Reactions to views about transsexuality and race

June 23, 2021 • 9:20 am

Although I’ve made clear that I’m in favor of civil rights for minority ethnic groups as well as transgender rights, I’ve also been critical of some of the tenets that pass for dogma in both the transsexual “affirmation” community (those who see a transsexual woman, for instance, as equivalent to a biological woman in every respect, including in sports and in women’s prisons), as well as in the Critical Race Theory (CRT) community (I’ve criticized the elimination of meritocratic measures that might hinder “equity”, as well as the constant demonization of white people and the characterization of various traits, like punctuality, as “white” rather than “black”).

I knew that holding such positions would get me called an alt-righter, a racist, and a transphobe. And indeed, that has happened, though, thankfully, less often than I expected. And I deny being any of those things.

But what has surprised me is the relative amount of pushback I get from the transsexual community versus from the community adhering to CRT or Kendi-an dogma.  I would have expected far more pushback on race given its hegemony in the national discourse, and the fact that there are far more blacks than transsexuals, which would seem to imply much more demonization of perceived “anti-antiracists” than of “transphobes”.

And yet there’s no doubt that when I question whether transsexual women who have undergone no medical intervention should compete in women’s sports, or tell people to read Abigail Shrier’s book, I get far more pushback than when I agree with something that John McWhorter or Glenn Loury says.  The pushback comes partly in the form of blog comments (including the really nasty ones that I don’t put up), as well as personal emails and comments in my Twitter feed. (I tend to not read Twitter comments but sometimes can’t resist.)

In other words, there’s something about criticizing transsexual dogma that seems to raise people’s hackles far higher than criticizing some assertions of Ibram Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, or Critical Race Theory.

Now there’s room for pushback from all sides, as no one issue has to completely dominate political and ideological discourse. But I’m surprised at the greater rancor attending those who raise questions about transsexual issues than about racial issues—at least when it comes to me. Another friend I discussed this with sees the same disparity. A staff lawyer for the ACLU, for instance, has called for the banning of Abigail Shrier’s book on gender dysphoria, but nobody on the ACLU, at least as far as I know, has called for any book on race to be banned.

My question is this: why the disparity? Why are critics of so-called “transphobes” so much more rancorous than critics of Kendi or CRT? Is this just my own personal experience and not a general observation? And if it is general, why, given the relative number of people involved in both issues, why? Is there something about transsexuality that makes its advocates especially defensive or offensive?

I can’t think of a reason, so I just thought I’d ask the readers.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

June 23, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Wednesday, June 23, 2021: National Pecan Sandy Day (this is a cookie, or, to Brits, a “biscuit”). It’s also National Hydration Day, Pink Flamingo Day, Typewriting DayUnited Nations Public Service Day, and International Widows Day 

News of the Day:

The Bidens have still not acquired a White House cat. A campaign promise broken!

Although Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has bent in his opposition to the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass a bill, and now favors the Democratic For the People Act, which walks back some of the GOP’s race-motivated “voting rights restrictions”, the Democrats are gonna lose this one. According to the NYT, all 50 Republican Senators are opposed to the bill, and that makes it pretty futile. A key test vote on the legislation wound up with a 50/50 split, and that spells trouble with a capital “T”.

According to the Times of London, Oxford students have voted to establish a board of “sensitivity readers” to vet Oxford’s two student newspapers. Vetting appears to be only at the request of the editors, and was instituted because of this:

The motion put to the students’ union cited a Cherwell article defending the music of Richard Wagner, which was taken down after students complained it was antisemitic. It said: “The need for better editing in student papers but also in JCR [junior common room] affairs, society publications, and other areas of Oxford life is clear from the amount of ‘scandals’, that is, problematic articles being published. These could represent a certain group of people unfairly or inaccurately, be implicitly racist or sexist, or just generally inaccurate and insensitive.”.”

When you see the word “problematic”, run like hell! Of course the NYT and WaPo, along with other liberal media, already have a group of sensitivity readers. They’re called “the editors”.  (h/t: Stash Krod)

Remember the name Richard Scott William Hutchinson, the world’s more premature baby who has survived. (That’s a Guinness world record.) Hutchinson, who just celebrated his first birthday, weighed less than a pound at birth and was said to “fit in the palm of your hand”. He was born in Minnesota 131 days (over 4 months!) before his due date (that’s a gestation half the normal length), weighed 11.9 ounches, and doctors gave him a 0% chance of living. But he’s still here after having spent his first six months in the neonatal intensive care unit.  Here’s the little fighter:

Read this WaPo editorial by Colbert King explaining why we should worry less about prompting Breyer to retire from the Supreme Court and worry more about holding the Senate in the midterms.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. 602,163, an increase of 308 deaths over yesterday’s figure.  The reported world death toll is now 3,899,018, an increase of about 9,600 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on June 23 includes:

  • 1314 – First War of Scottish Independence: The Battle of Bannockburn (south of Stirling) begins.
  • 1812 – War of 1812: Great Britain revokes the restrictions on American commerce, thus eliminating one of the chief reasons for going to war.
  • 1865 – American Civil War: At Fort Towson in the Oklahoma Territory, Confederate Brigadier General Stand Watie surrenders the last significant Confederate army.
  • 1887 – The Rocky Mountains Park Act becomes law in Canada creating the nation’s first national park, Banff National Park.
  • 1917 – In a game against the Washington Senators, Boston Red Sox pitcher Ernie Shore retires 26 batters in a row after replacing Babe Ruth, who had been ejected for punching the umpire.

Shore did not pitch a perfect game since he didn’t retire all 27 batters in a row, and there have been several perfect games since then. Only one, though, was thrown in a World Series game. Can you name the pitcher?

RIP, SAT: a tool of the meritocracy.

Here’s the photo of the trio and the caption from Wikipedia:

Adolf Hitler visits Paris with architect Albert Speer (left) and artist Arno Breker (right), June 23, 1940

I don’t know how a German pilot could mistake Wales for the European mainland, but here’s a speciment of the single-engine fighter:

Our family traveled to Europe on this liner when my dad was stationed to Athens, Greece in the mid Fifties. In those days, Army officers were given luxurious travel! Here she is as I remember her (not well!). It was, at the time, the fastest ocean liner in the world.

  • 1959 – Convicted Manhattan Project spy Klaus Fuchs is released after only nine years in prison and allowed to emigrate to Dresden, East Germany where he resumes a scientific career.

Fuchs (below in his Los Alamos ID badge) was convicted and imprisoned in England, which is probably why he wasn’t executed.

  • 1960 – The United States Food and Drug Administration declares Enovid to be the first officially approved combined oral contraceptive pill in the world.

  • 1961 – The Antarctic Treaty System, which sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve and limits military activity on the continent, its islands and ice shelves, comes into force.
  • 1969 – IBM announces that effective January 1970 it will price its software and services separately from hardware thus creating the modern software industry.
  • 1972 – Watergate scandal: U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman are taped talking about using the Central Intelligence Agency to obstruct the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into the Watergate break-ins.
  • 1972 – Title IX of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 is amended to prohibit sexual discrimination to any educational program receiving federal funds.
  • 2012 – Ashton Eaton breaks the decathlon world record at the United States Olympic Trials.

Eaton garnered 9,039 points, but his record was beaten in 2018 by Kevin Mayer with 9,126 points—still the world record.

Here are highlights of Wallenda’s Canyon walk. I don’t see a safety line. Note his many prayers and thank yous to Jesus!

It’s the fifth anniversary of Brexit! I am not a UK citizen, but I would have voted “stay”. Pity, pity, too late. . .

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1894 – Alfred Kinsey, American entomologist and sexologist (d. 1956)

Here’s Kinsey and his coworkers at the Institute for Sexual Research. He’s the creepy-looking guy in the middle:

  • 1912 – Alan Turing, English mathematician and computer scientist (d. 1954)

Turing, who killed himself at the age of only 41 (some say he was murdered).

  • 1927 – Bob Fosse, American actor, dancer, choreographer, and director (d. 1987)

Here’s Fosse and his habitual partner, Gwen Verdon, dancing in Damn Yankees (see more videos here).

  • 1929 – June Carter Cash, American singer-songwriter, musician, and actress (d. 2003)

Here’s June and her husband singing their well known song “Jackson“:

  • 1940 – Wilma Rudolph, American runner (d. 1994)
  • 1940 – Stuart Sutcliffe, Scottish painter and musician (d. 1962)
  • 1957 – Frances McDormand, American actress, winner of the Triple Crown of Acting

Notables who departed this life on June 23 were few, and include:

  • 1995 – Jonas Salk, American biologist and physician (b. 1914)
  • 2009 – Ed McMahon, American game show host and announcer (b. 1923)
  • 2011 – Peter Falk, American actor (b. 1927)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili aspires to be a rodenticide:

A: Where are you going?
Hili: I have to check that no rodent is gnawing on your wild strawberries.
In Polish:
Ja: Gdzie idziesz?
Hili: Muszę sprawdzić, czy jakieś gryzonie nie podgryzają waszych poziomek.

From Su:

From Bruce:

Another cat meme, this one from Lenora:

A tweet sent from Luana with the official logo of the Chicago Dyke March. Remember when they wouldn’t let Jewish lesbians parade with their rainbow “Jewish Pride” flag in 2017? Now they burn the American flag in one hand, the Israeli flag in the other, and they use the initials for “All Cops are Bastards”.  This is a nasty piece of work (and art)!

From Simon. Drosophilists and those who work on its nematode “model organism” equivalent, Caenorhabditis, are friendly opponents. It really wouldn’t get this bad!

From reader Barry, who says, “That’s impressive work!” Indeed it is. Do you suppose it’s an evolved, stereotyped behavior or a learned behavior?  (It could be a combination of both.)

From Ginger K. Install pet tracking software on your computer!

Tweets from Matthew. First, a great bug dad. Not many insects show paternal care.

Live and learn! I had no idea:

A new letter to Nature from Matthew Cobb and Bob Pollack on the limitations of acceptable research.

Race insinuates itself into cosmology at Cornell University. Read the article to see one take on this course, which confers science credit.

Caturday felid trifecta: “Big Floppa” the pet caracal, cat interrupts CBS News, the Kifness symphony, and lagniappe

June 19, 2021 • 9:30 am

I don’t think it’s advisable to have a pet caracal (Caracal caracal), as they’re wild felids from Africa and central Asia, and it’s never advisable to keep a pet cat unless it can’t be released into its native habitat because of injury of other factors. But, as Russia Beyond reports, in Russia they breed them commercially, and so we have “Big Floppa”.  (Click on screenshot to read.)


In April 2018, Andrei Bondarev, a videographer from Moscow, posted a photo of his “pet” enjoying his meal on his Instagram account – a giant short-haired cat with a large elongated nose, bright green eyes and enormously long tufted ears.

“To become a big cat, you have to eat a lot!” was the caption that launched the cat and his fellow cats, Matvei and Zhora, as bloggers. In 2020, the cat became popular on social media and websites, such as Reddit, under the name ‘Big Floppa’, or ‘Kot Shlyopa’. He got his nicknames from his ears.

In actual fact, his name is ‘Gosha’ and he is a caracal, a wild cat that looks similar to a lynx. Caracals are native to Africa, Asia and India, but Gosha was born on December 21, 2017, in a cattery specializing in wild cats in Ukraine.

It took Georgy [full form of Gosha’s name] and his pet delivery couriers more than 24 hours in a minibus to get to Moscow. According to Yelena, for the first few days, he was afraid to walk  around the apartment; he hissed and hid, but didn’t refuse food. Gosha was “mentored” by Matvei – another cat the Bondarevs took in from an animal shelter, who is already over 12 years old.

“Zhora [cat number three, 4½ years old] was very offended at us for taking in someone else, and, for the first couple of weeks, he ignored Gosha and us. Now he is best of friends with Gosha,” Yelena said.

From an early age, Gosha chased toys and ran around with the other cats. The only difficulty was training Gosha to use the litter box; but, according to Yelena, these are “routine feline issues”.

“Gosha is dominating and regards me as exclusively his human being and no-one else’s. He has quite a canine nature, he is very devoted and doesn’t like to be on his own. He is very cautious with people he doesn’t know,” Yelena says, describing the caracal’s character.

Oy, those choppers! (cm scale, so they’re about an inch long):

The only difference is his size, so you have to take more care and pay attention more. Accidental injuries you get when, for instance, playing with him are much more serious than from small cats. Of course, the degree of ‘destruction’ of the house also grows in proportion to the size of the cat. As for the rest – a cat is a cat in Africa, too,” Yelena says in conclusion.

Tummy rub? I don’t think so!  You can see more of Big Floppa on his Instagram page.


Here’s a cat interrupting a CBS News broadcast; I presume the fly is on the computer screen she’s looking at:



And here’s a mini-symphony on video written to accompany the caterwauls of a moggy. It’s not only an interspecies collaboration but an international collaboration. Be sure to see the vocalist!

The YouTube notes say this:

In May 2021, I did a collab with a cat [see it here]. And then people from all over the world joined in! 🌎 🎶 The Kiffness on Spotify:


Lagniappe: hairless cat runs on giant hamster wheel. Here are the YouTube notes:

“Super active hairless cats, Polina (Peterbald) running on the wheel, made by One Fast Cat, and a cranky (Sphynx) shown in the background.”

h/t: Ginger K., Paul

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 19, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your photos, please!

Today’s bird photos come from reader Paul Edelman, who has contributed before through his wife. Today he sends us the photos himself. Edelman is a professor of mathematics and law at Vanderbilt University, and his commentary is indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Rather than have my wife, Suzanna Sherry, do my dirty work, this time I am submitting some photos for you to post on WEIT.  They were taken on our recent trip to Kiawah Island, a barrier island near Charleston, SC.  As before, all the pictures were taken with a Nikon D500 camera and  Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 lens

On the very first day there I got a nice picture of a painted bunting (Passerina ciris).  They nest on Kiawah and are remarkably common to see.

On the same day I captured this female ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilocus colubris).

I saw many great crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus) and caught this one with his lunch.

Common gallinules [also known as moorhens] (Gallinula galeata) were nesting in the ponds. One picture shows all the developmental stages from baby to juvenile to mature.  The other shows the mother feeding the babies.

Around the ponds we found this green heron (Butorides virescens).

And finally two babies: a juvenile Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) and a juvenile tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), the latter of which plopped itself down on the ground with its wings splayed.

Why apple pie is a symbol of racism, genocide, white supremacy, and cultural appropriation

June 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

One of the distinguishing features of Woke journalism (or discourse in general) is that it’s sometimes impossible to distinguish from satire. That’s why the “Grievance Studies” papers of Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian got accepted in some academic journals. And it makes it harder to attack via satire, since such attacks might be taken to be promotions of Wokeism.

This new article in the Guardian, which starts by showing the racist/genocidal/white-supremacist roots of America’s iconic food, would be hilarious as a spoof, but it’s real, and a sad commentary on our times. After a long discussion of author Patel’s claim that every ingredient of the pie, as well as the gingham cloth it rests on, reflects oppression, the piece segues into a general rant about capitalism.  Some of its claims have merit (e.g., we really should do away with tipping), but there’s absolutely nothing new in the piece save the Woke Deconstruction of Apple Pie, and who really cares about that?

Click on the screenshot to read:

I’ll first put up the opening five paragraphs to give an idea of the article’s tenor, and then mention briefly its other plaints. If the words below don’t make you queasy, you’ve gotten too jaded! Every trope is here: genocide, cultural appropriation, oppression, slavery, bigotry, and so on:

Resting on gingham cloth, a sugar-crusted apple pie cools on the window sill of a midwestern farmhouse. Nothing could be more American. Officially American. The Department of Defense once featured the pie in an online collection of American symbols, alongside Uncle Sam and cowboys.

Not that apples are particularly American. Apples were first domesticated in central Asia, making the journey along the Silk Road to the Mediterranean four thousand years ago. Apples traveled to the western hemisphere with Spanish colonists in the 1500s in what used to be called the Columbian Exchange, but is now better understood as a vast and ongoing genocide of Indigenous people.

Not that the recipe for apple pie is uniquely American. It’s a variant on an English pumpkin recipe. By the time the English colonized the new world, apple trees had become markers of civilization, which is to say property. In Virginia, apple trees were used to demonstrate to the state that land had been improved. John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, took these markers of colonized property to the frontiers of US expansion where his trees stood as symbols that Indigenous communities had been extirpated.

Not that the sugar on the crust is uniquely American. Sugar cane was first brought to the US by Jesuits in 1751, but most US sugar remained an import until the Haitian revolution. When enslaved workers seized the French colony in 1791, European capitalists sought new sugar cane fields and workers. French merchants of sugar and slavery landed in Louisiana in the late 1700s. Within 50 years, the US produced a quarter of the world’s sugar cane, and New Orleans had become a concomitant hub of the slave trade. After emancipation, the economics of sugar shifted. The American civil war pushed the frontier of sugar westward. Hawaii’s sugar plantations grew during US Reconstruction. When the Philippines was a US colony between 1898 and 1946, Filipino workers were exempted from the “Asiatic barred zone”’ to work in the US sugar plantations in Hawaii, replacing more militant Japanese labourers.

Not that the gingham on which our apple pie rests is uniquely American. Columbus recorded cotton being used and worn during his first voyage by his Indigenous hosts. The gingham pattern likely originated in south-east Asia, the word deriving from the Malay genggang, a striped cloth that arrived in Europe as Europe colonized Asia. Cotton from India became central to the British East India Company, representing three-quarters of the corporation’s exports by 1766. As Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton tells, this war capitalism enslaved and committed acts of genocide against millions of Indigenous people in North America, and millions of Africans and their descendants through the transatlantic slave trade. In the process, cotton laid the basis of finance, police and government that made the United States.

. . . Since this is quite a lot to acknowledge, it is easier to misremember. In the drama of nationalist culture, the bloody and international origins of the apple pie are subject to a collective amnesia.

No comment, save to say that this is The 1619 Project applied to a dessert. I could argue that some of this is ridiculously accusatory (i.e., apple pie is just a variant of an English pumpkin pie), but the article satirizes itself. Not only that, but it effaces its serious points in a dumb endeavor to show the “bloody and international origins of the apple pie.”

Patel then goes on to indict everything involved in the American food chain, showing that “the apple pie is as American as stolen land, wealth, and labor. We live its consequences today.” Will you ever be able to eat another slice of apple pie after reading that?

Here are the other sins in the pie food chain:

Farms: white owned and racially segregated.

Food system as a whole: women are overrepresented, and the pay is dreadful (This is one of those complaints that is true but that’s true but has been made many times before).

Tipping. Agreed; we should abolish it and raise servers’ wages. But what does this have to do with pie?

Hamburgers.  Not only was beef raised by cowboys, who were exploited workers, but the meat was processed by a meatpacking industry portraying in Upton Sinclair’s 1907 novel The Jungle. (Curiously, author Patel doesn’t delve into the present-day meat industry, very different from the one portrayed in Sinclair’s horrifying account.)

There’s a long discussion of various strikes in the food industry and in agriculture, but these are nearly a century old and have nothing obvious to do with either pie or present injustice.

Racial poverty that leads to more hunger in minority communities. I agree that this is a legacy of racism and slavery that persists, but there’s no mention of poverty in any groups other than minorities. What dominates the discussion here is not class but race.

Author Raj Patel is described as

the author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System. He is currently working on a documentary and book about the future of the food system

He’s deconstructed chicken nuggets the same way he’s done here.

As I said, the article is over the top in several ways, though some of its complaints are valid.  Half of it involves a deconstruction of the pie, an endeavor that is both pathetic and humorous, and goes to show only that you can take any food object—indeed, any object—and show that it is racist.

Some of the history no longer applies, and some of the injustices Patel describes have been largely rectified. My major complaint about the piece is one that I absorbed from Grania: it doesn’t accomplish anything. The points about exploitation of food workers has been done many times before, and to make your thesis by deconstructing pie does nothing except alienate (or amuse) people who eat pie. I doubt that this article will rectify a single particle of injustice, but it does provide Patel with a way to dine out on oppression.

If you want to make a political point, you don’t do it this way: I can’t imagine Orwell writing such an over-the-top, near satirical screed.  When I read it, instead of getting outraged I simply changed the famous 1946 quotation of theologian Martin Niemöller in my mind:

First they came for apple pie, and I did not speak out—because I do not eat apple pie.

Then they came for the hamburgers, and I did not speak out—for I am cutting back on red meat.

Then they came for the chicken nuggets and I did not speak out—for I do not eat nuggets and don’t even know what’s in them.

Then they came for Coca-Cola—and I could no longer buy the world a Coke because there were no eaters left.

h/t: Mark

Should we cancel Walt Whitman?

June 6, 2021 • 11:45 am

Like Darwin, Walt Whitman was an abolitionist who had some bigoted attitudes. Unlike Darwin, Whitman was both a working-class outsider and was gay. And, in fact, Whitman expressed his racism more explicitly than did Darwin, who, as I’ve written recently, was sometimes exploring the consequences of selection on human culture rather than approving of them. (He did not, for example, approve of “genocide.”)

I’m not a big fan of Walt Whitman. His poems don’t resonate with me emotionally, and his famous poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” is more or less explicitly anti-science. (The stars become more interesting and awesome when you know something about them.) It didn’t help when I learned that Bill Clinton gave Leaves of Grass to Monica Lewinski as part of his attempt to woo her. At any rate, a friend of mine was reading a book that referred to Whitman and wrote me about it:

I have been reading the book about James Baldwin by Eddie Glaude, who quotes the most amazingly racist remarks by Walt Whitman, that icon of American literature. Nobody seems bothered by that.

According to Glaude (p.73 of Begin Again, no source givens), in 1874 Whitman wrote:

As if we had not strained the voting and digestive caliber of American Democracy to the utmost for the last fifty years with the millions of ignorant foreigners we have now infused a powerful percentage of blacks with about as much intellect and caliber (in the mass) as so many baboons.

Other sources verify this quote. Baboons? That’s worse than anything Darwin ever wrote! But wait! It gets worse!

Whitman also argued for the exclusion of black people from new Western territories of the U.S., thinking that segregation was best for both blacks and whites. Further, he thought it as “inevitable and fitting”, as the encyclopedia article below notes, that the displacement of Native Americans by white settlers occur. That article notes that Whitman embraced “social Darwinism” after the Civil War, but the superiority of Asian culture was touted over the inferiority of black and Native American cultures.

But, also like Darwin, Whitman’s views on race shifted from time to time, though I don’t think that, although he’s known as an egalitarian of classes, one could say he was always an egalitarian with respect to race. Here are some quotes from the Walt Whitman Encyclopedia, reposted on the Whitman Archive (my emphases):

Concerning people of African descent, what little is known about the early development of Whitman’s racial awareness suggests he imbibed the prevailing white prejudices of his place and time, thinking of black people as servile, shiftless, ignorant, and given to stealing, although he would remember individual blacks of his youth in positive terms. His later experiences in the South apparently did nothing to mitigate early impressions, although readers of the twentieth century, including black ones, imagined him as a fervent antiracist.

Whitman’s attitudes to people of African descent must be distinguished from his attitudes toward slavery. In an 1857 editorial for the Brooklyn Daily Times, for example, he articulated his antislavery position in white nationalist terms, opposing “the great cause of American White Work and Working people” to “the Black cause” (I Sit 88). . .

. . . . Particularly in old age, his private argument against African Americans was that he saw little tendency to self-determination in their “group” character. Nor was he disposed to recognize such self-determination where it revealed itself. When reminded of Wendell Phillips’s famous oration on Toussaint l’Ouverture, he replied that he thought it exaggerated; and when mentioning Frederick Douglass, he could not help bringing up that eloquent freedom fighter’s “white blood.” Moreover, in the wake of the Civil War he feared the idea of blacks gaining political power.

After the war, Whitman began wondering whether blacks were innately inferior to whites and bound to disappear. He even considered that fate “most likely” though far off. Contact with the “stronger” and more arrogant white race, Whitman generally suspected, would finally prove fatal. His reading of post-Civil War “ethnological science” deeply influenced Whitman on this issue. To Horace Traubel he said, “The nigger, like the Injun, will be eliminated: it is the law of races, history, what-not” (With Walt Whitman 2:283). His statements along these lines are sometimes hesitant and ambiguous, sometimes quite certain.

. . . Because of the radically democratic and egalitarian aspects of his poetry, readers generally expect, and desire for, Whitman to be among the literary heroes that transcended the racist pressures that abounded in all spheres of public discourse during the nineteenth century. He did not, at least not consistently; nonetheless his poetry has been a model for democratic poets of all nations and races, right up to our own day. How Whitman could have been so prejudiced, and yet so effective in conveying an egalitarian and antiracist sensibility in his poetry, is a puzzle yet to be adequately addressed.

From JSTOR Daily:

Like many white intellectuals, Whitman seems to have been seduced by the proliferation of racist pseudo-science in the post-Civil War era, a body of thought largely produced in reaction to black emancipation and the prospects of black citizenship rights as voters and office-holders. Whitman’s racism was not limited to black people, but also extended to Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. These comments force us to reconsider all those lovely passages in Leaves of Grass where Whitman the poet celebrates the “aboriginal” heritage of America. Whitman, the man, actually hoped that white Americans would absorb the naturalistic traits of Native Americans, but discard the actual people, much in the same way that contemporary sports fans now cling to their Native American mascots while dismissing living Native Americans who have repeatedly told them how these degrading, offensive caricatures contribute to ongoing Native oppression and disenfranchisement.

The question is why there aren’t many calls for cancellation of Whitman. While there are a few articles on Whitman’s views on race, there are few calls for cancellation. Perhaps it’s because he’s celebrated as the great exponent of equality, perhaps it’s because he was gay (and therefore oppressed), perhaps his poetry is so beloved that people hate to criticize his racism. But racism it was, and perhaps there are many reasons it’s ignored.

Curiously, black people admired Whitman’s poetry (were they ignorant of his views?), and even PBS, in an article on “Whitman and Race” gives the man a pass after admitting his bigotry (I’ve put in bold their tepid accusation of racism):

Whitman’s great grandfather had been a slave owner (slavery was legal on Long Island until 1828) and Whitman did not have a high opinion of the ten percent of Brooklyn residents who were of African descent. In an early novel, the protagonist has a sexual relationship with a mixed race mistress in New Orleans, reaffirming racial stereotypes of the time. Yet Whitman thought slavery abhorrent. His sympathy for laborers naturally extended to those in servitude, and he often wrote in the voice of the oppressed.

In Context
Although Whitman’s attitude towards blacks may be offensive to modern audiences, it was common in its day. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), was a progressive white northerner, and in her novel, Tom is the hero, a Christ-like figure. Today, “Uncle Tom” is a derogatory term. Abraham Lincoln, in his fourth debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858, said that he did not support the idea that blacks and whites were equal, that blacks should be trusted with any civil service, or that the races should intermarry. (Later, as president, Lincoln affirmed that blacks should have equal rights.) Northerners revealed as much racial bias as Southerners when they debated “The Negro Question” after the Civil War, asking whether whites had done enough for blacks.

A Voice for All Time
Whitman’s poetry often expresses the collective unconscious of 19th-century America, for better and for worse. Whitman’s inclusive poetic voice, however, has influenced generations of writers around the world, including notable African Americans Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison and June Jordan. Part of Whitman’s genius was his ability to construct a persona in his poetry who spoke as the ideal democratic voice, a persona who projected an equality that Whitman and his world — just like our world today — had yet to achieve.

“In Context!” How often do you hear a sentence like this: “Although Whitman’s attitude towards blacks may be offensive to modern audiences, it was common in its day.” That shows an extraordinary amount of empathy, an empathy that is not mental rocket science but is all too rare in these days of Pecksniffian enforcement of modern morality on long-dead people.

No, we shouldn’t cancel Whitman, although I don’t read his poetry for aesthetic reasons. He was a man of his time—actually, even worse than average than Darwin was in his time—but his art remains. . . to those who like him.

One response to Agustín Fuentes’s Darwin-dissing

June 5, 2021 • 12:45 pm

On May 21 the anthropologist Agustín Fuentes published a tirade in Science against Darwin for being racist, sexist, and white supremacist—the inevitable takedown of a man who was far more liberal than his Victorian contemporaries (Darwin was, for one thing, an ardent abolitionist). And yes, Darwin did entertain some views that were racist and sexist, and thought that the white “race” would eventually supplant other groups. But admitting that is only to admit that he was a man of his time, better than most. (I strongly doubt, for example, that Dr. Fuentes, had he lived at that time, would hardly appear to us today as a paragon of morality!). It’s ludicrous to assert that Darwin should have known better and become a saint among his peers.

At any rate, I pointed out the ideological biases and misapprehensions in Fuentes’s article, Robert Wright did an even better job, and several people have submitted letters to Science criticizing Fuentes’s views.  As Wright wrote, Fuentes confused Darwin’s attempts to understand phenomena like group ranking with approval of group ranking; as Wright said: “Here’s the confusion: In reading Darwin, Fuentes fails to distinguish between an explanation of something and a justification of something.” Darwin did not justify colonialism, white supremacy, or slavery, much less genocide (yes, Fuentes accused Darwin of promoting genocide as well), but was exploring the consequences of possible differences between groups in mentation and ability. That is not to say that Darwin didn’t adhere to some ideas we’d consider unacceptable today, but if you read him, you’ll find precious little of that, and much less than you’d find in many others writing in Darwin’s time. 

Now comes another anthropologist, Jonathan Marks, to defend Fuentes and point out Darwin’s “toxic ideas”, as well as criticizing Darwin’s “cult-like” followers. (What is it with anthropologists, anyway?)

As for the “cult”, everybody who knows anything about Darwin knows that his morality did not jibe 100% with modern morality (whose did in the mid 19th century?). Those of us who admire him do so not because he was morally perfect, but because he proposed, in one huge go, a theory that gave pretty much dispositive evidence that organisms evolved, did so slowly, that lineages split, creating a common ancestry between all species, and that the mechanism of adaptive change was natural selection. Those are four or five huge theories, and all have, with time, been shown to be correct. At one go, in one huge book (supplemented by a spate of other ones, including The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex), Darwin rid the world of centuries of incorrect creationist thought and gave rise to a fertile new field with a million new questions to explore. Now that is an accomplishment worth celebrating!

Marks, however, creates a different confusion: between science on the one hand and scientists on the other. Science is the amoral set of tools we use to find out what seems to be true about nature. Scientists are the imperfect human practitioners of science, and have sometimes bent science to bad or harmful ends (but of course they also created vaccines, all kinds of public health measures, and innumerable practical advances as well as improvements in our understanding of the cosmos).

Yet Marks’s letter, which I reproduce below, analogizes Darwin to other “morally dubious scientists” like Viktor Frankenstein.  Marks’s letter would be vastly improved if every time he wrote “science” he wrote “scientists”. Click on the screenshot to go to the letter.

So, are genocide, white superiority, and misogyny really embedded within modern science? Nope. There may be some bigoted scientists, but in my experience they’re rare.

Is science amoral? Yes, but scientists themselves are not. Science is as amoral as is architecture and chemistry, but architects and chemists themselves created gas chambers, biological weapons, and horrible prisons. Let us indict the men who did those bad things, not science itself.

Does “the modern science of human origins and diversity explicitly reject older values like racism, sexism and colonialism”? No, that is part of the morality held by most scientists, but is not part of science itself.  Nor does the modern science of architecture reject racism and genocide.

Does science train its practitioners to recognize and reject those values? No, or at least it shouldn’t, though increasingly science departments get involved in social engineering.  Racism, sexism, and colonialism are moral views, though of course if some people claim that they are supported by scientific evidence, one can examine those claims. But such claims were rejected ages ago.  The few who hold them, like Jim Watson, are universally ostracized.

Does Darwin seem more real now? Not if you know anything about Darwin. He was a human being subject to the prejudices of his age, and not very deeply imbued with those prejudices. I keep wondering why people like Fuentes and Marks keep pointing out what we already know, but pointing it out in exaggerated and sometimes logically fallacious ways (see Wright).

But we know why: it is the Woke Era, and every “hero” must now be scrutinized closely for moral failings. In many cases we do learn unsavory stuff, and can do things like take down statues, but Darwin is not of that ilk. You’ll have to pry my copy of The Descent of Man out of my cold, dead hands.

As for science itself, it remains amoral: it is a set of tools for studying reality. Let us at least be sentient enough to recognize the difference between a toolkit and the carpenter who might use a wrench when he should be using a screwdriver.

Bill Maher’s latest show with James Carville and Nicholas Kristof:

May 30, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Update:  And. . . . readers dd and cesar sent another link to the entire show. Try this one.

Also, reader Debra sent a summary of the show, which, she says, wasn’t nearly as good as the original. Note, though, that the summary is at Fox News Entertainment. However, I think there are some clips of the show online. I recommend you watching the link above ASAP!


Reader Enrico sent a link to the full Bill Maher show on HBO two days ago.I watched about half an hour of it this morning and enjoyed it, especially James Carville discussing politics and wokeness in his LSU shirt. Maher gave Nick Kristof a bit of a lesson in Israeli history, but I didn’t get to the end of that before the ducks called me to the pond.

Right now the show seems seems to have disappeared, but if anyone can find it legally, please give a link below and email me. In that hope, here are Enrico’s notes:Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), May 28, 2021

4:50-7:22 (parts of monologue on there being no Senate commission on the Jan 6 capitol Hill riot);

21:00 start of discussion with James Carville and Nicholas Kristof: The GOP’s Slow-Moving Coup

26:05 -35:00 James Carville on the woke damaging the Democratic Party; followed by discussion of some of the woke shit (how it is counterproductive)

35:00 – 37:30 Las Vegas is reopening [pretty funny]

37:20 -46:45 Israel-Palestinian conflict [very interesting]; among other things, Bill schooling leftist on the history of the region

Riddle me this: a grammar mystery

May 28, 2021 • 2:45 pm

You may know that Americans say “a hypothesis” but Brits say “an hypothesis”. And, as far as I know, both forms of the article are correct.

But why does nobody say, “I gave her an hyacinth”, when referring to the flower? After all, both words begin with the “hi” sound with a long “i”. And both begin with the spelling “hy”. It’s always, I gave her a hyacinth.”

Likewise, no OB GYN says, “Here is an hymen,” when referring to the female tissue.  Yet it’s the same “hi” sound with a long “i.” I’m sure there are similar words that are preceded with the article “a”.

I’m also sure there are rule for why things are like this, and certain that some readers will know those rules, but I can’t imagine how they make sense.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll never be able to bring myself to say “an hypothesis.”

Another death threat

May 25, 2021 • 8:30 am
 I take death threats about as seriously as did Christopher Hitchens—that is, not at all. But I can’t say that they don’t discombobulate me a bit. This one came yesterday as a comment on a thread about the death threats received by Blair Scott, communications director for American Atheists, after he’d appeared on Megyn Kelly’s FOX news show. The entirety of the comment, including the IP address is below, as my policy is not to hide this information if personal harm is threatened.


If you can find out who this person is from the IP address (I’m afraid that’s all the information I have), I’d welcome any information. I put the IP address in an IP lookup site, which appears to show it’s from Chicago, though I have no idea whether that’s the case.

Here’s what I got:

 on behalf of 

WordPress <>
Mon 5/24/2021 4:55 PM

  •  Jerry Coyne
A new comment on the post “More death threats from religious folks” is waiting for your approval … (IP address:,
Take down your website or I promise you we will find you and your family and kill you all, slowly. Go ahead…take a chance with it…you’re messing with criminals who clearly don’t respect the law, you think we won’t do it? 🙂