woodpeckers (and they are very chatty), but occasionally I get other varieties dropping in. Here is a female Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).

Another “northern” bird in this southern place is the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos).
The bushes and cactus outside the window also make convenient perches for smaller birds. Here’s a California Towhee (Melozone crissalis):
And its relative, the Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), here foraging on the ground:

And finally, another ground-forager, the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). I’ve see flocks of 10–15 of these out in the meadow in recent weeks. This time of year, the pickings are surely slim, but there must be something that attracts them.

(*) Regarding the name of the meadow: turns out the land behind my studio was owned by the Marx Brothers back in the 1950s and 1960s. (Probably explains the horse feathers lying around.) It’s part of the Angeles National Forest now. It’s kept bare eight months of the year due to fire danger, but for four lovely months in the spring, it’s a beautiful grassy meadow. This time of year, calling it a “meadow” is a bit of a stretch, but “Marx Bros. Dirt And Gravel And Bits of Dead Stuff” just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.

P.P.S. Literally as I was putting this collection together I caught a glimpse of a flyover out of the corner of my eye and rushed outside in time to catch this Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) circling overhead:

It doesn’t look very red-tailed from the underside, but when it made a low swoop, it became pretty unmistakeable. (It also blends in with the dead chaparral pretty well.)
My productivity has taken a definite hit since moving here: there are way too many animal distractions (and it never seems to get old).

Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s the non-Jewish sabbath today: Sunday, November 29, 2020: only about a month till we’re out of this hellish year. It’s National Chocolates Day today, so treat yourself—or a loved one. It’s also Lemon Creme Pie Day (aka Lemon Meringue Pie), Small Brewery Sunday, and, religiously, International Day of the Bible as well as Advent Sunday, the beginning of Advent (the fourth Sunday before Christmas).  Finally, it’s Throw out Your Leftovers Day, though many of them will still be good. After all, Thanksgiving was just four days ago! I once won a bet with my lab for eating, on Christmas, a piece of pumpkin pie that was brought to the lab on Thanksgiving. Granted, it was shrunken by about 75%, had the consistency of beef jerky and tasted like leather, but I won my bet.

News of the Day:

I tweeted this Very Big News:

More big news: The Utah Monolith disappeared!

After Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated several days ago, most likely by Israeli agents, Iran has vowed to retaliate. It’s not clear whether the U.S. helped with intelligence in the killing, but, given Trump’s view of Iran, I wouldn’t doubt it. The problem, of course, is that if Iran retaliates after Biden is elected, and it involves the U.S. that could be a problem. (Biden also has a much more lenient view of Iran’s nuclear program than does Trump.) I have no idea what the retaliation would involve, but if it’s against Israel, big-time conflict is in the offing.

At any rate, despite opposition to Trump’s position from the Left and the liberal media (see here), I’m still not convinced that Iran isn’t building a bomb.  In fact, all the signs are that it is, and perhaps I’ll write about this soon. I suspect that any renewal of an American deal with Iran, then, will represent only a delaying tactic, as Iran will have a bomb in the end. (Does anybody really doubt that?) And if it does, what did all this temporizing accomplish? On the other hand, state-sponsored assassinations don’t seem the way to go.

There’s a literary pedophilia scandal in France: a big-time winner of a literary prize sexually exploited children, and the jury that gave him the prize knew about it. A NYT story exposes the deeply corrupt nature of France’s “elite institutions.”

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 265,940, an increase of about 1,200 from yesterday’s figure.  The world death toll is 1,459,822, an increase of about 8,600 over yesterday’s report. 

Stuff that happened on November 29 includes:

  • 1394 – The Korean king Yi Seong-gye, founder of the Joseon dynasty, moves the capital from Kaesŏng to Hanyang, today known as Seoul.
  • 1781 – The crew of the British slave ship Zong murders 133 Africans by dumping them into the sea to claim insurance.

They did this because there wasn’t enough water to give to all the slaves and the crew. So this horrific incident ensued (from Wikipedia):

On 29 November, the crew assembled to consider the proposal that some of the enslaved people should be thrown overboard. James Kelsall later claimed that he had disagreed with the plan at first but it was soon unanimously agreed.  On 29 November 54 women and children were thrown through cabin windows into the sea.  On 1 December 42 male enslaved people were thrown overboard, and 36 more followed in the next few days. Another ten, in a display of defiance at the inhumanity of the slavers, chose to commit suicide by jumping into the sea. Having heard the shrieks of the victims as they were thrown into the water, one of the captives requested that the remaining Africans be denied all food and drink rather than thrown into the sea. The crew ignored this request. In total, 142 Africans were killed by the time the ship reached Jamaica. The account of the King’s Bench trial reports that one enslaved person managed to climb back onto the ship.

There was a trial, but nobody was convicted, of course. Here’s a Turner painting about this shameful episode:

(From Wikipedia): A painting entitled “The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner. In the background, the sun shines through a storm while large waves hit the sides of a sailing ship. In the foreground, enslaved people are drowning in the water, while others are being eaten by large fish.
  • 1877 – Thomas Edison demonstrates his phonograph for the first time.
  • 1899 – FC Barcelona is founded by Catalan, Spanish and Englishmen. It later develops into one of Spanish football’s most iconic and strongest teams.
  • 1929 – U.S. Admiral Richard E. Byrd leads the first expedition to fly over the South Pole.

Byrd also claimed to have flown over the North Pole, but that is hotly disputed, and there are accusations that he falsified his flight records. However, he did fly over the South Pole; here’s a poster for the 1930 movie about it:

  • 1961 – Project Mercury: Mercury-Atlas 5 Mission: Enos, a chimpanzee, is launched into space. The spacecraft orbits the Earth twice and splashes down off the coast of Puerto Rico.

From Wikipedia: “Enos being prepared for insertion into the Mercury-Atlas 5 capsule in 1961.”

  • 1963 – “I Want to Hold Your Hand“, recorded on October 17, 1963, is released by the Beatles in the United Kingdom.
  • 1972 – Atari releases Pong, the first commercially successful video game.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1627 – John Ray, English biologist and botanist (d. 1705)
  • 1803 – Christian Doppler, Austrian mathematician and physicist (d. 1853)
  • 1832 – Louisa May Alcott, American novelist and poet (d. 1888)

Here’s Alcott in 1870, when she was about 38:

  • 1874 – Egas Moniz, Portuguese physician and neurologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1955)
  • 1898 – C. S. Lewis, British novelist, poet, and critic (d. 1963)

Lewis died on the day that Kennedy was assassinated, so his death wasn’t noted as widely as it should have been. (“Should have been” is subjective, of course, since what I’ve read of his theology is pure hogwash. However, it’s probably true that he was the most popular theologian of the twentieth century.). Here he is with his beloved wife Joy, who died of bone cancer, plunging him into depression:

Image: The Marion E. Wade Center / Wheaton College
  • 1915 – Billy Strayhorn, American pianist and composer (d. 1967)
  • 1917 – Merle Travis, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 1983)
  • 1942 – Felix Cavaliere, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and producer

Those who died on November 29 include:

  • 1530 – Thomas Wolsey, English cardinal and politician, Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom (b. 1470)
  • 1924 – Giacomo Puccini, Italian composer and educator (b. 1858)
  • 1981 – Natalie Wood, American actress (b. 1938)

Wood’s real name was Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, as she was the daughter of Russian immigrant. I’m a big fan of hers; she was a terrific actor and, to me, the most beautiful movie star ever. Here’s the trailer for her movie with Warren Beatty, “Splendor in the Grass” (1961). Directed by Elia Kazan, it got mixed reviews but I like it.

  • 1986 – Cary Grant, English-American actor (b. 1904)

And his real name, as you may know, was Archibald Alec Leach.

  • 2001 – George Harrison, English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and music producer (b. 1943)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili feels the need for speed:

Hili: I should go hunting.
A: Are you hungry?
Hili: No, but I need the exercise.
In Polish:
Hili: Powinnam pójść na polowanie.
Ja: Głodna jesteś?
Hili: Nie, ale mam za mało ruchu.

A meme from Barry, one of many about “how evolution started” (another was this one from Gary Larson):

From Nicole (those poor women named Karen!):

From Diana MacPherson:

Two tweets from reader Barry. First, CAT McDONALD’S!

This sounds like a First Amendment violation; I hope the guy brought a lawsuit, as it’s all on tape (sound up):

Tweets from Matthew. This is one plump capybara!

I still don’t understand why the water level drops or whatever, but I’m sure a reader will explain this:

Ten to one this caterpillar is toxic or distasteful to predators:

I knew this but Matthew didn’t. Live and learn!

Notice that the starlings assume the shape that protects them best against predators:

Excreting on the ISS

Don’t deny that you’ve wondered “How do astronauts go to the bathroom?”  Well, this official NASA video gives you the answer, at least for the International Space Station, and it all looks like a pretty dire job. That toilet is scary.

The narration and demonstration (no real excretions were filmed) is done by Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy, who does his descriptions straight-up, without a touch of humor.  There are also videos online videos about how to keep your body clean in space (see this one about hair washing), but Lord, these astronauts must be pretty rank after a six-month stint!

Katie Herzog and Andrew Sullivan on the extinction of lesbians (and Sully on the wokeness of the Biden administration)

I suppose one could have predicted this happening, what with the exponentially increasing numbers of gender-dysphoric girls asserting a transsexual identity. (The disproportionality between dysphoric girls and dysphoric boys may explain why the extinction of gay men isn’t imminent).  In fact, given the social approbation and support that attaches to gender-dysphoric girls—discussed in the latest article on the Weekly Dish (click on screenshot)—compared to the “meh” reaction to girls who say that they’re lesbians, you might expect that the lesbian identity would fade compared to the transsexual-male identification.  The point of this article is not only to note the morbidity of the category “lesbian” in favor of “non-binary” or “transsexual”, but also to suggest that this is due to social contagion, as it’s cooler to be in the latter two categories than to be a lesbian.

Although Sullivan is listed as a co-writer here, the voice is Herzog’s. She’s a lesbian journalist (it bothers me a bit to write that, as she’s both a journalist who writes about all kinds of stuff as well as a lesbian), but it’s easier to say that than “a journalist who is also a lesbian”); and she mourns the death of her gender’s culture.

A bit about the death of the genre (Herzog, whom I’ll credit with the piece) begins by noting the declining numbers of lesbian bars and dating apps):

When I came out in North Carolina in the early 2000s, the term “lesbian” was fading and “queer” was rapidly rising. Most of my peers saw lesbians as stodgy, old-fashioned, and uncool, whereas queers were hip, edgy, and inclusive. Yet “queer” is vague enough to mean nearly anything, so the label says less about your love life and more about your politics. (I propose we all start using the Kinsey Scale instead.)

The flight from “lesbian” has accelerated since. An academic in the Southeast, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that when she mentioned to a colleague that she’s a lesbian, the colleague “reacted like I’d confessed to being a Confederate Lost-Causer. She told me that the term is outdated and problematic, and I shouldn’t use it.” So the lesbian keeps quiet about her identity: “It’s like living in a second closet.”

Not long ago, it would have been the Christian right stigmatizing homosexual women. Today, it’s also from people who call themselves queer.

As “lesbian” has waned, countless variations have emerged: not just hetero, homo, or bi, but pansexual, omnisexual, sapiosexual, asexual, autosexual, and many more, each with their own little flag. The same is true of genders — now counted in the dozens — with “nonbinary” being the most popular. Asia Kate Dillon, the nonbinary TV star who goes by the pronouns “they/them,” described the term as including those “who feel that their gender identity falls outside the traditional boxes of man or woman.” (Dillon is one of many formerly gay-identified celebrities who have come out as nonbinary, including Sam Smith, Judith Butler, Masha Gessen, and Jonathan Van Ness — who prefers “he/him” but is okay with “she/her” or “they/them.” Why be confined to just one?)

Why is this? It’s not just that lesbians can now be folded into “nonbinary” or “transgender” categories.  Lesbianism tacitly accepts a sexual binary, and lesbians happen to be women who are attracted to other women rather than men. (“Nonbinary” could be women or men who are attracted to both sexes.) And lesbians are not transgender people, for, so far as I know, they identify as women who seek other women instead of men, again tacitly accepting a male/female binary. What’s clear is that the tremendous increase in gender nonconformity among young people seems to be coming from the tide of girls who identify as men. (This is my impression as well as Herzog’s, though I know of no hard data save the huge increase in gender-reassignment surgeries shown here.) Transsexual men born as biological women may be sexually attracted to women, but they see themselves in the gender role of male, not female.

Why is this happening, and where have the lesbians gone? A clue comes from a student Herzog interviewed named Halle (my emphasis):

“Lesbians are pretty thin on the ground for Gen Z,” a student I’ll call Halle wrote me. “I have one other lesbian friend, and together we have collected reports of five other lesbians between the U.S. and Canada, of which three are in our generation…. I do not know how things were in olden times for the elder gays, so I admit that a paucity of lesbian friends may in fact be normal for twentysomething gay women in left coast liberal cities, but I like to imagine there was some Arcadian past where short-haired women in Carhartts could gather in groups greater than two.”

Halle doesn’t live in Tehran. She lives in Seattle. Another young lesbian I spoke to told me she used to identify as both nonbinary and trans. “There’s a really thriving, active online and in-person trans community and queer community,” she said, “but there’s hardly anything for lesbians, and if you try to create that, you get pushback. It’s not cool to be a lesbian in the same way that it’s cool to be queer or trans or nonbinary.

Queer” apparently encompasses all “gender minorities” that aren’t heterosexual or cisgender, and there are many of these categories: asexuals, pansexuals, incels and the like.  And, reading the Zeitgeist, it’s apparent that young people who come out as transsexual, whether or not they seek medical transformation, are given more attention and approbation than are lesbians. In other words, if you’re gender dysphoric, you get more naches by coming out as transsexual than as lesbian.

Now clearly this doesn’t explain 100% of teenage (or younger) girls who feel that they are of a male gender. It would be churlish to deny that there are a substantial number of genuine transsexuals among young folk, and that much of it has a biological basis. But it would be equally foolish to deny that troubled, gender-dysphoric teens will go the route that offers them the most comfort: saying that they trans or nonbinary.

Herzog actually offers two explanations: the social-contagion one and this one, which she doesn’t favor (“enbies” are “nonbinaries” or “NBs”):

Some feminists argue that women are so oppressed in society that opting out of womanhood is a way of opting out of oppression. I’m skeptical. Why didn’t women do this decades ago, when oppression was objectively greater? Besides, enbies are more likely to be Smith undergrads than, say, immigrants getting assaulted at the border.

And then she suggests the social explanation, which of course will get her labeled as a “transphobe” for even suggesting a role for faddishness:

And there’s another not-so popular explanation: that it’s a fad, a form of social contagion.

I’m aware that this will be offensive to some people. The concept of a fixed, internal gender identity has become sacrosanct, and it’s viewed as something deeply personal and meaningful, like the soul. But humans are social creatures and we are easily influenced by our peers. This isn’t a moral judgment, just a fact, and I’ve seen how it plays out in my own peer circle. First one person comes out as nonbinary, then another, then another, and then one day half the dykes you know go by “they.” Add social media to the mix, and fawning profiles of nonbinary people in the press, and you’ve got yourself a mass cultural phenomenon.

But social contagion is surely worth considering rather than dismissing, for it does account for the extremely dramatic rise in the number of women in their teens, or younger, who declare themselves transsexxual (see some data here). Herzog ran this explanation by “a therapist who specializes in LGTBQ issues,” and the therapist, after hemming and hawing, went off the record and said “Yes. But I really can’t say that to anyone.” Such is the rigidity of ideology these days. Explanations that should be discussed—and in view of the seriousness of medical intervention, must be discussed—are taken off the table because they’re labeled “transphobic.” We have encountered one of the many taboos plaguing political and ideological discourse in the past few years.


In his “Dissents” section, in which Sullivan answers beefs from readers, he’s concerned with whether wokeness will remain with us under a Biden administration. One can argue that it won’t, saying that wokeness was a kneejerk reaction to Trump’s bigotry and fascism, but I think we’re in for more wokeness. Now that the extreme Left sees itself empowered, even arguing that the election vindicates “progressive Democrats”, seen wrongly as contributing to Biden’s election, wokeness is likely to grow. And so the camel is about to stick its nose even further into the Democratic tent. Given the readiness with which centrist or moderate Democrats cave in rather than be labeled bigots, both Sullivan and I remain worried, all the while realizing that things are still much improved now that Trump has been defeated. But we’ll still have to contend with the pollution of the Left by the extreme Left, which endangers further gains of Democrats. Remember, besides the Presidency, Democrats lost ground elsewhere in American politics.

Responding to a “dissent” that argues, correctly, that the dangers of the extreme Right are far greater than those of the extreme Left, and that the “progressive” Left is not a threat, Sullivan says this:

Point taken. But here’s my rejoinder: just because the extremists have more thoroughly captured the GOP than the Dems doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem. I’m not saying both sides have equal problems with extremism — the GOP is worse, in my view. I’m saying the far-left hurt the Dems down ballot. They didn’t get their preferred nominee, and if they had, I think it’s pretty clear by now that she or he would have lost to Trump. But have they successfully rebranded the Dems as the party of wokeness, open borders, cancel culture, LatinX and LGBTQIA+ and other impenetrable language, and mandatory struggle sessions in which white people have to read Robin DiAngelo? You bet they have.

As for Biden, we’ll see. I voted for him in the full knowledge that a woke phalanx is probably going to come into government with him and do their best. But maybe I’m wrong, and Biden will stick to Obama-style centrism. I sure hope so.

Me too!

Caturday felid trifecta: World’s saddest cat adopted; the tale of a diffident cat; cats that act like birds

A story from the Daily Star (click on screenshot) tells the story of a stray orange tabby, now named Bruce Willis, who was rescued and now is a happy cat.

Here’s the poor moggy right when he was taken in:

A stray cat that sported a permanently sad look has been transformed a year after he was adopted.

Bruce Willis, the orange tabby, had scars from fights with other cats and problems with his immune system when he was taken into Animal Humane Society in Minnesota, US.

His healed eye was a little droopy, his one ear was a little cockeyed, and his scars left his fur looking a little bedraggled.

But luckily he was rescued by cat lover Sandra, who persuaded her landlord to make an exemption for the apartment’s no-pet policy.

The six-year-old cat was taken to Sandra’s home last August and started a new life as a loving pet.

And. . . here he is now, completely transformed!

Bruce Willis has his own Tik Tok page, which the article explains:

Video shared by Sandra on her TikTok @mrwillisthecat documents Bruce’s changes in the past year after she explained he was the “saddest cat” she had ever seen.

In the montage clip, the moggie enjoys a little rub on his belly and likes to sleep by Sandra’s feet.

As Bruce slowly adapts to the new place, he becomes more active.

In one clip, he is seen dragging a catnip toy across the room and going out for a walk in the snow in his military green vest.

Here’s another good one (warning: there are a gazillion videos of the cat on that page, but that just shows that his staff loves him).


And from Jezebel, we have an article about a diffident cat named Prince. He’s a lovely gray English shorthair, and his staff dotes on him, but the cat, well, he’s a cat. . .

Click on screenshot:

Prince (photo by staff Rich Juzwiak):

Some excerpts:

Reciprocated unconditional love is cool, but have you ever devoted your life to pleasing an animal that would step on your dead face, if not consume it? Prince wouldn’t piss on me if I were on fire or puke a hairball at me if I were bald, and yet this little cat has me wrapped around his furry cankle. At a certain point during the raising of anything—from children to chickens—many wonder, “Am I creating a monster?” I don’t really have to ask.

Luckily the monster I’ve been creating since his late-January adoption is clumsy on his feet, prone to distraction, rarely inclined to bare his claws, and unable to follow through with the tasks he assigns himself. (I’ve seen him kill bugs, but he seems to get bored when they stop moving and so he doesn’t eat them). He’s a harmless monster, really, and more importantly, he’s my monster to deal with.

I’m sure it’s just that apathy is his guiding principle, but Prince has an uncanny way of giving just enough to leave me wanting more. It’s in the bites that I wish were kisses, the glares that I generously interpret as interest, the tricks he performs to get me off his back and food in his belly. While out walking the other day, I saw a woman in a blue denim baseball hat and neon green shirt with the name of a timeshare agency printed on its back, scoop up a sand-colored dog (maybe a Pekingese), hold the pup to her chest and kiss the side of its head. The dog accepted affection without a shred of resistance and I was jealous. When I got home, Prince was staring into space and I asked him if he wanted to hang out. As if on cue, as soon as I stopped talking, he winced a slow wince that started with his left eye and spread to his right. I laughed and wanted to hug him, but out of respect for his space and individuality, I declined.

And here’s an Instagram video of Prince being diffident (and walking sideways like a kitten):


And from Bored Panda we have a series of photos of cats who, like Hili, love to act like birds. Click on screenshot, and I’ll put a few pictures below:

There’s also some explanation from an expert (more below):

Bored Panda wanted to learn more about why cats enjoy climbing trees so much and why they tend to get stuck in treetops, so we reached out to cat behaviorist Ingrid Johnson.

From Nadine Bamberger:

According to cat behaviorist Ingrid, cats seek height for a lot of different reasons. What’s more, for an outdoor cat or an indoor-outdoor cat, those reasons could even save their life. “Height provides comfort and security and the ability to survey a lot of territory from a single vantage point. Climbing a tree or a cat condo for our indoor only friends provides a sense of safety,” she explained.

“Height also creates more usable territory and allows cats to avoid conflict with other cats. So an outdoor cat may climb a tree to escape an attacker (a rival neighborhood cat or a dog!), the same reason an indoor cat might bolt up a cat

From Willem Penn
From Raine Soo

Cats are built for climbing. Lots of climbing. They have powerful hind legs and strong backs, so it’s no surprise that when they see a tree, they’ll instinctively want to go as high up as they can.

What’s more, there are certain advantages to perching in a tree. When you’re higher up, you can spot your dinner from much further away while they remain unaware. (Let’s keep that in mind the next time we want to ambush an ice cream truck.)

However, climbing up trees isn’t just an offensive move; it can be a defensive tactic, too! Cats aren’t at the top of the food chain, so they can fall victim to other wild animals or the neighborhood doggos. Being up high means cats feel safer, more relaxed, and can taunt their would-be predators as much as they like. Unless their pursuers can climb trees, too!

Also from Raine Soo: a cat family tree:

Ah, but here’s the rub: there’s an ad for Johnson’s climbing pole:

Cats can also chase their prey, like a squirrel, chipmunk, or a bird, up a tree. But cats also climb to hang out, to take a nap, and for fun! “They condition their claws and muscles by scratching and climbing. We call these ‘feel good’ behaviors. In fact, many indoor cats never get a chance to condition/hone their back claws because few cat condo companies provide a straight vertical pole to climb.”

She continued: “Which is exactly why my husband, Jake and I provide the market with a six foot, wall mounted scratch pole. There are virtually none on the market, we have multiples of these in our home and our cats climb them regularly. It is a great way to mimic a tree for an indoor cat. Just always be sure to provide a way for them to get down.”

Ingrid confirmed to Bored Panda that cats have a lot more trouble climbing out of trees than up them.

From troufaki13:

From Nadine Bamberger:

h/t: Ginger K.