Friday: Hili dialogue

May 14, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Friday the Fourteenth (of May), 2021, and it’s National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, the quintessence of American baked goods. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a Southern breakfast of country ham, fried eggs, grits, homemade preserves, red-eye gravy, and tons of freshly-baked biscuits. Here, in Nashville, Tennessee, is where to get the best breakfast in America.

It’s also International Dylan Thomas Day (celebrating the reading of his voice play Under Milk Wood on May 14, 1953, in New York City), and Dance Like a Chicken Day. Not much of a day for celebrations, is it?

News of the Day:

The fighting in the Middle East, both the Israel/Gaza conflict and the nascent civil war within Israel between Israeli and Arab Jews, continues with no sign of abating. Hamas rockets number over 2,000 now, while Israel ground forces are shelling Gaza. For a while yesterday there were reports that Israeli troops had entered Gaza, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. 12,000 Israeli reservists have been called up to deal with the intra-Israel fighting, which is brutal and reprehensible on all sides.

On Thurday the CDC advised that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus may go maskless in most places. The caveats:

The new advice comes with caveats. Even vaccinated individuals must cover their faces and physically distance when going to doctors, hospitals or long-term care facilities like nursing homes; when traveling by bus, plane, train or other modes of public transportation, or while in transportation hubs like airports and bus stations; and when in prisons, jails or homeless shelters.

However, due to vaccine hesitancy the pace of vaccination has waned—it’s down 38% from what it was in mid-April, and that’s only a month ago.

Here’s an amazing story as reported by the Guardian. A man paralyzed from the neck down had two small computer chips implanted in the left side of his brain, which controls the right hand. He’s then asked to imagine that he’s writing sentences with his right hand. The electrodes and AI decode the impulses, producing his ability to write 18 words a minute on a computer, and with 94% accuracy. Here’s the paper in Nature reporting this. (h/t Jez)

David Brooks’s new NYT column, called “This is how wokeness ends“, which is curiously unconvincing. While applauding the equality aims of “wokeness,” as do many of us, he decries its increasing reliance on a specialized discourse aimed at academics.  This, he says, will defang the movement, though it’s not sure how. Read his column, but here’s are two excepts (he refers to an article by Rod Dreher on fulminating wokeness):

I’m less alarmed by all of this because I have more confidence than Dreher and many other conservatives in the American establishment’s ability to co-opt and water down every radical progressive ideology. In the 1960s, left-wing radicals wanted to overthrow capitalism. We ended up with Whole Foods. The co-optation of wokeness seems to be happening right now.

. . .Corporations and other establishment organizations co-opt almost unconsciously. They send ambitious young people powerful signals about what level of dissent will be tolerated while embracing dissident values as a form of marketing. By taking what was dangerous and aestheticizing it, they turn it into a product or a brand. Pretty soon key concepts like “privilege” are reduced to empty catchphrases floating everywhere.

The economist and cultural observer Tyler Cowen expects wokeness in this sense won’t disappear. Writing for Bloomberg last week, he predicted it would become something more like the Unitarian Church — “broadly admired but commanding only a modicum of passion and commitment.”

This would be fine with me. As I say, there are (at least) two elements to wokeness. One focuses on concrete benefits for the disadvantaged — reparations, more diverse hiring, more equitable housing and economic policies. The other instigates savage word wars among the highly advantaged. If we can have more of the former and less of the latter, we’ll all be better off.


Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 583,990 an increase of 622 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 3,359,869, an increase of about 13,300 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on May 14 includes:

From Wikipedia:

On 14 May 1796, Jenner tested his hypothesis by inoculating James Phipps, an eight-year-old boy who was the son of Jenner’s gardener. He scraped pus from cowpox blisters on the hands of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom, whose hide now hangs on the wall of the St. George’s Medical School library (now in Tooting). Phipps was the 17th case described in Jenner’s first paper on vaccination.

You can read about Blossom the cow here.

  • 1800 – The 6th United States Congress recesses, and the process of moving the U.S. Government from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., begins the following day.
  • 1804 – William Clark and 42 men depart from Camp Dubois to join Meriwether Lewis at St. Charles, Missouri, marking the beginning of the Lewis and Clark Expedition‘s historic journey up the Missouri River.

A banner day for evolution, as indicated in this tweet from Matthew:

  • 1870 – The first game of rugby in New Zealand is played in Nelson between Nelson College and the Nelson Rugby Football Club.

I couldn’t find a photo of the Nelson Rugby club, but here’s one showing “Scotland’s first rugby team. . . for the 1st international, v. England in Edinburgh, 1871″

The judge dismissed the case. Here’s Spofford:

  • 1939 – Lina Medina becomes the youngest confirmed mother in medical history at the age of five.

FIVE YEARS OLD! Well, it seems to be pretty credible: a case of precocious puberty. Medina gave birth through Caesarian as her pelvis was too small, and the baby survived. Here’s a photo of mother and child (see more here):

  • 1948 – Israel is declared to be an independent state and a provisional government is established. Immediately after the declaration, Israel is attacked by the neighboring Arab states, triggering the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

For those like Anita Sarkeesian who claims that Israel is not an independent state: take note of the above.

  • 1961 – Civil rights movement: A white mob twice attacks a Freedom Riders bus near Anniston, Alabama, before fire-bombing the bus and attacking the civil rights protesters who flee the burning vehicle.

Notables born on this day include:

Here is “Six Studies of a Cat” by Gainsborough, painted 1763-1769, chalk on paper:

  • 1897 – Sidney Bechet, American saxophonist, clarinet player, and composer (d. 1959)
  • 1897 – Ed Ricketts, American biologist and ecologist (d. 1948)
  • 1936 – Bobby Darin, American singer-songwriter and actor (d. 1973)

Here’s Darin singing my favorite of his songs, originally a French number.

  • 1952 – David Byrne, Scottish singer-songwriter, producer, and actor

Those who departed this life (or any life) on May 14 include:

  • 1847 – Fanny Mendelssohn, German pianist and composer (b. 1805)
  • 1912 – August Strindberg, Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist (b. 1849)
  • 1940 – Emma Goldman, Lithuanian author and activist (b. 1869)
  • 1959 – Sidney Bechet, American saxophonist, clarinet player, and composer (b. 1897)
  • 1987 – Rita Hayworth, American actress and dancer (b. 1918)

The other day I showed a great video of Hayworth dancing the “Shorty George” with Fred Astaire. Here’s a slower number, “Sway with Me” with the same partner:


  • 1995 – Christian B. Anfinsen, American biochemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1916)
  • 1998 – Frank Sinatra, American singer and actor (b. 1915)
  • 2015 – B.B. King, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (b. 1925)
  • 2018 – Tom Wolfe, American author (b. 1931)

Wolfe wrote some great stuff, but came a cropper when he tried to take down Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky simultaneously (my review of that debacle is here).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron are having a micoraggression:

Hili: What are you doing?
Szaron: I’m doing exercises in microaggression in the fresh air.
In Polish:
Hili: Co ty robisz?
Szaron: Ćwiczę mikroagresję na wolnym powietrzu.

The cherry trees are blooming in the orchard, and Kulka enjoys the flowers;

The picture below is from Facebook. This isn’t a genuine old painting but a modern one; one source says this:

There’s an image that’s been shared on social media dozens of times over the past few years. The image depicts a shoeless samurai walking a cat wearing armor. The samurai has a helmet with cat ears, and the image appears to be very old, perhaps dating back to Medieval Japan.

In reality, the painting is the creation of Japanese artist Tetsuya Noguchi, who often depicts samurai in unusual, comic situations. He has also mastered traditional techniques to create highly-detailed armor that would not be out of place in a museum.

From Meanwhile in Canada. I’ll have what they’re having.

From Bruce:

From Not Another Science Cat Page:

A tweet from Teen Vogue. This is the stuff that the magazine, now one of the Wokest of the Woke, is feeding its readers:

From Barry, who thinks this deep-sea squid looks like a teaser for a Pixar movie:

On this day in science. It’s amazing that no Nobel Prize was ever given for the discovery of messenger RNA. Note Matthew’s paper about the issue.

Now THIS is what the Internet is best at!

A paper on how the morphology of snake fangs is adapted to the nature of their prey.

A great footballer. For more video on the Barca midfielder, see the video below this tweet.

Spot the nightjar:

Thursday ducks

May 13, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Just a brief update: all the ducks are doing well: Honey still has her four and Dorothy her ten, and although they’re still wary of one another, they are not aggressive. The babies are growing like gangbusters and show every sign of vigor and health.

So, two pictures. First, Honey’s brood:

And then Dorothy with hers, learning from Mom how to preen themselves.

A tricky quiz

May 13, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Reader Bryan sent me this quiz made by  Presh Talwalkar. Your job is to catch all five errors in the sentence below. Can you do that? Are you a genius? Bryan adds this:

Personally, I think the interesting thing isn’t finding the “mistakes” – as such, but how long and how many readings – the thought process – it takes to do it.

Israel and Palestine, take 3.

May 13, 2021 • 9:00 am

I have two pieces to call to your attention, one by Bari Weiss and the other an announcement by an anti Israel NGO (non-governmental organization) showing the carnage inflicted on Palestinians by their own rockets. (Hamas has now started launching guided suicide drones.)

First, Ms. Weiss:


Weiss begins her piece by saying that she’s writing from a fertility clinic. She and her partner Nellie are trying to have a baby with IVF, and she ends her column saying this:

The truth needs people who are willing to stand up for it. It needs people willing to publicly resist moral perversion and nihilism. People willing to fight for a sane future.

That’s why I’m writing this. And it’s why we’re trying to start a family.

I suppose this means they’re trying to create a family of truth-tellers, but of course you can’t control how your kids turn out, and even that reason seems a bit strange to me. Regardless, Weiss, who says she wept while writing the column, is distraught over what’s going on in Israel—especially the internecine violence, which, giving the lie to a touted intra-Israel harmony between citizen Arabs and Jews, also discombobulates me. In the meantime she weeps for the lies sweeping the world. Just an excerpt (she doesn’t let Israel off the hook, either); Weiss’s words are indented

As you may have gathered, this complicated truth about a tiny country surrounded by enemies making hard decisions about how to protect its citizens doesn’t sell. Hamas, its paymasters in Iran, and their allies in the Western press know this well, and are skilled in exploiting every piece of bad news about Israel’s actions that they can to promote The Narrative (™).

The Narrative (™) holds that all Hamas’s violence is the justified reaction to the original sin of Israel’s existence. That if Israel only withdrew to the 1967 borders, if only Israel abandoned settlements in the West Bank, if only Israel split Jerusalem in half, and so on and so forth, Hamas would cease launching rockets aimed at Israeli homes and schools.

The Narrative (™) insists that Israel is not just an oppressive force, but the last standing bastion of colonialism in the Middle East, white interlopers in a foreign land squatting on the rightful territory of brown people. Israelis are baby killers, they are racists, they are supremacists. And Zionists? What are we? We are the facilitators of all this evil.

Never mind the fact that most Israeli Jews are not of Eastern-European descent, but are from the Middle East and North Africa. (The history of Israel, despite what facile activists would have you believe, is not color-coded.) Never mind the fact that Zionism flourished in defiance of imperial British — and, in an earlier era, Ottoman — rulers.

Never mind the fact that Palestinian militants have regularly partnered with large, powerful nation-states in the region in an attempt to cripple Israel. Never mind that the Jewish people have an indigenous history in the land dating back thousands of years, and that most Israeli citizens came back to the Holy Land in the last century because nowhere else would have them.

None of that matters to The Narrative (™) — a story about good and evil that has taken thousands of years to perfect in which the Jewish people, and now the Jewish State, plays the role of villian.

When you grasp the depth of The Narrative (™) it makes sense to watch the way certain kinds of lies spread like wildfire. Among them, this popular meme, in which we are told that Israel is not a country:

Sarkeesian is a blithering idiot. But wait! There’s more!

Or this viral video, which has been viewed 14 million times and is a total fraud:

. . . Take five minutes and read Hamas’s charter. It insists that “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad” and that “there is no way out except by concentrating all powers and energies to face this Nazi, vicious Tatar invasion.”

. . . Nevertheless, The Narrative (™) rockets around the world, with influencers like Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa and Halsey, and progressive darlings like Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Marc Lamont HillRashida Tlaib, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, speaking in unison.

Even the smart celebrities are getting in on the action. Trevor Noah weighed in with this gem: “I just want to ask an honest question here. If you are in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how much should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

Just so we have this straight: A country should accept a terrorist group launching deadly rockets at its civilian population because a comedian thinks that the terror group won’t win? If there was no Iron Dome, and more Israelis were killed by Hamas, would it be okay with the Noted Military Strategist Trevor Noah for Israel to . . . try to stop the rocket attacks? How many dead Israelis are necessary for a response to be OK? Did anyone have the temerity to tell America that we shouldn’t go after the Taliban or hunt Osama bin Laden after 9/11 because they had no realistic chance of destroying America?

. . . The world has gone Corbyn. Look online. When Andrew Yang, the frontrunner in the New York mayoral race, tweeted on Monday “I’m standing with the people of Israel,” AOC rallied the online hordes. The anodyne statement was, she said, “utterly shameful,” and the pile-on ensued. By Wednesday, Yang had all but apologized. The ratio is the new veto. How pathetic.

. . . . If you can’t stomach the whole thing —  there is a part about how the Jews were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and control the media — watch this clip from last week of a senior Hamas official asking Palestinians to go out and buy five-shekel knives to chop off Jewish heads:


How come the Western media doesn’t publicize things like this? You don’t hear senior Israeli officials announcing imminent decapitations of Palestinians with cheap knives (5 shekels is about $1.50). But never mind—Palestinians have a right to call for decapitations because they’re oppressed. And we all know about the Jew hatred and Israel-destruction taught to Palestinian children from the time they are very young. They don’t do that in Israel. But never mind—Palestinians have a right to teach hatred and murder because they’re oppressed. (Perhaps Dr. King should have taken a lesson from Gaza!)

And one more piece, which shows that many people, including the dead children invariably imputed to IDF activities in news reports, are actually caused by malfunctioning Hamas rockets. This comes from an Israeli website reporting verbatim on news put out by an NGO (Defense for International Children Palestinian [DICP]) which is against Israel.

Defense for Children International-Palestine, an extraordinarily anti-Israel NGO which has made bald-faced lies in the past, has unwittingly proven that most of the children killed in Gaza so far have been killed by Hamas – and others are killed because they are human shields. A quote from the Israeli site which you can verify on the DICP site):

An Israeli drone-fired missile killed 15-year-old Mohammad Saber Ibrahim Suleiman shortly after 6 p.m. while he and his father Saber Ibrahim Mahmoud Suleiman were on their agricultural land outside the city of Jabalia, according to documentation collected by Defense for Children International – Palestine. Father and son were both killed instantly. Mohammad’s body was subsequently transferred to the Indonesian hospital in Jabalia where doctors reported there were shrapnel wounds throughout his body.
Mohammad’s father was reportedly a commander in Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, a Palestinian armed group and the armed wing of Hamas, according to information collected by DCIP.
Mohammad was a human shield for his father. But what DCI-P admits next is amazing
In a second incident around 6:05 p.m., initial investigations suggest a homemade rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group fell short and killed eight Palestinians, including two children. The rocket landed in Saleh Dardouna Street near Al-Omari Mosque in Jabalia, North Gaza, according to evidence collected by DCIP. Mustafa Mohammad Mahmoud Obaid, 16, was killed in the blast, and five-year-old Baraa Wisam Ahmad al-Gharabli succumbed to his injuries around 11 p.m. on May 10.
Palestinian security sources and explosives experts indicated the cause of this explosion was a Palestinian armed group rocket that fell short. Another 34 Palestinian civilians were injured in the blast, including 10 children, according to DCIP’s documentation. 
Eight killed and 34 injured from one Hamas rocket.
Palestinian media reports 17 Palestinian children killed by Israel’s strikes. The totals above include 13 children killed by Hamas rockets. Were these counted as Israeli casualties?
And then:
Six Palestinian children and two adults were killed in a third blast that occurred around 6 p.m. in Beit Hanoun about 800 meters (2,600 feet) west of the Gaza Strip perimeter fence. Those killed included Rahaf Mohammad Attalla al-Masri, 10, and her cousin Yazan Sultan Mohammad al-Masri, 2; brothers Marwan Yousef Attalla al-Masri, 6, and Ibrahim Yousef Attalla al-Masri, 11; as well as Hussein Muneer Hussein Hamad, 11, and 16-year-old Ibrahim Abdullah Mohammad Hassanain, according to information collected by DCIP. When the blast occurred, members of the al-Masri family were reportedly harvesting wheat in the field outside their home, and their children were playing nearby, according to information collected by DCIP.
DCIP has not yet confirmed the cause of these deaths. At the time of the incident, Israeli drones and warplanes were reportedly overhead and Palestinian armed groups were firing homemade rockets towards Israel. DCIP continues to investigate these incidents to determine and identify the responsible parties.
The deaths of the al-Masri family was already confirmed by Israel on Tuesday as being from Hamas rockets. There was clearly no military target and Israel doesn’t randomly target a family – Israel diverts rockets when it sees children in the area, and they were outside.

Do not get me wrong: these are tragedies—self-inflicted ones, to be sure—but none the less tragic for that. The point is that all this misery then gets blamed directly on Israel, and finds its way into the Western media and the Internet.

Just remember, when people come on the internet, or make pronouncements like those of Trevor Noah or Anita Sarkeesian, more likely that not they know very little about what’s going on in Israel and almost nothing of the history of that country. (Alternatively, they could be ideologically blinkered.) I can’t say I’m an expert myself, but I do try to keep up. All I can say now, though, is that Israel has every right to defend itself against rockets from Gaza, but that one possible solution (a ground invasion of Gaza) seems untenable, while quashing an internecine civil war between Israeli citizens seems impossible. It’s ineffably sad that Israeli Jews and Arabs who once considered themselves friends and neighbors are now beating each other up and killing each other.

(h/t: Malgorzata)

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 13, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your photos; I always have need of more!

Joe Routon sends some travel photos from Peru; his captions are indented, and you can click on his photos to enlarge them. I visited Machu Picchu once, and consider it one of the three or four most beautiful places I’ve visited.

Here are some photos that I made in Peru at Machu Picchu, one of the 7 Wonders of the World. It was built around 1450 AD by the Incas.

We arrived early in the morning to watch the clouds lift.

Here’s one of Machu Picchu’s ubiquitous llamas.

Machu Picchu, 7,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, is the most visited tourist attraction in Peru. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The Urubamba River near Machu Picchu.

A Peruvian mother and child.

This is a Peruvian shaman. The shamans are healers who have passed along ancient knowledge dating back before the Incas.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

May 13, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Thursday, May 13, 2021: National Apple Pie Day, and you can’t get more American than that. It’s also National Fruit Cocktail Day, World Cocktail Day, International Hummus Day, Cough Drop Day, and Tulip Day. 

News of the Day:

The violence continues to flare in Israel and Palestine, and now a sort of civil war has erupted in Israel, with Israeli Arabs attacking Israeli Jews and vice versa. Drivers are getting beat up on both sides, and it’s disgusting. From the NYT:

One of the most chilling incidents occurred in Bat Yam, a seaside suburb south of Tel Aviv, where dozens of Jewish extremists took turns beating and kicking an Arab motorcycle driver, even as his body lay motionless on the floor.

Another occurred in Acre, a northern coastal town, where an Arab mob beat a Jewish man with sticks and rocks, also leaving him in a critical condition.

Another 130 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza last night.

The New York Times more or less replaced Bari Weiss with an Israel hater, Peter Beinart, who believes in a “one-state” solution to the Israel/Palestine problem. In a new column, he pushes the ludicrous “right of return” of Palestinians, which would inundate Israelis with over a million hostile Palestinians and lead to a mass genocide. This is wht the New York Times has become these days.  Here’s a paragraph from Beinart’s latest, which just makes me laugh and sad at the same time. The man is an arrant idiot:

Perhaps American Jewish leaders fear that facing the crimes committed at Israel’s birth will leave Jews vulnerable. Once the Nakba [return] taboo is lifted, Palestinians will feel emboldened to seek revenge. But more often than not, honestly confronting the past has the opposite effect.

Yeah, right. Has Beinart seen what’s going on now in Israel between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews?

In a move that I consider boneheaded, Chicago’s tree House Animal Society has released 1,000 feral cats into Chicago’s streets to control rats. This has been since 2012, and they claim that the cats are spayed or neutered, and property owners take care of the moggies. I don’t believe them.

If you’re into mountain-climbing, you’ll want to read this NYT article on people who claim to have climbed all 14 8000-meter peaks in the world. It turns out that perhaps none of the 44 people making that claim have succeeded, mainly because a fair number of those mountains have “summits” that are virtually unattainable, so climbers often stop 5-20 meters below the high point.

Reader Jez called my attention to a pretty good Guardian column in which, celebrating their 200th anniversary, they list the best and worst typos that ever appeared in the paper.

The house in which most of James Joyce’s novelette “The Dead” takes place—a story I consider the finest piece of writing in English—is set to be renovated and become a hostel. This is a TRAVESTY!

It was in the upstairs rooms of the [15] Usher’s Island house that Joyce’s great-aunts ran, for a time, a small musical school. Their annual get-together each Jan. 6 — the Roman Catholic feast of the Epiphany, also known in Ireland as “Women’s Christmas” — was the model for “The Dead’s” haunted dinner party, which confronts Gabriel Conroy, Joyce’s fictional avatar, with the swooning mysteries of love and mortality.

The house was also a setting for John Huston’s 1987 movie adaptation of the story, his Oscar-nominated swan song.

A petition opposing this monstrous act has been signed by the likes of Edna O’Brien, Anne Enright, Sally Rooney, John Banville, Pat McCabe and Eoin McNamee. Other non-Irish signers were Richard Ford, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Tobias Wolff and Ian McEwan.  Here is 15 Usher’s Island:

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 583,210 an increase of 629 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 3,346,556, an increase of about 13,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on May 13 includes:

  • 1846 – Mexican–American War: The United States declares war on the Federal Republic of Mexico following a dispute over the American annexation of the Republic of Texas and a Mexican military incursion.
  • 1888 – With the passage of the Lei Áurea (“Golden Law”), Empire of Brazil abolishes slavery.
  • 1917 – Three children report the first apparition of Our Lady of Fátima in Fátima, Portugal.

Here are the three children who saw the apparition, as well as a newspaper report showing people gazing at the Sun to see the supposed Virgin:

(From Wikipedia): Lúcia dos Santos (left) with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 1917
(From Wikipedia): Page from Ilustração Portuguesa, 29 October 1917, showing the people looking at the Sun during the Fátima apparitions attributed to the Virgin Mary
  • 1958 – Ben Carlin becomes the first (and only) person to circumnavigate the world by amphibious vehicle, having travelled over 17,000 kilometres (11,000 mi) by sea and 62,000 kilometres (39,000 mi) by land during a ten-year journey.

Here’s Carlin’s vehicle, “Half Safe”, arriving in Denmark in 1951:

  • 1985 – Police bombed MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia, killing six adults and five children, and destroying the homes of 250 city residents.
  • 1995 – Alison Hargreaves, a 33-year-old British mother, becomes the first woman to conquer Everest without oxygen or the help of sherpas.

Here’s Hargreaves, who died in a tragic fall after reaching the top of K2 at 33. Her son also died in a mountaineering accident on Nanga Parbat.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s a Braque etching, “Black Cat”:

He caused this. Religion poisons everything, including, literally, 918 people below.

  • 1940 – Bruce Chatwin, English author (d. 1989)
  • 1950 – Manning Marable, American author and academic (d. 2011)

Marable, whose work was handled by my own editor, won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Malcolm X (he died shortly thereafter of sarcodosis). Do read the book, it’s terrific.

  • 1950 – Stevie Wonder, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and producer
  • 1961 – Dennis Rodman, American basketball player, wrestler, and actor
  • 1986 – Lena Dunham, American actress, director, and screenwriter

Those who were potted like plants on this day include:

  • 1884 – Cyrus McCormick, American businessman, co-founded the International Harvester Company (b. 1809)
  • 1916 – Sholem Aleichem, Ukrainian-American author and playwright (b. 1859)

Aleichem, whose stories about Tevye the Dairyman, led to the famous musical Fiddler on the Roof:

Now THIS (Nansen) is a Viking! He won the Nobel for peace for helping create the “stateless passport” to allow displaced people to cross borders:

  • 1961 – Gary Cooper, American actor (b. 1901)
  • 1977 – Mickey Spillane, American mobster (b. 1934)
  • 2018 – Margot Kidder, Canadian-American actress (b. 1948)
  • 2019 – Doris Day, American singer and actress (b. 1922)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili sets out on a journey whose destination and purpose are unclear.

Hili: We are going southwest.
Szaron: But what for?
Hili: To secure our sphere of influence.
In Polish:
Hili: Idziemy na południowy zachód.
Szaron: Ale po co?
Hili: Żeby zabezpieczyć naszą strefę wpływów.

Here’s a photo of Szaron:

From Bruce:

A wedding invitation from Nicole. Is a child served like veal?

From Jesus of the Day:

Anita Sarkeesian is back with more stupid. I don’t think she has the slightest idea what she’s talking about, but wants to take the ideologically popular position.

Tweets from Matthew. There are lots of videos of this diligent and agile red squirrel. Note that in the third tweet below, it’s got nesting material in its mouth.

Here’s a biological difference between the sexes. Lesson: have similar rather than disparate sex chromosomes:

This should freak you out good and proper.

A very dreadful statue of Darwin:

I agree with Matthew here. Living wage! (Matthew notes, “I am a Brit and I endorse this message.”


Spot the woodcock chicks!

May 12, 2021 • 1:15 pm

A tweet sent by Matthew:

The photo (click to enlarge), which  contains two woodcock chicks. I’d rate this one “not too hard”.

Can you spot the two woodcock chicks? Reveal at 2:30 Chicago time.

Ducks and a gosling rescue

May 12, 2021 • 12:30 pm

Due to a lot of sweat and labor on the part of Team Duck, Honey’s four babies and Dorothy’s ten are doing well, though they’re still wary of each other.  Here are a few snaps, and also photos of a rescue of two young goslings.

Dorothy and her ten learning how to groom and sit on the “duck ring”:

Learning to sit on North Duck Island:

Honey and her four remaining babies (I think they’re all safe now) on Duck Plaza:

This morning on of the departmental employees found two newly hatched goslings in the street in front of our building. I was told that two “ducks” had been found, but these were HUGE and clearly geese. They were in good shape, and probably part of a brood that jumped from a rooftop (two others have been found in the street in the same location, and all four were taken to rehab):

I arranged for Chicago Bird Collision Monitors to take them, and thanks to the kindness of two workers, they were taken in for rehab, probably to join their brothers and sisters.  They seemed to be in very good shape.

This is the first time I’ve ever held a gosling. They are big, soft and sweet:

The two we took to rehab:


More to discuss on the Israel/Palestine conflict

May 12, 2021 • 10:30 am

As you may realize, the whole world seems to have turned against Israel in the past few days. In an effort to understand this, here’s a thesis I am advancing, and I offer it for discussion. First the thesis, and then a few words about it:

Jews have always been condemned for defending themselves, just as they are now. I suspect this comes from pervasive anti-Semitism that denies Jews the right to fight back when attacked or oppressed. 

While an ancient idea, this began in earnest in 1948, when, after Israel was proclaimed a state, five Arab armies attacked it. While Europe and the U.S. did not condemn Israel defending itself, they imposed an arms embargo on both Arabs and Israelis. The problem was that the Arabs were amply supplied with weapons by other Arab countries, while the only country that supplied Israel with weapons in its defensive war was Czechoslovakia, as well as a few American Jews who smuggled weapons to Israel. Had the U.S. and Europe had its way then, Israel would have been obliterated.

You can see the condemnation of Israel defending itself against hundreds of Hamas rockets in several ways. First, in the Western media, which largely emphasizes Israel’s military response to the rocket attacks while downplaying the Hamas rocket attacks themselves. Here are two headlines from just now (no mention of Hamas rockets, etc.), and you can find others:



HuffPo (no mention that Gaza escalated its rocket attacks on Israel):

Some miscreant bloggers have even implied that Israel has no right to defend itself because, after all, the Hamas rockets are weak and ineffectual weapons that don’t kill many people. They are “psychological” rather than physical weapons. Tell that to the Israels who are both psychologically and physically dead! The battle, as one splenetic blogger claimed, was “asymmetrical.”

It is this issue of proportionality that bothers some. If Hamas fires 500 rockets at Israel, what right does Israel have to fight back with precision bombings that may kill more civilians than did the Hamas rockets (deliberately aimed at civilian targets)? (Note, too, that Israel’s interest is NOT in killing civilians, but that Hamas places its rockets in civilian areas, ensuring some civiliandeaths during reprisals.) The argument, so it seems, is that Israel should kill exactly as many Palestinians as Israelis killed by Hamas rockets.

But this argument for “proportional warfare” does not stipulate a military response that produces no more civilian deaths than suffered by the attacking countries.  Here’s one explanation from the US. Marine Corps Association:

Finally, we get to proportionality. The principle of proportionality recognizes that some civilian life and property will be destroyed during armed conflict. Proportionality excuses collateral damage to civilian property or incidental civilian death or injury that occurs during an attack on a valid military objective, as long as the collateral damage or incidental civilian death is not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack.14 Thus, proportionality begins with identifying the valid military objective and identifying any collateral damage or incidental loss of life foreseeable from the attack. The commander then weighs the foreseeable collateral damage or incidental loss of life against the expected military advantage to determine whether the collateral damage or incidental loss of life is excessive. As long as the collateral damage and incidental loss of life is not excessive compared to the military advantage, then the attack does not violate the principle of proportionality.15 If there is no collateral damage, then proportionality has no effect on the size or type of weapons used against the enemy.

From Wikipedia:

The harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not “excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” by an attack on a military objective.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo was the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court who investigated allegations of war crimes during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He published an open letter containing his findings; in a section titled “Allegations concerning War Crimes”, he elucidates this use of proportionality:

Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute, the death of civilians during an armed conflict, no matter how grave and regrettable, does not in itself constitute a war crime. International humanitarian law and the Rome Statute permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives,[11] even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur. A crime occurs if there is an intentional attack directed against civilians (principle of distinction) (Article 8(2)(b)(i)) or an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality) (Article 8(2)(b)(iv)).

Article 8(2)(b)(iv) criminalizes:
Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated;
Article 8(2)(b)(iv) draws on the principles in Article 51(5)(b) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, but restricts the criminal prohibition to cases that are “clearly” excessive. The application of Article 8(2)(b)(iv) requires, inter alia, an assessment of:
(a) the anticipated civilian damage or injury;
(b) the anticipated military advantage;

(c) and whether (a) was “clearly excessive” in relation to (b).

And from the New Atlantis:

This criticism reveals an important moral misunderstanding. In everyday usage, the word “proportional” implies numerical comparability, and that seems to be what most of Israel’s critics have in mind: the ethics of war, they suggest, requires something like a tit-for-tat response. So if the number of losses suffered by Hezbollah or Hamas greatly exceeds the number of casualties among the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), then Israel is morally and perhaps legally culpable for the “disproportionate” casualties.

But these critics seemed largely unaware that “proportionality” has a technical meaning connected to the ethics of war. The long tradition of just war theory distinguishes between the principles governing the justice of going to war (jus ad bellum) and those governing just conduct in warfare (jus in bello). There are two main jus in bello criteria. The criterion of discrimination prohibits direct and intentional attacks on noncombatants, although neither international law nor the just war tradition that has morally informed it requires that a legitimate military target must be spared from attack simply because its destruction may unintentionally injure or kill noncombatants or damage civilian property and infrastructure. International law and just war theory only insist that the anticipated collateral damage — the “merely foreseen” secondary effects — must be “proportionate” to the military advantage sought in attacking the legitimate military target. This sense of proportionality is the second jus in bello criterion; it has to do almost entirely with the foreseen but unintended harm done to noncombatants and to noncombatant infrastructure.

Finally, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (as far as I can see, all sources agree with these four construals):

Rule 14. Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited.

Now of course I’m not condoning the deliberate targeting of civilians here, nor by any means a mass slaughter of Palestinians by Israelis, but merely showing you how “proportional response” has been construed during wartime.

In this case, then, the fire-bombing of Dresden during World War II was indeed a disproportionate and immoral response because it was both a direct attack on noncombatants, and, further, the deaths of civilians far outweighed any military advantage (a very, very small one at best) of destroying the city. You can weigh the U.S.’s dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagisaki for yourselves.

This is not the case when Israel targets the Hamas leaders and bomb-makers that are waging war on Israel.  Given that Israel is trying to neutralize a military threat, the argument of unequal numbers of lives lost in a purely military exercise doesn’t apply.  (Someone also argued “but Palestine doesn’t have an Iron Dome system to stave off Israeli airstrikes.” The response was “But they do: it’s called ‘Don’t fire rockets at Israel.'”)

No person of good will can look at the deaths of innocents and civilians with a cold heart. Whether Palestinian or Israeli, a civilian killed leaves behind a world of heartbreak, loss, and misery. But I maintain adamantly that in this case Israel has the right to defend itself as it is doing, so long as its response is a military one and not directly aimed at killing civilians. Remember that Hamas’s main aim, according to its charter, is the elimination of the state of Israel. They will do so if they have the means.

And Hamas has it within its power to minimize civilian casualties by not placing missile-launching sites in civilian areas.

These are just some thoughts I had this morning; feel free to discuss them below.