Interruption due to duck rescue

June 28, 2022 • 9:58 am

There will be a slight interruption today as I rescued six newborn baby ducks from Botany Pond when the mother brought them in and was immediately attacked (I saw this on the pondcam). I went down with a butterfly net, a cardboard box, and plenty of paper towels to dry ducklings. I waited a bit until it became clear that the babies would be repeatedly attacked and killed, and then went to work. That means having to get into the damn pond.

There were seven, but one had already been killed by Audrey or another adult hens. After a lot of effort, which included going underwater several times by tripping, getting my leg cut and bare feet banged up, and swallowing a bit of pond water (ugh), I managed to rescue the remaining six. One was being pecked by Dorothy at the end, and I thought it was dead, but when I picked it up and dried it off it seemed to revive. I think it will be all right.

I’m now scrubbed, clean, and with antibiotic cream on my cut. I’m going back to work. And I’m very happy, because I saved six lives. But it’s also sad because those babies were taken from their mom, and she raced around the pond quacking like mad as I caught the little ones.  The upside is that all those babies are already on their way to rehab, and have a great chance of growing up. The downside is that it’s hard to love Audrey and her twelve babies when you know what they’re capable of. Not all adult mallard hens try to murder interlopers; sometimes several broods coexisted in Botany Pond in past years.

If you go to the Botany Pond video site, below, and wind back to about 8:15 a.m. Chicago time, you might be able to see yours truly wading around crazily, trying to catch ducks.

More to come; I wrote a post right before the fracas began, and that will be up shortly. And we have photos of the six rescued babies.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 28, 2022 • 8:00 am

Bring out your dead photos! We need more!

Today’s photos come from reader Paul Matthews. Give him some naches!  Paul’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are a few bird photos of mine, submitted with some trepidation given the professional quality of some other readers’ contributions! There is a theme: predators and warblers, with one species that is the “odd bird out”. All of these photos were taken during the last few months in my home area of Ottawa, Canada.

Owls appeal to just about everybody and there can’t be many birds that are more sought-after than the Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa). After I had gone out at least three times this winter to try to see one that had been found in the far-flung outskirts of the area (and after I’d wandered around in the freezing cold in vain with several other searchers), a great grey turned up later in an undeveloped area within walking distance of my house. It stayed a surprisingly long time but this photo was taken when I first got a glimpse of it. It was remarkably well hidden for such a big owl and it took me ages to spot it. The ruckus the crows were making told me that an owl had to be there.

The spot mentioned above proved incredibly good for owls this spring, and this soon brought a lot of people out to see them. Besides the great grey, several Long-eared Owls were present (Asio otus). These are usually scarce, elusive, and quick to flush. While some other owls tolerate humans remarkably well, long-ears typically don’t, so I was amazed that this bird stayed put despite all the attention it received. I will take advantage of this forum to ask anyone who sees an owl (or any other wildlife for that matter) to please try to avoid disturbance as much as possible. Many of us were concerned that the long-ears were not getting their beauty sleep because of the noisy lack of respect shown by many observers.

In sharp contrast to the long-eared owl, the Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is very “chill” and the main risk when you find one is not that it will fly away but that it won’t wake up (assuming you don’t go out of your way to disturb it). This one deigned to half open its eyes for me. It was in the same spot as the owls I mentioned above.

The Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) is a more southerly bird that historically has been at or beyond the northern limit of its normal range here in Ottawa. But we seem to be seeing more and more of them, like some other southern birds. Global warming? This photo was not taken at the owl location mentioned above but rather at a very popular birding site a bit further away. As this photo demonstrates, screech owls can be tough to spot.

In the same location as where the screech owl photo was taken, I came across this Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperi) that had had a successful hunt. Several years ago I witnessed an amazing confrontation between a Cooper’s Hawk and two Screech Owls at this same location. When I came on the scene, I noticed that the hawk had clearly targeted a fledgling baby owl as it was gazing intently at it. The hawk then flew over and grabbed the owlet but Mama and Papa owl were there and attacked the hawk, which dropped the owlet to the ground. Incredibly the baby seemed ok so I decided not to intervene. What a traumatic experience, though. Fortunately this Cooper’s Hawk had not caught an owlet—its prey appears to be a starling.

Among birders, warblers must surely rival owls in popularity because of the bright colours they often sport, their variety (25 regular species in Ottawa, more further south), and the possibility of rarities (many are long-distance migrants that can go off-course). One of the prettiest is the inaptly named Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia), a bird that actually breeds in northern forests. They can be found in the Ottawa area in summer but are more frequently seen on migration in spring and fall, as this one was.

Another pretty warbler is the Northern Parula (Setophaga americana), a small ball of energy that can often be located by its buzzy song. This one stayed put out of the foliage long enough for me to get a photo.

Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronate) are so abundant on migration here that one can forget how attractive the spring males are. They may well be more numerous than all other migrant warblers combined.

The Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is the scarcest of our regular 25 species. It seems to have been on the verge of extirpation here for decades. But just when I think it’s gone from the area because it’s disappeared from a traditional spot, some will pop up somewhere else. It’s a bird of transitional habitats: fields slowly regenerating into woodland. Maybe they’re disappearing from certain spots because these places are now too far along in the transition but I’m not sure. To my non-warbler eye the places look pretty much the same as they were before when the warblers were there.

Golden-winged Warblers are famous in the bird world because of their tendency to hybridize with their close relative the Blue-winged Warbler. This is one of the reasons that golden-wings are threatened. Curiously, the two species don’t look much alike. I don’t have a photo of Blue-winged Warbler, which is rare here (not one of the regular 25) but I did find this hybrid, known as a Brewster’s Warbler. It appears to be a backcross, i.e., 75% golden-winged and 25% blue-winged.

We recently had an excellent photo of a MacGillivray’s Warbler in a Readers Wildlife Photos feature. This is its very similar eastern counterpart: the Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia), a devil of a skulker (stays in dense low vegetation). This one was surprisingly cooperative … for a mourning warbler.

This last photo is for our host. Not a mallard but perhaps the next best thing? Wood Duck (Aix sponsa).

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

June 28, 2022 • 6:30 am

Good morning on the Cruelest Day: Tuesday, June 28, 2022: National Tapioca Day. Though I dislike vanilla pudding, I do love tapioca. It must be the mouthfeel of the “pearls,” which I think accounts for the recent and huge popularity of “bubble tea” (I like that, too).

It’s also International Body Piercing Day and Paul Bunyan Day.  Here’s Paul and Babe, his blue ox.

Stuff that happened on June 28 includes:

She was actually crowned a year after she’d become queen. Here’s a painting of the affair by Sir George Hayter:

Victoria and John Brown at Balmoral. Did they have an affair? Do see the 1997 movie “Mrs. Brown, which is terrific. It stars Judi Dench as Victoria and Billy Connolly as Mr. Brown.

Here’s Kelly photographed the day before his execution. Below that, the armor he wore when he was captured. He was hanged at 25.


(From Wikipedia): Kelly’s armour on display in the State Library of Victoria. The helmet, breastplate, backplate and shoulder plates show 18 bullet marks. Also on display are Kelly’s Snider Enfield rifle and one of his boots.

The car in which the assassination took place and the Archduke’s bloodstained uniform:

From Wikipedia: The 1910 Gräf & Stift Bois de Boulogne phaeton automobile in which Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated. It is now displayed in the Museum of Military History in Vienna

  • 1942 – World War II: Nazi Germany starts its strategic summer offensive against the Soviet Union, codenamed Case Blue.
  • 1969 – Stonewall riots begin in New York City, marking the start of the Gay Rights Movement.

This photo is labeled “The only known photograph taken during the first night of riots, by freelance photographer Joseph Ambrosini, shows gay youth scuffling with police.”

Some victims. The agent was believed to be mustard gas, which is a nasty chemical agent. It doesn’t kill most of the time but incapacitates people with dire symptoms. In Sardasht there were 110 deaths and 8000 injured. Here are some of the victims:

Here’s the crucial bite (sorry for the violence today). It looks as if Tyson bit off only part of Holyfield’s ear:

Milošević (below) died of a heart attack in prison before the long trial was over. The charges against him were a long list: “genocide; complicity in genocide; deportation; murder; persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds; inhumane acts/forcible transfer; extermination; imprisonment; torture; willful killing; unlawful confinement; willfully causing great suffering; unlawful deportation or transfer; extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; cruel treatment; plunder of public or private property; attacks on civilians; destruction or willful damage done to historic monuments and institutions dedicated to education or religion; unlawful attacks on civilian objects.”

Da Nooz:

*As somebody predicted in yesterday’s Nooz, the Dobbs decision may cause a fracas in state courts, because states have constitutions, too—some of them ensuring a right to privacy stronger than that of the federal Constitution.

And so it goes. Yesterday in Louisiana, which had a strong anti-abortion “trigger law,” a state judge temporarily blocked enforcement of that law, about to go into effect. But we have no information about why. As the WaPo reports, “There was no immediate additional comment from [Judge Robin M.] Giarrusso on the merits of the case.”

The NYT reports that one of the state’s three abortion clinics immediately began providing the procedure, and the other two are anticipated to also begin performing abortions. How long this will last I don’t know, but the New York Times says that there may be state constitutional issues:

Abortion providers in Louisiana argued that the state’s trigger laws violate the state’s constitution and “are void for vagueness” because it is unclear if they would take immediate effect after the Supreme Court’s ruling, and they do not provide enough specifics about banned actions — such as what exceptions exist for medical workers trying to save a pregnant woman’s life.

*More bad news from the Supreme Court via reader Ken. As you may remember from October, 2015 (LOL), I recounted how a high school football coach, Joseph Kennedy, was asked by his school to stop praying on the 50-yard line after games. Kennedy vowed to fight, and apparently he succeeded in being allowed to pray.
The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the public high school football coach who prayed at midfield in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. The vote was — this will come as a shock, I know — 6 to 3.

The opinion is available here.

The Wall Street Journal notes that the majority opinion was written by Gorsuch:

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority in the ruling, declared, “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.

Gorsuch noted that the coach “prayed during a period when school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters” and “while his students were otherwise occupied.”

It would be wrong to treat everything public school teachers and coaches say and do as speech subject to government control, he wrote. If that were the case, “a school could fire a Muslim teacher for wearing a headscarf in the classroom or prohibit a Christian aide from praying quietly over her lunch in the cafeteria,” he wrote.

He closed by writing that: “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head.”

I scanned the opinion, but read more carefully the dissent of Sonia Sotomayor, as she showed that Coach Kennedy wasn’t just praying by himself in midfield, but was joined by others. Here are three pages from her dissent showing photos of the “solitary prayer.” Kennedy got students and other players nvolved, too, and that can be construed as religious coercion of students. Indeed, Sotomayor says that some students felt coerced to pray. But that doesn’t matter to today’s Court.

*The damn Russian army can’t stop killing Ukrainian citizens, and I’m sure they do it deliberately. Today in the city of Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, which has heretofore not been bombed, a Russian missile struck a shopping mall. Casualties aren’t yet fully counted, but over a thousand civilians were in the mall, and at least 15 shoppers died.

Russian long-range bombers fired a missile that struck a crowded shopping mall in Ukraine’s central city of Kremenchuk on Monday, raising fears of what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called an “unimaginable” number of victims in “one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.”

Zelenskky said more than 1,000 civilians were inside the mall, with many managing to escape. Giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flames emanated from the wreckage, with emergency crews rushing in to search broken metal and concrete for victims and put out fires. Onlookers watched in distress.

. . . Soldiers worked into the night to lug sheets of twisted metal and broken concrete, as one drilled into what remained of the shopping center’s roof. Drones whirred above, clouds of dark smoke still emanating from the ruins several hours after the fire had been put out.

This target had no military value; bombing it is a war crime. Yet we are nearly powerless to stop the carnage.

*If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is truly ambitious to become a Senator or even President, as I suspect, she’d better learn to shut her yap. Her latest tirade is to call for an act that we might agree on, but which is impossible to accomplish: impeaching two Supreme Court Justices who, she says, lied about their views on Roe v. Wade during their congressional vetting:

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for a House investigation into whether two Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade should be impeached for lying at their confirmation hearings about their views of the landmark abortion-rights case.

In a Sunday interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and progressive firebrand, said that she thinks the justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, were dishonest when discussing Roe at the hearings.

“They lied,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said during the interview, adding at another point that “there must be consequences for such a deeply destabilizing action and hostile takeover of our democratic institutions.”

Perhaps they did, but so do Democratic nominees: they all say that they can’t judge cases that they haven’t yet heard. The critical point here is proving that they lied, and how are you going to do that? Did they make some statement sub rosa to others like “You know, if I get on the Court, I’m going to overturn Roe v. Wade“? If not, then the whole enterprise is meaningless and a waste of time. AOC may usually favor good policies, but she’s a hothead and a progressive who doesn’t appeal to centrist Democrats, and that’s why she’ll never get to either the Senate or the White House.

*From reader David via the conservative Washington Times, we hear that the Pentagon planned to stop its commercial production of ammunition for AR-15 semiautomatic weapons, as the Department of Defense owns a munitions plant that, via contractors, produces 40% of America’s commercial AR-15 bullets. Then Congressional Republicans stepped in, and Biden apparently caved:

Fifty House Republicans have petitioned President Biden to stop the Pentagon’s plan to ban commercial production of AR-15 ammunition at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri, which makes as much as 40% of the commercially available AR-15 bullets in the U.S.

The factory, owned by the Department of Defense, has allowed private contractors over the years to operate the plant and produce 5.56 mm ammunition, which is used in AR-15 semi-automatic firearms, for commercial sales that exceed U.S. military needs.

Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, later told The Washington Times that the White House would not follow through on the plan.

“The contract’s been in place like it is for most of post World War II America. … I’ve been assured there will not in the near future, or in this administration, would there be a change in that contract,” he said.

The lawmakers’ letter, spearheaded by Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Sam Graves of Missouri, said the Biden administration had tried to circumvent Congress by banning ammunition for the popular firearm.

Well, maybe Biden didn’t realize that he lacked authority to stop production of the ammunition. Does anybody here know?

*Reader Paul apprised me of a NASA website and video about climate change since 1880 using “climate spiral” graphics. It’s scary. From NASA:

This visualization shows monthly global temperature anomalies (changes from an average) between the years 1880 and 2021. Whites and blues indicate cooler temperatures, while oranges and reds show warmer temperatures. As you can see, global temperatures have warmed from mainly human activities as time has progressed.

These temperatures are based on data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Anomalies are defined relative to a base period of 1951 to 1980. The data file used to create this visualization can be accessed here.

The “climate spiral” is a visualization designed by climate scientist Ed Hawkins from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading. Climate spiral visualizations have been widely distributed; a version was even part of the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is quite negative:
Hili: Taking into account all the pros and cons, I’m against it.
A: This is quite a common attitude.
In Polish:
Hili: Biorąc pod uwagę wszystkie za i przeciw, jestem przeciw.
Ja: To dość powszechna postawa.


From Doc Bill:

From Jesus of the Day:

And another gem from Doc Bill. I hope you’ve seen “Titanic.”

Via Ziya Tong (“Earthling”). These swans are clearly having a fantastic time!

Two tweets from Simon. First, Boris Johnson’s daily exercise:

And wonderful Parisian cops. Make way for ducklings! Or should I say, “Place aux canetons!

From the Auschwitz Memorial, more future fodder for the camps:


Tweets from Matthew. The first one is from his pal, geneticist and author Adam Rutherford:

You can find anything on the internet: I like the squirrel, the dog, and the goose.

I haven’t tested this by covering the lines, but I’ll take the tweeter’s word for it. It’s a good optical illusion:

Very nice video.  You may have seen similar still photos of giant camel shadows in a Sahara caravan:

Emily Yoffe on Biden’s rollback of Title IX regulations

June 27, 2022 • 1:00 pm

I keep saying that one good thing that the Trump administration did was to reform of the disciplinary procedure for sexual assault and harassment on campus as stipulated by Title IX (see posts here).  Those determined to maintain that everything that the Trump government did was bad has to argue that the DeVos reforms, which really created a fairer procedure for prosecuting these accusations, was somehow bad. But DeVos’s reforms included allowing the accused to know the charges against him (yes, usually a male), giving the accused the right to face the accuser, and with a lawyer or “helper”, and allowing a form of cross-examination. Further, in many cases, the investigator was the same person who judged whether the accused was guilty or not. That was ditched under DeVos.

Finally, the DeVos rules stipulated that guilt required not just a “preponderance of evidence” (greater than a 50% that the accused did the act) but a higher bar: “clear and convincing evidence”. That is, conviction required that it must be “highly probable or reasonably certain” that harassment or assault was done by the accused. This is conventionally interpreted to mean a likelihood of 75% or higher.

When I took a poll of what standards readers thought were best, they went with “take it to the police first”, and only then, if the accused was convicted, would they go with the “clear and convincing evidence” standard in a college investigation. In fact, since these are crimes (with the exception of some forms of what is defined as “harassment”), that’s a good idea.

Here are the results of our poll (note: this is not a scientific poll!):


And as I noted in June, one of the bad things that the Biden administration is now doing is rolling back DeVos’s reforms to the days when the rules (suggestions, really) were  codified in a “Dear Colleague” letter from Obama.

Now Emily Yoffe, whose writings I’ve found eminently sensible and who specializes in writing about Title IX and accusations of sexual misconduct, has a piece on Bari Weiss’s site agreeing that Biden’s changes are for the worse. Click to read (it’s free, but  subscribe if you read Weiss often).

A few quotes. I like this one because I’ve agreed with it (emphasis is mine):

Joe Biden has fulfilled one of the first promises he made upon becoming president. His administration has just announced a comprehensive set of regulations—701 pages worth—that will gut due-process rights for college students accused of sexual misconduct.

. . .Then Donald Trump was elected president, and Betsy DeVos, decided to reform what the Obama administration had done. In one of the most uncharacteristic acts of that chaotic presidency, DeVos went through the lengthy and burdensome process of writing actual regulations (the Obama administration had only issued “guidance”). The rules she released were, on balance, careful and thorough, providing necessary protections for the rights of both accuser and accused. I spent several years reporting on what was unfolding on campuses, and I wrote at the time that the DeVos regulations were an example of an immoral administration doing the moral thing. (See, for example, here and here.)

The DeVos rules went into effect in August of 2020, in the midst of campus covid shutdowns, so they have hardly had a chance to be tested. Now they will be struck. They will be replaced by some of the most pernicious procedures of the Obama era. (These dueling Department of Education regulations come under the aegis of Title IX, the fifty-year old federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.)

And so it’s back to the bad old days:

The new rules recommend a return to a “single investigator” model that was barred under the DeVos reform. This means one administrator can act as detective, prosecutor, judge, and jury on a Title IX complaint. The new rules also undo many of the procedural protections for the accused—including the right to see all the evidence, inculpatory and exculpatory, gathered against him. “It’s an evisceration of the procedural protections given to the accused,” says historian KC Johnson, co-author of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities.

Under the DeVos rules, adjudication of a formal complaint required a live hearing be held that included cross examination. The Biden administration lifts this obligation. The Biden rules also call for a return to investigations initiated by third parties, even if based on rumors or misunderstandings, in which male students can be subjected to Title IX proceedings over the objection of their female partners. (Robby Soave at Reason has a good summary of the Biden proposals.)

“It’s a document that validates all of the concerns we had about due process and free speech being on the chopping block,” says Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.  He adds that the administration is giving schools the blessing of the Department of Education “to cut many corners that are essential for fundamental fairness.”

I can’t imagine how people could say that the new rules make the process fairer than using the DeVos rules. How can it be fair when the prosecution is identical to the jury? How can it be fair to not see all the evidence against you? How can it be fair to prohibit cross examination of the accuser? After all, this process can ruin your life; so it must be adjudicated with at least the care of a court case. (And the standard for legal guilt is even harsher: guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.)

As predicted, men found guilty under the Obama-era procedure began filing lawsuits against their colleges for “unfair treatment”. There have been around 675 of these, and many that have been adjudicated have decried the college procedures and fined the universities.  That itself should raise a red flag for Biden’s proposed regulations.

There are other things discussed in Yoffe’s piece, including Biden’s stipulations about gender identity, participation in sports, and the new industry of hiring thousands of Title IX bureaucrats, but I’ll leave you to read and judge these issues for yourself.  Here’s just one more quote:

But no matter what the new regulations demand, it is likely that at the end of the Biden administration, the president will have to concede that he failed to make a dent in accusations of sexual misconduct on campus. This won’t be because campus administrators are indifferent to mass criminal activity by male students. It will be, in large part, because of the bureaucratic expansion the Obama administration instigated. They helped establish an industry of Title IX officials, investigators, lawyers, and consultants.

. . . Then there is human nature itself. Young men and women are going to engage in sexual exploration. Sometimes it’s going to go badly. In many cases, no matter how many hundreds of pages of regulations are churned out by the federal government, turning to Title IX bureaucrats is not going to make things better.

I’m a Democrat, and I voted for Biden. But I am not going to lionize everything that his administration does. The return to the old Title IX regulations for trying cases of sexual misconduct is one of the Biden administration’s clear mistakes.

The late evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr survives deplatforming by the Society for Systematic Biologists

June 27, 2022 • 10:45 am

In January of this year, I wrote a post opposing the proposal by the Society of Systematic Biologists (SSB; the premier society dealing with the “family tree” of life), to get rid of its “Ernst Mayr Award” handed out at its annual meeting for the best student paper given at the meeting. The proposal was to change the award’s name to “Outstanding Student Presentation Award in Systematic Biology.” (How dull!)

One would think that Mayr must have done something odious or ideologically unacceptable to be subject to this kind of “deplatforming,” but one would be wrong. Ernst Mayr was not only one of the outstanding evolutionary biologists of our time, a scientist who helped bring speciation into the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis”, but he was a liberal and an egalitarian. He never advocated eugenics or promoted racism or white supremacy. As I described in my earlier post, he was a mentor of sorts to me, and although sometimes dogmatic in his views, he was not someone deserving such a “ban.”

In fact, as renowned systematist and evolutionist David Hillis (a past president of the SSB), and biologist Nick Matzke pointed out in a piece at Panda’s Thumb (see also Hillis’s comment on my post), Mayr was an egalitarian:

Even given all of Mayr’s vast biological accomplishments, I think what most impresses me about him were his efforts to build a better world for all. For example, in 1951, in support of “UNESCO 1951: The race concept: Results of an inquiry,” Mayr made a public statement opposing the views of R. A. Fisher, and supporting the UNESCO statement:

Mayr stated that he hoped that “the authoritative Statement prepared by UNESCO will help to eliminate the pseudo-scientific race conceptions which have been used as excuses for many injustices and even shocking crimes”… “I applaud and wholeheartedly endorse [it],” Mayr wrote, adding: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly that all so-called races are variable populations, and that there is often more difference between extreme individuals of one race than between certain individuals of different races. All human races are mixtures of populations and the term “pure race” is an absurdity. The second important point which needs stressing is that genetics plays a very minor part in the cultural characteristics of different peoples. . . . The third point is that equality of opportunity and equality in law do not depend on physical, intellectual and genetic identity. There are striking differences in physical, intellectual and other genetically founded qualities among individuals of even the most homogeneous human population, even among brothers and sisters. No acknowledged ethical principle exists which would permit denial of equal opportunity for reason of such differences to any member of the human species.”

So why the proposal, which was simply presented to the SSB membership as a fait accompli to be voted on—and was never subject to discussion by the SSB membership— to ditch the named award?  There are two reasons suggested

a.) Mayr was a white man (and he became an old white man, dying at 100). Naming an award after him would not be “inclusive” (see the SSB announcement below). This, in turn, could discourage women or members of minorities from applying for such awards, or even starting a career in systematics. In other words, the named award would be “harmful”. As the SSB itself notes on its webpage:

Renaming the award is one step toward greater inclusivity within the society, as named awards often lead to feelings of exclusion among those who are members of underrepresented groups whose scientific contributions continue to remain unrecognized.

That is pure nonsense and there’s no evidence to back it up. Who has felt excluded by the name “Ernst Mayr Award? Can we have some names? In contrast, I know that some people who have won such awards, even if they’re “people of color”, are proud of getting a prize named after a famous person in their field. That’s anecdotal, the other side has no evidence save assertion.

b.) Apparently someone, somewhere, objected to something Mayr wrote, as given in the original proposal for denaming reproduced in my original post:

This proposal is not intended to cast judgement on the legacy of Ernst Mayr, who was a prolific and profound scholar of evolutionary biology and a dedicated champion of students, nor are we intending to defend the contents of his writings which some find problematic.

No people or “problematic” writings are described. I can’t think of anything politically problematic that Mayr wrote, so what is the problem? Do people not like his Biological Species Concept, or his defense of allopatric (geographic) speciation?

This reason, too, is nonsense.

Yet despite this, the motion to dename the Mayr award in favor of an anodyne name went forward, and without public discussion. That in itself is a bad move on the part of the SSB, for the issue became divisive, with people on opposite sides of the issue calling each other names, even if they were colleagues. At least they could have aired the issue in a discussion at the meeting before the vote.

In fact, I strongly suspect that many people who wanted Mayr’s name removed didn’t know anything about the man and his work, but wanted to vote for denaming simply because it was presented to SSB members by the Council as a motion to amend the Society’s constitution, and therefore Mayr must have done something bad.

But the other day they did have a vote. And, glory be, THE DENAMING MOTION WAS DEFEATED! But it wasn’t defeated by much. In fact, most of the SSB members voted to dename the award, but it requires two-thirds of the members to vote for that, and only 63.4% did.  So it was pretty damn close: a few percent change would have denamed the award.

Here’s the SSB’s official announcement of the vote. The take-home message is in bold, but the SSB can’t resist, after this defeat, emphasizing their continuing initiatives in DEI, as if the failure to dename the Mayr award was some kind of blow against these initiatives.

Three years ago, the Society of Systematic Biologists Council began the discussion of whether to change the name of the “Ernst Mayr Award in Systematic Biology” to the “Outstanding Student Presentation Award in Systematic Biology”.  One goal in proposing this change was to make the award more inclusive and descriptive (see for instance, Pourret et al. (2021) and Bazner et al. (2020)). This proposal is part of SSB’s many efforts to broaden the reach of our Society, especially to students. Drawing students into the Society is something Ernst Mayr himself advocated, through his work for the Society and donations that helped support it. After much deliberation, the Council approved sending the constitutional amendment to the membership for their vote. Under our constitution, all amendments require approval by two-thirds of the voting members. While 63.4% of the voting members favored the change, this is short of the 66.7% required for the amendment to be adopted. Thus, the award will continue to be called the “Ernst Mayr Award in Systematic Biology”.  SSB will continue its efforts to remove barriers and create a better environment for all, as there remains much work to do. The SSB Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee has been working hard, often in collaboration with committees of our sibling organizations in SSE and ASN. Initiatives include commissioning a climate survey of our community, preparing a Leading Culture Change Through Professional Societies of Biology (BIO-LEAPS) proposal to NSF, organizing workshops on field safety, and much more. Additionally, we launched a new open access journal, where publishing is free of charge for all SSB members, in order to lower barriers to participation in systematics; we broadened the panel of associate editors for our flagship journal,Systematic Biology; and we give out over $150,000 in research grants annually to help grow the field.We look forward to working together to grow the Society of Systematic Biologists in an inclusive, positive direction.

Well, although the bad news is that most of the members voted for denaming, over a third had some sense and voted to keep the honor to Mayr, who always supported the SSB.

Could this herald a change in the extreme wokeness permeating scientific societies? It would be pretty think so, but given the vote I’m not looking for a sea change.  And to the SSB, the next time you try to pull a stunt like this, how about allowing some open discussion among members of the society? They might learn something about people like Ernst Mayr.

Ernst Mayr

NYT columnist and Anglican pastor Tish Harrison Warren on why abortion should be banned

June 27, 2022 • 9:15 am

I’m still not sure why Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren was hired to write a weekly column on religion for the New York Times. Not only does she push mythology on the paper’s educated readers (I think of it as an “astrology for the elite” column), but her sentiments are nearly always trite and anodyne.

From her previous columns, though, we know she believes in much of the Christian mythology, including the existence and divinity of Jesus, and of the salvific properties of his Resurrection. I’ve also seen hints that she thinks abortion is immoral.

This week she defends that last position, though manages, as she so often does, to say that without telling us explicitly that that’s her view. Instead, she dances around the topic, giving three arguments for why the “bodily autonomy” argument of pro-choice people is wrong. But in the process she also buys into another myth: that humans are qualitatively different from other animals, for we are made in the image of God. (She says nothing about a “soul,” but there must be some distinguishing feature that makes it immoral for humans but not other animals to undergo abortion.)

I’ve never known anybody to switch sides in the “pro choice” vs. “anti choice” debate, though there are some, like Christopher Hitchens, who personally aren’t comfortable with abortion but wouldn’t ban it. I’ve also known women who wouldn’t have an abortion, and yet still are pro-choice for everyone else. That’s fine with me: whatever they believe personally, they just can’t force it down the rest of our throats.

Warren would indeed sign onto that force-feeding just mandated by the Supreme Court, but she’s very cagey about it. I’ll briefly present—and criticize her three arguments for why the claim that “women have bodily autonomy” is not a good argument for the right to abortion. But in the end they all hinge on one assumption: a fetus has the same rights as a human who’s been born, adult or child, and that’s because of God.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Warren’s quotes are indented.

Here are three ways that I find abortion rights arguments that appeal to bodily autonomy unpersuasive and ultimately harmful to our understanding of freedom and what it means to be human:

1. Bodily autonomy is limited by our obligation to not harm others. We already recognize in law that there are limits to physical autonomy. One can’t walk down the street naked, even if one really wants to, or go 75 miles an hour in a school zone, even if slowing down poses a burden on the driver.

These limits came up in the Dobbs oral arguments. Twice, Justice Clarence Thomas brought up a case where a woman was convicted of child neglect for ingesting harmful illegal drugs while pregnant. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs addresses this as well, saying that an appeal to autonomy, “at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” Our desires to do as we wish with our bodies must be respected but they also must be limited by the needs and rights of others, including those who live inside our own bodies.

First, I don’t agree with laws banning women from taking legal drugs while they are pregnant, even if they could damage the fetus. Imagine the courts making it illegal for women to smoke or drink or even take illicit drugs on the grounds that this is child neglect.  (If you take illicit drugs, pregnant or not, you can be prosecuted for that alone.) This already presumes what you want to prove: that the fetus has the same rights as an already-born child.

And to say that bodily autonomy does not permit you to go naked (that depends on the country!) or speed in a car, is not the same as the bodily autonomy of deciding whether you have a child or not.  The “naked” stuff is presumably to enforce public order, though I don’t care about that (naked people walk around Berkeley without arrest; who cares?), while bans on speeding protects other adult humans from being hurt by your negligence. The argument about abortion hinges on whether you consider a fetus, particularly one in the first trimesters of pregnancy, to have the same “rights” as an adult on the road need your car. If you say “no,” as I do, because you see fetuses as non-sentient embryos (actually, balls of cells early in pregnancy), and which are, in effect, parasitic on the mother, then the arguments from drug-taking, speeding, and nudity disappear. Remember, you are 14 times more likely to die from pregnancy than from abortion. To me, that by itself suggests that the default option is choice.

I’m sure readers will have other things to say about this “argument.” On to argument #2:

2. The term “autonomy” denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body. One definition of autonomy is “independence.” But no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death. The natural state of human beings is to be deeply and irrevocably interdependent on one another. The only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers. Almost all of us, through age or disability or both, will eventually depend on other human beings — other human bodies — to bathe, dress, feed and otherwise care for us.

A child in the womb is dependent on a mother for life in a way that does place a unique burden on a mother. But this burden does not end at birth. Parenthood — at any stage — is an arduous good. A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim “bodily autonomy” as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old. Abortion seems to punish a fetus for its lack of bodily autonomy and deny the profound reliance that all of us who have bodies hold.

To me this argument has little force because a fetus is not identical to a child or another adult in the ways described above. A child without parental care, or who is abused, suffers in ways that an aborted non-sentient fetus doesn’t, and society also suffers in in different ways. (I don’t see society suffering at all if a woman has an abortion.)

And being “dependent” on others (why not just add farmers and truckers?) when you’re an adult, young or, old isn’t the same as forcing people to take care of you, because there are no laws that mandate such care.  There is no law that your relatives must empty your bedpan, but Warren wants a law that will force a women to go through nine months of sometimes-dicey pregnancy because the fetus is dependent on the mother for nourishment and development. Warren has made no convincing argument that “interdependence” leads directly to banning abortion. Like the other reasons, this is a post facto argument she’s concocted to defend her position, which I believe comes from her religion.

This is the wonkiest of the arguments:

3. The pressing issue when it comes to abortion is whether championing “bodily autonomy” requires us to override or undo biological realities. In the Dobbs oral arguments, Julie Rikelman described what women experience if they lack access to abortion: “Allowing a state to take control of a woman’s body and force her to undergo the physical demands, risks and life-altering consequences of pregnancy is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty.”

But is restricting abortion the same thing as forced gestation? Is it correct to compare abortion restrictions to a state “taking control” of a woman’s body and a deprivation of liberty?

To me, yes, the comparison is valid. But what are the “biological realities” that are undone when a woman has an abortion? Simply that sex, even with birth control, sometimes lead to pregnancy. In other words, when you have sex, you have to pay the price if you get pregnant, even if you don’t want the child:

Whatever one thinks sex is and what it is for — whether a sacred act or a mere recreational pleasure — all of us can agree that sex is the only human activity that has the power to create life and that every potentially procreative sexual act therefore carries some level of risk that pregnancy could occur. (Birth control significantly lessens this risk but does not entirely take it away since birth control methods can fail.) Yet, the state does not impose this risk of producing human life; biology does. Except in the horrible circumstances of rape or incest, which account for 1 percent of abortions, women and men both have bodily agency and choices about whether they will have sex and therefore if they are willing to accept the risk of new life inherent in it.

. . . . A sperm and an egg unite to grow into a human inside the body of a woman. The state doesn’t force this to happen any more than it forces aging or forces weight loss from exercise or forces lungs to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

To use language of forced gestation or of a state “controlling” women’s bodies is to portray biology itself as oppressive and halting the natural course of the body as the liberative role of the state.

This is what she’s really saying:

“Sex can lead to pregnancy. If you don’t want a child, don’t have sex.”

Whence the “requirement” that we cannot undo the reality that when you have sex, an egg could be fertilized? It is simply Warren’s view that a fertilized egg is somehow very special—more special than the fertilized eggs of other animals. And when that sperm penetrates the egg, biology says that we have to let development continue.

But this is again a post facto way for Warren to justify her religious view that humans are special (see below) because we’re made in the image of God. To answer her, I can just say “what is the biological imperative that requires allowing a fertilized egg, produced by failed contraception, to continue development?” This comes perilously close to turning an “is” into an “ought”. But the real reason she comes up with this hokey imperative is her religion. That becomes clear in this sentence (my emphasis):

Speaking as a woman, with a woman’s body, I want safety and freedom for all women. I want women to be full participants and empowered leaders in public life. I believe we, as human beings and image bearers of God, have a right to bodily integrity, protection and liberty.

Except when it comes to abortion. . . .

That’s the real reason behind all this: embryos are sacred and cannot be destroyed because God made them in his own image. The rest is commentary and justification. Those two sentences are the only place where Warren even comes close to telling us that abortion should be illegal (except for rape and incest), and why.  Yes, she throws in all the liberal ways you can live with prohibited abortion: more child-support laws, free health care, and “affordable child care.” Tell that to a woman who has no resources to bring up an unwanted child, or is in a situation where pregnancy can ruin her life!

In the end, Warren’s arguments are the same as those of Catholics: fetuses are sacred because they are made in the image of God (presumably having a soul) and it is murder (or, as Harrison euphemistically says, “undoing biological reality”) to abort them. She began with that belief and then confects three arguments why abortion doesn’t abrogate women’s “bodily autonomy”. She is a Catholic in an Anglican dog collar.

My advice to Pastor Warren: “It’s fine if you try to persuade people to oppose abortion, but don’t go forcing people to adhere to your religiously-based views.” What’s moral in your Anglican religion doesn’t have to be the law of the land.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 27, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we drive off the road a bit, as reader Athayde Tonhasca Júnior has a collection of Scottish signs he photographed (this is one of two parts, the second coming later). His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

They all leapfrog, with surprisingly few injuries reported (Redgorton, Scotland).

I reckon you are expected to sneeze and cough explosively before leaving the van (Perth, Scotland).

A joiner from Perth who knows his Classics. Cesar wrote the famous words after crushing the forces of Pharnaces II, king of Pontus, in 47 BC. Veni, vidi, vici exemplifies the concision and precision of Latin – although the saying loses some of its gravitas when pronounced because it requires going full Elmer Fudd: “weenee, weedee, weekee”. Cicero, the cunning orator, could also get to the point quickly and elegantly. When he needed to announce to the Senate the execution – ordered by him – of some conspirators, he avoided awkward and incriminating words like “execution”, “death”, “strangulation”, etc. by declaring, vixerunt (“they have lived,” which implies “they are now dead”). Nuff said.

Wise advice at Perth College library.

These pets belonged to members of the Raj and apparently were brought back from India for burial in holy Christian ground. Dead servants probably were discarded locally (Hopetoun Estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh).

My petition to have a sign like this for summons to my home office was rejected by higher domestic authority. My motion to be addressed as His Lordship didn’t pass either (Hopetoun Estate).

This culinary atrocity amuses and attracts tourists visiting Scotland. True natives stick to a traditional fare: greasy, starchy & overcooked food (Stonehaven, Scotland). [JAC: I ate a deep fried Mars bar, battered of course, when I lived in Edinburgh. I just wanted to try it,  and it was surprisingly good!]

Home cooked. Really, honest to god (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Why do quotation marks “baffle” so many? (Stonehaven).

Tea room in Thornton, Scotland. “Serendipity” was coined in 1754 by English writer, art historian and politician Horace (born Horatio) Walpole (1717-1797). He was inspired by Michele Tramezzino’s 1557 tale Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo (The pilgrimage of the three young sons of Serendip’s king). In the story, the princes of Serendip (a Persian name for Sri Lanka) went about making accidental discoveries of good and pleasant things. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Walpole introduced over 200 words into the English language, including beefy, malaria, nuance, sombre, and souvenir. Some of them didn’t quite catch on, like balloonomania or robberaceously. But “serendipity” was voted the UK’s favourite word in 2000.

An unassuming wall sign in Falkland (Scotland) praising James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England, thus the first king of Great Britain. James’ greatest legacy was the commission of a translation of the Bible into English. A group of sages laboured for seven years to translate from Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. The resulting text is considered a monumental literary achievement, which Christopher Hitchens labelled “a giant step in the maturing of English literature”, and which prompted Richard Dawkins to say “a native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian” (I can’t comment because I never read it). The good king was also into demons and black magic, writing a whole book about the subject. William Shakespeare may have been inspired by it to create the Weird Sisters, which to me are the best part of Macbeth. James upheld a delicate religious harmony, but it all went pear-shaped: his weak and incompetent son (Charles I) managed to get his head lopped off.

Monday: Hili dialogue

June 27, 2022 • 6:30 am

Note: I’ll continue to look at the “ask me anything” post for today in case anyone has more questions.

Good morning on the start of a summer week: it’s Monday, June 27, 2020: National Orange Blossom Day, which could honor either the flower or, more likely, the drink, made with gin, vermouth, and orange juice. It’s a breakfast cocktail, I suppose:

Source and recipe

It’s also Canadian Multiculturalism DayHelen Keller Day (she was born on this day in 1880), National HIV Testing Day, and National PTSD Awareness Day.

Stuff that happened on June 27 includes:

The charge was treason, but the Smiths were never tried. Here’s the gravesite of Joseph, Hyrum, and Joseph’s wife in Nauvoo, Illinois, not far from Carthage. I wonder if this is a Mormon pilgrimage spot:

It took Slocum three years to sail around the world in this sloop oyster boat named Spray (below). Later, he disappeared for good while sailing to the Caribbean in 1909.

The mutiny, in which most of the ship’s officers were killed, is often seen as the precursor of the Russian Revolution. Here’s the ship in 1906 after it was renamed Panteleimon. It was featured in Eisenstein’s famous silent film Battleship Potemkin (1925). Below is a trailer for the restored version, including the famous “Odessa Steps” scene (for the full scene, a masterpiece of early cinema, go here).

Five thousand of the survivors were sent on a “death train” for a week without food or water; here’s one with the bodies and survivors being unloaded. Of 5,000 people on one train (100 jammed in each car), only a thousand survived.

  • 1950 – The United States decides to send troops to fight in the Korean War.
  • 1954 – The FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match between Hungary and Brazil, highly anticipated to be exciting, instead turns violent, with three players ejected and further fighting continuing after the game.

Here’s nine minutes of “the Battle of Berne,” as it’s called.  The quality isn’t great, and it does look exciting, but I see only a couple of fouls and a couple of guys being ejected.  Hungary won 4-2. I guess you had to be there.

50 more were killed by the cult in an attack the next year on a Tokyo subway. Thirteen of the perps were executed. Here are Japanese anti-chemical police responding to the Tokyo attack:

  • 2007 – Tony Blair resigns as British Prime Minister, a position he had held since 1997. His Chancellor, Gordon Brown succeeds him.

And here’s Blair announcing his decision to resign:

Da Nooz:

*The anger and division over the repeal of Roe v. Wade has exploded. There’s too much to recount, but one interesting sidelight is how states will deal with the “Plan B” pills, which you can get in an adjacent state, but presumably not by mail. Will they be illegal to use? Presumably they already are, but how can a state track you? Can you go over a state line and take one? Can states ban pills that have been approved by the federal government? Much remains unresolved. The NYT goes over the issues.

Abortion pills, already used in more than half of recent abortions in the U.S., are becoming even more sought-after in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned, and they will likely be at the center of the legal battles that are expected to unfold as about half the states ban abortion and others take steps to increase access.

The method, known as medication abortion, is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. It involves taking two different drugs, 24 to 48 hours apart, to stop the development of a pregnancy and then to cause contractions similar to a miscarriage to expel the fetus, a process that usually causes bleeding similar to a heavy period.

Many patients choose medication abortion because it is less expensive, less invasive and affords more privacy than surgical abortions — the pills can be received by mail and taken at home, or anywhere, after an initial consultation with a doctor by video, phone, in person or even just by filling out an online form.

The patient must participate in the consultation from a state that allows abortion, even if it simply involves being on the phone in a car just over the border. The IP address of the computer or phone they use allows the clinic to identify where they are.

For states that ban all forms of abortion, medication abortion is likely to provide significant enforcement challenges. It is one thing to shut down a clinic; it is much harder to police activities like sending or receiving pills through the mail or traveling to a state where pills are legal to have a consultation and pick them up, legal experts say.

For states that ban all forms of abortion, medication abortion is likely to provide significant enforcement challenges. It is one thing to shut down a clinic; it is much harder to police activities like sending or receiving pills through the mail or traveling to a state where pills are legal to have a consultation and pick them up, legal experts say.

*Data worth knowing, from a NYT op-ed by Michele Goodwin (my emphasis):

Overturning the right to abortion reveals the court’s indefensible disregard for the lives of women, girls and people capable of pregnancy, given the possible side effects and consequences of pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, hemorrhaging, gestational hypertension, ectopic pregnancy and death. State-mandated pregnancy will exacerbate what are already alarming health and dignity harms, especially in states with horrific records of maternal mortality and morbidity.

To understand the gravity of what is at stake, one need only turn to the Supreme Court’s own recent history. In 2016, Justice Stephen Breyer noted in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that women are 14 times more likely to die by carrying a pregnancy to term than by having an abortion. The United States bears the chilling distinction of being the most dangerous place in the industrialized world to give birth, ranking 55th overall in the world.

*The NYT has a powerful editorial-board piece on the Dobbs decision, “The ruling overturning Roe is an insult to women and the judicial system.

The implications of this reversal will be devastating, throwing America into a new era of struggle over abortion laws — an era that will be marked by chaos, confusion and human suffering. About half the states in the United States are expected to enact laws that restrict or make abortion illegal in all or most cases. Many women may be forced by law to carry pregnancies to term, even, in some cases, those caused by rape or incest. Some will likely die, especially those with pregnancy complications that must be treated with abortion or those who resort to unsafe means of abortion because they can’t afford to travel to states where the procedure remains legal. Even those who are able to travel to other states could face the risk of criminal prosecution. Some could go to prison, as could the doctors who care for them. Miscarriages could be investigated as murders, which has already happened in several states, and may become only more common. Without full control over their bodies, women will lose their ability to function as equal members of American society.

The insult of Friday’s ruling is not only in its blithe dismissal of women’s dignity and equality. It lies, as well, in the overt rejection of a well-established legal standard that had managed for decades to balance and reflect Americans’ views on a fraught topic. A majority of the American public believes that women, not state or federal lawmakers, should have the legal right to decide whether to end a pregnancy in all or most cases. At the same time, Americans are weary of the decades-long fight over abortion, a fight that may feel far removed from their complex and deeply personal views about this issue.

*Before leaving this topic, read the WaPo op-ed by Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, “5 big truths about the Supreme Court’s gutting of Roe” (the papers are increasingly making lists). I’m going to highlight just one:

4.) Democrats must make very clear promises about what’s next. 

In keeping with the above shift, Democrats have to be ultra-clear about this fall’s elections. They need to tell voters: If you let us keep the House and deliver us two more Senate seats, we will end the filibuster, pass a bill nationally codifying abortion rights, and undertake far-reaching Supreme Court reform.

Of course, the court could strike down such a national abortion bill. But as Moyn notes, Democrats can tell voters that they would reform the court to prevent this, vowing: “We will declare war on the Supreme Court to keep that law viable.”

Now it’s highly unlikely that Democrats will both keep the House and win two more Senate seats, much less reform the Supreme Court and end the filibuster, but some time in the future, a federal bill on abortion is what’s needed. As Jake said to Brett in The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

*In the Harvard Crimson, Gemma Schneider, one of the editors, repudiates her paper’s endorsement of BDS, an antisemitic movement if ever there was one. Now it’s “Zionism” that is the target, a euphemism for Jews.

The Board admits, still in line with past precedent, that BDS is a “blunt tool.” I believe that this tool is finer than we realize. It has been sharpened by societal forces, and historical precedents, in order to wage what is, at its core, not a fundamentally economic war of boycotts and sanctions — but a more sinister and violent ideological one. People like me — a “f-cking Zionist,” a “smelly Jew,” a modern-day “Elder of Zion” — are not simply “collateral damage” in this war. We are targets — directly wounded by signals and signs of rhetorical weaponry, and dismissed when we respond to what we know has historically been the writing on the wall.

Writing this has not been easy — not just because of the complicated history, to which I have personal ties. It has also been difficult because BDS is the embodiment of everything that I have known the Board to stand against — and, in light of the Board’s failure to recognize that, I can’t help but feel a strange mix of sadness, disappointment, and fear. Back in February 2020, we opined as a Board that casting either group as “the evil one” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a counterproductive approach, and we made an explicit call for nuance. Now, the Board has tacitly endorsed Israel’s demonization while maintaining that “we can’t nuance away” Palestinians’ lived realities. In my view, this is yet another testament to BDS’s chilling “artistry”; it is an embodiment of the fact that BDS’s messaging invokes an emotional reaction that bypasses thought at a visceral level. When nuance is present, it becomes harder to demonize one party — so BDS does all that it can to reject that complexity and thought.

Until the hyprocrites that endorse BDS admit the truth: that Palestine is the real apartheid state, demonizing gays, women, apostates, Jews, teaching violent antisemitism and terrorism to kids, and approving of the murder of innocent Jewish civilians. I have no use for the pro-BDS crowd, and the Crimson’s stand can, well, you know the rest.

*The BBC reports the discovery of a remarkably preserved baby mammoth in the Yukon. Presumably its morphology and DNA hold lots of interesting information.

A whole baby woolly mammoth has been found frozen in the permafrost of north-western Canada – the first such discovery in North America.

The mummified ice age mammoth is thought to be more than 30,000 years old. It was found by gold miners in Yukon’s Klondike region on Tuesday.

The area of the find belongs to the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.

The Yukon government compared it to Russia’s discovery of a baby mammoth in the permafrost of Siberia in 2007.

It said it was “the most complete mummified mammoth found in North America”, and only the second such find in the world.

The baby, thought to be female, has been named Nun cho ga, meaning “big baby animal” in the Han language spoken by Native Americans in the area.

Here it is, about 1.4 meters long, and complete with skin and hair

Photo by the Yukon Government.

Although the locals had a spiritual ceremony over the carcass, I’m hopeful that science will get a crack at this rare find rather than having it buried as “local property” as a relic. I’m heartened that scientific study is promised in the press release, which says:

Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin and the Yukon government are working together to “respectfully preserve and learn more about Nun cho ga,” the press release said.

*The NYT and other sources have reported on the crowning of “Mr. Happy,” the World’s Ugliest Dog.

Out of a field that included a “hairless mutant” with no teeth and a crooked face, a creature that resembled “a hyena or mandrill baboon,” and a canine with a “gorilla-looking head,” a Chihuahua mix named Mr. Happy Face emerged on Friday as the foulest of them all, winner of the 2022 World’s Ugliest Dog contest.

Mr. Happy Face, who once lived in abusive and neglectful conditions with a hoarder, has tumors and neurological issues, requires a diaper, struggles to stand upright or walk, and holds his head askew.

Yet he has reached the age of about 17, sports a natural mohawk and makes a sound “like a Dodge Ram diesel truck” revving its engine when he is happy, according to an online biography.

“It was clear and obvious Mr. Happy Face deserved to be champion,” Debra Mathy, one of the contest’s judges, said on Saturday, adding that the judges did not even bother debating who should win. “All the obstacles this dog overcame physically and in his past life — it’s amazing.”

Mr. Happy is a mess—he wasn’t even supposed to live more than a month after he was adopted—but you can’t help but like him and love the people who adopted him. And of course you want to see him. Is he that ugly? I say YES!

(From the NYT): Mr. Happy Face during the competition on Friday.Credit…Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili reacts with alarm when she sees a movement, as she always does:

A: What do you see there?
Hili: Movement, and that is always alarming.
In Polish:
Ja: Co tam widzisz?
Hili: Ruch, a to zawsze jest niepokojące.

And here’s a photo of Szaron. Isn’t he handsome?


A Mike Luckovich cartoon from Sue:

From Merilee:

From Jesus of the Day. It’s a typo, but it’s accurate. I will eat none of that fake KRAB!

A video found on Facebook by Malcolm. Wonderful modification of pavement, walls, and benches. The artist wasn’t identified.

Two from Simon. First, Jansen has some new and stupendous “Beach Animals,” driven solely by the wind:

Rechavi’s take on academia (I don’t answer this way!)

It was Ricky Gervais’s birthday on Saturday. Here’s his (in)famous introduction as host of the Golden Globes. This guy has chutzpah!

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from the famous Professor Cobb. First, an animal I don’t know. Can any reader identify it?

A margay (Leopardus weidi) is a small wild cat from Central and South America (I got to hold a pet one once in Costa Rica; the only wild felid I’ve ever held). Here’s one in the wild, and look at its speed!

Definitely worth hearing. Sound up, please. (Doesn’t it sound like “Help!”?)

Matthew describes this as “a great obituary”. It is—especially the penultimate paragraph.

Sunday duck report

June 26, 2022 • 1:30 pm

I’m two weeks behind on the duck report, so the fluffy babies you see below are now teenagers that are sprouting feathers and growing wings. But we’ll catch up. Today we feature Audrey and her brood of 12 (yes, we have them all), eating, sleeping, and disporting themselves. We have a combination of photos and videos—the latter nearly all taken by Jean Greenberg.

First, attentive mom Audrey watching her pile o’ ducklings on the cement rim of the pond;

A closer view of the Pile:

June 11: The babies start flapping their tiny little wings, as you can see in this video.

And, on the same day, we have that famous libation, “Ducks on the rocks” (with pond water):


Duckpile on June 12. Audrey is NEVER far from her babies.

The brood is resting in the leaves under the crabapple tree. See how well camouflaged they are on the ground. (One is in the water.)

Mom’s presence gives them away, though.  Male mallards are not camouflaged but conspicuous (to predators, too). That’s the price that sexual selection exacts from males.

By June 14, the babies were dabbling (turning upside down and foraging on the bottom of the pond). This is the characteristic feeding behavior of mallards:

On June 16 a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) came to the pond. It was clearly fishing, standing in one spot on a cement ring and motionlessly looking for fish. It didn’t seem to have any interest in the ducks, so I Iet it fish for a while before driving it away. (It didn’t catch anything.) These are magnificent birds, especially when they spread their wings to take off, almost in slow motion.

They have immense powers of concentration!

June 17. The plump little ones plop into the water, and yes, with a distinct “plop”:

We do not feed the drakes or undocumented hens, but they get plump anyway. Here’s one hanging his crop over the edge of one duck island, making what we call a “Dali Duck” because of Dali’s melting-watch paintings. Photo by Jean Greenberg.

The ducklings are now quite scruffy, as their adult feathers start growing: first on the wings, and then spreading backwards like a cape. Tail feathers also form. Here are “early scruffs”. See the adult feathers starting to grow on their wings?

The onset of feather growth is somewhat variable, but they all start getting them within a few days of each other:


Audrey oversees the brood dabbling away in the main pond:

Duckwatcher Elise took a picture of me photographing the ducks when I wasn’t looking:

Finally, we mustn’t forget the turtles. I met a guy the other day who comes to the pond on sunny days and counts the basking turtles, trying to get a complete census. He says he’s never seen more than 14. I would have thought there were more than that. Here’s one of our red-eared sliders.

And today I met a guy at the pond with his wife and kid. His daughter and wife liked the ducks (and we gave them duck food to feed the babies), but he says he’s a “turtle man.” He rolled up his sleeve to show me how much of a turtle man he was!

Ask me anything: 2022 edition

June 26, 2022 • 10:15 am

Yesterday reader Peter sent me an email in which he reminded me of my “ask anything” post from last year’s Valentine’s Day, and added that he’d like to see another one. Well, Peter, as you know, ask Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) and ye shall receive (assuming PCC[e] is in a beneficent mood).  Here’s Peter’s email

Early last year you created an “ask me anything” post which I just ran across while looking for something — and it seemed to be very popular, with nearly 200 comments. You fielded lots of questions — some serious (like mine) and some frivolous. A good time was had by all. I’d love to see another one — maybe you could make it a regular feature?

Well, not much is going on that I want to write about today, as the news is uniformly bad and depressing, so let’s have an AMA session again.  As I wrote last time:

Readers are welcome to ask all sorts of questions, with the proviso that the questions not be really personal ones. Exceptions: my life in science, food, travels, perhaps some philosophy, or things of that ilk. I can’t guarantee to answer every question (assuming there are some), but I’ll have a look from time to time and satisfy people’s curiosity.

Oh, and please, nothing rude or uncivil (as always!).

So go ahead. I’ll look in from time to time and answer some questions (assuming there are some questions).

p.s. I’ll try to answer these from time to time today (Sunday) and maybe some on Monday morning.