Ice ducks and other things

February 25, 2021 • 2:15 pm

The weather has warmed up, and the ice is slowly melting on Botany Pond. And so we’ve acquired ducks: up to six during the last three days. It all started with a pair of ducks I didn’t recognize, but they were probably our own since they came toward me and knew exactly what to do with the duck pellets I tossed them.  These photos were taken three days ago when a small “spa” of water opened up around the bubblers. And open water = ducks!

The lovely hen (not Honey):

And her handsome drake:

Of course I fed them, because it was cold. They can’t walk very well on the thin ice, and it’s comical when they slip (they don’t hurt themselves, though, as they have great balance).

Right now there are five (three drakes, two hens), and I have to decide whether to feed them or not. I do want Honey to breed here this year, and that means not luring other hens to the pond:

There was a lovely sunset that night, with the disappearing light burnishing the skyscrapers with gold highlights:

 

Chicago begins identifying potentially offensive and removable monuments, including those honoring Lincoln, McKinley, Ben Franklin, Washington, and Ulysses S. Grant

February 19, 2021 • 10:00 am

Good god! It’s not enough that San Francisco embarrassed itself by renaming 44 schools, including those bearing the monickers of Dianne Feinstein, Abe Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Paul Revere. Now the city of Chicago, under the leadership of the increasingly embarrassing mayor Lori Lightfoot, is undertaking the same venture, singling out 41 monuments to be “investigated” for possible removal or renaming. The bowdlerization of my city is detailed in these two article from the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Times (click on screenshots below):

Sun-Times:

NYT:

You can see photos and descriptions of the scrutinized monuments on this page, and I have to say that there are almost none of them that I find worthy of removal, for they mark history, with all its flaws, and offense of some people is not sufficient to immediately mandate erasing a statue. (There are FIVE monuments to Abe Lincoln to be vetted!) And there are alternatives to removal, as I mention below.

Here are a few photos of statues being scrutinized, along with possible reason why they’re “problematic” (indented). Here are the criteria that the committee is considering:

Reasons for making the list include promoting narratives of white supremacy; presenting an inaccurate or demeaning portrayal of Native Americans; celebrating people with connections to slavery, genocide or racist acts; or “presenting selective, over-simplified, one-sided views of history.”

The project website does not note which criteria might apply to any specific monument or statue.

That’s not exactly true, as I show below.

There’s also an advisory committee vetting the monuments, with its members shown here (I’m not optimistic!), and, unlike San Francisco, Chicago is soliciting public feedback on the monuments. (But it would help to know why they’re on the list!). I will give them feedback.

The first one, “A Signal of Peace” seems to be problematic only because it displays a native American. It was intended by the sculptor (and his patron) to be a sign of respect for Native Americans as well as a lament for their oppression by whites:

Before the fair was even over, arrangements were made by wealthy Chicago lawyer and art patron Lambert Tree to purchase the sculpture for $3,000 cash. Offering it for permanent placement in Lincoln Park, Tree was clear in his intent that the monument was intended as a permanent symbol of respect for native peoples who were: “…..oppressed and robbed by government agents, deprived of their lands… shot down by soldiery in wars fomented for the purpose of plundering and destroying their race, and finally drowned by the ever westward tide of population.”

Are we not, then, to depict any Native Americans, even in this respectful and mournful (for their oppression) manner?

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Here’s another Native American sculpture, (“Indians; the Bowman and the Spearman”) in Grant Park; I often look at and admire this when I drive downtown. And here’s why it’s to be scrutinized:

Impressive for their heroic scale and bristling energy, the sculptures have been criticized for their romanticized and reductive images of American Indians.

Reductive? Romanticized? It’s an admirable, admiring, and truly lovely piece of art. For crying out loud, most public statues are “romanticized,” not to mention “reductive”. What are we supposed to show: a Native American skinning a buffalo?

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Here’s “Standing Lincoln,” a well known statue. Why is it bad? The site doesn’t say, but apparently Lincoln’s allowing a few Native Americans to be hanged (and pardoned many more)—as well as his early (but later changed) bigotry towards blacks—outweighs his emancipation of the slaves. It’s by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and comes with this note on the site (there’s no “reason” given to scrutinize this):

Many people who personally knew Lincoln and were alive at the time of the monument’s dedication commented on the imagery being a moving and accurate representation. As a guide, Augustus Saint-Gaudens used life casts of Lincoln’s face and hands made by Chicago sculptor Leonard Volk.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Benjamin Franklin gets scrutinized, too, for he owned two slaves but later freed them and became an abolitionist. So what’s the problem?

Franklin’s achievements in helping shape United States democracy as well as his role in other disciplines are well-documented historical facts. Historical archives reflect some negative personal views on people and groups not unusual for the time, but historians have noted that he was open-minded and would often shift in his positions. Franklin owned two slaves who served in household responsibilities, but he later freed both and became an outspoken abolitionist.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

George Washington, by Daniel Chester French (a replica).  No reason given, but of course Washington owned slaves. The site says this:

The monument is one of the finest examples of equestrian sculpture in Chicago, and is considered a major work by Daniel Chester French, whose later work included the marble sculpture of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Why Leif Ericson is scrutinized baffles me, and no information is given. Yes, he may have made it to North America, but he didn’t “colonize it”.  In fact, we know little about his exploits.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

And woe to Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. He had one slave but set him free. The caption says this:

Grant pursued a number of unsuccessful ventures, including farming on his father-in-law’s Missouri plantation, where he purchased and quickly manumitted a slave, and working for his father, a fervent abolitionist, at the family’s Galena, Illinois leather goods business. Grant quickly proved himself a brilliant tactician and leader, rising to lead the Union forces by 1865.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Another statue, “The Alarm”, seems to be a dignified and respectful depiction of Native Americans.  No reason is given why it’s on the list.  Here are a few words:

Sculptor John J. Boyle grew up in Philadelphia and was trained at the Franklin Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris. In preparation for Ryerson’s commission, Boyle spent two months observing Native American subjects and making numerous sketches and studies.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Are there any monuments that I think need to go? Given alternatives of explanatory plaques or counter-monuments, I found only one. But it’s already been taken down! I think the one below is invidious and divisive, and doesn’t honor anything except a massacre of settlers by Indians, not noting that most of the killing went the other way. Here’s the “Fort Dearborn Massacre”. A note from the site:

Industrialist George Pullman (1831-1897) commissioned this monumental bronze figural group to be placed near his Prairie Avenue mansion — which was believed to be the site of the attack on the garrison evacuating Fort Dearborn during the War of 1812. The work shows Potawatomie chieftain Black Partridge intervening on behalf of Margaret Helm, wife of the fort’s commander and the step-daughter of fur trader, John Kinzie. Danish sculptor Carl Rohl-Smith (in Chicago to create sculpture for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893), based his figures on sketches he made of Indian models who were held captive at Fort Sheridan in the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Conceived in a sensationalist, luridly violent mode, the sculpture was long criticized by American Indian activists and was removed from public view in 1997.

It’s already gone! None of these should be destroyed; they should be preserved somewhere as examples of public art, no matter how misguided or lurid.

 

The New York Times details some pushback, but also gives one view of why Lincoln should be erased:

The committee’s list almost immediately drew criticism from some state leaders. “Never thought that statues of Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant would be considered ‘controversial’ in the Land of Lincoln,” Representative Darin LaHood, a Republican who represents parts of Peoria and Springfield, wrote on Twitter. “This is detached from reason.”

Daniel Fountain, a professor of history at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., said that Lincoln’s legacy has come under scrutiny in the 21st century in part because, as a younger politician, his views reflected the white supremacist attitudes of most 19th-century politicians.

Professor Fountain noted that during his famous debate with Stephen Douglas, his rival in Illinois, Lincoln stated his opposition to letting Black people serve as jurors, marry white people or “attain any semblance of social equality.”

Lincoln’s views evolved during the Civil War, but those early statements remained “abysmal,” he said.

“For many, his flaws undermine his very real, significant achievements,” Professor Fountain said.

Well, Professor Fountain, for more people Lincoln’s achievements outweigh his flaws. How many people have to be offended before a statue is removed? And can’t we just add a plaque that he once held bigoted views but changed them? Why is that not enough? Woe to America if we have to pull down statues of Abe Lincoln!

In general I object to the erasure of history, for if we remove all monuments to people who, when morality changes over time, are found wanting, then almost all history will be gone.

The Atlantic just published what I see as the definitive way to regard monuments, and which of them really deserve to be removed. Click on the screenshot, and I do recommend that you read this thoughtful and reasonable take:

One excerpt:

The issue of what to do with monuments and school names can be more complex than the cartoonish excesses of the woke left might indicate. Art’s impact on the public weal should not be the sole or leading measure of its worth—that way Stalinist “socialist realism” lies—but in certain cases it cannot be ignored.

Few would want a statue of Hitler or Mussolini or Tojo to stand in a town square, even if it was erected in the 1930s and thus could be said to be a historical artifact. Many of the Confederate statues in the South were commissioned in the dark days after the end of Reconstruction, when the Ku Klux Klan ran riot, Black people were terrorized and lynched, and the mythology of the “Lost Cause” was born. To treat such objects as if they were simply neutral cultural artifacts is to willfully misread history. Some public art is arguably so detrimental to social cohesion that a civic conversation about what to do with it is desirable.

In any case, the answer does not have to be to remove the “bad” public artworks. They can be curated, with explanatory material placing them in historical context. (Early Days was curated, but inadequately.) They can be balanced with other works: A German friend told me that in Hamburg, city officials dealt with a Nazi-built memorial glorifying war by commissioning a counter-memorial that criticized it. These works can be moved to a historic monument site, or to a museum—making explicit their status as aesthetic or historical objects, not exemplars of city values.

. . . In the end, self-righteous symbolic crusades like the school-renaming campaign must not be immune from criticism simply because they purport to fight racial injustice—that noble cause is debased by empty gestures that achieve nothing. Indeed, by creating conflict over trivial objectives—just turn on Fox News—they are more likely to harm the cause of societal progress and racial harmony than to advance it.

Yes, I shall be giving my input to the monument-inspection Pecksniffs, and perhaps to the mayor and my alderman.

h/t: Ben

Chicago: clearing storm

August 3, 2020 • 7:15 am

It’s been extraordinarily cool in Chicago for the last few days (today’s high will be about 71°F or 22°C), and is expected to remain so until Saturday. It’s good weather for ducks, especially yesterday when it rained on and off. The storm cleared for a while in the evening and then began again. Here’s a photo, showing downtown, during yesterday’s brief period of clearing.  Click to enlarge:

It’s a bird, it’s a plane. . . . it’s Chicago!

April 16, 2020 • 9:30 am

I’m having severe trouble concentrating on writing today, and I’m 100% sure this is malaise from lockdown and all the bad news. I am also getting grumpy.

Here, have two pictures of Chicago that I took yesterday evening from my crib. One has a bird in it, the other a plane. I have to say that the view of downtown is much clearer than usual; perhaps this is due to a lack of air pollution. After all, there’s hardly any traffic.

Spot the bird (extra points if you identify it):

Final approach to O’Hare (spot the plane):

A mirage of Chicago

April 13, 2020 • 12:45 pm

Reader Edward sent this breathtaking photo of a mirage of the Chicago Skyline, just featured as the Earth Science Photo of the Day.  It was taken in 2008 from the Indiana Dunes, a state park 37 miles from the city, and a place from which the city isn’t visible.  It is in fact an inferior mirage, formed only under special atmospheric conditions (see also here). Those distant “puddles of water” that you see far away on a hot highway, for instance, are inferior mirages of the sky. Read more at the first link, including details about the equipment and how the photo was taken.

Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

September 14, 2019 • 6:30 am

It’s Caturday, September 14, 2019, and I trust all of us got past Friday the 13th without trouble. It’s National Cream-Filled Donut Day (make the “Creme”, because hardly any donuts use real cream), Eat a Hoagie Day, German Language Day, and, in the UK, National Quiet Day (but every day is quiet day there!)

In honor of German Language Day, here’s a German proverb I made up when I was learning German; it’s very profound. (I hope I can still write German):

“Ein Kind mit einer Brezel findet schnell Freunde.”

(A child with a pretzel quickly makes friends.)

Stuff that happened on September 14 include:

  • 1741 – George Frideric Handel completes his oratorio Messiah.
  • 1752 – The British Empire adopts the Gregorian calendar, skipping eleven days (the previous day was September 2).
  • 1812 – Napoleonic Wars: The French Grande Armée enters Moscow. The Fire of Moscow begins as soon as Russian troops leave the city.
  • 1901 – U.S. President William McKinley dies after an assassination attempt on September 6, and is succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.

McKinley was shot on September 6 by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz, but it took the President a week to die. Here’s the hospital room in Buffalo where he was operated on. There were no antibiotics in those days, which would have saved him, and so he died of gangrene.

  • 1944 – World War II: Maastricht becomes the first Dutch city to be liberated by allied forces.
  • 1969 – The US Selective Service selects September 14 as the First Draft Lottery date.

I was number 3, which began the long tale of my service as a conscientious objector and then my freedom after I took the government to court for drafting me and several thousand other guys in violation of the law.

Here’s one of the miracles for which she was canonized. (They’re always remissions of diseases that can have spontaneous remission.)

  • 1994 – The Major League Baseball season is canceled because of a strike.
  • 2007 – Financial crisis of 2007–2008: The Northern Rock bank experiences the first bank run in the United Kingdom in 150 years.

Matt Ridley was in charge!

  • 2015 – The first observation of gravitational waves was made, announced by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations on 11 February 2016.

Three Nobel Prizes were awarded for this achievement, and only two years afterwards. Nobody has gotten a Nobel Prize for the Human Genome Project or for the use of CRISPR in genetic engineering.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1804 – John Gould, English ornithologist and illustrator (d. 1881)

Gould played an important role in Darwin’s evolutionary thinking, for he identified the birds that Darwin had collected in the Galapagos, and about whose identity Darwin was confused, as a group of finches. (Darwin thought they were wrens and mockingbirds.) Here’s Gould:

John Gould. Studio photograph, 1860s.

Sanger founded the first birth control clinic in America, and founded the groups that became Planned Parenthood. She was, however, opposed to abortion (she favored contraception), and also was big on eugenics, saying that the unfit should be either sterilized or prevented from procreating. Her legacy was mixed, but overall on the positive side. Here she is:

  • 1930 – Allan Bloom, American philosopher and academic (d. 1992)
  • 1934 – Kate Millett, American author and activist (d. 2017)
  • 1983 – Amy Winehouse, English singer-songwriter (d. 2011)

Reader Simon and I share an admiration for Amy (well, at least her music). Here are two of her most famous songs, “Rehab” and “Back to Black”, performed live at the Isle of Wight in 2007. I don’t know who her backup singers/dancers are, but they’re terrific:

Those who expired on September 14 include:

  • 1638 – John Harvard, English-American minister and philanthropist (b. 1607)
  • 1715 – Dom Pérignon, French monk and priest (b. 1638)
  • 1836 – Aaron Burr, American colonel and politician, 3rd Vice President of the United States (b. 1756)
  • 1851 – James Fenimore Cooper, American novelist, short story writer, and historian (b. 1789)
  • 1901 – William McKinley, American soldier, lawyer, and politician, 25th President of the United States (b. 1843)
  • 1927 – Isadora Duncan, American-Russian dancer and choreographer (b. 1877)
  • 1982 – Grace Kelly, American-Monacan actress; Princess of Monaco (b. 1929)
  • 2003 – Garrett Hardin, American ecologist and author (b. 1915)
  • 2009 – Patrick Swayze, American actor, singer, and dancer (b. 1952)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes a joke:

Hili: A mouse was running around here yesterday.
A: And?
Hili: It escaped into the burrow.
A: That’s good.
Hili: That depends on who it’s good for.
In Polish:
Hili: Wczoraj biegła tu mysz.
Ja: I co?
Hili: Uciekła do nory.
Ja: To dobrze.
Hili: Jak dla kogo.

And nearby, Leon, the Dark Tabby Leon has found himself a fine perch:

Leon: One should always aim high!

In Polish: Zawsze należy mierzyć wysoko!

Here’s are two panoramic photos of downtown Chicago taken yesterday on a Chicago Architecture Foundation cruise. Here’s a view from just out in the harbor. I highly recommend the Architecture Foundation cruise if you love nice buildings, for Chicago is the world’s epicenter for skyscrapers and massive buildings.

This was taken on the State Street bridge across the Chicago River:

My friend Moto (a retired vet) posted this on his Facebook page:

From Amazing Things, enjoy some Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), one of the most stupendous biological sights on the planet. If you live in the U.S. (or elsewhere), you must see these. The biggest one known has a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 8.8 meters (nearly 29 feet)!

From Jesus of the Day. According to Sean Carroll’s new book, the cat is already both inside and outside.

Grania sent me this tweet on April 7. I may have posted it before, but so what?

From Gethyn, a great combination of the single- and double-slit experiments and Schrödinger’s cat:

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. First, the world’s laziest d*g:

. . . via lawyer Ann German, with Ann’s response:

Four tweets from Matthew. Look at this beautiful octopus!

I’m not sure whether the cat likes this relationship, but it’s still sweet:

I’m not sure what the bottom of this poster means, but perhaps a reader can enlighten us:

Last but not least, I LOVE this firefighter:

https://twitter.com/awwwwcats/status/1172223744074571776?s=11

Friday: Hili dialogue

May 3, 2019 • 6:30 am

I’m amazed at how quickly the weeks whiz by: soon graduation will take place at most American colleges, and things will become quiet. (The University of Chicago is on the quarter system and so our graduation is late: exams begin June 8, and graduation is a week later. On the other hand, classes usually start in early October.)

The last two days have been chilly and rainy, and while today will also be on the chilly side (high of 47° F or 8° C), we’ll have no rain. Tomorrow a warm spell begins. Here’s a photo I took of downtown Chicago the day before yesterday, with the low clouds hiding much of the skyscrapers:

At any rate, today is Friday, May 3, 2019, and National Chocolate Custard Day. It’s also International Sun Day (a day to advocate for solar energy) and World Press Freedom Day.

On May 3, 1715, there was a total solar eclipse across northern Europe and Asia, and it’s a sign of how advanced astronomy was then that Edmond Halley predicted its onset to within four minutes.  On this day in 1848, according to Wikipedia, “The boar-crested Anglo-Saxon Benty Grange helmet [was] discovered in a barrow on the Benty Grange farm in Derbyshire.” Here’s the description, and I’ve put photographs of the original (on a stand) and a reconstruction below:

The most striking feature of the helmet is the boar at its apex; this pagan symbol faces towards a Christian cross on the nasal in a display of syncretism. This is representative of 7th-century England when Christian missionaries were slowly converting Anglo-Saxons away from traditional Germanic mythology. The helmet seems to exhibit a stronger preference toward paganism, with a large boar and a small cross. The cross may have been added for talismanic effect, the help of any god being welcome on the battlefield. The boar atop the crest was likewise associated with protection and suggests a time when boar-crested helmets may have been common, as do the helmet from Wollaston and the Guilden Morden boar. The contemporary epic Beowulf mentions such helmets five times and speaks of the strength of men “when the hefted sword, its hammered edge and gleaming blade slathered in blood, razes the sturdy boar-ridge off a helmet.”

The original with iron framework and bits of horn plates; the leather has since decayed:

 

Reconstruction:

On this day in 1913, the first full-length Indian feature film was released: Raja Harishchandra. It marked the beginning of the Indian film industry, and already you can see some signs of Bollywood below, in particular the interpolation of songs, the dancing and the style of singing:

Here’s the full movie if you’re so inclined (the quality is pretty poor):

On May 3, 1921, the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was passed, which recognized the division of Ireland into Northern and Southern parts.  In 1948, in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer, the U.S. Supreme court rules that local laws could not ban the sale of real estate to blacks and other minorities. In 1957, Walter O’Malley, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, decided to move the team to Los Angeles.

On May 3, 1960, the musical The Fantasticks opened in Greenwich Village in New York City, and ran for 42 years straight, making it the longest-running musical of all time. (My favorite song from that musical is here.) On this day in 1963, the Birmingham, Alabama police decided to battle civil rights demonstrators with fire hoses and vicious d*gs: a horrible display of violence that, since it was filmed, galvanized the civil rights movement. Here are some scenes from that day:

Finally, according to Wikipedia, it was on this day in 1978 that “The first unsolicited bulk commercial email (which would later become known as “spam“) [was] sent by a Digital Equipment Corporation marketing representative to every ARPANET address on the west coast of the United States.”

Notables born on this day include Jacob Riis (1849), Vita Volterra (1860), Golda Meir (1898), Bing Crosby (1903), Pete Seeger (1919), Steven Weinberg (1933), and Christina Hendricks (1975).

Those who crossed the Rainbow Bridge on May 3 include Jerzy Kosiński (1991), Wally Schirra (2007), and Gary Becker (2014).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili once again thinks that she’s the Fulcrum of the World:

A: What are you doing up there?
Hili: I’m guarding the world’s order.
In Polish:
Ja: Co robisz pod sufitem?
Hili: Czuwam nad porządkiem świata.

A cartoon from Facebook. I’ll never recover from Gary Larson’s retirement from cartooning. Why can’t he just put out one every few weeks or so? What a loss of talent!

Another from Facebook:

Here’s my bff, the newly shaved Pi in his box:

From reader David:

Reader Barry calls our attention to the claws of this caracal:

https://twitter.com/i_iove_nature/status/1123776646836891655

From reader Nilou. I think this picture is photoshopped, but there are real X-ray very similar to this (see them here).

Tweets from Grania. This one, from astronaut Christina Koch in the ISS, shows our beloved Great Lakes:

Can you recognize them? Here’s a key:

Shappi has a cat, but what has it caught?

He’ll never get Jerry!

https://twitter.com/AMAZlNGNATURE/status/1123685288004456449

I bet they love belly rubs too!

https://twitter.com/AMAZlNGNATURE/status/1082679170910412800

Tweets from Matthew. This woman loves her albino ball python, but it’s not going to be that small forever!

Diffident wiener dog!

Closely related to the vervet, but not a vervet:

And I couldn’t resist a couple of geese tweets from a thread. Look at the responsible adults bringing up the rear of this gaggle!