Princeton hoist with its own petard: Admits systemic racism, investigated for it by the Department of Education, and then denies it

I have to say that I find this pretty amusing. After Princeton’s President (like officials of many other colleges) wrote a letter flagellating himself and his University for systemic racism, the U.S. Department of Education has begun investigating Princeton for violating Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The charge is taking federal money for years while purporting to abide by federal nondiscrimination and equal-opportunity standards. If Princeton is indeed rife with “systemic racism” that it hasn’t addressed, then surely they have violated that agreement.  An article in the Washington Examiner (below) says that this investigation is not politically motivated—that the Department of Education has a legal obligation to investigate possible violations of federal civil rights protections, even if that violation is revealed by the University itself.

This is amusing because I don’t believe that Princeton is systemically racist, though there may be private instances of racism. And yet the University had to admit deep-seated racism to keep in tune with the Zeitgeist. By so doing, it got itself investigated. It’ll be interesting to see how Princeton plays this one, maintaining that it has a climate of systemic racism but yet doesn’t violate federal statues. They’ve responded already (see below), but they’re taking the mustelid path of Weasel Words.

First, here’s the September 2 letter to the University community from President Christopher Eisgruber admitting systemic racism at Princeton (click on the screenshot):

It’s the usual boilerplate self-flagellation. I’ll give just a few excerpts:

With that goal in mind, I charged my Cabinet in June to develop plans to combat systemic racism at Princeton and beyond.  In my letter, I invited suggestions from all of you, and many individuals and groups responded.  I am grateful for your input, and I write now with an update about our progress.

. . . We must ask how Princeton can address systemic racism in the world, and we must also ask how to address it within our own community.

. . . Racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton as in our society, sometimes by conscious intention but more often through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity, and the systemic legacy of past decisions and policies.

It goes on, with Eisgruber’s back well bloodied at the end. Note the admission of systemic racism: a legacy of racist policies that persists at Princeton. And there’s also an admission that racism has held back (“damaged”) students and faculty of color at Princeton. You may say this isn’t a violation of civil rights laws, but Princeton admitted that there was damage due to racism, and now must bear the consequences.

And so President Eisbruger must face the music, as reported in the (right-wing) Washington Examiner.  You may want to dismiss the whole report because of the politics of the paper, but that would be a mistake. This is an important case, and the Examiner’s contentions are supported by other documents, like the letter itself. And you will never (or so I predict) see this reported in the New York Times or the Washington Post.

Click on the screenshot to read the Examiner article:

Most of the Examiner report simply recounts what’s in the letter from the Department of Education (below), signed by Robert King, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Postsecondary Education. And the report below jibes with the letter:

Now, the Education Department has sent a formal records request as it pursues its investigation. Its main point of contention is whether Princeton has lied to the public with its marketing and to the department in its promise not to uphold racist standards, in accordance with receiving federal funds.

“Based on its admitted racism, the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) is concerned Princeton’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity assurances in its Program Participation Agreements from at least 2013 to the present may have been false,” the letter reads. “The Department is further concerned Princeton perhaps knew, or should have known, these assurances were false at the time they were made. Finally, the Department is further concerned Princeton’s many nondiscrimination and equal opportunity claims to students, parents, and consumers in the market for education certificates may have been false, misleading, and actionable substantial misrepresentations in violation of 20 U.S.C. § 1094(c)(3)(B) and 34 CFR 668.71(c). Therefore, the Department’s Office of Postsecondary Education, in consultation with the Department’s Office of the General Counsel, is opening this investigation.”

What the department seeks to obtain from its investigation is what evidence Princeton used in its determination that the university is racist, including all records regarding Eisgruber’s letter and a “spreadsheet identifying each person who has, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, been excluded from participation in, been denied the benefits of, or been subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance as a result of the Princeton racism or ‘damage’ referenced in the President’s Letter.” Eisgruber and a “designated corporate representative” must sit for interviews under oath, and Princeton must also respond to written questions regarding the matter.

You can see and download the DoE letter here, and I’ve embedded it at the bottom so you can read it for yourself.  They’re requiring Princeton to submit all kinds of documents showing the nature and degree of systemic racism, as well as answering written questions and making Eisgruber and another University representative available for interviews. You can read the requirements themselves, but I was again amused to read them. Here are five out of 9 records demanded by the government:

Please produce the following records within twenty-one (21) calendar days:

A. Please produce each record that you identified, referred to, described, relied upon, reviewed, or used in any way in preparing your written response. Please also identify and describe in detail each such record.

B. All records concerning, relating to, or referencing the President’s Letter. The time frame for this request is April 1, 2020 to the present.

C. All records concerning, relating to, or referencing the Diversity Measures. The time frame for this request is April 1, 2020 to the present.

D. All records concerning, relating to, or referencing Princeton’s “systemic” and/or “embedded” racism, as those terms are used in the President’s Letter. The time frame for this request is January 1, 2013 to the present.

E. A spreadsheet identifying each person who has, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, been excluded from participation in, been denied the benefits of, or been subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance as a result of the Princeton racism or “damage” referenced in the President’s Letter. This spreadsheet should (1) identify each such person; (2) provide his or her last known address and contact information; and (3) specify his or her damage, if known. The time frame for this request is January 1, 2015 to the present. . .

Do note that if Princeton really did practice systemic racism as it maintained in Eisgruber’s letter of September 2, there should indeed be written records supporting that claim. Otherwise it’s just trumpeting unsubstantiated claims. This is one of my beefs about this kind of self-flagellation: it’s long on breast-and-back-beating and very short on evidence. All the government is saying is “where’s the beef?”

Now many readers may see the hand of Trump behind this, and perhaps it is, but surely we’d still want to know the real details of how this systemic racism operates. Or do you think that accusations without evidence are sufficient? I don’t, so I think it’s good that someone has the power to demand evidence.

The administrators at Princeton are going to be sweating to accumulate these data! And Princeton already tendered a first reply yesterday (click on screenshot); I’ve put it below in its entirety (their emphasis):

On September 16, 2020, the University received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education requesting information about Princeton’s nondiscrimination practices. 

The letter was the Department’s reaction to President Eisgruber’s update to the University community outlining the steps we are taking to address systemic racism at Princeton and beyond. Princeton has long been committed to creating and maintaining a community where all can thrive, and stands by its representations to the Department and the public that it complies with all laws and regulations governing equal opportunity, non-discrimination and harassment. This work is core to the University’s teaching and research mission, and we are vigilant in our pursuit of equity in every aspect of our programs and operations. The University also stands by our statements about the prevalence of systemic racism and our commitment to reckon with its continued effects, including the racial injustice and race-based inequities that persist throughout American society. Attracting talent from every sector of society is crucial to our academic mission, and we will continue to lead on these issues.

The University will respond to the Department of Education’s letter in due course. It is unfortunate that the Department appears to believe that grappling honestly with the nation’s history and the current effects of systemic racism runs afoul of existing law. The University disagrees and looks forward to furthering our educational mission by explaining why our statements and actions are consistent not only with the law, but also with the highest ideals and aspirations of this country.

These are weasel words.  If Princeton is as systematically racist as it admits, and as its students aver, then how could it comply with nondiscrimination laws.? In fact, they contradict themselves by saying that while they stand by their self-certification as a nondiscriminatory institution, they also admit “systemic racism”. I cannot find these statements compatible; only a lawyer could harmonize them, and I’m sure Princeton’s lawyers are on the case!

At the end, they criticize the DoE’s letter for indicting Princeton for racism when it’s “grappling honestly with. . . the current effects of systemic racism.” But the letter was about past and existing denial of opportunity, not about whether Princeton was “grappling with it” since September 2. If the University systematically denied students, staff, and faculty equal opportunity because of race, then yes, that is a violation of its pledge to the feds.  It will be interesting to see how Princeton manages to comport their own admission with their claim that they’re adhering to the law. Such is the result (unforseen!) of indicting yourself of racism.

Here’s the letter sent by the Department of Education to President Eisgruber. You can read the whole thing by scrolling down.

Click to access Princeton-Letter-9-16-20-Signed.pdf

Readers’ wildlife photos

I importune, implore, and beseech you to send in your good wildlife photos, as my tank is inexorably running dry.

But today we have some gorgeous photos of wasps taken by Alan Clark from Liverpool. His caption (there’s just the introduction) is indented.

Here are some photos of German Wasps, Vespula germanica. They were photographed from a hide which was constructed by an acquaintance,  using two slave flat units, and attracted by a honey solution. The camera is a Canon 7Dii with a Canon 180mm macro lens. All the images were cropped, sometimes considerably. For the flight shots I took about 1300 images in around 90 minutes, of which most were useless, either out of focus or not fully in the frame.

Friday: Hili dialogue

It’s the end of the “work” week: Friday, September 18, 2020, and National Cheeseburger Day (no Coke, Pepsi!). It’s also Rice Krispies Treats Day (I have to admit that I love them), International Grenache Day, International Read an eBook Day (I’ve never read one),World Water Monitoring Day, and National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day.

Here’s a loaded cheeseburger from Kuma’s Corner, one of the most beloved burger joints in Chicago (sadly, I’ve never eaten there). They often add fried eggs to their burgers. This should make you hungry if you’re a carnivore.

News of the Day: Possible good news: FiveThirtyEight prognosticates that Democrats are slight favorites to win back the Senate in November. It’s not a sure thing, of course, but they ran simulations that showed this:

In an average simulation, our forecast has Democrats picking up about six Republican-held seats in the Lite model, around five in the Classic model and about four and a half in the Deluxe model.  And that would be enough for them to win control of the Senate — even if they fail to capture the presidency.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a Democratic House, Senate, and Presidency? But if Trump is re-elected, a Democratic Senate and House is not a recipe for progress.

This is sad: polls show that Americans’ willingness to take an approved coronavirus vaccine seems to be dropping. According to the New York Times:

The Pew Research Group, which surveyed 10,093 American adults from Sept. 8 through Sept. 13, found that 51 percent of Americans said they would get the vaccine. That’s a decline of 21 percentage points from May, when 72 percent indicated they might take it.

Now, 49 percent of respondents said they would “probably” or “definitely” not get it.

Fully 78 percent of those surveyed believed that the development process has been too hasty.

Now some of the doubt comes from ambiguous, mixed, or contrary messages from health officials versus Trump, but the wariness isn’t that different between Democrats and Republicans. As for me, I’ll follow my doctor’s advice, but if people like Fauci approve of a final vaccine, I won’t be too reluctant to take it.

Here’s something that baffles me: people’s willingness to pay for “flights to nowhere”: airplanes that take off, fly around for some hours, and then land back at the same airport. I heard on the news last night that Quantas offered an seven-hour flight that costs anywhere from $800 to nearly $4,000 US (it’s also mentioned in the Washington Post report). I understand that people are sick of not traveling, but traveling to nowhere? Jebus!

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 197,529, an increase of about 900 deaths over yesterday’s report. The world death toll now stands at 945,649, an increase of about 5,400 deaths from yesterday. And we’re approaching a million deaths worldwide., which might happen in about ten days.

Stuff that happened on September 18 includes:

  • 1793 – The first cornerstone of the United States Capitol is laid by George Washington.
  • 1812 – The 1812 Fire of Moscow dies down after destroying more than three-quarters of the city. Napoleon returns from the Petrovsky Palace to the Moscow Kremlin, spared from the fire.
  • 1850 – The U.S. Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
  • 1870 – Old Faithful Geyser is observed and named by Henry D. Washburn.
  • 1895 – The Atlanta Exposition Speech on race relations is delivered by Booker T. Washington.
  • 1943 – World War II: Adolf Hitler orders the deportation of Danish Jews.
  • 1948 – Margaret Chase Smith of Maine becomes the first woman elected to the United States Senate without completing another senator’s term.
  • 1977 – Voyager I takes the first distant photograph of the Earth and the Moon together.

Here, from NASA, is that photo, taken from 7.25 million miles away.

  • 1984 – Joe Kittinger completes the first solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic.

Here’s a short video about Kittinger’s achievement, though it says he completed the achievement on September 14. He didn’t; he finished on September 18 as it took him four days to cross. He was also the first man to see the curvature of the Earth.

  • 2014 – Scotland votes against independence from the United Kingdom, by 55% to 45%.

Next time the results will be different!

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1709 – Samuel Johnson, English lexicographer and poet (d. 1784)
  • 1819 – Léon Foucault, French physicist and academic (d. 1868)
  • 1905 – Greta Garbo, Swedish-American actress (d. 1990)

Here’s Greta Garbo wanting to be alone:

  • 1940 – Frankie Avalon, American singer and actor
  • 1947 – Drew Gilpin Faust, American historian and academic
  • 1951 – Dee Dee Ramone, American singer-songwriter and bass player (d. 2002)
  • 1954 – Steven Pinker, Canadian-American psychologist, linguist, and author
  • 1967 – Tara Fitzgerald, English actress
  • 1976 – Ronaldo, Brazilian footballer

Here’s a video showing some of the great Ronaldo’s football skills:

Those who gave up the ghost on September 18 include:

  • 1783 – Leonhard Euler, Swiss mathematician and physicist (b. 1707)
  • 1945 – Blind Willie Johnson, blues singer and guitarist. Reader Keith reminded me of this, and added that one of Johnson’s songs, “Dark Was the Night,” was included on the “Golden Records” sent on NASA’s Voyager. Here’s the version sent into space in 1977:

  • 1961 – Dag Hammarskjöld, Swedish economist and diplomat, 2nd Secretary-General of the United Nations, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1905)
  • 1970 – Jimi Hendrix, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (b. 1942)
  • 1980 – Katherine Anne Porter, American short story writer, novelist, and essayist (b. 1890)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is urged to have a nosh before her tour so she won’t go after mice (when she’s hungry, Hili hunts mice):

Hili: I’m going for a tour of my territory.
A: Maybe you will eat something at home first?
In Polish:
Hili: Idę na obchód mojego terytorium.
Ja: A może najpierw zjesz coś w domu?

Little Kulka is growing up!

From Facebook:

From reader Charles: fun on the border. “We’re gonna build a playground, and make Mexico pay for it!”

A groaner from Bruce (cartoon by Scott Hilburn):

Titania on l’affaire Rowling:

From cesar. Apparently this big anti-Pinker kvetch, beefing about how the authors of the letter trying to downgrade Pinker’s status in the American Linguistic Society were treated, hasn’t yet been accepted for publication.

From Dom. The spiders come in on little cat feet . . .

From Simon. Too much altruism:

From Barry. A beautiful felid and its cub:

Tweets from Matthew. The first refers to the Maynooth University (Ireland) library cat, whose name is apparently Maynooth University Library Cat.

Baby bears wrassling in the yard! How cool!

Is this blending inheritance or “piecemeal inheritance”? Whatever, but it’s the Tweet of the Day:


Is the “self canceling” of the Columbia University Marching Band a big joke?

The Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB) is a group of latter-day Merry Pranksters, always up to hijinks, often with behavior so irritating to the University administration that the band isn’t allowed to perform at sports events. Read the sections on “Miscellaneous instruments” and “Controversies” on the Band’s Wikipedia page.  Here’s one:

  • After being allowed to play at Fordham in 2012 following their ten-year ban, the band made posters referencing the death of Christians at the hands of lions in the Bible. For this they were banned again for an unspecified period of time.

Their latest controversy is cancelling themselves. In a Facebook announcement (below), they admitted to all kinds of misdeeds and then “unanimously and enthusiastically decided to dissolve”. Read and laugh. This is, as Brian Leiter believes (I’m with him) an act of trolling—a spoof of wokeness that is so accurate that it’s taken seriously. I may, of course, be wrong, but the language is way over the top:


But, as Brian notes, the New York Times (and the Columbia University Administration) bought it—hook, line, and sinker. Here’s the article:

An excerpt. The antagonistic relationship between the band and the university administration should have alerted the Times!

The band had an antagonistic relationship with the administration, which banned it from football games last year and tried to stamp out its mischievous tradition of bursting into a campus library each semester to entertain stressed-out students on the eve of finals.

But the latest news from the band was more startling. Its board announced on Monday that after 116 years of performing it was disbanding, citing “a history riddled with offensive behavior.”

The behavior did not pertain to its ongoing lampooning of university policies and officials but more serious self-levied charges — posted in a statement on the band’s Facebook page — that the band had long been rife with “sexual misconduct, assault, theft, racism and injury to individuals and the Columbia community as a whole.”

The decision highlights the intense atmosphere on college campuses across the country as students scrutinize behavior and incidents that might have attracted less attention in the past. But it also touched off a backlash from alumni of the marching band, who disputed claims that it engaged in actions that were offensive to people of color or women.

In a statement, Columbia University officials said, “We respect efforts of the band’s student leadership to address in a serious manner recent reports of offensive and unacceptable conduct entirely at odds with the values of our university.”

The band’s statement did not provide any details of specific episodes. Instead, it described a virtual meeting held on Saturday among more than 20 band members “to discuss numerous anonymous postings and allegations of” misconduct.

After that discussion, the band decided “unanimously and enthusiastically” to dissolve itself, the statement said.

Now this “confession” and dissolving may be real. Or, it may be bogus and leave the NYT with egg on its face, in which case they’ll have to retract their article. I hope it’s the latter, as I want to see the paper admit they were taken in but not admit that they couldn’t discern possible satire. Stay tuned.

Here’s that ragtag band of misfits: Homecoming 2014:

h/t: Greg

More violations of my University’s principle of political neutrality

I hope you’ve kept up at least minimally with what I’ve written about the University of Chicago and the Kalven Report—the 1967 document that set the tone for University discourse by declaring that the school would remain neutral on all issues of morality, ideology, and politics, with a few rare exceptions having to do with the University’s ability to function. (See here for some background.) Written in response to demands that the University take stands on things like Communism, civil rights, and the Vietnam War, the Kalven committee decided that no stands should be taken on such issues, however popular, lest they chill speech, however unpopular. This was all in the service of the University’s main mission to foster learning through free discussion of ideas.

I’ve written a few times about how the University lately seems to be violating the Kalven principles, mainly by departments and administrators issuing statements about race, Black Lives Matter, and so on—statements that are explicitly political and ideological. Beyond asserting that the University does not discriminate on grounds of race, gender, handicap status, and so on, I don’t think we should be asserting anything more, for some of the statements of Critical Race Theory and tenets of the Black Lives Matter movement (see below) are things that warrant discussion, not forced and unanimous agreement—however laudable the ultimate goal of equality.

Somehow, in these tumultuous times, department after department in my school has been unable to resist issuing these statements, some of which border on self-abasement and ritual absolution, if not virtue signaling (see here and here, for example). In my view—although the University has not explicitly addressed this—departments and other University units should abide by Kalven principles since it is these units that are the very locus of free expression as well as the chilling of dissent. You probably won’t get in much trouble if you criticize the University’s President or Provost, but if you’re a grad student or faculty member and go against a departmental statement about, say, Black Lives Matter, you could lose your mentor, your tenure, or your promotion. This is why it’s vital that official units of the university abide by Kalven.

Individuals, on the other hand, are free to say what they want, and are encouraged to do so by the University. Kalven makes it clear that the unit of free expression is the individual, whether it be faculty member, staff, or student.

Yet the department and university-unit statements keep appearing at the U of C. One of them, which I just learned about, was put up by the Smart Museum (the university art museum) on June 5. Here it is.

This is explicitly a call for political action—telling students, faculty and employees what they should do. That is what Kalven is designed to prevent. It’s also a statement of unanimity (there are no signatories), so it represents an official position of the Museum. And that means that dissenting from the pledge to “dismantle exclusionary and oppressive systems” could get you in trouble.

This one’s from the Dean of our well-known School of Social Service Administration:

This also calls for individuals to act: White people are supposed to act one way, and “non-black people of color” another. They must act. Again, this violates the Kalven principles. While I of course agree that society needs to address racial disparities, it’s not the University’s call to tell people what they must do or how they should act.

But wait! There’s more! There’s an article in a right-wing site (The Federalist) by a right-wing Chicago undergraduate, but the instances she points out are genuine even if you want to dismiss anything that appears on a Right site. (Truly, you can’t expect mainstream media, mostly on the Left, to call out abrogations of free discussion.)

We’ve met Evita Duffy before when, in a “get out the vote” campaign, she was harassed for expressing conservative sentiments by holding up a whiteboard saying, “I VOTE BECAUSE the coronavirus won’t destroy America, but socialism will.” While I disagree with the last bit of that statement, as I am in favor of some socialism, I don’t think Duffy deserved to be demonized for what she said, and certainly didn’t deserve to be called a racist for it (apparently mentioning the coronavirus is racist). Her article recounts some of the hateful pushback she got.

Now Duffy has written for The Federalist, and gives several more examples of Kalven violations. I’ll just concentrate on the links she gives that are new to me (I’ve already posted on the English Department and Human Genetics Department statements), for Duffy’s new links interest me more than her conservative gloss on them.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Duffy highlights two emails from Department heads that, I think, violate Kalven by being official statements of a chairperson speaking for a department. Here’s one from the chair of our Physics Department:

This is again a call for action, as well as an encouragement for “non-Black members of our community” to act a certain way. It’s one thing to make people aware of events, but another to pledge a department to adhere to certain political and ideological tenets, and to encourage students to promote a political point of view.

This is from the Chair of the History Department:

Note that this isn’t just an affirmation of racial equity, but a call to adhere to the platform of Black Lives Matter, which includes contestable statements like demands for reparations and calls to defund the police.

Now you may ask yourself, “What’s so bad about those statements?” After all, their tenor is to promote racial equality, which is what enlightened people want.  But the ways that they do this—by urging action and group adherence without dissent to discussable issues—is exactly what Kalven was designed to prevent. You can bet that if you favor equality of opportunity for everyone but don’t adhere down the line to the principles of Black Lives Matter, or think that affirmative action is debatable, you will be demonized. And you can avoid that by doing what many conservative students do—self censor. That is a chilling of discussion that shouldn’t take place on any college campus, much less one as famous for free speech as The University of Chicago.

J. K. Rowling again demonized on bogus grounds

There is no middle ground on J. K. Rowling; you consider her either an unrepentant transphobe or a feminist who, while accepting transgendered women’s self-identification in most respects, doesn’t think that they should always be treated the same as biological women. I hold the latter point of view, as I’ve read her explanation for the statements that got her “canceled” and find it convincing. For the Woke, though, no explanation is good enough, and Rowling will always be considered beyond the pale. There are even TikTok videos circulating of people burning her books! If anybody is being fully canceled, it’s Rowling, but her cancellation isn’t very thorough because too many people like her writing. (I’ve read only one Harry Potter novel, and thought it was just okay—but didn’t develop a taste for more.)

Rowling has a new detective novel, Troubled Blood, that people are criticizing as transphobic without having read it. (It came out Tuesday.) It’s in her Cormoran Strike series (the name of the private dick), and she writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith (at this point I don’t know why).

The novel is “problematic” for the Excessive Left because it features a serial killer who occasionally dons women’s clothing to disguise himself. This is apparently not a major element in the story, but has been picked up by the Outrage Brigade as another instance of transphobia. But of course transvestites—those who dress in clothing of the opposite sex—are not transsexuals. This is conflated in many of the nasty reviews, like this predictable one in HuffPost (click on the screenshot). The statements of the reviewer, and of the predictably outraged on Twitter, show clearly that they haven’t read the book; for one thing, it’s wasn’t even out before the hating started. Nick Cohen did read the book, and has a different view (see below).


HuffPo goes after the book as transphobic, dishonestly quoting a Times of London review with the HuffPost author apparently not having read the book either. She takes everything from the Times piece, but takes it out of context.


J.K. Rowling is apparently dissatisfied with merely sharing her transphobic views on Twitter and in 3,600-word essays.

According to an early review in The Telegraph, “Troubled Blood,” the fifth installment in her Cormoran Strike series written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is about a cold case from 1974 that involves “a transvestite serial killer.”

“One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress,” the reviewer wrote of the book that comes out Tuesday.

“Reviewer” Elyse Wanshel then quotes a bunch of tweets, some accusing the book of making fun of transsexuals, like this one, which apparently didn’t read the Pink News quote that the book is about a cis man:



You can see the same kind of demonization in this Vanity Fair article, which again uses the Times phrase to damn the whole book:

An excerpt:

According to an early review in The Telegraph, Troubled Blood—the fifth installment in Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series written under the pen name Robert Galbraith—deals with the cold case of a woman who disappeared in 1974 and is believed to be the victim of Dennis Creed, “a transvestite serial killer.” (Transvestite is considered an outdated and derogatory term for cross-dressing, which is not the same as being trans.) The review goes on to say, “One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress.”

How lazy can a reporter be?

Ah, such vehement virtue signaling. The thing is, there are no transsexuals in the book, nor a killer who wears a dress. You can see this from reading Nick Cohen’s piece in The Spectator (click on screenshot):

First, his summary:

The ‘evidence’ that provoked the malice [against Rowling] was so flimsy, even Twitter should have been embarrassed to publish it. Pink News, which dominates the LGBTQ+ outrage market, gave the case for the prosecution. According to the first review, ‘JK Rowling’s latest book is about a murderous cis man who dresses as a woman to kill his victims’, it announced.

It is about nothing of the sort, I thought. And I could say that with authority because I had just finished a review copy of Troubled Blood, the fifth novel in Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series, as research for a long piece on her politics and art I’m working on for the Critic. No honest person who takes the trouble to read it can see the novel as transphobic. But then honest people are hard to find in a culture war.

About the Times quote that forms HuffPost’s sole basis for damning the book, Cohen says this:

One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress’.

That slippery ‘seems’ should have put readers on their guard. The moral of the book is not ‘never trust a man in a dress’. Transvestism barely features. When it does, nothing is made of the fact that the killer wears a wig and a woman’s coat (not a dress) as a disguise when approaching one of his victims. Maybe this tiny detail is enough for the wilfully ignorant to damn Rowling as a ‘witch’ – I’m not making it up, for this is how Everton goalkeeper turned Twitter celebrity Neville Southall described her. But no one else should be satisfied.

Cohen’s assessment of the book’s merits is mixed, saying that it’s “Dickensian in its scope and gallery of characters” but also that Rowling’s theme of opposition to Scottish nationalism is “clumsy.”  But he adds that claims that the novel is transphobic are nonsense.

Cohen reveals, without giving away too much of the plot, that:

1.) The killer is, as seen above, not a transsexual but a transvestite cis man. Transphobia has nothing to do with transvestites. Further, the transvestite wears a woman’s wig and coat (not a dress!) to disguise himself as a killer.

2.) The transvestite serial killer is only one of several suspects, and is apparently apprehended when he tries to abduct a woman without wearing his wig and woman’s coat.

3.) The wig and coat are worn when the killer approaches only one of his victims, and nothing is made of it save that it’s a disguise.

4.) The totality of the damnation hurled on the book comes from this passage, described by Cohen:

You have to search hard to find a justification for the belief that the book’s moral ‘seems’ to be ‘never trust a man in a dress’. But then relentless searches for the tiniest evidence of guilt are the marks of heresy hunters

It amounts to this. On page 75, Strike is listening to the son of an investigating officer tell him what he knows about Creed.

He had his failures you know. Penny Hiskett, she got away from him and gave the police a description in ’71, but that didn’t help them much. She said he was dark and stocky, because he was wearing a wig at the time and all padded out in a woman’s coat. They caught him in the end because of Melody Bower. Nightclub singer, looked like Diana Ross. Creed got chatting to her at the bus stop, offered her a lift, then tried to drag her into the van when she said no. She escaped, gave the police a proper description and told them he’d said his house was of Paradise Park.

Creed mentions the advantage of lipstick and a wig in making women think he’s ‘a harmless old queer’ when Strike interviews him, and that’s about that. A novelist uses a passing detail to explain how a murderer got close to one of his victims – for presumably the victim who gave the police a ‘proper description’ did not see him in a woman’s coat and wig. A critic, unintentionally or not, whips up a rage, and thousands allow themselves to be whipped. Pavlov’s dogs showed more critical independence.

Cohen adds, “when you reach the last pages the full absurdity of the statement that Rowling’s ‘moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress’ will be revealed.” But he won’t give away the ending; this is, after all, a crime novel. He then argues that Rowling’s writing is becoming not more transphobic, but more feminist, portraying how men repeatedly condescend to and mistreat Robin Ellacott, Strike’s female partner.  Rowling, of course, experienced this kind of sexism when trying to get started as a writer. As Cohen concludes, “In this sense, if nothing else, Rowling’s latest work honestly mirrors her online life. She knows, as her characters know, that women who speak out of turn find themselves alone in a free-fire zone.”

This still leaves the question about why people are going so hard after Rowling, even in a case where she’s not transphobic by any stretch of the imagination. Well, we know the answer. Arguing that transsexual women aren’t 100% identical to biological women, and in some cases (like sports) should not be treated like them, is seen as a grave sin in the religion of Wokism, punishable by placement in the lowest circle of Hell. And everything you write after that will be damned, even if it has nothing to do with transsexuals.

Over at Spiked, Brendan O’Neill goes a bit deeper when attacking those who demonize Rowling and burn her books:

The blinkered philistinism of the anti-Rowling mob is confirmed in the fact that none of them has read her new Strike novel. It isn’t even published yet. But when did censorious mobs ever stop to read or observe or properly think about the book or painting or movie that they want to boycott or burn? Mobs are not known for reasoned engagement. Nor do they have any respect for the right of writers and artists to depict whatever they want. So just as National Socialists sought to erase degenerate art, and Mary Whitehouse types wanted to ban rude plays, so the anti-Rowling mob fantasises about setting fire to a novel they haven’t read because it’s by a woman they irrationally loathe.

Why is the hatred for Rowling so heated, so unstable? It strikes me that there are two reasons. First, the very uncancellable nature of Rowling infuriates these mobs who are so used to extracting mea culpas from every public figure they set upon. Rowling is too big, too established, too global to be easily slain by the PC speechpolice. Her refusal to abandon her beliefs and opinions on sex and gender drives these self-styled moral guardians insane because it reminds them of the limitations to their censorious power. Rowling’s resoluteness is a beacon to everyone else, too, reminding people that even in this darkly censorious era you can cling to your principles. And that is intolerable to PC mobs who want nothing less than unflinching, society-wide conformity to their political and moral dogmas.

And secondly, Rowling’s rejection of the idea that people can self-identify as whatever sex they like represents a challenge to the entire church of identitarianism. . ..

The second paragraph, I think, is right on the mark.


J. K. Rowling (from Biography). Photo by Mike Marsland/Wireimage

Readers’ wildlife photos

Please send your good wildlife (or people) photos in, folks; I am getting a bit nervous. Yes, that’s my default state, but I do need photos.

We have three contributors today, the first being from Joshua Lincoln, who contributes a lovely fly:

I was looking for dragonflies and butterflies by the Otter Creek near Middlebury, Vermont, back in August and saw this tiny fly which I photographed and when I downloaded the photo it was a beautiful fruit fly Euaresta bella (I believe).

From Joe McClain:

This is a specimen of Arigope aurantia  [JAC: the “yellow garden spider”] that has taken up residence in our flower garden. My wife and I (mostly Helen, as she does most of the gardening) have been working around this striking lady. I’m pretty sure it’s a lady, because I’ve read that the females make this characteristic “zipper” web. The zipper is called a stabilimentum. The Wikipedia entry for this arachnid lists a number of common names, but not “zipper spider,” which is what I call them. I was amused to see that “Steeler spider” is among the names listed. I grew up a fan of the Steelers (which of course is pronounced “Stillers” in fluent Yinzer), but never heard this appellation, clearly based on the team colors. If you look closely in the near upper right, against the green roof of the Ladybug Loft, you can see that there is a meal there.

And from Grant Palmer of Oz. (All readers’ captions are indented.)

Two species for you:

First the Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen). These photos are from my backyard, where I have a tiding of the subspecies  G. tibicen tibicen. There are nine subspecies. This subspecies is found along the east coast from South Queensland down to the NSW and Victorian border. Like most Australian native wildlife, it will try to harm you if it gets the chance. It is a wonderful songbird and can mimic a wide variety of birds and also dogs and horses (although I do not recall ever hearing it do that) and emergency vehicles. The best description of their call is by one of Australia’s best poets Thea Astley, “They roll the morning around in their throats.”

In a readership poll run by the Guardian in 2017 it won the title of Australian Bird of the Year just ahead of the Australian White Ibis (This bird is referred to as the Bin Chicken)

The second species is Homo sapiens enjoying the surf at a local beach in Newcastle NSW. The beach is the result of a pier that was constructed to make the entrance the the port of `Newcastle safer for shipping.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on Thursday, September 17, 2020, National Apple Dumpling Day. (I like mine with cream or vanilla ice cream: is that a meme that’s parasitized my mind?) If you’re near a Moe’s restaurant, it’s Free Queso Day: they’re giving out six ounces of queso to thank their customers.  It’s also National Monte Cristo Day—not the count but a ham and swiss cheese sandwich, battered and fried. Check with your cardiologist first. Finally, in the U.S. it’s Constitution Day, celebrating the day in 1787 when that Founding Document was signed in Philadelphia.

Don’t forget to vote for Clarence the Cat; you can vote once daily (free) through Facebook. If Clarence wins, his vet bills will be paid off with the $5000 prize. There are 17 hours left to vote, and he’s in the lead! I’m asking for only a very small favor.


News of the Day: First, the really bad news. According to the AP (click on screenshot below), Just Born Quality Confections, the producer of one of my favorite candies, Marshmallow Peeps, won’t be making them for Halloween, nor for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day. This is because of the pandemic. No word yet on the classic—Easter Peeps—but if they don’t make them in 2021, life won’t be worth living.

Now some pretty good news, a rarity from this administration. Tom Friedman discusses how the Israel/UAE/Bahrain “normalization” deal was the right thing done for the wrong reasons (the wrong reasons were that the discovery of the amity between the three countries came to Jared Kushner when he “set out to arrange a divorce between a couple, ‘Mrs. Israel’ and ‘Mr. Palestine’.”)


My rule: In the Middle East, you get big change when the big players do the right things for the wrong reasons.

And this is the right thing. Egypt and Jordan each made peace with Israel to end their state of war, but trade, tourism and mutual investments have been limited. Israel and the Emirates and Israel and Bahrain are normalizing their relations because they want trade, tourism and investment, and also intelligence-sharing against Iran. And Saudi Arabia has clearly blessed it all by allowing Israel’s El Al airlines to fly through Saudi airspace back and forth to Bahrain and the U.A.E.

You don’t see that every day. In my view, anything that makes the Middle East more like the European Union and less like the Syrian civil war is a good thing. A friend from Dubai tells me some people are already jokingly greeting each other with “Shalom alaikum” — a combination of the Hebrew and Arabic phrases for “hello.”

Have no illusions: I pray each night that Trump is defeated in November, but if he and Kushner helped to nurture this deal on their way out the door, good for them. Th

Trump and the federal health agencies are fighting it out again over the coronavirus. The head of the CDC, Robert Redfield, predicted that we won’t have a coronavirus vaccine until the spring or summer of next year, which most experts think is about right, but Trump says Redfield “made a mistake”—the vaccine will be ready soon. What a chucklehead! On the evening news last night, one report:

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 196,676, an increase of about 1,000 deaths over yesterday’s report. The world death toll now stands at 940,190, an increase of about 5,800 deaths from yesterday. And we’re approaching a million deaths worldwide., which might happen in about two weeks.

Stuff that happened on September 17 includes:

  • 1630 – The city of Boston, Massachusetts is founded.
  • 1683 – Antonie van Leeuwenhoek writes a letter to the Royal Society describing “animalcules”.
  • 1787 – The United States Constitution is signed in Philadelphia.
  • 1849 – American abolitionist Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery.

Tubman, who led many escaped slaves to freedom (she was one herself) was a tremendously brave and resourceful woman; read about her at the link. Here she is in 1895 (she died in 1913):

  • 1859 – Joshua A. Norton declares himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States.”

Norton was a figure of fun, but much beloved in San Francisco, whose residents treated him deferentially. Here’s a photo from Wikipedia with the caption “Emperor Norton in full dress uniform and military regalia, his hand on the hilt of a ceremonial sabre, c. 1875.”

  • 1862 – American Civil War: George B. McClellan halts the northward drive of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army in the single-day Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American military history.

“How bloody?”, you ask. 22,717 men were killed, wounded, or missing, with 3,675 killed.

  • 1916 – World War I: Manfred von Richthofen (“The Red Baron”), a flying ace of the German Luftstreitkräfte, wins his first aerial combat near Cambrai, France.

Here’s the Baron in his famous red Fokker. He was killed at only 25. Caption: “Richthofen in the cockpit of his famous Rotes Flugzeug (‘Red Aircraft’) with other members of Jasta 11, including his brother Lothar (sitting, front), 23 April 1917.”

  • 1939 – World War II: The Soviet invasion of Poland begins.
  • 1976 – The Space Shuttle Enterprise is unveiled by NASA.
  • 1978 – The Camp David Accords are signed by Israel and Egypt.
  • 1983 – Vanessa Williams becomes the first black Miss America.
  • 2011 – Occupy Wall Street movement begins in Zuccotti Park, New York City.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1826 – Bernhard Riemann, German-Italian mathematician and academic (d. 1866)
  • 1859 – Billy the Kid, American gunman (d. 1881)
  • 1907 – Warren E. Burger, American lawyer and judge, 15th Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1995)
  • 1923 – Hank Williams, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 1953)

Here’s Williams singing my favorite song of his, recorded the year I was born:

  • 1931 – Anne Bancroft, American actress (d. 2005)
  • 1935 – Ken Kesey, American novelist, essayist, and poet (d. 2001)
  • 1939 – David Souter, American lawyer and jurist
  • 1944 – Reinhold Messner, Italian mountaineer and explorer

Messner is a contender for the best mountain climber of all time. He performed the unbelievable feat of soloing Mount Everest (carrying all his stuff), and without oxygen (1980). Amazingly, he’s still alive. This is the summit photo:

  • 1968 – Cheryl Strayed, American author

Those whose candle went out on September 17 include:

  • 1858 – Dred Scott, American slave (b. 1795)
  • 1993 – Willie Mosconi, American pool player and actor (b. 1913)

Here’s Mosconi doing some trick shots. His pocketing of 526 balls in a row is a record that still stands.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili encounters a large and noxious vegetable (some cats are scared by zucchinis and cucumbers, while my own reaction is to stay as far away from zucchini as possible). This zucchini was hidden in the garden, and fortunately, it was discovered past the point of being edible.

A: Have you ever seen such a huge zucchini?
Hili: No, and I’m not sure I want to see it now.
In Polish:
Ja: Widziałaś taką wielką cukinię?
Hili: Nie i nie jestem pewna, że chcę ją oglądać.

Here’s a photo of the lovely Szaron in the grass:

From Jesus of the Day: the best meme EVER!

Also Jesus of the Day:

From Beth, a wickedly clever tactic:

From Titania. We’ll have more on Rowlings new and supposedly “anti trans” book later today. There was a video of Rowlings’ books being burned, but it seems to have disappeared.  There are, however, real videos of this.

From Barry. Crikey: two, two, two defenses in one! Read more about spitting cobras here, and be sure to watch the 10-minute video here.

From Simon. Trump does it again: opens mouth, inserts metatarsals. Biden could have implemented a national mask mandate! Waiters! Masks can be bad!

From Luana.  Bari Weiss singles out what seems to be a pretty invidious case of anti-Semitism at ritzy Mount Holyoke College. It’s sad that wokeness so often goes hand in hand with Jew hatred. The attachment has been taken down, but I’ve reproduced it below.

Here’s what was originally attached to Weiss’s tweet, a poster supposedly from BIPOC at Mount Holyoke (their Instagram account is private).

Tweets from Matthew. I’ve surely posted this prescient segment before, but it’s worth seeing again. Made by the U.S. government, and nearly sixty years old!

A cat with his own taco truck!

Tweet of the day! What better swimming pool for ducklings than a watermelon?! I think that’s water in there, because if it’s watermelon juice, the ducks will get sticky and need to be rinsed off. But many ducks love watermelon.

A lovely beetle with anomalous antennae:

Earliest Joni Mitchell tape found

Knowing of my great affection for the work of Joni Mitchell, reader Mark sent me a link to this CBC article about a lost recording found 57 years later. Click on the screenshot to read:

An excerpt:

When Victoria resident Barry Bowman heard the first few chords of that baritone ukulele, he knew he had finally found it.

At first, Bowman worried the old tape his eldest daughter discovered in Bowman’s ex-wife’s basement in 2015 would disintegrate if he tried to play it, considering it was more than 50 years old.

But play it did.

And with those first notes, Bowman was transported back in time to 1963 when he was a teenage radio DJ in Saskatoon and he asked one of his pals, an aspiring young folk singer named Joni Anderson, if she wanted to record an audition tape.

“I never realized that there she was, this young lady at 19 years old, would one day be Joni Mitchell,” Bowman said Monday on The Early Edition.

It’s good they found this, and the recording is House of the Rising Sun, but why on earth do both guys talk over the damn song? Well, it turns out that the song is part of a series of archival albums Mitchell is releasing, so you can see the original recorded version below this first video.

The whole story is at the CBC link. What’s clear from the recording below is that Mitchell’s talent was already shining this early in her career, although of course her songs became much more sophisticated later. The “audition” is surely for a radio station given the YouTube notes below:

Joni Mitchell performed “House Of The Rising Sun” at the CFQC AM Radio Station in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1963 – the earliest known recording of Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell Archives Volume 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) is available for pre-order

Americans abysmally ignorant about the Holocaust

There are two articles this year reporting surveys of Americans’ knowledge of the Holocaust. The first is in the Guardian (click on screenshot below), the second is a Pew survey (click on second screenshot). Both give the same results: compared to what you might think, and certainly to readers here, most Americans don’t know all that much about the Holocaust.

Now you might think that the results aren’t that bad, and, as the Pew survey notes, Jews like me tend to know more about the Holocaust than non-Jews, but I still find it amazing, since it’s hard to live in the West without knowing these basic facts.

The Guardian survey involved 1000 nationwide interviews and 200 interviews in each state, all involving young adults (18-39), totaling 11,000 respondents. The Pew Survey involved 10,971 respondents who were part of the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel; respondents were of various ages and were asked four questions about the Holocaust. Both show roughly the same thing, though the Pew survey also broke down the data by age, education, degree of “warmness” towards the Jews, political affiliation and so on. I’ll be brief.

A summary of the Guardian study:

Almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust, a new survey has found, revealing shocking levels of ignorance about the greatest crime of the 20th century.

According to the study of millennial and Gen Z adults aged between 18 and 39, almost half (48%) could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto established during the second world war.

Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, or had been exaggerated, or they weren’t sure. One in eight (12%) said they had definitely not heard, or didn’t think they had heard, about the Holocaust.

Now the “six million” figure is an iconic number, though perhaps fewer people realize that actually the “Holocaust” refers only to the genocide of Jews. The Nazis actually killed far more civilians that that; here are estimates from the U.S. Holocaust Museum:

This figure is 19 million, with Jews, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and Jehovah’s Witnesses being those dispatched in the camps. It’s salutary to remember that the Nazis killed not just Jews, but many civilians on their home ground, as well as Roma, homosexuals, and the disabled. Soviet and Polish civilians suffered horribly, many shot on the spot.

At any rate, the fact that the 6 million figure for the Holocaust proper wasn’t known by nearly everyone was a source of anguish to Gideon Taylor, the president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germans.

The facts that more than 10% of people thought the Jews caused the Holocaust, and 23% thought the Holocaust was a myth or exaggerated, are more disturbing to me, as is the idea that half the respondents couldn’t name a single concentration camp. Who hasn’t heard of Auschwitz? And don’t people know about the Warsaw Ghetto? These are people who should have learned this in history class, for the minimal age of respondents was 18.

The highest scoring states were Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, and the lowest scorers were Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas. Make of that what you will.

So be it. Here’s the Pew survey.

Pew asked their sample of almost 11,000 people four questions. They’re given in this table along with the proportion of adults and teens who answered each question correctly (and you better know the answers!). Older people did better, as you might expect.

Again we see that most people, but not an overwhelming majority, know that the Holocaust happened between 1930 and 1950, and what a ghetto was. Less than half, however, knew that the number of Jews killed was 6 million as opposed to the three alternative answers of less than a million, three million or more than 12 million. 43% knew that Hitler became chancellor through an election (it was in 1932, and forced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor).

66% of Americans knew that the Holocaust refers to the killing of Jews rather than general killings, which is a decent figure. Of the four questions above, 24% of Americans got 3 of them right and 24% got all four right, while 18% got none right and the other 34% one or two right. There was no appreciable difference between Democrats and Republicans in their degree of knowledge about the Holocaust.

I’ll add one more table showing that there’s a big effect on level of education on knowledge about the Holocaust, as you might expect. But I didn’t expect such a big difference between people with “some college” and those who were college graduates:

My take: Yes, I found the level of ignorance fairly surprising, though of course remember that this is the nation that elected Trump as President. I wasn’t so much distressed by ignorance about ghettos and camp names as by the 23% of Americans who thought the Holocaust was a myth or exaggerated, or didn’t know for sure. That’s nearly one out of four people, and I think bespeaks a degree of anti-Semitism more pervasive in America than most people realize.

But if you want to see real ignorance of history, ask Americans about the genocide of the Armenians, which likely involved well more than a million deaths, or the killings during the partition of India (200,000 to 2,000,000; estimates vary widely). The horrors of history need to be studied by everyone, for they tell us what the “average” person are capable of when worked up by religious or political fervor.

h/t: Matthew