Saturday: Hili dialogue

September 30, 2023 • 6:45 am

This is post number 28,001: lots of writing in the last 14 years!

Welcome to CaturSaturday, September 30, 2023—the last day of the month. It’s National Mulled Cider Day, an appropriate harbinger of nippy weather to come.

It’s also Chewing Gum Day, the Time for Yoga, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Day, National Love People Day, International Blasphemy DayNational Day for Truth and Reconciliation or Orange Shirt Day (in Canada), and International Translation Day

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 30 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Guess what? The odds are that we’re gonna have a government shutdown starting Sunday. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy threw a legislative Hail Mary today, in the form of a rescue bill, and conservative members of his own party, rejected it. Things look grim, as the shutdown begins when the bell tolls midnight on Saturday night.

Hard-line conservatives on Friday tanked Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s long-shot bid to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown, in an extraordinary display of defiance that made it clear that Congress would almost certainly miss a midnight deadline on Saturday to keep federal funding flowing.

It appeared evident even before the vote that the stopgap bill was bound to fail, as several hard-right Republicans had declared that they would not back a temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, under any circumstances. And the measure — which would slash spending and impose severe immigration restrictions — never had a chance of preventing a shutdown, since it was regarded as a nonstarter in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Not everyone would be damaged or salary deprived, for example, me:

A government shutdown would disrupt operations for many federal agencies and leave thousands of workers furloughed, but that does not mean all programs would stop providing benefits.

Funding for Social Security, for instance, is considered mandatory and financed through a payroll tax, meaning a shutdown would not interrupt payments. Recipients of other programs, such as those providing food assistance to women and young children, would see a more immediate reduction of benefits.

Several federal programs would still provide benefits:

  • Social Security checks would continue to be sent out. The Social Security Administration could also issue new and replacement Social Security cards.

  • Medicare and Medicaid benefits would mostly be unaffected, although the Social Security Administration would not be able to issue replacement Medicare cards. There is sufficient funding for Medicaid through the end of December, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

  • Veterans would still be provided medical care, pension benefits and housing services. The Department of Veterans Affairs has said, however, that some activities, such as benefit adjustments and insurance, have been delayed during previous shutdowns.

But a lot of programs that help people, like food stamps, would be curtailed. And, distressingly, Fat Bear Week could be curtailed! (See below.)

Given the divisions within the House GOP as well as the fact that the Senate is Democratic and the House is Republican, this might well take a long time to resolve. Remember, any resolution has to be bipartisan. And the Democratic Senate won’t vote for immigration reform.

*Nellie Bowles’s weekly news summary at The Free Press yesterday is called “TGIF: The Book of Revelations“, and I’ll steal three items from it.

→ Philly Gone Wild: The city of Philadelphia saw a rampage of shoplifting this week. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez [JAC: it looks like we’re going to be stuck with this ambitious doofus forever] famously said that shoplifting is done by people who need to feed their families, but it’s really hard to reconcile that with the clips of folks having what looks like a really, really fun time tearing through department stores grabbing shoes and bags. Zaid has the best take on this:

That last line is hilarious, and oh so true!

→ Dept. of academic absurdia: At the big annual U.S.–Canada academic anthropology conference, there was a planned panel called “Let’s Talk About Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology.” It was, of course, deemed too controversial. The American Anthropological Association and Canadian Anthropology Society cancelled the talk, writing: “The reason the session deserved further scrutiny was that the ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI of the anthropological community as well as the community at large.” It was about “safety,” the academic groups said. The deplatformed professors, all women, wrote an open letter you can read here. The message is clear over and over: you cannot talk about gender-based violence or explore specific issues women face in other countries. Which is totally fine because the world treats women beautifully everywhere and the only existing oppression happens to be in Berkeley and New Haven, specifically of PhD students, who live in constant danger. Honestly, those anthropologists don’t need to travel anymore. The greatest victims and also the most interesting people in the world are right there, sitting around that very conference room table.

In London, the big Comic Con festival cancelled a random Harry Potter panel, set to be hosted by the team behind a new Harry Potter play in town. Activists said they would protest anything that had any reference to J.K. Rowling’s IP, and event organizers cited the need to keep everyone “safe.” As much as I hate that safe has become a byword for just the thing you personally want to happen, I think it’s time I embrace it. Why do I need a glass of wine at noon? For safety reasons. In-home massage on Friday mornings? Safety, heard of it?

. . . and a new book by Abigail Shrier, surely worth reading (remember how she was demonized for her last one).

→ Shameless plugs corner: Preorder Abigail Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up. It’s going to be amazing. I have mixed feelings about this one because, you see, we share a book editor. But Abigail is much faster and more productive, so in the small classroom that is the two of us, I’m the bad one. Also on my preorder list is a new futurism book by James Pethokoukis.

*Andrew Sullivan’s latest weekly column, a good one, is called “Could MLK give a TED talk today?” It is, of course, largely about the shameful way TED treated Coleman Hughes (see my piece here), an incident that’s become far bigger news than I imagined. (I’m on Hughes’s side, which is also Sully’s side, and you should also read Jesse Singal’s excoriation of TED if you can. But I have nothing to add to what I’ve said, or what Singal and Sullivan say. I want to highlight one bit of Sullivan’s column:

 Why has the left focused on shifting educational curricula away from liberal concepts toward critical, neo-Marxist ones in general? Paolo Freire: “The solution is not to ‘integrate’ [students] into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become ‘beings for themselves’.” Revolution starts with indoctrination of the young.

. . .And it couldn’t have achieved this mastery of American society without other contingent factors: the astonishing weakness of the leaders of liberal institutions and foundations, more terrified of being called a racist or a transphobe by a teenager than committed to liberal values. And Donald Trump empowered the fanatics more than anyone else in our polity, by further tribalizing and polarizing our culture. And the dominant therapeutic paradigm has supplemented all of it — enforcing ideological orthodoxy via personal emotional blackmail.

There is also an end-of-history boredom to it all. Now that full civil rights are well established, what is a progressive gonna do? They seem less interested in the economic policies that could win multi-racial majorities than in zero-sum narratives of racial and sexual oppression. They need to invent new vistas of discrimination — even unconscious ones — to sustain themselves. Look at the rump of the gay rights movement, now pushing so far into leftist insanity it has abolished the whole concept of homosexuality as same-sex attraction, and targeted mostly gay children for irreversible bodily mutilation. Anything to keep the pulse racing and the donations coming in.

Sullivan is pretty hard on Biden, but I have to say that his criticisms below ring pretty true:

The re-election of Trump — which is at least 50-50 proposition at this point — would further crazy up the left and reduce what tiny amount of oxygen is left for the liberal project to stay alive. But the re-election of Biden would, alas, do much the same. His administration is committed to this neo-Marxism all the way down. It practices race and sex discrimination in all its employment practices; it endorses critical race, gender and queer theory in every area of life; it has adopted wholesale the lingo of the new orthodoxy — “white supremacy”; “equity”;  “LGBTQI+ people”; “systemic racism”; “antiracism”; “LatinX”; and on and on. The vice president — openly picked by Biden, like his Supreme Court nominee, because she has the right sex and skin color — is in the vanguard of this revolution, and is Biden’s promise that the regime change will be permanent. There are no liberals left who resist it. They privately bemoan it and publicly mouth its pomo verbiage. In some ways, they are more contemptible than the extremists.

I resist it, Andrew!  And the ending:

For those who tell me to chill out, I have to repeat: ideas really do matter. You cannot graft deeply illiberal practices and neo-Marxist ideology onto a liberal polity for very long, before the contradictions force a resolution. A House divided so profoundly cannot stand. But the surrender of the Democratic liberals and the insane radicalization of the GOP almost certainly means that peaceful, liberal politics may well not be capable of resolving this contradiction. Which means that something much darker and more violent will.

I wonder what “resolution” he’s envisioning her. Surely he doesn’t mean civil war!?

*Matthew reports, via The Guardian, that an 82-year-old tortoise in Cornwall has had successful surgery, but OY! what a problem!:

Joey, an 82-year-old tortoise in Cornwall, is recovering from surgery after the removal of a bladder stone the size of a cricket ball.

Two veterinary surgeons had to cut through Joey’s shell to remove the growth, which at 150g was almost three times the weight of a tennis ball.

One of the vets, Viliam Hoferica, said the bladder stone was the largest he had ever seen. “Given the size of the stone, it was very unique. If Joey was a human, it would be like having a bladder stone the size of a basketball,” he said.

Hoferica said it may take up to a year for Joey’s shell to heal. Explaining the procedure, he said the vets had to create a fibreglass and resin glue to hold together her shell after the surgery.

Hoferica, a surgeon at the Rosevean veterinary practice in Penzance, said Joey’s condition was only discovered by accident. He speculated that the bladder stone may have been growing for months or even years.

He said: “Tortoises are a very tough species. They don’t let you know what is wrong until it’s really bad. Joey had only been acting unusually in the last few weeks before the surgery, and even then she was just eating less and moving less.

Here’s the photo of the poor beast and the stone they removed (caption from the Guardian).  What nice vets, even gluing the shell together! Matthew told me that when he was a kid he also had a tortoise named Joey, and loved to watch it eat lettuce.

*Now you want bad news about the impending government shutdown? Here’s some REALLY bad news (you can click on the headline, too)

Fat Bear Week is in jeopardy.

If Washington gridlock pushes the country into a government shutdown on Saturday night, the people who run the popular online contest celebrating the burly Alaskan brown bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve will be among the federal employees furloughed.

In a call with reporters Thursday night, the Department of Interior said the workers who monitor the contest are not exempt from a lapse in appropriations. The majority of national parks will close to the public in the event of a shutdown.

In a call with reporters Thursday night, the Department of Interior said the workers who monitor the contest are not exempt from a lapse in appropriations. The majority of national parks will close to the public in the event of a shutdown.

. . .According to a news release from the National Park Service, rangers are responsible for creating the bracket-style tournament.

Rangers begin work on Fat Bear Week long before the competition begins. As soon as employees arrive at Katmai National Park at the beginning of the season, they are tasked with capturing photos of the bears at their lowest weight. They keep track of the bears throughout the summer, then come September must capture the bears at their fattest.

“The pictures we use for Fat Bear Week are not the kind of pictures that as a photographer, you normally want to take,” said Naomi Boak, the park’s media ranger.

Unlike the visitors hoping to get photos of the bears in action, Boak says rangers look for “boring profile shots” that give the online voters an idea of the bear’s size.

The job is easier said than done. With bears constantly submerged in the water fishing and appearing in the Brooks Corridor at inconsistent times, “the picture taking gets intense,” Boak said.

For me, Fat Bear Week is a highlight of the year. I love to see those overstuffed grizzlies, nearly as wide as they are long, laden with fat from salmon. The fatter they are, the better their chance of doing well during hibernation. If we don’t have Fat Bear Week this year, I’m going to stuff marbles up my nose and scream.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili seems to be meditating:

A: Are you asleep?
Hili: No, I’m trying to regain my mental balance.
In Polish:
Ja: Śpisz?
Hili: Nie, próbuję odzyskać równowagę ducha.

And a picture of Szaron, the world’s most affectionate cat. He loves everyone!


From Mark (is this real?):

From Merilee:

From Stash Krod; the wonders of AI, which turns the Beatles into four Mr. Naturals:

Mr. Natural drawn by R. Crumb. If you remember him, you’re old:

From Masih, the Iranian regime wounds a child while shooting at protestors:

From Simon, who calls it “direct and to the point.” Sure ’nuff!

From Barry; I’m not sure whether the original claim is real:

From Jez: Trump interviews for a job:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a 48-year-old woman gassed upon arrival:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, a salmon saves itself (sound up):

. . . and it didn’t even have to pay!:

A lovely bird! Sound up:

Friday: Hili dialogue

September 29, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Friday, September 29, 2023, and It’s also National Coffee Day. What if coffee had never evolved? We’d be walking around every morning like zombies, not knowing that there was a hypothetical plant that could restore us! We wouldn’t even be able to imagine coffee!

Here’s my Joe this morning: a large latte with three shots of espresso, as I’m tired. I made it on my office espresso machine: There’s a sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

It’s also Goose Day, Save the Koala Day, National Biscotti Day, German Butterbrot Day (celebrating bread and butter, but also sandwiches made with butter), National Mocha Day, World Heart Day. and yes, the start of another Jewish holiday, the weeklong Sukkot. Lots of noms, as all Jewish holidays, as I said, can be characterized this way: “They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.”
Today’s Google Doodle (below; click to go to sites) celebrates the 89th birthday (he died in 2021) of “Dr. Flow,” Mihaly Robert Csikszentmihalyi.  He worked here as head of the Department of Psychology.  The Doodle, for once, is actually attractive. 

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 29 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Trump’s efforts to delay his civil fraud trial for inflating the value of his real estate has failed (the judge has already found him guilty; only the fine is at stake. The trial for damages could start next week.

Donald J. Trump’s civil fraud trial over accusations that he inflated the value of his properties by billions of dollars could begin as soon as Monday after a New York appeals court rejected the former president’s attempt to delay it.

The appeals court, in a terse two-page order Thursday, effectively turned aside for now a lawsuit Mr. Trump filed against the trial judge, Arthur F. Engoron. The lawsuit had sought to delay the trial, and ultimately throw out many of the accusations against the former president.

Thursday’s ruling came two days after Justice Engoron issued an order that struck a major blow to Mr. Trump, finding him liable for having committed fraud by persistently overvaluing his assets and stripping him of control over his New York properties.

Justice Engoron sided with the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who last year sued Mr. Trump, accusing him of inflating his net worth to obtain favorable loan terms from banks.

Mr. Trump is not entirely out of options in blocking the trial from moving forward. He can still appeal Justice Engoron’s Tuesday order, but it is unclear whether the appeals court would consider that.

Again, the most Trump would have to pay in this trial (which is before the judge) is $250 million—chump change (or Trump change). And it’s a civil trial, so he’ll suffer virtually no reputational damage among his supporters no matter how much he’s fined. After all, he’s already been found culpable, and his ratings haven’t plummeted.

*If you don’t think that the immigration problem needs fixing, read this WSJ article (not an op-ed) about thousands of migrants being simply let loose on the streets of San Diego.

SAN DIEGO—An unmarked white bus pulled up to a park here Monday morning, where it dropped off about 50 recently arrived migrants with little idea where they were and no place to sleep that night.

It wasn’t part of a nefarious operation. The bus was driven by the U.S. government, which is dropping off thousands of migrants in communities along the border as a new wave of illegal immigration strains the resources of the Border Patrol.

Local shelters are hitting capacity, including the roughly 950 beds in San Diego that are typically adequate for recently arrived migrants who need a place to sleep for a night or two. As a result, immigration agents are dropping people off on the streets, at bus stops and in train stations, angering local officials and worrying aid groups.

In San Diego, an estimated 7,800 migrants have been released in the past two weeks, according to county officials, who on Tuesday declared the situation to be a humanitarian crisis.

. . . “We see people being released to the streets with in some cases a little more than the clothes on their back,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director for the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. Her organization set up a makeshift aid center for migrants at the park, and the Border Patrol has been dropping off people there.

. . . Federal border agents have released migrants onto the streets of communities during past surges in illegal immigration, but San Diego officials say the numbers now are among the highest ever. Record numbers of people are fleeing poverty, corruption and crime in countries such as Venezuela to seek asylum in the U.S. Many are traveling as families, which makes it harder for authorities to detain and deport them because of legal limits on how long children can be held.

Most of these migrants are not only entering illegally, but are doing so not because of fear of persecution, but to seek economic benefits in America, which is not a legal rationale for immigration.  Biden could stop this if he wanted to (or so I think), but he doesn’t seem to want to. And it’s going to count against him in next year’s election.

*As I said earlier today, I bailed on the GOP Presidential debate, but Frank Bruni of the NYT didn’t, and wrote a column called “The only shot those seven Republicans have to stop Trump.”  Now what shot could that be? This one, which is only a “shot” if you’re talking about a cap gun:

The point is that Trump has zero respect for democracy and has aspirations for autocracy. The point is that he keeps scaling new pinnacles of unhinged. The point is that he needs to win the presidency so that he doesn’t have to worry about living out his days where he belongs: behind bars.

And perhaps the only shot that any of those seven candidates have to stop him and prevent the irreversible damage he’d do to the United States with four more years is to call a tyrant a tyrant, a liar a liar, an arsonist an arsonist. None of them did.

They’re too frightened of his and his followers’ wrath. So forgive me if I chortled every time they talked about leadership, which they talked about often on Wednesday night. They’re not leaders. They’re opportunists who are letting an opportunity slip away from them.

. . .Instead of taking Trump sufficiently to task, instead of explaining in full why just about any one of them would be preferable to the madman of Mar-a-Loco, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott quarreled about drapes. Yes, drapes. He said she squandered $50,000 of federal money on them when she was the United Nations ambassador, she said she didn’t, and they both grew very exercised about it. Where was that passion on the subject of Trump?

Instead of savaging him, the seven candidates tore into one another, seemingly vying not to catch up to Trump but to be declared the No. 1 alternative, like a beauty pageant runner-up poised to fulfill the winner’s duties and wear the winner’s tiara should the need arise.

Well, I suppose Bruni has a point, but his advice isn’t going to make a dent in Trump’s lead. You can call him a criminal, an insurrectionist, a rapist, or all the other things he might be convicted of, but all it will do is hurt the standing of the critic. That’s why they didn’t do it. Let’s face it: none of them can make the slight dent in Trump’s chance of being the GOP nominee.

*The “books” section of the WaPo has a piece by Tyler Austin Harper (not a book review) called “Ibram X. Kendi’s fall is a cautionary tale—so was his rise.”  I knew Kendi’s antiracism institute at Boston University had lost employees and was plagued by allegations of mismanagement, but I wasn’t aware he’d “fallen.” So I read on.

Perhaps the leading figure of the contemporary “anti-racism” movement, Kendi has faced new scrutiny after he recently laid off more than half of the staff at his Center for Antiracist Research. Boston University, where the center is housed, has now opened an inquiry into how it was run. Allegations include poor pay, employee exploitation, the failure to produce any significant research and the mismanagement of $43 million in donations.

As one of a number of left-wing commentators who have been critical of mainstream anti-racism — and who believe the movement is little more than self-help for White people that runs interference for corporations and wealthy universities — I’ve watched the Kendi crisis unfold with a touch of schadenfreude. Yet though this public reckoning feels long overdue, I can’t help but also have a smidgen of empathy for the embattled anti-racism guru. Kendi was transformed from a respected historian — winner of the National Book Award for his 2016 tome, “Stamped From the Beginning,” but hardly a household name — to the head sage of a global progressive movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. No longer a mere ambassador for academic anti-racism, Kendi became a brand.

The prospect of Kendi’s unraveling is not — or at least, is not only — the story of a huckster who was happy to cash in on America’s racial trauma, slapping his name on strange children’s books, including “Antiracist Baby” and “Goodnight Racism,” while raking in hundreds of dollars a minute to give short talks at American universities. Instead, the Kendi affair is yet another example of an age-old truism: White American elites on both sides of the political spectrum — academics, publishers, members of the media, corporate leaders — are always waiting in the wings to turn a shiny new Black intellectual into a mouthpiece for their political agenda.

Kendi’s work has always courted acclaim and controversy in equal measure. “Stamped,” a more-than-500-page doorstop that charts a conceptual history of American racism, published during the halcyon final year of the Obama presidency, has a provocative and even ingenious thesis: Racist ideas don’t generate racist policies; instead, racist policies — defined as policies that produce disparities — give birth to racist ideas that serve to explain those inequalities after the fact. “Time and again, racist ideas have not been cooked up from the boiling pot of ignorance and hate,” Kendi declares. “Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto Black people.”

By reversing the causal flow of racial inequality — insisting that the bad laws come first, the bigoted ideas later — Kendi mounted a frontal assault on the anemic liberal moralizing at the heart of mainstream American race discourse. He set out to dismantle the comforting assumption that racism is a problem of individual mental attitudes — the thoughtcrimes of mustache-twirling scoundrels who live in red states and rural places — and instead emphasized that racism is a systemic problem baked into our public and private institutions.

Harper then criticizes Kendi’s huge bestseller, the flawed and curiously incoherent How to be an Antiracist, but here’s his money accusation:

Once reserved for the gravest of racial trespasses, thanks to the influence of Kendi and other charlatans like Robin DiAngelo, “racism” is now routinely employed to describe anything from workplace microaggressions to terrorist attacks. The march on Charlottesville was white supremacy, but so too is asking Black people to show up to Zoom meetings on time. The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called such terms “floating signifiers”: bits of phraseology that are “void of meaning and thus apt to receive any meaning.” The mainstreaming of Kendi’s brand of anti-racism has made “racism” into a word so plastic as to have lost all descriptive power — and with it all moral magnitude. At a moment when actual white supremacy is on the rise, the loss of “racist” as a condemnation with real ethical and political power is of grave consequence and may ironically be Kendi’s most significant contribution to American politics.

And this, says the author, is Kendi’s grift (yes, he calls him a “grifter”). I do have a feeling that Kendi’s best days are behind him, but I can’t say for sure.




*Reader David tells us that, according to the Guardian, the world’s most valuable wine collection is on sale, and its estimate is (wait for it) £41 million!

These are no ordinary tipples. When the largest and most valuable collection of rare wines ever sold comes to market, aficionados are going to need deep pockets: some could go for almost $200,000 (£165,000) apiece.

The 25,000 bottles of wine, including many mythical vintages and names, are just part of the collection of Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen. They are expected to be fetch up to $50m (£41m) at separate auctions in Paris, London, New York, Hong Kong and Beaune, considered the Burgundy region’s wine capital.

“This is the ultimate wine collection, which comes to the market at a time when global interest in fine wine has arguably never been greater,” said Nick Pegna, the global head of wine and spirits at Sotheby’s, which is organising the sale. “This is a cellar in which every bottle has a story, and in which every wine is the best you could wish to own and enjoy.”

The auction house said Chen’s collection, acquired over 40 years, was “the most broad-ranging, valuable cellar ever formed”.

Here are some of the highlights, and my mouth is watering as I post this!

Among the highlights are two six-litre Methuselahs of Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti La Tâche 1985 estimated at up to $190,000 (£156,000) each, one from 1999 ($130,000), and a three-litre 1971 Jeroboam of the same “iconic” red burgundy ($140,000).

Two magnums of 1985 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin are expected to go for up to $32,000 each, and six magnums of 2001 Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1er Cru produced by Henri Jayer, known as the “Godfather of burgundy”, for up to $70,000 each.

Among the white burgundies, 12 bottles of 2014 Bâtard-Montrachet are estimated at up to $22,000 each, while the red Bordeaux on offer include a 1959 Château Lafite Rothschild, a 1961 Château Latour and the “seminal” 1947 Château Cheval Blanc.

But this is the one I’d want:

A single, exceptionally rare six-litre imperial of 1982 Pétrus, widely considered one of the greatest of all Bordeaux wines, is set to go for up to $65,000 . . .

1982 was a great year for Bordeaux in general and Petrus in particular. And I could have afforded at least a few 750-ml bottles on future had I dug deep back then.  As David said, “I’d have to sell my house to afford just a single bottle!”

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron have taken over the staff’s workspace during an absence:

Szaron: They will be back soon.
Hili: They will not move me.
In Polish:
Szaron: Oni zaraz tu wrócą.
Hili: Mnie nie ruszą.
And here are the stairs that Paulina and Mariusz and had built so Kulka and the other cats (Hili is getting too old to climb vines to the veranda) could get to the second floor (Hili is getting too old and plump to climb vines to the veranda) :


From Divy:

From Seth Andrews, who says, “Guess the country.”  Them’s bullets, Jed!

From The Absurd Sign Project 2.0:

From Masih; protestors mutilating pages showing Khomeini.  This would have been a capital crime in Russia if the picture was Stalin, and is likely a serious crime in Iran:

From gravelinspector, who calls this “The luckiest (and stupidest) pigeon in the world.”  Indeed! And I guess it did survive!

This cat was obviously pissed off that its kitten had strayed:

David Bowie writes a song about a depressed Ricky Gervais:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a girl gassed upon arrival. She was 12.

Tweets from Professor Cobb. First, a lovely woman saving a stuck skunk! And she didn’t even get squirted.

I can’t get my head around this one:

Puppy and ducks:

Thursday: Hili dialogue

September 28, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Thursday, September 28, 2023, and National Strawberry Cream Pie Day, celebrating an excellent pie that is rarely seen.  You can see one below, though it is too light on the strawberries and too heavy on the cream. It looks more like cheesecake than a cream pie.

It’s also National Drink Beer Day, National Good Neighbor Day, World Maritime Day,Freedom from Hunger DayInternational Day for Universal Access to Information, and World Rabies Day. 

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 28 Wikipedia page.

Wine of the Day:  I had only one meat meal in three weeks in Israel, so last night I treated myself to a honking T-bone steak along with rice and green beans. I chose a hearty red to go with it, and a rather pricey one: a $40 Bordeaux from 7 years ago. Here it is:

This wine, which is 70% Merlot with the rest Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (a classic Bordeaux mixture, though heavy on merlot), tells you why a great Bordeaux can outstrip a great Cabernet. It’s gutsy but full of notes of berries, plums, cherries, and earth: complexity to spare, which you don’t find in a good Cab.  But it’s clear that I drank it too young: it needs another 5-10 years, I think, as it’s still a bit tannic. It also had a bit of sediment, but not much, and a mature Bordeaux should have more.  Here’s a rating by Jeb Dunnuck, who gave it a 93/100:

The deep purple-colored 2016 Château Grand-Pontet is a blend of 70% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It offers a pretty, lifted bouquet of black cherries, plums, violets, damp earth, and bay leaf. This gives way to a medium to full-bodied, ripe, nicely concentrated wine that has beautiful purity of fruit, rock solid mid-palate depth, moderate tannins, and a great finish. Drink this ripe, powerful 2016 over the coming 15+ years.

Some of the best Bordeaux, like Chateau Petrus, are mostly merlot, and this wine shows that the grape can make for a powerful wine. 2016 was a very good year for Bordeaux, and I was prescient enough to shell out for a fair few bottles. I know now not to touch them for five years or more (if I live!).

Da Nooz:

*Did anybody watch the Republican Presidential debate last night? Neither did I.

*When midnight chimes on Sunday, and if Congress hasn’t taken action, there will be a shutdown of the U.S. government. The NYT prognosticates that a brief shutdown is tolerable, but a longer one might cause a recession. 

A brief shutdown would be unlikely to slow the economy significantly or push it into recession, economists on Wall Street and inside the Biden administration have concluded. That assessment is based in part on the evidence from prior episodes where Congress stopped funding many government operations.

But a prolonged shutdown could hurt growth and potentially President Biden’s re-election prospects. It would join a series of other factors that are expected to weigh on the economy in the final months of this year, including high interest rates, the restart of federal student loan payments next month and a potentially lengthy United Automobile Workers strike.

A halt to federal government business would not just dent growth. It would further dampen the mood of consumers, whose confidence slumped in September for the second straight month amid rising gas prices. In the month that previous shutdowns began, the Conference Board’s measure of consumer confidence slid by an average of seven points, Goldman Sachs economists noted recently, although much of that decline reversed in the month after a reopening.

Gregory Daco, the chief economist at EY-Parthenon, said a government shutdown would not be a “game changer in terms of the trajectory of the economy.” But, he added, “the fear is that, if it combines with other headwinds, it could become a significant drag on economic activity.”

Note how they slip in whether or not it would hurt Biden early in the article. But don’t we already know that a prolonged recession would do that? At any rate, shutdowns usually haven’t lasted long and we have a year before the next election, so I’m not worried about Biden. What’s more worrisome are all those government workers who won’t get paid and have to deal with food, mortgages, and other expenses.

*And, according to the WaPo, the odds that there will be a government shutdown have increased since the House GOP leaders rejected the Democratic Senate’s spending bill. Both Houses have to agree on one version of a bill before it can pass. And the Senate bill, which passed that chamber, is bipartisan!

A federal government shutdown looked increasingly likely as House Republicans indicated Wednesday they would not consider a bipartisan Senate plan to fund the government past the weekend deadline.

The Senate on Tuesday advanced a bill to continue funding the government at current levels into mid-November, which would also provision some of the billions of dollars President Biden seeks for U.S. aide to Ukraine and for natural disaster relief. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) swiftly rejected that idea, telling his conference in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that he would not put the Senate bill on the floor in its current form.

In other private meetings this week, McCarthy began to float the idea of taking the Senate’s short-term bill, stripping it of provisions the House GOP opposes, then tacking on a House-passed border security bill and sending it back to the Senate. Separately, McCarthy and his allies have continued to encourage their colleagues to pass a 30-day short-term spending bill Friday, which would include border security, in a signal of defiance to the Senate. Exactly what that bill would include remained up in the air Wednesday afternoon.

The different tactics nearly guarantee a government shutdown, unless lawmakers can force some other long-shot solution. The two chambers working in opposition to one another probably won’t have enough time to pass a stopgap spending bill — called a continuing resolution, or CR — before the current funding laws expire at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

The GOP is really, really hot on immigration reform as something that the Democrats have to accept to avert a shutdown, but I don’t really know what the GOP wants in that area. Ceiling Cat knows that we need immigration reform, and we know the Democrats won’t touch it with a ten-foot poll (they seem to prefer open borders to any restrictions), but it should be considered rather than used as a lever to prevent a shutdown. At any rate, my own prediction is yes, we’ll have a shutdown, but it won’t last long.

And polls show, contrary to my expectations, that it’ll hurt the Democrats and Biden more than the Republicans. That’s a bit curious, but remember that the party in power is always blamed for economic downturns.

*I have two pieces from The Free Press today, the first being “Inside Iran’s influence operation” This operation, reported by former WSJ writer Jay Solomon, is apparently a “scoop.”

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative.

The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails reported for the first time by Semafor and Iran International. The officials, working under the moderate president Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

The documents offer deep and unprecedented new insights into the thinking and inner workings of Iran’s Foreign Ministry at a crucial time in the nuclear diplomacy—even as Tehran’s portrayal of events is questioned, if not flatly denied, by others involved in the IEI. They show how Iran was capable of the kind of influence operations that the U.S. and its allies in the region often conduct.

Now this story begins a while back, during the Obama administration, but the mindset that it created—that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are peaceful ones, and the country has no ambitions to build a bomb—persist in the Biden admnistration. This is one of the Democrats’ blind spots, but you don’t have to be an expert to see where Iran is heading. Israel knows what’s going on, and if we’re ever to prevent Iran from getting a bomb, it will be Israel that does the job.  Their possession of nuclear weapons isn’t a particular danger to the U.S. but it sure is to Israel!

*Finally, yesterday I wrote about Coleman Hughes’s claim that the TED organization had deliberately hidden his talk on “colorblind” solutions to inequality, probably because those solutions contravene “progressive” ideological demands that we not only see color, but make it the main factor in how we deal with individuals and groups.

So in fairness I highlight two responses to Hughes’s article, both in The Free Press: “Adam Grant and Chris Anderson respond to Coleman Hughes.

Adam Grant is a social scientist who argues that a body of literature contradicts Hughes’s claim that colorblind initiatives are the best way to reduce inequality. From his response:

As a social scientist, I form my opinions based on credible evidence. My concerns about Hughes’s talk weren’t fueled by the argument he made, but by my perception that his conclusion was inconsistent with the best available data.

In early May, I was asked by TED to offer a confidential assessment of his talk. I responded with a summary of a meta-analysis of research on diversity ideologies, spanning 167 independent samples and 296 effect sizes. It appears that Hughes never received my full commentary—or my reply explaining why the results pose a major challenge to Hughes’s talk. Here are the three points that I made:

(1) The meta-analysis distinguishes between three forms of color blindness (what the authors call “identity-blind” approaches). All three are either ineffective or counterproductive on key outcomes:

a. Ignoring differences (“color blindness”) is associated with reduced stereotypes and prejudice. . . but fails to protect against discrimination. From the authors: “discrimination may be most problematic in organizations where color blindness prevails.”

b. Minimizing differences (“assimilation”) is problematic across the board—it exacerbates discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes.

c. Meritocracy predicts lower discrimination but fails to shield against prejudice and stereotypes.

(2) To make the case for an identity-blind approach, you would need evidence that one or more of these approaches has greater efficacy than a multicultural approach that acknowledges differences. Unfortunately for Hughes’s thesis, the meta-analysis shows the opposite. As the authors conclude, “multiculturalism is more consistently associated with improved intergroup relations than any identity-blind ideology.”

(3) The most rigorous evidence in the meta-analysis—from randomized, controlled experiments—demonstrates the many ways in which color blindness can backfire in schools, workplaces, and courtrooms. As a team of experts summarized in a review of the research, “Shutting our eyes to the complexities of race does not make them disappear, but does make it harder to see that color blindness often creates more problems than it solves.”

I can’t judge the data, but Grant’s beef is that he wanted Hughes to engage with someone working on that data, and that didn’t happen (there was an online “debate” with Jamelle Bouie.

Chris Anderson is the head of TED and here’s a bit of his response to Hughes:

First thing to say is that Hughes’s piece is a reasonably accurate description of what happened. In a nutshell, we invited him to TED to give a talk we knew would be controversial. But the talk ended up causing more upset than we foresaw. So there was pressure from some on our team not to post it. We overrode that.

But nonetheless the talk has had fewer views than others on the platform and Coleman is understandably upset by this. Some additional context. First of all, personally, I’m a fan of Coleman. He’s off-the-charts smart. And he’s a crystal clear communicator. I love his podcast, even when he brings on guests I disagree with. I was excited he agreed to come to TED.

His talk was received with huge enthusiasm by many in the audience. But many others heard it as a dangerous undermining of the fight for progress in race relations.

So yes, there was controversy. When people on your own team feel like their identity is being attacked, it’s right to take pause.

And we concluded that some of the essential issues raised by Coleman’s talk needed wider discussion, hence the decision to supplement the talk with a debate. And in the end, despite internal and external pushback, we did indeed post the talk.

Yeah, but only after Hughes pressured them with an email. They should never have even hesitated to post the talk.

It’s interesting to have a look at the readers’ comments on this post, which are pro-Hughes.  Here’s one:

While I give more weight to Grant’s critique, as it involves conflicting data, TED knew about that before Hughes’s talk, and allowed him to go ahead anyway.  I expect Coleman will respond, so we’ll have to wait and see. As for Anderson’s beef, I don’t give it much weight, as I don’t think Hughes’s talk “dangerously undermines race relations.” It just gives another viewpoint that can be weighed and discussed. Let’s stay tuned and see how Hughes answers these critiques, for I’m sure he will.

*Are two empty canvases represented as “art” worth $70,000. Maybe in money-crazed and art-wonky America, but not in Denmark.

 A Danish artist who was given a pile of cash by a museum in northern Denmark to create a piece for its exhibition on labor conditions two years ago submitted two empty canvases — titled “Take the Money and Run.” The exhibit caused a stir.

A Danish court ruled last week that Jens Haaning has to repay 492,549 kroner ($69,894 ) to Kunsten Museum in Aalborg for having violated his contract. His lawyer, Peter Schønning, said Wednesday that the contemporary artist is appealing the ruling and declined further comment.

The museum had commissioned Haaning in 2021 to recreate two of his earlier pieces featuring bank notes attached to canvases representing the average annual wage in Denmark and Austria.

Instead, he submitted two empty canvases for the exhibition, entitled “Work It Out,” said the artwork represented his current work situation and kept the money.

Along with giving him the money in euro and kroner banknotes for the art pieces, the museum also paid him 25,000 kroner ($3,900) for his labor in creating the artwork.

In its Sept. 18 ruling, the District Court of Copenhagen also decided that Haaning can keep 40,000 kroner ($5,676) from the original amount given to him by the museum, which should constitute an artist’s fee because the exhibition, held from Sept. 24, 2021 to Jan. 16, 2022, went ahead with the empty frames.

Here’s the funny part, which shows you how intellectually vapid the term art is (though not in Denmark):

Haaning has denied having committed a crime and insists he did produce a work of art.

You be the judge; here’s one of Haaning’s “artworks”, with the caption by the AP:

An empty picture frame by Danish artist Jens Haaning titled “Take the Money andRun”, hangs at the Kunsten museum in Aalborg, on Sept. 28, 2021. Haaning, commissioned by the museum in northern Denmark to create a piece for its exhibition on labor conditions two years ago submitted two empty canvases. The exhibit caused a stir. A Danish court ruled last week that Jens Haaning has to repay 492,549 kroner ($69,894 ) to Kunsten Museum in Aalborg for the work. His lawyer, Peter Schønning, said Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, that the contemporary artist is appealing the ruling and declined further comment. (Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is wondering:

Hili: Who invented the wheel?
A: I was wondering about it as well.
(Photo: Sarah Lawson)
In Polish:
Hili: Kto wymyślił koło?
Ja: Też się nad tym zastanawiałem.
(Zdjęcie: Sarah Lawson)
And there here is a picture of baby Kulka on a cat ladder newly installed by Paulina and Mariusz! Now she can easily get to the second floor where she lives.


From reader David, who took this picture in London. Look at one of the works of art in the gallery to the right:

From Facebook. Translation of the German: “They’re all the same, no?”

From The Absurd Sign Project 2.0.  Au contraire!

From Masih; restroom surveillance cameras in Iran? What are they looking for, and who’s looking? Sound up:

From Ricky Gervais (a young one); a scene in which he must euthanize his dog. I’m not sure where it comes from, but the scene is heartbreaking:

From Jez: What a considerate staff!

Try this on your cat! (Note: don’t use your own toothbrush. . .)

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a woman murdered (for that’s what it was) at 36:

Tweets from Professor Cobb.  First, Stravinsky’s cats (artists and musicians tend to favor cats over dogs, a theory that is mine):


Why ducks in trees?  She doesn’t realize that many ducks nest in trees, including the wood duck.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

September 27, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to a “hump day” (“Araw ng umbok” in Filipino), Wednesday September 27, 2023, and National Chocolate Milk Day. This was the only milk I drank in the junior-high cafeteria, and it costs 2¢ per half pint. When I was very young, my father Floyd used to tell me that chocolate milk came from brown cows—and I believed him.  Surprisingly, many adults still do today!

It’s also Ancestor Appreciation Day, National Day of Forgiveness, World Dense Breast Day (a couple of my female friends have this mammogram-frustrating issue), World School Milk Day, National Corned Beef Hash Day, National Women’s Health and Fitness Day,World Tourism Day, National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and, in Poland, Polish Underground State’s Day

It’s Google’s 25th birthday, and if you click on the Google Doodle below, you’ll see their celebration:

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 27 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The breaking news is that, in a civil suit, a NY judge found the Trumpster was guilty of grossly inflating his property values (the overvaluation could be over $2 billion!) in order to make himself look wealthier than he was. The judge reamed the Orange Man out in his decision, and the result is that there will apparently be no civil trial—only a determination of what his penalty will be.

A New York judge ruled on Tuesday that Donald J. Trump persistently committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets, and stripped the former president of control over some of his signature New York properties.

The surprising decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron is a major victory for Attorney General Letitia James in her lawsuit against Mr. Trump, effectively deciding that no trial was needed to determine that he had fraudulently secured favorable terms on loans and insurance deals.

Ms. James has argued that Mr. Trump inflated the value of his properties by as much as $2.2 billion and is seeking a penalty of about $250 million in a trial scheduled to begin as early as Monday.

Justice Engoron wrote that the annual financial statements that Mr. Trump submitted to banks and insurance companies “clearly contain fraudulent valuations that defendants used in business.”

Mr. Trump, for his part, noted that Justice Engoron was a Democrat and called him “deranged.”

While the trial will determine the size of the penalty, Justice Engoron’s ruling granted one of the biggest punishments Ms. James sought: the cancellation of business certificates that allow some of Mr. Trump’s New York properties to operate, a move that could have major repercussions for the Trump family business.

The decision will likely end Trump’s control of much of his empire, including his flagship “Trump Tower” in Manhattan. But the penalty, $250 million, is chump change for Trump, and even though he be guilty, he’s not a convicted criminal, for this is a civil suit.  He won’t be wearing stripes.

*Amazon is getting sued by both the Federal Trade Commission and 17 states for creating a retail monopoly through illegal business practices:

The Federal Trade Commission and 17 states sued Amazon on Tuesday, setting up a long-awaited antitrust fight with the e-commerce giant that could alter the way Americans shop for everything from toilet paper to electronics online.

The 172-page suit, the federal government’s most significant challenge to the power of the online store, accused Amazon of protecting a monopoly over swaths of online retail by squeezing merchants and favoring its own services.

For consumers, that meant “artificially higher prices” as merchants were blocked from selling their products for less on other sites, and a worse shopping experience as Amazon boosted its own products and peppered its search results with ads, the lawsuit said. The retailer’s tactics made it impossible for its rivals to compete, the agency and states said.

“A single company, Amazon, has seized control over much of the online retail economy,” said the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. “It exploits its monopolies in ways that enrich Amazon but harm its customers: both the tens of millions of American households who regularly shop on Amazon’s online superstore and the hundreds of thousands of businesses who rely on Amazon to reach them.”

What could happen? The article isn’t really clear:

The F.T.C. asked the court to issue an injunction blocking Amazon from engaging in “unlawful conduct” and raised the possibility of altering the structure of the company. But it stopped short of detailing how the court could clip Amazon’s dominance, such as breaking apart elements of its business. The agency could become more specific if it succeeded in proving Amazon violated the law.

I use Amazon a lot because of its one-stop shopping, and I’m curious about how the suit, if successful, will affect the shopping experience. The article implies that Amazon’s prices will be lower if the government wins, but to know that you have to do what I hate: COMPARISON SHOPPING. On the other hand, I don’t want to benefit from illegal business practices.

*A deadly childhood brain cancer that’s invariably fatal now may be susceptible to a new method called “intensity focused ultrasound.” Only two children in the world are trying out the new method, and both have the deadly cancer diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, which is diagnosed in about 300 children a year.

First, the little girl gets to choose the smell of the anesthetic that will put her to sleep: cotton candy. Then doctors place a helmet over her head so that hundreds of tiny metallic devices inside it can fire sound waves through her skull into the tumor in her brain. The goal: to open the brain’s protective barrier, clearing a path for a chemotherapy drug nicknamed the Red Devil.

You may know that there’s a protective “blood brain barrier,” which evolved to protect the brain from assault by chemicals and infectious agents elsewhere in the body. This method is designed to circumvent that barrier

DIPG becomes entangled in the brain stem, making it inoperable most of the time. Drugs have difficulty even reaching the tumor. Blocking the way are tightly packed cells inside the brain’s blood vessels that keep out toxins. Doctors call this the blood-brain barrier. While radiation can improve DIPGsymptoms briefly, in virtually all cases the tumor starts to grow again within six to 12 months.

Here’s how it works:

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of focused ultrasound to treat seven conditions, including cancer that has spread into the bones, Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer. The technology is in various stages of development and testing for more than 160 other medical conditions, including congestive heart failure, traumatic brain injuries, arthritis, glaucoma and schizophrenia.

. . .“This noninvasively gets us to parts of the brain that are inaccessible,” he said. “It allows us to do something that is really unprecedented.”

While focused ultrasound has been used to treat cancers in the prostate, breast and other organs, none of those are encased in bone, said Nir Lipsman, a neurosurgeon at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, which is collaborating on a DIPG clinical trial with another medical center in Toronto.

. . . Moreover, Callie’s trial marks the first time focused ultrasound has been used on the brain stem, which is responsible for crucial functions such as breathing, heart rate and balance, Lipsman said. “There’s basically no margin for error.”

. . .On July 13, with Callieanesthetized, hospital staffers place a metal frame over her to keep her head in place, then a rubber membrane containing water through which the sound waves will travel on their way into her brain.

At 8:41 a.m., they wheel her into the MRI room and position her head inside the helmet and the scanner. The MRI beams images of her brain back to a room filled with monitors. There, doctors map the precise locations and intensity levels of the sound waves to be aimed at Callie’s brain. Twice, they return to the MRI room to make small adjustments to the helmet.

. . . One final step must be taken before doctors can trigger the sound waves and attempt to open the blood-brain barrier. Fonseca prepares a vial containing tiny microbubbles, each less than one-hundredth of a millimeter in diameter, thinner than a human hair.

. . .Five minutes later, doctors begin directing the sound waves into the tumor, stimulating the bubbles so that they ricochet around inside the blood vessels of the brain. The pinballing bubbles cause the vessels to widen, creating temporary gaps in the blood-brain barrier.

Around noon, the focused ultrasound procedure finishes and doctors examine new MRI images, checking to make sure the blood-brain barrier inside the tumor has opened.

Finally, at 2 p.m., doctors administer a bright red liquid, the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, known as the Red Devil both for its color and harsh side effects, such as severe nausea, vomiting and even possible heart muscle damage.

This is a very comple and clever way to obviate the blood-brain barrier to allow the chemo inside (that’s why brain tumor are usually treated with radiation).  But if it works it would be a remarkable feat of scientific medicine. I hope it does, but the tumor in the other child to get this treatment did not become smaller.

*While U.S. universities cope with rising costs by raising tuition (often, it seems, more than necessary), universities in the UK can’t do that, for their tuition is capped by the government. This is leading to a serious crisis in the UK,

The U.K.’s storied universities have a problem. They lose money on almost every British student they teach.

The country’s university system boasts 11 of the world’s top 100 universities, with three in the top 10—in a country that has just 1% of the global population. The system’s health has an outsize impact on both the future of the world’s sixth-biggest economy and globally important research.

I couldn’t find a list of the world’s best universities that had three ones from the UK, though all lists included Cambridge and Oxford.  I found one list that had 3 in the top 12: University College London besides the other two.

That system is increasingly at risk from politics. Unlike in the U.S., where private universities and many state schools set their own tuition, in England and Wales the government sets a price cap on tuition for all domestic undergraduate students—the same cap for every college from Cambridge to Coventry. Since 2010, the price cap has remained essentially frozen, even as inflation sharply raises costs. Northern Ireland cuts tuition in half for domestic students. In Scotland, there is no tuition at all.

. . .The upshot: While U.S. universities charge ever higher tuition in an arms race for the best facilities and research, leading to a soaring student debt crisis, U.K. universities have the opposite problem. They aren’t able to charge enough.

To bridge the gap, they are cutting back on everything from research to teacher salaries to dorm rooms, and teaching more classes online. They are increasingly relying on foreign students, who are charged market rates. And they are cutting back on local students: The percentage of British teens going to college is now falling for the first time in generations.

“It’s a turning point,” said Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford. Even the U.K.’s most elite universities could see finances and quality decline if the government doesn’t step in, he said. A new report this month by the House of Lords said the university funding system in the U.K. wasn’t sustainable and faced a looming crisis.

Matthew may have to go on strike again! But the only solution to this crisis that will keep a credible university system in the UK is to either raise tuition or taxes. That will happen for sure.

*And bye-bye to the glaciers of Austria: a sad story of global warming from the AP:

High up on an Alpine ridge beneath a ceiling of ice, water drips from above into a cave formed by the slowly shrinking Jamtalferner glacier.

In just a few years, Jamtalferner will be gone, and in a few decades, so might the rest of Austria’s glaciers as human-caused climate change warms up the world.

Andrea Fischer, a glaciologist with the Austrian Academy of Sciences, has witnessed this significant glacier retreat. She and her team measure the ice to understand how climate change affects the glaciers, now and in the future. In the last few years, the Austrian glaciers have started losing mass from chunks breaking off onto dry land — a process known as dry calving, not seen in past centuries in the region.

“A few years ago we thought that they would last until about the end of this century, but now it looks like at the end of 2050, at the end of the first half of the century, there’ll be no glaciers in Austria anymore,” said Fischer.

And that’s all she wrote.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, we have a lovely photo of the Princess musing on her insignificance:

Hili: Do we have any influence on reality?
A: A very small one.
Hili: That’s what I was afraid of.
(Photo: Sarah Lawson)
In Polish:
Hili: Czy mamy wpływ na rzeczywistość?
Ja: Bardzo mały.
Hili: Tego się właśnie obawiałam.
(Zdjęcie S.L.)


A groaner from Barry:

From David:

From Nicole:

From Masih, more Iranian women’s hair flying free:

Titania retweets her alter ego. Read the whole tweet and then the associated article in Spiked:

From Barry: All that information stored in a tiny, tiny brain!

A helpful kitty:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, an eight year old girl, gassed upon arrival:

Tweets from Professor Cobb. This first story (from the Dodo, of course) is a heartwarmer:

Both Matthew and I want to see the other 190 videos!

. . . and a groaner:

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

September 26, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Tuesday, the Cruelest Day: it’s, September 26, 2023, and National Key Lime Pie Day. Don’t be fooled by pies made with “regular” (i.e., Persian) limes, for Key limes are a different fruit with a different flavor, and better for pies.  Here’s the size difference, but there’s a flavor difference, too. If you see “Key Lime Pie” on the menus, ask if it’s made from real Key limes.

It’s also National Better Breakfast Day, Shamu the Whale Day, Johnny Appleseed Day (his birthday in 1774), National Dumpling Day, European Day of Languages, National Good Neighbor Day, Dominion Day in New Zealand  and Lumberjack Day, which recalls this:

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 26 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*My 2022 post on “The ice cream scams” proved to be the most viewed post I’ve ever done on this site, probably because the shrinkage of not just ice cream, but many products, struck home with many consumers. Now the BBC has a related post on “shrinkflation” showing that it’s not only irreversible, but ubiquitous.  (h/t N0rm)

Shrinkflation’ – reducing a product’s size or quantity while keeping its price stable – is rampant. As the global economy grapples with issues including rising raw material costs, supply chain backlogs and higher post-pandemic labourer wages, consumers are bearing the brunt of spiking production expenses.

Whether it’s toilet roll or a bag of crisps, the practice, which mostly happens during times of inflation, is showing up in shops around the world. Last week, French supermarket Carrefour put stickers on products to warn consumers when a packet’s contents have gotten smaller without a corresponding price decrease.

ALL supermarkets should do this!

Consumers are taking note of the shift to smaller packaging and – and, naturally, they aren’t happy, especially as their purchasing power is already falling amid inflation. Yet as uncomfortable as the sticker shock is now, a longer-term problem looms large: past manifestations of the phenomenon show the story of shrinkflation doesn’t end when inflation does.

In terms of consumer frustrations, “they notice price increases more than they notice size decreases”, says US-based Mark Stiving, the chief pricing educator at Impact Pricing, an organisation that educates companies on pricing. As a result, he says, companies use shrinkflation to raise prices “less painfully”.

. . .Consumers do not always see the changes right away; often, they are incremental. For instance, a favourite drink that may have come in a 12oz (340g) bottle a year earlier may now be offered for the same price, yet downsized to 10oz (283g) now.

And experts say that once the new sizes are on the shelf, they are likely to stay that way. Phil Lempert, food industry analyst and editor of SupermarketGuru adds that, since shoppers don’t have a choice, they have to adapt to the changes.

. . . et even as shrinkflation largely corresponds with inflation, Crolic says consumers usually don’t see product sizes rebound even after economic challenges abate. There are rare exceptions, but companies generally seize the opportunity to use less product and make the same amount – or more.

Instead, a new phenomenon often takes hold. “After products are repeatedly reduced in size, the manufacturer will come out with a new, larger version of it – sometimes with a fanciful new name,” agrees Edgar Dworsky, a former US consumer rights lawyer and founder of resource guide Consumer World. And with it, shoppers pay a higher cost for the upgrade.

Toilet paper and potato chips are particularly subject to this name change. But I have to say that the entire phenomenon was anticipated by none other than Stephen Jay Gould in one of his great essays, “Phyletic size decrease in Hershey bars.” (Read it!)

*A NYT op-ed by Brian Beutler is called “The Democratic Party has an old problem and won’t admit it.” The problem is in the double-entendre “old”: Democrats are unwilling to lean on the older members of their party to retire when it’s time, and not doing that can create big problems. Some examples:

The party’s leaders seem to believe implicitly in the inalienable right of their aging icons to remain in positions of high power unquestioned, long after it becomes reasonable to ask whether they’re risking intolerable harm.

The party has come to operate more like a machine, in which lengthy, loyal service must be rewarded with deference. It is why Mr. Biden has not drawn a credible primary challenger, when polling and reporting alike suggest that Democrats are deeply anxious about his ability to mount a vigorous campaign and serve another full term.

. . .If defeating Republicans is a matter of existential urgency for the country, why is the Democratic Party so blasé about elevating leaders who are oblivious to the views of the young people who stand to inherit it?

I peg the beginning of this recurring nightmare to the year 2009, when Senator Ted Kennedy’s death nearly derailed President Obama’s signature health care reform and ultimately deprived Democrats of their Senate supermajority, which they might have used to pass more sweeping legislation than they did. Eleven years later, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also died in office. Her death was a hinge point where history turned and swept much of her substantive legacy into the dustbin; worse, it left living Americans to toil indefinitely under the legacy that replaced hers.

There were gentle behind-the-scenes efforts and a robust public persuasion campaign meant to convince Justice Ginsburg to retire when Democrats still controlled the Senate and President Obama could have appointed her replacement, but there were plenty of liberals urging her to stick it out. Christine Pelosi, the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, who was then the House minority leader, cheered Justice Ginsburg for ignoring the calls for her to step down. “You Go Ginsburg! Resist that sexist Ageism,” she wrote.

Despite all of this terrible history, we face a similar challenge today: an aging party, and a Democratic establishment not just unwilling to take decisive action to stave off disaster but also reluctant to even acknowledge the problem.

Dianne Feinstein, 90, is another example.  But the GOP does better, despite the “freezing” episodes of Mitch McConnell:

Although the Republican base is older, it does a better job insulating itself from gerontocracy than Democrats do. Republicans are obviously far from perfect champions of their own self-interest. Their penchant for personality cults has wedded them to Donald Trump, who also happens to be old, but they are vulnerable to charlatans of all ages. That’s in part because they take steps to reduce the risk that they lose power by the attrition of elderly leaders. Justice Anthony Kennedy timed his retirement so a Republican president could replace him; the House G.O.P. has cycled through several leaders over the past decade and a half, none of them terribly old. When Kentucky’s Democratic governor Andy Beshear defeated the Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, encouraged his allies in the Kentucky Legislature to circumscribe Mr. Beshear’s appointment power — to ensure partisan continuity in Washington, should a Senate seat become vacant. So although Mr. McConnell seems committed to serving out his term, he has a succession plan.

It looks as if Biden will run, and of course I’ll vote for him over any Republican I know, but it’s really time for him to step down. His speeches become more incoherent, and he’s started using the shorter stairs on Air Force One (there are two sets) so he won’t trip as much. And if he dies in office, what do we have? President Kamala Harris. The mind boggles.  I offer up Peter Buttigieg, young, vigorous, and smart. But he doesn’t stand a chance—not next year.

*Speaking of aging Democrats, Max Boot in the WaPo would prefer a Democrat younger than Biden (Boot despises Trump), but it ain’t gonna happen. And he muses how we can stop Trump from winning given that he’s running neck and neck with Biden in the polls and may have an electoral-college advantage. Well, the VP is not a solution, even though there are better candidates:

So how do we stop Trump? Biden is a feeble vessel at best, but he’s the only realistic option we have. It’s true that he is 80 years old (and would be 82 at the start of a new term), and he often stumbles rhetorically and sometimes physically. But his successful performance in office belies his doddering image.

He has managed to pass big, bipartisan bills, including infrastructure legislation that Trump only talked about. He has been even more impressive internationally, assembling a large coalition to oppose Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and another coalition in East Asia to deter China from aggression of its own. The economy — the ultimate barometer of a president’s performance — has been doing much better than expected, with low unemployment, declining inflation and no recession in sight. That’s a record any president can be proud of. Yet the polls haven’t been giving Biden the credit he is due, possibly because perceptions of the economy still lag the reality.

In an ideal world, Biden would head off to a well-deserved retirement and a younger, more vigorous successor — someone such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom or Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — would run in his place.

But we don’t live in that ideal world. In the world as it is, we’re just a few months before the start of the primaries, so if Biden were to step down now, the almost certain Democratic nominee would be Vice President Harris. (The last sitting vice president who sought but failed to secure a party’s presidential nomination was Alben Barkley in 1952.) And I have yet to meet a Democrat who has any confidence in Harris’s ability to beat Trump.

Harris has a poor track record in national politics. She exited the 2020 Democratic race before a single vote was cast and has done little to elevate herself as vice president (admittedly a difficult task in a low-profile post with few fixed responsibilities). Moreover, unfair as it is, there is good cause to worry that Trump would run a sexist and racist campaign that could hurt Harris among working-class White voters in industrial states. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows that, while Trump is beating Biden by just 0.5 points, he leads Harris by 4 points — and that’s before he has begun to focus his fire and fury on her.

.  . . At the same time, any move to challenge Biden in the primaries or to replace Harris on the ticket would lead to Democratic fratricide which would likely ease Trump’s path back to power. Anyone who believes in preserving American democracy and the U.S.-led world order, therefore, has no choice but to back Biden in 2024, however uninspiring that might be.

Yes, as long as Joe wants to be President, nobody is going to challenge him, but I don’t get the fealty to Harris. Why should it alienate Democrats to replace her her with someone who could actually be a good President should Biden die or be debilitated? Is it because she’s a woman? Or a person of color (half Indian, half African-American)? I don’t quite get this, but Whitmer, Buttigieg, and other Democrats should be our VP insurance policy should Biden die, not Harris, a politician for whom I have little respect.

*LiveScience reports that the world’s oldest aquarium fish, a lungfish, is likely to be older than previously thought. Maybe even a century!

The world’s oldest aquarium fish, a lungfish named Methuselah, may actually be decades older than researchers originally thought and may even be over 100 years old, a new study finds.

Methuselah is a female Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) that resides at Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, California. She first arrived at the aquarium in 1938 after being sent to the U.S. along with more than 200 other fish from Fiji and Australia.

Aquarium staff have never been sure how old Methuselah is, but until now the best guess was that she is 84 years old, which makes her the oldest known fish in captivity. (In the Bible, Methuselah was a man who reputedly lived to be 969 years old.)

The elderly fish, who loves belly rubs and is hand-fed figs by her doting keepers, shows no signs of slowing down, which has added to the confusion about her age. So researchers decided to work out exactly how old she is using a “DNA age clock.”

In the study, researchers compared Methuselah’s DNA to the genetic material of other Australian lungfish to work out how much wear and tear her DNA had accumulated. The results suggest that she is most likely age 92, but the level of uncertainty with this type of experiment means she could be up to 101 years old. The study will be published later this year.

I didn’t know that “wear and tear on DNA” studies could be this accurate, but what do I know.  Here’s how they do it:

The researchers compared the DNA of 30 Australian lungfish from captivity and the wild, including two other lungfish at the Steinhart Aquarium. The team analyzed the amount of methylation in the fishes’ genetic material. Methylation is a biological process by which methyl groups —a carbon atom bound to three hydrogen atoms — are added to the DNA molecule. From this, they were able to work out how long it would have taken for Methuselah to build up the number of methyl groups found in her DNA.

At any rate, here’s Methuselah:

HOWEVER, Wikipedia mentions Hanako, a captive koi in Japan that died at what seems to be age 225. This is, however, disputed.

*Lettie Teague, the WSJ’s wine columnist, is pretty good, and her column this week is called “Is this the best time ever to be drinking wine? 4 compelling reasons?” Yes, it is a pretty good time, though I fondly recall the cheap ’82 Bordeaux, whose quality/price ratio hasn’t been matched since, or the absurdly inexpensive high-quality German wines of the mid to late eighties; you won’t see those prices again. However, here are Teague’s reasons that now is the BEST time to be drinking wine? (I don’t necessarily agree, but she has some points.

1.) Ciao to corked bottles (more good wines are dispensing with corks).

Although I’ve uncorked plenty of corked bottles over the years, happily, I rarely encounter one these days. And I’m hardly alone. Katja Scharnagl, beverage director of Koloman restaurant in New York, and Caroline Styne, co-owner and wine director of the Los Angeles-based Lucques restaurant group, both told me they are coming across far fewer corked bottles tableside, and both cited increased use of cork alternatives as a factor.

2.) Screw caps ascendant (not really different from #1):

Today, screw caps are employed by winemakers all over the world. And why shouldn’t they be? Screw-capped bottles reliably deliver wine that is fresh and contaminant-free (see cork taint, above). They are also easy to open and close. And in my experience, an open bottle of wine outfitted with a screw cap will stay fresh a bit longer than one closed with a cork.

Indeed, I’d be hard pressed today to find a forward-thinking winemaker—or, for that matter, wine drinker—who thinks there’s anything cheap or less than incredibly handy about a bottle closed with an easy-to-open, (practically) airtight metal cap.

She’s right here. I’ve dealt with too many crumbling corks in old wines to disagree with her.

3.) Embrace the unfamiliar.

Certain grapes have long dominated the wine world. But while Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and other international superstars remain widely planted, well-known and very popular among wine drinkers, these varieties are far from the only game in town.

Today, I see open-minded wine drinkers—many of them younger and perhaps less fettered by convention—embracing grapes whose names they might be unsure how to pronounce. They are crazy for Carricante from the Etna region of Sicily and Alvarinho from Portugal’s far western edge; for Mencia, that fragrant red grape from Galicia, or Torrontes, the quixotic white grape grown in the same high-elevation vineyards of Argentina that produce that country’s more-famous red grape, Malbec.

Again, she’s right. If there’s one problem with wine lovers, it’s that they often hesitate to try wines that either aren’t made from wel known grapes or are otherwise obscure. Try the little-known reds of Southern France or Spanish whites!

4.) High regard for low alcohol. 

More and more of the emails I get from WSJ readers about a wine I’ve mentioned in my column ask: “What’s the alcohol content?” The wines these readers are looking for are those with low numbers—by which I mean somewhere between 11 and 13% alcohol.

These readers are over the bombastically big Cabernets and Zins and over-oaked Chardonnays whose alcohol content hovers between 15 and 16%. While these alcohol bombs were once hotly pursued by wine lovers and won high critical scores, they have lost some of their luster.

Perhaps it’s because wine drinkers are exhausted by their efforts to pair high-alcohol wines with food—always a challenge. When the alcohol is high, it becomes the dominant feature of the wine, like a loud talker dominating an otherwise silent room.

I don’t fully agree. Those high-alcohol fruit bombs can be great either with the right food or on their own. I suspect many of these people are just assuming that low alcohol wines are healthier, or perhaps they don’t want to get tipsy. There’s a time and place for wines of all alcohol levels, including those lovely vintage ports that are 19% alcohol or more!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is fantasizing about clouds:

Hili: A lion?
A: Where?
Hili: In the cloud, it is riding on a skateboard.
In Polish:
Hili: Lew.
Ja: Gdzie?
Hili: Na chmurze, jedzie na deskorolce.
And a somewhat blurry picture of Szaron:


From Divy:

From Barry:

From Laurie Ann:

From Masih, another protestor harassed in Iran (sound up):

From Titania:


Good news from Simon: Larry is okay! There were rumors that he was very ill.

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a post that I retweeted:

From Dr. Cobb, a lion who wants to drink alone:

Matthew said, “You know this one but still . .  ” But no, I didn’t:


Dylan plays three days ago!

Sunday: Hili dialogue

September 24, 2023 • 6:45 am

I am back from Israel, still Jewish and still an atheist, but sad to be back in a country where the hummus is dire. The jet lag is bad this time, so give me a few days to catch up. I do my best.

Welcome to Sunday, September 24, 2023, and National Cherries Jubilee Day, with a historical background:

Auguste Escoffier receives the credit for the Cherries Jubilee recipe. Since he knew Queen Victoria’s fondness for cherries, Escoffier prepared the dish for one of her Jubilee celebrations. However, his original method didn’t include ice cream. Instead, the chef poached the cherries in a simple syrup and poured warm brandy over them. Then just before serving, dramatically set the alcohol aflame.

For an updated recipe with ice cream, go here.

It’s also

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 24 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Oy! A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Biden trailing Trump in a rematch election, which will be the match next year. This is a bigger margin than some other polls show, and it’s early days, but it’s not to early for those of us who are anxious to start worrying: \

Washington Post-ABC News poll finds President Biden struggling to gain approval from a skeptical public, with dissatisfaction growing over his handling of the economy and immigration, a rising share saying the United States is doing too much to aid Ukraine in its war with Russia and broad concerns about his age as he seeks a second term.

Biden and former president Donald Trump appear headed for a rematch of their 2020 contest, although more than 3 in 5 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they would prefer a nominee other than the president. But Biden’s advisers have argued that he is the strongest Democrat for 2024 and those who wish for someone else share no consensus on who that should be, with 8 percent naming Vice President Harris, 8 percent naming Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 20 percent saying they prefer “just someone else.”

The Post-ABC poll shows Biden trailing Trump by 10 percentage points at this early stage in the election cycle, although the sizable margin of Trump’s lead in this survey is significantly at odds with other public polls that show the general election contest a virtual dead heat. The difference between this poll and others, as well as the unusual makeup of Trump’s and Biden’s coalitions in this survey, suggest it is probably an outlier.

If it’s probably an outlier, why the deuce did they PUBLISH it, sending me and a gazillion other Democrats into sweat mode. I think it would help, though, if Biden, given the worries about his age, would choose a Vice-President with more than a few working neurons. Note that 20% of Democrats would prefer “just someone else” compared to either Harris or Sanders. I nominate Mayor Pete.  I do worry seriously that Biden is lapsing into dementia, and is that the Democrat we want? Of course I’ll vote for him, as Trump is demented in a more dangerous way, but really, is this the best we Democrats can do?

One other bit of worry:

In his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee for a third time, Trump is in a strong position nationally despite facing multiple criminal charges. He is favored by 54 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, little changed from 51 percent in May. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is second at 15 percent, down from 25 percent in May. No other Republican reaches double digits. Trump also leads his GOP rivals in recent state polls, which are likely to be more reliable indicators than national polls of the shape of the GOP race in the coming months.

*Nellie Bowles’s weekly news summary at The Free Press is called “TGIF: Ennui the People,” and as usual I’ll steal three of her items.

→ This man won a Nobel Prize in Economics: It turns out that if you exclude all the things people buy, there is actually very low inflation. We did it, Paul!

Even Trump has realized that many state laws enacted after the Supreme Court’s latest ruling on abortion are draconian:

→ Abortion is a winning issue even in red states: Andy Beshear, the Democrat governor of Kentucky, has made abortion rights the center of his campaign in its final weeks. He put out a remarkable ad with a young woman speaking straight to camera, addressing his competitor in the race: “This is to you, Daniel Cameron. To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable.” Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump this week bashed Ron DeSantisfor taking such a hard-line pro-life stance. It’s just amazing to see politicians finally reflect back to voters what has long been the American consensus on this: that abortion, by and large, should be legal.

→ How are things for the Jews? Tunisia’s president claimed that a storm was caused by Zionist “attack on the mind and thought.” Someone entered the University of Pennsylvania’s Jewish student center screaming antisemitic obscenities days before an on-campus Palestinian literature festival that features many open antisemites. The ambassador for Iran, a genocidal regime, is set to be Chair of the UN Human Rights Council Social Forum. Trump lashed out at “liberal Jews” in a disturbing post to Truth Social, writing: “Just a quick reminder for liberal Jews who voted to destroy America & Israel because you believed false narratives! Let’s hope you learned from your mistake & make better choices moving forward! Happy New Year!”

In a happy twist, Arab News, a major English-speaking source of news for the Middle East, wished a happy Jewish New Year. You win some, you lose most.

*The WSJ discusses three scientists who are making their careers not producing original research, but in an equally valuable way: showing that “truths” published by other scientists are bogus. They and others recently helped bring down neuroscientist Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the President of Stanford, who resigned after having his name on many fraudulent pieces of research. And others are engaged in sleuthing, too. Check out the numbers

An award-winning Harvard Business School professor and researcher spent years exploring the reasons people lie and cheat. A trio of behavioral scientists examining a handful of her academic papers concluded her own findings were drawn from falsified data.

It was a routine takedown for the three scientists—Joe Simmons, Leif Nelson and Uri Simonsohn—who have gained academic renown for debunking published studies built on faulty or fraudulent data. They use tips, number crunching and gut instincts to uncover deception. Over the past decade, they have come to their own finding: Numbers don’t lie but people do.

“Once you see the pattern across many different papers, it becomes like a one in quadrillion chance that there’s some benign explanation,” said Simmons, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the trio who report their work on a blog called Data Colada.

Simmons and his two colleagues are among a growing number of scientists in various fields around the world who moonlight as data detectives, sifting through studies published in scholarly journals for evidence of fraud.

At least 5,500 faulty papers were retracted in 2022, compared with 119 in 2002, according to Retraction Watch, a website that keeps a tally. The jump largely reflects the investigative work of the Data Colada scientists and many other academic volunteers, said Dr. Ivan Oransky, the site’s co-founder. Their discoveries have led to embarrassing retractions, upended careers and retaliatory lawsuits.

While it’s possible that fraud has increased 50-fold in two decades due to increased competition, I’m betting that most of the retractions are coming simply from both a climate that’s gives more scrutiny to bogus research, but is also intensified by the successes of debunkers. This trend can only be a healthy one, for what is published gets high credibility as “scientific truth” (though it must of course be replicated to become truly credible), and, given the public’s increasing mistrust of science, the sight of scientists ardently checking each other’s work can only be good for both science and the public.

*According to the NYT, China has built a sophisticated military base on a reef in the South China Sea, although an international court says China has no claim to the waters its defending there (yeah, and who’s gonna enforce that?) and is also defending them against a wide variety of both civilian and military traffic and forcing Asian fishermen from several countries to simply stop fishing there:

The Chinese military base on Mischief Reef, off the Philippine island of Palawan, loomed in front of our boat, obvious even in the predawn dark.

Radar domes, used for military surveillance, floated like nimbus clouds. Lights pointed to a runway made for fighter jets, backed by warehouses perfect for surface-to-air missiles. More than 900 miles from the Chinese mainland, in an area of the South China Sea that an international tribunal has unequivocally determined does not belong to China, cellphones pinged with a message: “Welcome to China.”

The world’s most brazen maritime militarization is gaining muscle in waters through which one-third of global ocean trade passes. Here, on underwater reefs that are known as the Dangerous Ground, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., has fortified an archipelago of forward operating bases that have branded these waters as China’s despite having no international legal grounding. China’s coast guard, navy and a fleet of fishing trawlers harnessed into a militia are confronting other vessels, civilian and military alike.

. . .The mounting Chinese military presence in waters that were long dominated by the U.S. fleet is sharpening the possibility of a showdown between superpowers at a moment when relations between them have greatly worsened. And as Beijing challenges a Western-driven security order that stood for nearly eight decades, regional countries are increasingly questioning the strength of the American commitment to the Pacific.

While the United States makes no territorial claims to the South China Sea, it maintains defense pacts with Asian partners, including the Philippines, that could compel American soldiers to these waters. Just as anxiety over nearby Taiwan has focused attention on the deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, the South China Sea provides yet another stage for a contest in which neither side wants to betray weakness. Complicating matters, Chinese diplomats and military officers are engaging less at a time when open communication could help defuse tensions.

Here’s a satellite image from the NYT of the facilities on “Mischief Reef”. Click to enlarge:

The U.S, seems to have little taste for military conflict with China, and can you blame them? It’s World War III, Jake? But I feel sorry for the Taiwanese, who are surely suffering mass anxiety in the face of rumors that China will take over their island by 2027.

*It pays to read the “oddities” page of the Associated Press, for you learn vital information like the Oscar Meyer “Wienermobile” (a hot-dog-shaped vehicle) was temporarily renamed the “Frankmobile.”  But here’s some biology news: five American flamingos, a denizen of the tropics, have showed up in Wisconsins, of all places, wading along the shores of Lake Michigan and driving birders to drag out their cameras and run to photograph them.

Five flamingos that showed up in Wisconsin to wade along a Lake Michigan beach attracted a big crowd of onlookers eager to see the unusual visitors venturing far from their usual tropical setting.

The American flamingos [Phoenicopteridae ruber] spotted Friday in Port Washington, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Milwaukee, marked the first sighting of the species in Wisconsin state history, said Mark Korducki, a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The birds stood quietly 25 feet (7.6 meters) off Lake Michigan’s western shoreline as waves lapped against their thin legs. Three were adults, identifiable by their pink plumage, and two were juveniles clad in gray.

Jim Edelhuber of Waukesha was among a crowd of about 75 bird enthusiasts drawn to the city’s South Beach after word spread on social media about the flamingos’ appearance there.

Gotta be either hurricanes or global warming!

The sighting was unexpected but not a total shock because of recent reports of flamingos in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania, said Ryan Brady, conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Wildlife biologists hypothesized that the flamingos were pushed north in late August by the strong winds of Hurricane Idalia, the Journal Sentinel reported.

The typical range of the American flamingo is Florida and other Gulf Gulf Coast states as well as the Caribbean and northern South America.

The errant birds:

AP photo by Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Here’s the range of the American flamingo, followed by a photo of the Wienermobile, which I’ve seen three times (once it was parked and they gave me a wienermobile-shaped whistle):

Here’s a FrankWienermobile, and a bit of the report:

Those who drive Wienermobiles around to promotional events are known as Hotdoggers. Perhaps the most famous Hotdogger is former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who drove a Wienermobile one summer while in college.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes a joke:

Hili: Did you read about the elephant in the room?
A: Many times.
Hili: A cat in the garden doesn’t surprise anybody either.

Hili: Czytałeś o słoniu w salonie?Ja: Wiele razy.Hili: Kot w ogrodzie też nikogo nie dziwi.


From Irena:

From Seth Andrews:

From the Absurd Sign Project 2.0, the Big Truck That Couldn’t:

From Masih, more of Iran’s brave women fighting for both personal and national freedom. Sound up (language is Farsi).

From Barry, who asks, “But what is the drink?”

From Emma Hilton. Yes, it does have to stop:

From Simon; there’s other (and sadder) news about Larry below:

From the Auschwitz Memorial; this looks like a wedding photo:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one is very good!

I get this when I put my hospital bills on my website (I have insurance). “If you’re poor you’re dead.”:

This makes me very sad. Larry is sixteen years old:

Saturday: Hili dialogue

September 23, 2023 • 6:13 am

PCC(E) is in transit back to the Windy City. Meanwhile, in Dobrzyn, Hili is showing that with age comes wisdom.

Szaron: I’m going to check whether there are any rodents.
Hili: It’s not worth the trouble.

In Polish:
Szaron: Idę zobaczyć, czy tam nie ma jakichś gryzoni.
Hili: Szkoda zachodu.

Friday: Hili dialogue

September 22, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Friday, September 22, 2023, and National Ice Cream Cone Day (I presume they mean that ice cream is included). My flight to Chicago leaves a bit after midnight tonight, and as I have to make my way to Ben-Gurion Airport, posting may be light. The autumnal equinox begins in Israel at 2:50 a.m. Saturday morning and at 4:24 a.m. Chicago time. Thus I’ll leave Israel in the summer and arrive in Chicago in the fall (5:30 a.m.).

It’s also Astronomy Day, Hobbit Day (the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in the book), National White Chocolate Day, Native American Day,National Elephant Appreciation Day, National Bakery Day, World Rhino Day, and Love Note Day (send one to your paramour).

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 22 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The apparent reluctance of Democrats (particularly “progressives”) to enact legislation dealing with immigration is one of the Achilles heels that will damage them in next year’s elections. (There are two other heels: the economy—not Biden’s fault—and pervasive wokeness—partly his fault.) Right now, according to the NYT, immigration is playing a role in eroding the President’s clout during the fracas about governmental shutdown. Biden’s response has been to allow nearly a half million Venezuelan immigrants to remain in the US to work for 18 months, though we all really know that they’re here for good.

Administration officials say the decision was made, as required by law, because of the worsening conditions in Venezuela, not the situation in New York or other cities. But for Mr. Biden, the move is sure to inflame the already charged political debate, both inside his own party and with Republicans, about how to confront the surge of migration from South and Central America.

The situation at the border, where officials on Monday arrested 8,000 migrants — close to record highs in May — is providing ammunition to conservative Republicans who are vowing to shut down the government unless Congress agrees to new anti-immigration measures. They argue that protecting recent Venezuelan migrants from deportation will only encourage more to head north, hoping for similar treatment after they arrive.

Advocates for the policy say Venezuelans and other migrants decide to flee because they fear persecution, starvation and violence, not because of a policy change thousands of miles away in Washington. Mr. Biden singled out Venezuelans for the program because of their sheer numbers — they make up the largest mass migration in the hemisphere in decades.

Does anybody doubt that many of the migrants who legally must assert that they are fleeing persecution and violence are in reality seeking economic benefits—not considered  a legal reason for crossing the border? This is one of the Big Lies that has hampered legislation about immigration, a task originally given to Kamala Harris. (She’s done nothing.) One more excerpt:

But the dramatic move by Mr. Biden is evidence of the human dimensions and political power of an issue that has hounded him since he became president. How to deal with the border is at the heart of the funding debate in Congress, and is certain to be central to the debate between Mr. Biden and his Republican opponent in the 2024 campaign next year.

*Nooz from reader Ken:

A Texas teacher has been fired for assigning a portion of Anne Frank’s Diary: the Graphic Adaptation to eighth grade students (which is to say, students about the same age Anne Frank was when she wrote her diary).

The story is in The Washington Post. An excerpt:

A Texas teacher has been fired after a middle school class was assigned to read a graphic novel adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” that officials say had not been approved by the school district.

The Hamshire-Fannett Independent School District announced that a teacher had assigned an eighth-grade class to read a passage from “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation,” which includes passages Frank wrote about female and male genitalia, and a possible attraction to women. The unabridged version of Frank’s diary has been removed from schools in Texas and Florida this year after complaints from parents over the book’s sexual content.

The teacher, who has not been publicly identified, was sent home on Sept. 13 after “concerns regarding curricular selections in your student’s reading class,” district spokesman Mike Canizales said in a letter sent to eighth-grade parents at Hamshire-Fannett Middle School in Beaumont, Tex., east of Houston. Canizales did not specify the reason for the termination but said a substitute has been teaching the class since Sept. 13.

. . . The 2018 graphic novel, adapted by Ari Folman from the unabridged version of Frank’s diary and illustrated by David Polonsky, was hailed by the New York Times Book Review as “so engaging and effective that it’s easy to imagine it replacing the Diary in classrooms and among younger readers.” The version by Folman, whose parents survived the Holocaust, illustrates the hope and despair that Frank felt during her time hiding from the Nazis inside a tiny annex. The graphic adaptation is fully authorized by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based foundation that oversees the copyright to Frank’s diary.

Well, I’ve had enough of this censorship. The novel is widely praised, authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation, and is certainly age-appropriate. It is of course mostly Pecksniffian Republicans who get these books removed, and some might be age INappropriate, but this is not one of them. Don’t 14-year-olds know about genitalia and same-sex attraction?

*The Daily Free Press at Boston University has written a pretty damning exposé of Ibram Kendi’s management of his highly funded Center for Antiracist Research at BU. Note that some of the report is based on two disgruntled employees who left, reported mismanagement, and whose complaints were ignored. An excerpt:

Boston University hired Ibram X. Kendi to lead its new Center for Antiracist Research in 2020, a year marked by a global pandemic and nationwide racial tension.

Three years later, after at least $43 million in grants and gifts and what sources say has been an underwhelming output of research, the Center for Antiracist Research laid off almost all of its staff last week.

Multiple former staff members allege that a mismanagement of funds, high turnover rate and general disorganization have plagued the Center since its inception.

The $43 million, according to 2021 budget records obtained by The Daily Free Press, includes general support, such as the $10 million from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, as well as donations for specific projects.

The document, which is not an all-inclusive list of donors, also lists TJ Maxx’s foundation, Stop & Shop and Peloton as donating over a million dollars.

But there’s enough independent information to suggest an investigation is warranted, and that is now happening. If the allegations are true, then Kendi is a species of grifter. At any rate, when the antiracist tsunami happened, the first thing I did was read Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist, and I was appalled at how incoherent and superficial it was. But he’s made his nut, and is widely worshiped.

*According to the AP, an appeals court is taking up a case about transgender health care, in which North Carolina and West Virginia are denying transgender people “affirmative” medical care (surgery, hormone treatment) on the grounds that gender dysphoria is not an illness. I suppose this interpretation makes it close to a forme of plastic surgery, which one could consider “body dysphoria”. But whatever th appellate court does, the AP says this case is ultimately headed to the Supreme Court:

A federal appeals court is considering cases out of North Carolina and West Virginia that could have significant implications on whether individual states are required to cover health care for transgender people with government-sponsored insurance.

The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in cases Thursday involving the coverage of gender-affirming care by North Carolina’s state employee health plan and the coverage of gender-affirming surgery by West Virginia Medicaid.

During the proceedings, at least two judges said it’s likely the case will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Both states appealed separate lower court rulings that found the denial of gender-affirming care to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. Two panels of three Fourth Circuit judges heard arguments in both cases earlier this year before deciding to intertwine the two cases and see them presented before the full court of 15.

. . .“The exclusion here is actually quite targeted, it’s quite specific,” Borelli said in court, arguing that a faithful interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the equal protection clause ensures transgender people coverage.

Borelli is “Tara Borelli, senior attorney at Lambda Legal — the organization representing transgender people denied services in both states.”

“One of the most important things that a court can do is to uphold those values to protect minority rights who are not able to protect themselves against majoritarian processes,” she said.

Attorneys for the state of North Carolina said the state-sponsored plan is not required to cover gender-affirming hormone therapy or surgery because being transgender is not an illness. Attorney John Knepper claimed only a subset of transgender people suffer from gender dysphoria, a diagnosis of distress over gender identity that doesn’t match a person’s assigned sex.

Knepper said North Carolina’s insurance plan does not discriminate because it does not allow people to use state health insurance to “detransition,” either.

I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Gender dysphoria does seem to be a psychological malady, and if other psychological maladies require medical intervention, and that intervention is provided by the states, why not hormone or surgery treatment? But one must take precautions that the diagnosis is dead serious and not made lightly.

*Self-aggrandizement department: Point of Order in New Zealand has reprinted my recent analysis of an official “let’s-have-two-ways-of-knowing” post, but I added a long comment to the original if you follow Kiwi science. This is from an anonymous New Zealand scientist. Referring to the proposal to use both science and indigenous knowledge, each of which has ways of knowing not used by the other, this scientist commented:

This is not an improvement in epistemic terms. Arguably it’s even worse than integrating MM into science, as social constructivism/epistemic relativism are antithetical to science.
I think it does make it easier for us to criticise what’s going on, however, as the postmodernist ideology is more evident. It’s pretty hard to argue that criticism of postmodernist ideology is racist!
You ask: how are they going to teach MM [Mātauranga Māori] now? The answer is they’re not – to do so would be “recolonisation”. This was never really about teaching MM. It was always a political project designed to promote an ideological agenda. Here’s a relevant quote from Doug Stokes’ book “Against decolonisation”:
“[A]ctivists impose decolonisation as part of a counter-power move to push back against what they claim is knowledge power plays of historically tainted thinkers and institutions. In short, if all knowledge is relative, it becomes politically acceptable to impose your agenda in the name of social justice and a form of restorative activism. Decolonisation is thus an explicitly political power play.
This, in turn, transforms the academic social contract. It moves from a process whereby the sum of human knowledge improves in terms of its capacity to explain the world to a form of radical political deconstruction underpinned by an ethical claim that this is justified to compensate for the legacy effects of the alleged perfidiousness of Western civilisation. The assertion that all human knowledge is equally valid and the university is a site of power contestation makes it easier to understand the abandonment of fundamental academic principles, not least that of academic freedom; Itself often portrayed as a conspiracy on the part of bigots to justify discrimination and ideas that may run contrary to those of the progressive ‘woke’ Left. Aside from the obvious fact that if all knowledge is relative, why should we subscribe to the assertions of the decolonisation critique itself, [when] this form of unbounded judgmental relativism abandons any notion of reality or truth for a seeming endless play on meaning, identity and power that is transforming the university system.” (p. 83-84)
In short, the inherent attack on science is a feature, not a bug, and we’re replaying the science wars of the 1990s. People here in New Zealand should be asking themselves the following questions: if any of the MM proponents actually had a commitment to science, why are they all engaging with MM instead, and why to they consistently seek to caricature modern science?

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili isn’t drinking coffee, but is curious about it for obvious reasons:

Hili: Do you make this coffee with milk or with cream?
A: Why do you ask?
Hili: I prefer cream.
(Photo: Sarah Lawson)
Hili: Czy tę kawę robisz sobie z mlekiem, czy ze śmietanką? Ja: Dlaczego pytasz?Hili: Wolę śmietankę.
(Zdjęcie S.L.)

And a photo of Szaron yawning taken by Sarah:


From Divy:

From Merilee:

From Bad Cat Clothing:

From Masih. Here “promoting” means “publicizing”:

Some crazy creationism sent in by Barry:

What does one expect when Jacinda Ardern, whom I once admired greatly as New Zealand’s PM (she no longer is), turns super woke and then gives her opinions on free speech?  I reposted this segment of her speech and added a comment:

And words from Elizabeth Warren, who apparently will say anything to demonstrate her ideological purity. No, I never voted for her.

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Herr Professor Cobb. First, weird behavior of kingfishers. Could it be mating behavior (not so if both birds below are males):

Duckling rush hour (muscovies). 28 of them!

How lovely! Good thing the youngsters have great balance! Sound up to hear the hooves.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

September 21, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Thursday, September 21, 2023, and National Pecan Cookie Day (I had pecan halva). Tomorrow is my last full day in NZ, as I have to head to the airport tomorrow for a 12-hour flight from Tel Aviv to Chicago that departs shortly after midnight. (Oy!) Posting may be light, though I have a long post to write about my visit to the Israel Museum, a fascinating and must-see part of any trip to Jerusalem.

It’s also Miniature Golf Day, National Chai Day (cultural appropriation), World Alzheimer’s Day, Free Queso Day at Moe’s Southwest Grill, World Gratitude Day, International Day of Peace, and, in Russia, Victory over the Golden Horde in the Battle of Kulikovo.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 21 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The NYT has two pieces of news about immigrants. First, Biden and the Democrats have decided to allow nearly half a million Venezuelan immigrants to live and work legally in the U.S.  This is supposed to be temporary, but do you buy that?

The Biden administration said late Wednesday that it would allow hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans already in the United States to live and work legally in the country for 18 months.

The decision followed intense advocacy by top New York Democrats, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams and party leaders in Congress. It will affect about 472,000 Venezuelans who arrived in the country before July 31, temporarily protecting them from removal and waiving a monthslong waiting period for them to seek employment authorization.

In an unusual break with a president of their party, the New York Democrats had argued that the city’s social safety net would tear under the weight of more than 110,000 recently arrived migrants unless they were allowed to work and support themselves more quickly.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said that he made the decision because conditions in Venezuela “prevent their safe return” but stressed that immigrants who had entered the country since August were not protected and would be “removed when they are found to not have a legal basis to stay.”

As I said, I don’t buy that last sentence. And I’m worried that this kind of action will only help Trump in the next election. Congress really needs a humane but firm reform of our immigration laws, but they’re too cowardly (especially the Democrats) to do this.

*Second, in a move to stem the tide of immigrants entering through Mexico, the Biden administration wants to “move the border south” by putting processing centers in countries further south.

As the Biden administration struggles to tackle a humanitarian and political crisis at America’s doorstep, it is focusing increasingly on keeping migrants far from the U.S.-Mexico border by establishing migration processing centers in Central and South America.

But the program is off to a rocky start, with demand for appointments far outstripping supply, leading to periodic shutdowns of the online portal and some countries’ limiting applicants over concerns that the centers will cause migrants to overwhelm their own borders.

The centers, in Colombia, Costa Rica and others planned in Guatemala, have become a primary focus of the president’s migration strategy, U.S. officials said, and the administration is already exploring expanding the program to other nations in the region, including opening a similar office in Mexico.

The program, known as the safe mobility initiative, is “the most ambitious plan I’ve seen,” said Sean Garcia, the deputy refugee coordinator for the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, who has worked on migration for over a decade.

But even some officials involved in the initiative acknowledge that it is a modest response to an enormous challenge.

More people — 360,000 through the beginning of the month — have already crossed the Darién Gap this year than in all of last year. And in August, roughly 91,000 families at the U.S. southern border were arrested after crossing illegally, a monthly record.

“The effect on migration through the Darién will be minimal or none at all,” Francisco Coy, Colombia’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said about the U.S. program. “Let’s be frank.”

Coy is right; this is not going to work.  Families rejected by the southern centers will simply continue to trek north, trying to cross the U.S./Mexico border.  I wish there was a way to make Congress enact some legislation about Americans. Americans still think that, on the whole, immigration is beneficial to the country (and it), but a recent Gallup poll showed that there are limits:

Given the major increase in the number of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. at the Southern border in recent years, Americans’ desire for less immigration has ticked upward, now reaching 41%. This exceeds the 26% who now want more immigration and is the highest since 2014.

There is, of course, a huge partisan support in these figures.

*Donald Trump has faced strong pushback after apparently attacking a six-week abortion ban as being too early, and saying he would want to work with both Democrats and Republicans to enact a ban that would likely take effect later. (I have always favored no ban at all.)

Former president Donald Trump is facing sharp blowback from some antiabortion activists and conservative governors, including his top challenger in the Republican presidential primary, reflecting the intraparty divisions over an issue the GOP has struggled to navigate since Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer.

The tensions center on Trump’s recent comments disparaging an abortion ban after six weeks of pregnancy and pledging to work with “both sides” on a federal ban, though abortion rights advocates staunchly oppose such a restriction. Among those rebuking Trump are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running a distant second behind Trump in many polls, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has frequently appeared with DeSantis on the campaign trail despite staying neutral in the primary. Both signed state laws barring many abortions, setting the bar at a point before many even know they are pregnant.

The former president returned to Iowa on Wednesday, the first GOP nominating state — and one where abortion is a potent issue for many social conservatives expected to participate in January’s caucuses. During remarks in Dubuque, he touted his role in overturning Roe.

. . .He also warned against Republicans taking positions such as banning abortion even in the case of rape, incest or health of the mother. “Without the exceptions, it is very difficult to win elections,” he said. “We would probably lose the majorities in 2024 without the exceptions and perhaps the presidency itself.”

The frictions have cast a renewed spotlight on Trump’s long shifting posture on the issue of abortion. Even as he faces criticism from some in his party, Democrats are seeking to remind voters of the steps he took to curtail abortion rights as president. And many Republicans have been quiet about his posture, in part a reflection of his strength in the party and the belief by many that he will be the nominee. Over the years, Trump’s publicly stated positions have spanned from his support of abortion rights as a private citizen, to his Supreme Court nominees who helped overturn Roe, to his more recent efforts to appear less extreme on a divisive topic.

Really, is this anything more than the Washington Post grasping at straws? No position Trump takes on abortion, save perhaps an endorsement of Roe or of unrestricted abortion, can hurt him in next year’s election? Perhaps some legal convictions could hurt him, but they won’t come in time for the election.

*Surprisingly, Israel’s continuing initiative to forge genial deplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia has involved the countries in a three-way deal that would put enriched uranium (supposedly for peaceful use) in Saudia territory.

Israeli officials are quietly working with the Biden administration on a polarizing proposal to set up a U.S.-run, uranium-enrichment operation in Saudi Arabia as part of a complex three-way deal to establish official diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern countries, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed top Israeli nuclear and security specialists to cooperate with U.S. negotiators as they try to reach a compromise that could allow Saudi Arabia to become the second country in the Middle East, after Iran, to openly enrich uranium, the officials said.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been negotiating the contours of a deal for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel in exchange for helping the kingdom develop a civilian nuclear program with uranium enrichment on Saudi soil, among other concessions. Other aspects of the evolving deal are expected to include concessions for the Palestinians and U.S. security guarantees.

If Saudi Arabia agrees to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, it would pave the way for other Arab and Muslim nations to follow suit, effectively ending decades of ostracism for the Jewish state founded in 1948.

Of course I favor this, though Palestine will never go along and would itself become ostracized. But then there’s this:

Saudi Arabia’s push to enrich uranium has emerged as one of the thorniest issues facing U.S. and Israeli leaders as they try to forge an agreement that could reshape the Middle East.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described negotiations over normalization with Israel as serious and getting closer to a deal every day, while stipulating that his country would seek a nuclear weapon if Iran obtained one.

“If they get one, we have to get one,” he said in an interview aired Wednesday on Fox News. “For security reason and for balancing power in Middle East. But we don’t want to see that.”

Iran will of course eventually get nuclear weapons, and that means that the Saudis would want one too. After all, they’ll already have the fuel.

*The AP’s latest oddity column concerns a woman too much enamored of technology. Here it is in full:

A woman was rescued Tuesday from an outhouse toilet in northern Michigan after she climbed in to retrieve her Apple Watch and became trapped.

The woman, whose name was not released, lowered herself inside the toilet after dropping the watch at the Department of Natural Resources boat launch at Dixon Lake in Otsego County’s Bagley Township, state police said Wednesday in a release.

First responders were called when the woman was heard yelling for help. The toilet was removed and a strap was used to haul the woman out.

“If you lose an item in an outhouse toilet, do not attempt to venture inside the containment area. Serious injury may occur,” state police said in the release.

The state police did not say Wednesday if the woman was injured or if the watch was recovered.

Bagley Township is about 240 miles (386 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.

Oy vey again!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Andrzej can’t deal with Hili’s question

Hili: Where is the world heading?A: Next question, please.
(Photo: Sarah Lawson)
In Polish:
Hili: Dokąd zmierza świat?Ja: Następne pytanie poproszę.(Zdjęcie S.L.)


From A Cat Named Fluff:

From Michae, a cartoon by John Deering:

From Birds New Zealand, the adorable but endangered and destructive Kea:

From Masih: a new anti-hijab law in Iran.  Fortunately, the fine is only about eleven US dollars.

From Titania; this could be the Mantra of Wokeness:

From Luana: a bad miscarriage of justice at Yale, a woke school that ranks near the bottom in FIRE’s college free-speech rankings. Read the whole tweet:

From Barry: a capybara enjoying the spa service of ducks (second tweet):

From the Auschwitz Memorial. A brother and sister gassed on arrival. So many kids who didn’t even get a chance at life!

Tweets from Professor Cobb. The first came from Ziya Tong:

Re #1: don’t step in the poodles!

Life can be tenacious, and I’ve added an Instagram post from the Daily Beast piece:

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

September 20, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to a Hump Day (“હમ્પ ડે” in Gujurati), Wednesday, September 20, 2023, and National Rum Punch Day. What a perfect followup to “Talk Like a Pirate Day”!

It’s also National Pepperoni Pizza Day, National Fried Rice Day (cultural appropriation), National Gibberish Day, National String Cheese DayConstitution Day in Nepal, and Universal Children’s Day in Germany.

Here’s how they make string cheese, which I like (it’s the texture, Jake):

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the September 20 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The U.S. is trying to make nice with Iran, a move Masih Alinejad (and I) consider hypocritical and unconscionable. But Iran apparently isn’t having it.

A day after the United States and Iran exchanged prisoners and Washington released $6 billion of Tehran’s frozen assets, Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, gave no sign of seeking further reconciliation with the United States, threatening to retaliate for the killing of an Iranian general.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Raisi called the U.S. assassination of Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, “a terrorist act.” He then repeated Iran’s threats to take revenge on those who had ordered and carried out the killing.

General Suleimani was killed in Iraq in 2020, when Donald J. Trump was president, in an American drone strike targeted against him. Iran retaliated by launching a ballistic missile attack on American military bases in Iraq, and more than 100 U.S. soldiers suffered concussions as a result, the military has said.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, through all tools and capacities in order to bring to justice the perpetrators and all those who had a hand in this government sanctioned act of terror, will not sit until that is done,” Mr. Raisi said on Tuesday. “The blood of the oppressed will not be forgotten.”

Iranian officials have made similar threats in the past, but this one may take on added weight coming from the president of the country repeating it in one of the most prominent international forums, with world leaders in attendance.

. . . Law enforcement officials have said in the past that they have detected serious threats from Iran against former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton. As Mr. Raisi vowed revenge on Tuesday, a lone U.S. representative in the assembly hall took notes.

The sooner the protestors bring down the Iranian theocracy, the better, and I hope they will!

*The GOP fracas over funding the government continues, and we may be facing a government shutdown—again!

The prospect of a government shutdown escalated significantly Tuesday as House Republicans’ intraparty tensions again came to a head in a dramatic floor vote amid negotiations on a nascent plan to keep the government open.

House Republicans’ inability to find agreement on even a stopgap funding bill that is destined to fail in the Senate again puts into focus the challenge before House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as he tries to unite his party and avoid a government shutdown. Though Republicans largely agree on the need to significantly curb federal spending, divisions mostly over process have given any five lawmakers enormous power in the razor-thin majority.

But there’s hope, for even Republicans realize that a government shutdown is a bad thing, especially when it can be blamed on them:

But as hard-liners dug in on their opposition, their more moderate counterparts began to firm up contingency plans for a bipartisan effort to keep the government open, publicly condemning their colleagues’ obstinance.

Some Republicans are seriously considering getting behind a shell bill that could, as soon as next week, serve as the vehicle that allows moderates to supersede McCarthy’s control of the House floor and force a vote to keep the government open, according to three people familiar with the plan who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline preliminary and private conversations. What exactly gets included in such a discharge petition remains unknown, but those familiar with the planning said it would include a short-term funding plan to avert a shutdown that could garner enough support from House Democrats and the Senate.

Part of the Republican bill includes provisions to restrict immigration.  Unless the GOP comes up with a plan that can pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, we’re in for a shutdown. This is what happens when both houses of Congress are controlled by different parties.

*The WSJ reviews the new versions of the iPhone 15, made with a titanium case, and likes them all, despite their higher prices:

  • iPhone 15 ($799 and up) and iPhone 15 Plus ($899 and up):
  • iPhone 15 Pro ($999 and up) and iPhone 15 Pro Max ($1,199 and up)

Most of us don’t change our phones as often as our Brita filters. (You’re welcome for the reminder!) Will iPhone 14 owners notice a big difference if they upgrade? Heck no. But when I went back to the iPhone 12 and 13 models, the improvements were more noticeable. And even for a big-screen hater like me, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has become a contender.

Sadly, Apple axed the smallest “mini” phone after the 13; I liked the small versions you can slip into your pocket.  The author likes the lighter, stronger, titanium case and the improved camera of the 15. It also has the new USB-C port that you can charge off almost everything.

As for me, I don’t understand the urge to buy each new iPhone as it comes to market, and I’ll keep using my 13 as long as it’s compatible.

*Michelle Goldberg at the NYT decries the waning of donations by the Left to liberal causes in a column called “Where has all the left-wing money gone?” (h/t David)

As we stumble toward another existential election, panic is setting in among some progressive groups because the donors who buoyed them throughout the Trump years are disengaging. “Donations to progressive organizations are way down in 2023 across the board,” said a recent memo from Billy Wimsatt, executive director of the Movement Voter Project, an organization founded in 2016 that channels funds to community organizers, mostly in swing states, who engage and galvanize voters. He added, “Groups need money to make sure we have a good outcome next November. But. People. Are. Not. Donating.” [JAC: I really dislike these sentences made up of single words separated by periods.]

As both big and small donors pull back, there have been layoffs across the progressive ecosystem, from behemoths like the Sierra Club to insurgent outfits like Justice Democrats, the group that first recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to challenge the Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley in 2018. According to a July analysis by Middle Seat, a Democratic strategy and consulting firm, in the first half of this year, grass-roots donations to Democratic House and Senate campaigns were down almost 50 percent compared to the same point in 2021. Wimsatt, who had to lay off 15 people from a 55-person staff in June, told me, “I haven’t experienced a situation like this before when there’s been such a sense of scarcity.”

Both organizations mentioned above are woke. Could the public rejection of wokeness account for this phenomenon? I’d like to think so, but it seems unlikely. Goldberg mentions two reasons. The first doesn’t make sense to me:

One small, characteristic piece of this problem — and perhaps the easiest part to solve — involves the way Democrats use email. If you’re on any progressive mailing lists, you surely know what I’m talking about: the endless appeals, sometimes in bold all caps, warning of imminent Democratic implosion. (Recent subject lines in my inbox include, “We can kiss our Senate majority goodbye” and “This is not looking good.”)

In the short term, these emails are effective, which is why campaigns use them. Over time, they encourage a mix of cynicism and helplessness — precisely the feelings leading too many people to withdraw from political involvement.

But this one makes more sense:

But this is just a symptom of a bigger problem, which is that, right now, progressive politics are necessarily organized around preventing imminent catastrophe rather than offering up a vision of a transformed world. Joe Biden has an impressive legislative record, but because of the counter-majoritarian roadblocks in our system, the case for his re-election is largely about staving off disaster rather than the promise of new accomplishments. “It’s really hard to get people to give money when you do not have a coherent theory of change,” said Berger.

That one, at least, rings true. But revulsion at wokeness still may play a role. And fear of Trump may be a powerful motivator to donate.

*Finally, this story, in the “oddity” section of the AP’s site, is both heartening and sad. Click screenshot to read, and I’ve put in a photo:

The tale:

A Florida reptile park has taken in an alligator that lost its nose and upper jaw to a fight or boat propeller.

Gatorland Orlando said over the weekend that the injured alligator came from a lake in nearby Sanford, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northeast of Orlando.

“She had basically no chance of surviving in the wild with such a severe injury,” the park said in a social media post.

Over the next few days, the park’s veterinarian staff will be monitoring the gator in an effort to make sure it is eating in a stress-free environment, the park said.

To get the gator to eat, the staff is cutting up small pieces of food that they will toss in the back of its throat, believing it had survived in the wild doing the same thing on its own with snails, slugs and frogs, Kathy Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the park, said in an email.

Here’s a photo. I wish this little gator the best, and applaud the humans who are taking care of it:

Photo credit: via AP

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is cadging noms

Hili: Are you washing plates after every dinner or only those less tasty?
A: After every dinner,
Hili: That’s not smart.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy zmywasz talerze po każdym obiedzie, czy tylko po tych mniej smacznych?Ja: Po każdym.Hili: To nie jest mądre.

And a lovely picture of sweet Szaron:


From Irena:

From Seth Andrews:

And Philomena is back, and making trumpet noises! This is a melange from “Cunk on Earth”.

From Masih, calling out the hypocrisy of the administration’s worship of “human rights.” A few words from the long tweet:

When I criticize the US government for its dealings with Islamic Republic, I often get told by some analysts in the media, “the US government have sanctioned the Islamic Republic, what more do you want?”

I want the hypocrisy to end.

President Biden owes an explanation to all Iranians and Americans that how a sanctioned Meraj Air flight landed in New York, carrying sanctioned president of the Islamic Republic Ebrahim Raisi, and whose regime is actively attempting to assassinate Americans. Raisi will be protected by the U.S. Secret Service while in New York. Are the American taxpayers happy about it?

Titania’s still tweeting!

I find it hard to believe that even Colin Kaepernick made this first video (h/t Luana) comparing the NFL draft to slavery. But yes, it’s true, and from his Netflix documentary (see here). There is one HUGE difference between the NFL and slavery, and it’s green.

From Malcom: parrots doing tricks:

From the Auschwitz Memorial; I retweeted this one after I looked up the patch:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. At first I thought that both snails would go after the green bean:

Matthew says that these are all correct:

Yes, fascinating!