USA Today defends firing of Chicago docents, and a new theory on why they were fired

October 25, 2021 • 12:15 pm

The article below at yahoo!news originally appeared USA Today. but I’m linking to the former site because the latter has all sorts of annoying ads, even with Adblock. And the headline made me laugh: of course diversity consultants would recommend that the Art Institute of Chicago should get rid of all its highly-trained volunteer docents, because they were mostly older white women of means, and that creates “inequity.” And, if you adhere to Ibram Kendi, a lack of equity is prima facie evidence of currently operating structural racism. This is what diversity consultants are paid to do. Better ask an ethicist!

The AIC plans to replace the fired docents with a smaller number of less trained paid workers, presumably more diverse. But if the AIC wanted more diversity, which is fine, what they did was go about it in the worst way possible. Click to read.

Now a lot of this article has already been covered on this site, but there are a few new comments which got me thinking, and also got the reader thinking who sent me this link.

Put together these quotes from the piece and see if you can come up with another theory of why the docents were fired—a theory that goes beyond their whiteness and class:

“Sometimes equity requires taking bold steps and actions,” said Monica Williams, executive producer of The Equity Project, a Colorado-based consulting firm whose clients include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. “You really have to dismantle and disrupt the systems that have been designed to hold some up and others out.”‘

. . .As a result, Williams said she respects the AIC’s decision, saying more diversity among people who work in museums will strengthen the quality of art education.

“The stories that are told are based on a docents’ experience or expertise, which oftentimes comes from a white space and are not reflective of everyone’s experience,” she said. “So we need to really critically think about how stories get told and who tells them.”

Mike Murawski, a museum consultant and author of “Museums as Agents of Change,” said there has long been a tension between equity efforts and volunteer programs.

“Because of who is leading these groups, there are often gaps in the perspectives and experiences they represent in their work in educating the community,” he said. “So I think a lot of the systemic racism and colonialism that museums have always had in their institutions come through these types of programs.”

. . .But museum consultants say sometimes the way forward is not about making changes to programs.

Docent programs often have “long-standing legacies of how things are supposed to be” that can make them difficult to adapt, Murawski said.

That risks continuing “elements of white dominant culture, colonialism and racism that are systemic within museums,” he added.

“There’s just so many legacy structures and barriers baked into a docent program to begin with that it requires more than just a little editing to fix,” he said. “I think that these programs really need to be put on pause and fully rethought, then rebuilt from the ground up.”

The reader who sent me this link put two and two together (it’s not five!) and realized, as I did when I read it, that this is about radically reforming the whole system of presenting art to the public, so that it’s now viewed not from the artists’ perspectives, but through a lens focused on race and ideology. Remember that some critics of “Critical Theory” argue that its motivation is to overthrow the entirety of Western culture based on Enlightenment values and replace it with an authoritarian one. And so, like the Soviets did, they have to create a class of “approved” art that passes ideological muster. Viewing existing art as expressions of impure thought is the beginning of that.

The reader who sent me the link added this:

My suspicion is that the en masse firing is not merely to get rid of a wealthy, white group of ladies due to diversity issues.   Rather, it’s to bring about a reframing of how art is explained: from one based on aesthetics, formal values, and historical context,   to one based on identity, which might contravene actual meaning of a work of art.

And of course, those erudite docents could have challenged and argued with the pedagogy of the shift, given their knowledge of the collection.   So out they went.

You are, of course, free to broach your own theory, which is yours, or to disagree with ours.

Advice from my primary care doc: Should you get a booster? If so, which one?

October 25, 2021 • 10:45 am

If you’re contemplating getting a booster shot, as I did (the Pfizer), you should read this blog post by Dr. Alex Lickerman, my primary care doc who has, as you may know, written a whole series on Covid-19 for the layperson.  This is post #16.  Click on the screenshot below to read his booster take and see links to the other posts.  NOTE: Alex has kindly agreed, as he often does, to answer readers’ questions about Covid, so fire away in the comments section below.

Here’s the intro, the short take, and then below I’ll list the topics he takes up:

In this post, we explore the pros and cons of getting a third booster shot (or second booster shot if you got the J&J vaccine) against COVID-19. As usual, if you’re less interested in how we got to our conclusions than you are in the conclusions themselves, feel free to skip to the BOTTOM LINE in each section and the CONCLUSION at the end.

Question: Should you get a third booster shot?

Answer: It depends on how likely you are to have a bad outcome if you contract COVID-19 as well as your specific goals in getting vaccinated.

The topics of the post:






I got my booster because I’m older and thereby in the ‘at risk’ group, but I’m also going to Antarctica on a ship for a month in March, and wanted the extra protection.  Note: Alex also recommends in his post which of the possible boosters will boost you the most. But you’ll have to see that for yourself.

Andrew Sullivan on the Netflix walkout and the anti-gay movement

October 25, 2021 • 9:30 am

Update: Over at his website (this portions can be read for free), Matt Taibbi goes hard after the MSM’s distorted reading of both Chapelle’s bit and its own faulty reporting. Read Taibbi’s “Cancel culture takes a big ‘L‘”.


After Netflix broadcast Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy show, “The Closer,” he was accused not just of transphobia, but homophobia, and by gay-plus organizations like GLAAD (see here and here, for instance). Netflix employees walked out in a protest, and had a scuffle with Chapelle fans who also showed up. Here’s an example of the rancor (this video is hard to find; I think the Netflix protestors are embarrassed, as they shoul be):

Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take on the incident from his latest column on Substack (I believe a read is free, but do subscribe):

It was, as it turned out, a bit of a non-event. The walkout by transgender Netflix employees and their supporters to demand that the company take down and apologize for the latest Chappelle special attracted “dozens,” despite media hype.

But the scenes were nonetheless revealing. A self-promoting jokester showed up with a placard with the words “We Like Jokes” and “We Like Dave” to represent an opposing view. He was swiftly accosted by a man who ripped the poster apart, leaving the dude with just a stick, prompting the assailant to shout “He’s got a weapon!” Pushed back by other protestors, he was then confronted by a woman right in front of him — shaking a tambourine — and yelling repeatedly into his face: “Repent, motherfucker! Repent! Repent!”

This is the state of what’s left of the gay rights movement in America. Judgmental, absolutist, intolerant, and hysterical, it looks to shut down speech it dislikes, drive its foes out of the public square, compile enemies’ lists of dangerous writers, artists, and politicians, and cancel and protest anything that does not comport with every tiny aspect of their increasingly deranged ideology.

Now gay activists don’t behave like this, at least now; it’s largely the trans activists who do, and Sullivan compares them to the opponents of gay rights in the past:

Anti-gay forces, hegemonic for centuries, were just like these trans activists. They were just as intent on suppressing and stigmatizing magazines, shows, and movies they believed were harmful. They too targeted individual artists and writers for personal destruction. They too believed that movies and comedy needed to be reined in order to prevent social harm. They protested in front of movie theaters. They tried to get shows canceled. And if you’d marched in any gay demo or Pride in the 1990s, you’d always be prepared to confront a grimacing Christianist yelling “Repent! Repent!” in your face.

In fact, it’s hard not to see the trans far left as a farcical replay of the Religious Right of the past. They are the Dana Carvey church ladies of our time, except instead of saying “Could it be Satan?!” when confronting some cultural or moral transgression, they turn to the camera, clutch their pearls, and say “Could it be whiteness?!”

This was never, ever the spirit of the gay rights movement in the past. In fact, it was America’s guarantee of free expression and free association that made the gay rights movement possible. It was the First Amendment, and the spirit of the First Amendment, that was easily the most important right for gays for decades. From the fledgling Society for Human Rights, formed in Chicago in 1924, and its pioneering magazine, Friendship and Freedom, to the struggles against censorship in the 1950s, with One Magazine, and erotic Physique pamphlets under siege, it was the First Amendment that, especially under Oliver Wendell Holmes, allowed gay people to find each other, to develop arguments for their own dignity and self-worth, and to sustain free associations when the entire society viewed them as perverts and undesirables and child molesters.

What Sullivan says about the First Amendment and gay rights is, so far as I know, true. Thus the irony in that those backing trans rights often call for suppression of speech. A notable and especially ironic twist is that the ACLU itself, formerly a hard-nosed defender of the First Amendment, has as its chief attorney for trans right an explicit censor:

Seriously, I don’t know anybody who has “transphobia” in the sense that they want to suppress or deny the rights of transgender people. But within the issue there is room for debate about how cis-trans relations should work—cases involving prison enrollment, sports participation, and so on. But even to broach these topics is taboo, as J. K. Rowling and others have found who have questioned the exact equation of transwomen with natal (biological) women. The instant you mention such issues, you’re branded a transphobe and the mob descends. It’s easier to hurl epithets than cobble together a coherent defense.

I don’t remember such rancor with the gay rights movement, but of course that was a long time ago. There were of course dire things gay-rights advocates did, like “outing” closeted people, but it seems to me the movement advanced largely by reasoned argument—things like Andrew Sullivan’s cogent arguments for gay marriage. (Read, for example, his 1989 New Republic article, “Here comes the groom.”

At any rate, behavior like that depicted above, or the constant demonizing of people who are really in favor of trans rights as “transphobes” because they’re not 100% with the party line, will not only not help their cause, but plays right into the hands of Republicans eager to elect Trump in 2024. Sullivan goes on about the various ways that gay writers, poets, and playwrights used the First Amendment, but you can read that for yourself. He ends this way, chastising “the capture of the gay movement” by authoritarians who avoid reasoned argument. I’ve bolded one sentence because it’s so characteristic of this kind of authoritarianism:

The capture of the gay rights movement by humor-free, fragile products of the social justice industrial complex is not just terrible PR for all of us. It’s awful politics. They are not even trying to persuade, debate, or make reasoned arguments — as we did relentlessly in the marriage movement. They do not engage and invite critics, as we did. They try to destroy them. Instead of arguments, they tweet out slogans in all caps — TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN — as if they’re citing a Biblical text. And the act of persuasion, the key to any liberal democracy, is, for them, an unjust imposition of “emotional labor.” So much easier to coerce.

It also pains me to see the gay rights movement deploy what is in effect mob bullying as a tactic. That’s what these Twitter campaigns are all about. The way these fanatics have tried to turn one of the most successful and imaginative writers of our time, J.K. Rowling, into a hate object has been achieved by the foulest of language, elevated by the megaphone of social media. Yes: the very people most subject to bullying in childhood are now acting like bullies as adults. In the words of the great gay poet, W.H. Auden:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn.

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

This is the temptation. We have to resist it. It is a betrayal of so many through history. And it could provoke a backlash that is as damaging as it is deserved.

Now of course not all trans advocates behave this way. But I’ve seen very few telling their compatriots that they’re going too far. Who in the movement has criticized the ACLU’s Chase Strangio for explicitly calling for censorship?

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

If you have some good wildlife photos, by all means send them in stat.  The tank grows ever lower. . .

Today’s photos are from reader Bob Placier. His narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

In response to your request for photos, thought I would change it up a bit with my submissions. Before becoming a bander, I would have described my field as being a forest ecologist and especially a dendrologist—still perhaps my strongest area. I still spend lots of time in the woods. so here are some non-avian photos I hope will be of use and interest to readers.

While still teaching Dendrology – I retired in 2015 – I took my lab to a nearby Ohio state forest to introduce them to our native American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). All trees of any size have been gone for many years, but the root systems keep on sending up sprouts in our highly acidic sandstone derived soils. When we reached the sapling I had in mind, we encountered this Gray Treefrog trying to remain inconspicuous. This is one of the two cryptic species (Hyla versicolor or H. chrysocelis, which are impossible to separate in the field, except by voice. And this one remained mute.

American Chestnut foliage. These are native. Efforts have been made to breed blight resistance by crossing with the Chinese Chestnut (C. mollissima), eventually producing 15/16 American individuals possessing the Chinese genes for resistance. Out-planting has begun in recent years.

Same forest, but in very early spring. Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) is a member of the Ericaceae family, mostly found in highly acidic soils. It’s easily overlooked since the flowers are often hidden under the leathery evergreen leaves. And they bloom before most wildflower lovers have ventured into the woods.

Another acid soil denizen, called Teaberry, Wintergreen, or Mountain-tea (Gaultheria procumbens). Its leaves taste just like Teaberry gum. Both this species and Trailing Arbutus are woody plants, so I got to cover them in Dendrology.

A bit later in the season, and not confined to acidic soils. Showy Orchis (Orchis spectabilis). Happily common in my woods.

My lips are sealed about the location of these beauties, within easy walking distance of my home. Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower (Is that cultural appropriation?) (Cypripedium acaule). It’s in a very acidic oak forest.

Monday: Hili dialogue

October 25, 2021 • 6:30 am

The work week has begun: it’s Monday, October 25, 2021: National Greasy Food Day. Have your vitamin G today! Doesn’t a burger with bacon, cheese, a fried egg, and fried onions sound good? Don’t forget french fries or onion rings on the side. Remember, as Julia Child once said, admonishing Jacques Pepin for removing fat from a salmon, “Jacques, food is not medicine.”

It’s also World Pasta Day, World Pizza Makers Day, Sourest Day (honoring sour candies), and International Artist Day

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) is a gif celebrating the life and work of surrealist photographer Claude Cahun, born on this day in 1894 (died 1954). Claude’s birth name was Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob and Cahun’s photos dealt largely with ambiguous gender: hence the Wikipedia article gives his pronoun a “they”. You can see some of Cahun’s works here.

News of the Day:

*Democrats are grinning because reports from Washington are that, after Biden met with key Democrats, including holdout Joe Manchin as well as Chuck Schumer, a deal on the $3.5 trillion social safety net bill is close to completion. But Biden hasn’t met with Kyrsten Sinema. Has he forgotten that he needs at least all 50 Democratic Senators to get this thing passed?

*The 17 missionary hostages in Haiti (16 Americans and one Canadian) remain in captivity, with the kidnapping gang, 400 Mawozo, still threatening to kill them all if the $1 million ransom per hostage isn’t paid. And although Biden says that he’s adhering to U.S. policy not to negotiate with hostage-takers, that is in fact not the policy. The government can talk to the kidnappers and even facilitate the paying of ransom, though the money doesn’t come from government funds. As the Washington Post reports:

Hundreds of Americans are kidnapped abroad every year, and the vast majority return home after a ransom is paid. While the U.S. government would be unlikely to make the payment directly, the interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, led by the FBI, would help facilitate the transfer of funds.

With the government’s help, the hostages’ employer would appear the most likely candidate to pay the ransom demand. As an international organization operating in kidnapping hot spots around the world, Christian Aid Ministries is likely to have a kidnap and ransom insurance policy in case any of its employees are taken hostage. These types of insurance policies cover the cost of the ransom payment, provide a team of hostage negotiation experts, and help insured organizations offset other unexpected costs.

*The trial of Elizabeth Holmes for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud continues, and is expected to last several months. CNN summarizes this week’s abbreviated proceedings:

Things sped up by the end of the three-day court week, with jurors hearing from two witnesses for the government: a former Pfizer scientist, Dr. Shane Weber, who recommended the company not partner with Theranos, and a Theranos investor, Bryan Tolbert.

For the first time, jurors heard Holmes’ infamous voice, as the government played audio clips of a December 2013 investor call. Tolbert testified that he recorded the call before his firm decided to invest another $5 million in the company after first investing $2 million in 2006.

Before the day got underway Friday, a third juror was excused. The juror was released after telling the judge she was playing Sudoku during court proceedings to help her stay focused, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a court transcript. Only two alternative jurors remain, with the trial expected to stretch into December.

A juror fired for playing Sudoku! But, according to the Wall Street Journal, Weber’s testimony was damaging, showing that Holmes had forged a document with the Pfizer logo to show to investors, implying that Pfizer had endorsed her company, Theranos. It hadn’t. Weber, doing his homework on the company, found a pattern of omissions and lies, and Pfizer passed on the collaboration.

Here’s a poll for readers who know something about Holmes and Theranos:

Will Elizabeth Holmes see any jail time?

View Results

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* I wasn’t going to write about this originally, but David Klinghoffer at the ID creationist site “Evolution News” wrote a piece accusing me of hypocrisy because on the one hand I consider myself a free-speech advocate but on the other hand “canceled” Eric Hedin’s pro-ID course at Ball State University, a public school. In fact, Hedin’s course, by promoting Christianity in a general science course, was itself violating the First Amendment, and I simply called it to the school’s attention and wrote about it on this site. The local newspaper in Muncie and the University president canned the course. (Hedin, after getting tenure at Ball State, apparently has found a more comfortable niche at the evangelical Christian Biola University in Los Angeles.)

Pointing out a First-Amendment violation does not violate free speech, but the dumbasses at the Discovery Institute don’t seem to have realized that. However, the Sensuous Curmudgeon, who has more than two neurons, did, and wrote a piece taking apart Klinghoffer’s attack on moi, calling it “the most astonishing post we’ve ever seen at the creationist blog of the Discovery Institute.” It’s funny, too! (Note that some of our friends have commented at the end of the Curmudgeon’s piece.) Thanks, SC! (h/t Douglas). The Discovery Institute really has to get over its obsession with me; it’s not healthy! When you have no scientific facts supporting your cause, start going after the evolutionists!

*You wanna know what’s wrong with the NYT? Well, in their “television” column, they devote an entire article simply to reprising what Saturday Night Live, which was actually funny a few decades ago, broadcast lately. With clips. And transcriptions. No added value. Here’s a skit the NYT think is hilarious. Called “Jason Sudeikis returns to play Joe Biden on ‘Saturday Night Live,” it features a leaden clip of Bidens past and present:

The rest of the article reprises, in words, sketches that they show from SNL on YouTube. And that’s it! Since when did the Paper of Record become a “TV Guide”? Did they cut a deal to get paid for advertising the show?

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 736,112, an increase of 1,509 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,965,586, an increase of about 6,000 over yesterday’s total. The world total will surpass five million in roughly a week. 

Stuff that happened on October 25 includes:

  • 1415 – Hundred Years’ War: Henry V of England, with his lightly armoured infantry and archers, defeats the heavily armoured French cavalry in the Battle of Agincourt.

It’s the longbow, Jake! 6,000 French soldiers died, but only a tenth that number among the outnumbered English. 80% of Henry’s army (he led it personally) are said to have wielded the longbow.

In this debacle (made famous by Tennyson’s poem), English forces were mistakenly ordered to mount a frontal assault on a strong battery of Russian artillery. Here’s a depiction from the time:

The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava by William Simpson (1855),
  • 1920 – After 74 days on hunger strike in Brixton Prison, England, the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney dies.
  • 1940 – Benjamin O. Davis Sr. is named the first African American general in the United States Army.

Davis, Sr. was a forerunner, but according to Wikipedia had his duties limited and so isn’t known for accomplishing much. He was, however, father of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who led the Tuskegee Airmen, was the first brigadier general in the Air Force, and was eventually promoted to a four-star general by Bill Clinton.



  • 1944 – World War II: Heinrich Himmler orders a crackdown on the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely organized youth culture in Nazi Germany that had assisted army deserters and others to hide from the Third Reich.

They were not like the “White Rose” gang, but simply like to irritate the Nazis. Eventually a few were caught and executed, but there were a minor irritant to the Germans; nor were they pro-Ally.

  • 1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis: Adlai Stevenson shows the United Nations Security Council reconnaissance photographs of Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba.

Here’s one of the earlier U-2 reconnaissance photos shown to Kennedy on October 16:

  • 1971 – The People’s Republic of China replaces the Republic of China at the United Nations.
  • 1983 – The United States and its Caribbean allies invade Grenada, six days after Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several of his supporters are executed in a coup d’état.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1838 – Georges Bizet, French pianist and composer (d. 1875)
  • 1881 – Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter and sculptor (d. 1973)

Here’s “Cat Devouring a Bird” by Picasso (1939):

  • 1888 – Richard E. Byrd, American admiral and pilot (d. 1957)
  • 1891 – Charles Coughlin, Canadian-American priest and radio host (d. 1979)

Coughlin, deeply involved in American politics, had an immensely popular radio show—until he was forced off the air because he became fascistic and anti-Semitic. As the YouTube notes say:

Coughlin implied that an international bankers’ conspiracy was maneuvering to take over the world’s money markets and profit from everyone else’s misery. The Federal Reserve was a particular target of Coughlin’s fury, as he implied that Jews were manipulating the agency under Roosevelt’s “Jew Deal” to their benefit.

Here’s one of his rants:

  • 1912 – Minnie Pearl, American entertainer and philanthropist (d. 1996)

Her real name was Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, and here’s her signature greeting at the Grand Ole Opry, where she was a fixture for half a century:

Here’s Minnie’s signature hat, complete with price tag, on display at the Smithsonian:

Called the “Butcher of Lyon” for his supervising the murder of thousands of people (murders in which he sometimes participated), Barbie was actually helped by American intelligence after the war, who aided his flight to Bolivia. The French eventually brought him back, tried him, and sentenced him to prison for life. He died four years later. Barbie:

  • 1941 – Anne Tyler, American author and critic

Tyler turns 80 today. Here she is eight years ago.

Who can’t like Carville except Republicans? Even if he’s strident, he’s amiable. Here he is in a 7½-minute video expatiating on wokeness (I love his Louisiana hat and his Louisiana accent):

  • 1969 – Samantha Bee, Canadian-American comedian and television host

Those who took the Big Nap on October 25 include:

  • 1400 – Geoffrey Chaucer, English philosopher, poet, and author (b. c. 1343)

Here’s a portrait of Chaucer by poet and painter William Blake:

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
  • 1921 – Bat Masterson, American lawman, buffalo hunter, and sport writer (b. 1853)

Bat at 26:

  • 1957 – Albert Anastasia, Italian-American mob boss (b. 1902)
  • 1989 – Mary McCarthy, American novelist and critic (b. 1912)
  • 2002 – Richard Harris, Irish actor and singer (b. 1930)
  • 2014 – Jack Bruce, Scottish-English singer-songwriter and bass player (b. 1943)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron are going out together, but Hili’s the boss:

Szaron: Are we going to go or are we going to sit here?
Hili: I haven’t decided yet.
In Polish:
Szaron: Idziemy, czy siadamy?
Hili: Jeszcze nie podjęłam decyzji.

A FB post from Ricky Gervais and his cat Pickle:

From j.j.;

From Nicole:

I love fockses!

From Gethyn. Check the picture carefully, clicking on it to see the full frame:

From Barry: check out the second tweet, showing a good citizen Green Crow (at least I think it’s a crow). I posted the first tweet yesterday, but haven’t learned how to post followup tweets as standalones.

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. Here’s a cat who loves to be curled!

What a treat to find two cranes in your house! Who cares about bird droppings?

This is very sad. Poor pismire!

Cat wins! I love it when they sneak up like this, surely an adaptive behavior from hunting:

The Spectator on the decline and fall of the New York Times

October 24, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Batya Ungar-Sargon used to be the opinion editor of The Forward, and now she’s an opinion editor for Newsweek (which leans right); she also just wrote a new boo, from which the Spectator piece below is excerpted. The book, whose title tells you where she stands, is called Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy, and has endorsements by both Greg Lukianoff from FIRE and Jon Haidt. At the bottom you can see her interviewed by Megyn Kelly.

This all doesn’t necessarily mean that Ungar-Sargon is a conservative, and to some extent that’s irrelevant, for we should hear what she has to say: in this case, an analysis that could only have been done by a journalist on why the New York Times has sunk so low. It’s complicated, involving feedback between the reading public and the paper. (Actually, it’s not that complicated.)

Because I’m no fan of the new NYT (though I subscribe and read and like many articles), it’s become abysmally woke, and that’s what Ungar-Sargon is trying to explain: how it happened.

Click on the screenshot to read.

The sequence in short (quotes are indented):

a.) NYT decides to go digital in part.

b.) To boost their subscriber base, its journalism begins to fuse with advertising.

Of course, journalists have always been aware who their readers are and have catered to them, consciously and unconsciously. But it was something else entirely to suggest that journalists should be collaborating with their audience to produce ‘user-generated content’, as the report put it. ‘Innovation’ presaged a new direction for the paper of record: become digital-first or perish.

c.) Trump’s election gave the paper a huge boost in attention and revenue (remember, online most of the revenue comes from ads). Subscriptions in 2017 were up 46% from 2016. In the meantime, the paper realized that they could derive “emotional profiles” of its readers from the pattern of clicks, and use those to target the ads accompanying specific articles to specific readers. And because emotions drive readership, the Times, realizing what topics generated the most emotion, pitched its content to those topics:

If you want to know what makes America’s educated liberal elites emotional, you only have to open the Times. Judging by the coverage of recent years, two things make them more emotional than anything else: Trump and racism.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, books like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy soared to the top of the bestseller list as blindsided liberals sought to understand how people could have voted for Trump. For a brief period, it seemed like the American mainstream might truly grapple with the question of class. But this quickly disappeared in favor of an easier explanation: Trump voters were racists.

Liberal news media pushed study after study allegedly ‘proving’ that the class narrative — that Trump’s voters had chosen him out of economic anxiety — was false. They were simply racists, we were told by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic and Vox. You could feel the relief seeping through the repetition: if Trump’s voters are racists, we no longer have to care about them! This line absolved journalists of the inner twinge of doubt that must come to any honest reporter when they realize that they are afflicting the afflicted. There is only one problem. It’s just not true.

She goes on to argue that Trump voters weren’t one-issue voters who were promoting racism as the ideal, but had a number of different motivations, and were willing to overlook Trump’s own palpable racism because they liked other things he stood for.  As she argues, “Trump’s racism was not a deal breaker for his supporters, many of whom expressed discomfort with the president’s ranting and raving.”

d.) Journalists became complicit in an anti-Trump, anti-racist “moral panic”, which of course was good for the NYT’s bottom line. Judge this for yourself:

The truth is, the reasons people gave for voting for Trump were numerous —and legitimate. His promise to appoint conservative justices was a major motivating factor for antiabortion evangelicals. Others were swayed by his commitment to religious liberty, which gave him a lot of support in the Orthodox Jewish community. Independents especially appreciated his anti-war position. Lower-income voters were impressed by his opposition to America’s disastrous trade deals.

Anyone who talked to Trump voters knew their reasons for voting for him. But journalists at America’s leading publications did not know any Trump supporters socially, and that made it easy to caricature and misrepresent them. When New York Times reporters did venture into Trump country, they inevitably found some reason to tar the people they interviewed as racist.

This penchant was part and parcel of a larger dynamic that preceded Trump, in which liberal news media, increasingly reliant on digital advertising, subscriptions and memberships, have been mainstreaming an obsession with race, to the approval of their affluent readers. And what was once a business model built on a culture war has over the past few years devolved into a full-blown moral panic.

Any journalist working in the mainstream American press knows this, because the moral panic is enforced on social media in brutal shaming campaigns. They have happened to many journalists, but you don’t actually have to weed out every heretic to silence dissent. After a while, people silence themselves. Who would volunteer to be humiliated by thousands of strangers, when they could avoid it by staying quiet? The spectacle alone enforces compliance. . .

. . .This bears repeating: there can be no moral panic without the media and the social consensus they create. The power of the press — despite its unpopularity — is still immense. And it has used that power over the past decade, and with exponential intensity over the past few years, to wage a culture war on its own behalf, notably by creating a moral panic around racism.

Nor is it surprising that the New York Times played an outsized role in shaping our moral panic. Its business model is deeply bound up with the mores of affluent white liberals. Inevitably, in the spring of 2020, it turned its wrath on its own. By the time the dust settled, five people would no longer work at the Times.

e.) Ungar-Sargon goes on to review the familiar stories of the departure of Bari Weiss, op-ed editor James Bennett, and others. You’ll recall that Bennett was fired for running an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton saying that if (racially based) demonstrations got out of hand and couldn’t be controlled by the police, the National Guard or other troops should be called in to stop violence and destruction. (Most Americans agreed with this.) Cotton’s editorial was objected to by a thousand Times staffers, who said that the piece was racist put their black staff “in danger”. Twitter backed this up. (Go have a look at the editorial and the new “introduction” by the NYT editor.) Anyway, that was the end of Bennett.

What I found interesting is that the Times pretended that only one sub-editor, Adam Rubenstein, was responsible for editing Cotton’s piece, and, close to when Bennett left, he did too—another casualty. But Ungar-Sargon contradicts the Times’s own narrative about the vetting of the fatal op-ed (how she got this information I have no idea):

Cotton’s ‘whatever it takes’ language was harsh, but the majority of Americans — including a large share of black Americans — agreed with him. This is why the Times’s Opinion section, which planned to run an editorial and two opinion columns opposing the use of the Insurrection Act, was also on the lookout for a piece defending it. When Cotton pitched an op-ed about how Twitter was threatening to lock him out of his account, a senior editor suggested he write up his thoughts on the Insurrection Act instead.

Cotton’s first draft was deemed strong by two senior editors at the Times. He excoriated defenses of looting as ‘built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters’. He insisted that the majority ‘who seek to protest peacefully’ shouldn’t be ‘confused with bands of miscreants’. He argued that the president had the authority to use the Insurrection Act to send in US troops if governors couldn’t quell the rioting and looting on their own.

The draft went through a series of edits — fact checks, line edits, clarifications and copyedits. There were several phone calls to the senator’s office. A few lines were deleted and some language clarified. By the time the piece was ready for publication, no fewer than seven editors had worked on it. Having been approved one final time by a senior Opinion editor, the piece was published on the Times website on June 3.

All hell broke loose.

So it goes. The last part of the excerpt has an interesting comparison (my emphasis):

And the hunt for insufficiently antiracist Americans has become its own genre. The Times has run articles declaring that wine and surfing are racist, and that it’s time to ‘decolonize botanical collections’ by ridding them of ‘structural racism’. It even ran an article about a 15-year-old girl who used the ‘N-word’ when she bragged about passing her driving test in a private video to a friend — which another student got his hands on and saved for three years until he could use it to get her kicked out of college.

Stories like this seem to attract an unlimited audience in the way stories of crime once did for Joseph Pulitzer’s papers. That’s because articles that offend the woke person are crime stories for the affluent: stories of people just like themselves who commit crimes of thought or speech, and lose everything when they fall on the wrong side of the reigning orthodoxy. As the Twitter mob pursues small infractions as avidly as it does large ones, and as the etiquette keeps shifting, who dares trust their own ability to judge right from wrong?

It’s how you know we’re in a moral panic: only the mob has the right to judge you. And too many journalists have ceded them that right. Indeed, a huge number of the mob are journalists — journalists from the most important newspapers in the country and the world, all tweeting the exact same meaningless sentence repeatedly. People who had been hired to think for themselves now mindlessly repeat a dogma like their jobs depended on it.

Well, they do.

There’s no doubt that the NYT caters to the mob: their firing of Bennett, and the disclaimer in front of Cotton’s editorial, shows that they not only lied about the vetting of that editorial, but also truckled to the mob and to their own staff, even though the paper initially wanted Cotton’s piece. They couldn’t rescind it, but the preface is now larded with self-flagellation about how the piece was insufficiently vetted. The truth is that it was well vetted, but black and white NYT staffers raised a ruckus because the editorial made them “unsafe”. That’s bogus, of course, but enough to make at least two heads roll at the paper.

I can only guess that Ungar-Sargon, who’s been around journalism a long time, had some inside information about what went on at the NYT. You may not agree with her analysis, but you have to agree with some of her claims. The paper is woke, and that goes for both the news section (which refuses or hesitates to cover stories that reflect badly on the Left) and the op-ed section.  Read her piece and report below what you think. I think it’s a thought-provoking analysis.

Here’s her interview with Megyn Kelly about the book. It’s interesting (especially Kelly’s take on Fox News and its audience after she’d worked there), so watch it.

h/t Doc Brydon

More anodyne cures for the world’s ills by Reverend Tish Harrison Warren

October 24, 2021 • 11:15 am

Yes, Tish Harrison Warren, the Anglican priest who writes a weekly column to fill up empty space in the New York Times, has once again proffered a cure for the nation’s ills. It’s trivial and far from new, but at least it doesn’t involve God.  The email I got with the column (Ceiling Cat help me, I subscribe) was headed, “Why chatting with your barista could help save America.”  In the paper (click on screenshot below), it has a different title:

The entire thesis can be summarized with one of her paragraphs:

To learn how to love our neighbors we need cultural habits that allow us to share in our common humanity. We need quiet, daily practices that rebuild social trust. And we need seemingly pointless conversation with those around us.

By “pointless,” she means “avoiding hot-button issues like politics”. Her notion, which many others have suggested before, is that you can heal divisions between people by getting the “sides” to know each other. If you like or at least are friendly with a political opponent, you’ll find a way to eventually agree on politics.

This simple message, however, is unlikely to heal any divisions—after all, are citizens supposed to wait until they discuss these issues?—or are they supposed to become pals with their barista before bringing them up? Warren dilates at length about her hale-fellow-well-met Texas dad whom everybody loved and nobody hated, for he just cracked jokes and made pleasantries. He didn’t talk politics.

It goes on and on and on, without telling us how, after we’re pals with Trumpies, we can then begin to discuss abortion, the border, the unstolen election and so on.

And so we have the Paper of Record giving us stuff like this:

I see moments of this in my own life. I moved states recently and feel the loss of seemingly unimportant local relationships I’d built where we lived before. I have no idea if my favorite former barista and I shared any political or ideological beliefs. We likely disagree on important issues. But I don’t care. I know he adores his infant niece and I regularly asked how she was doing. He is working to get through grad school, and I found myself genuinely rooting for this person I barely knew.

Each of us is more than the sum of our political and religious beliefs. We each have complex relationships with the people we love. We each have bodies that get sick, that enjoy good tacos or the turning of fall. We like certain movies or music. We laugh at how babies sound when they sneeze. We hurt when we skin a knee. The way we form humanizing, nonthreatening interactions around these things taps into something real about us. We are three-dimensional people who are textured, interesting, ordinary and lovely. . . .

. . . Of course, to heal the deep divisions in our society we need profound political and systemic change. But though we need more than just small talk, we certainly do not need less than that. As a culture, our conversations can run so quickly to what divides us, and this is all the more true online. We cannot build a culture of peace and justice if we can’t talk with our neighbors. It’s in these many small conversations where we begin to recognize the familiar humanity in one another. These are the baby steps of learning to live together across differences.

Yes, and maybe if the Taliban got to know more Afghan women they would eventually allow them to go to school. Maybe if more Texas lawmakers had cake and coffee with pregnant women they would rescind their draconian anti-choice law. When Lyndon Johnson rammed the Civil Rights Bills through the Senate, he didn’t make small talk with the Senators. He used his leverage and power to bring around the Southern opponents.

Yes, we have to be able to discuss things civilly, for then, so they say, consensus will come. That’s what Biden ran his campaign on, and look where it’s gotten him.

How much longer will the NYT torture us this way?

Ivory poaching imposing selection on elephants to evolve shorter tusks

October 24, 2021 • 9:30 am

Here we have a case of selection by humans—killing elephants that have tusks because ivory is so valuable—increasing the frequency of tuskless African elephants in Mozambique over a 28-year period. (As we’ll see, only the proportion of tuskless females increased.)  We have similar examples from other species, as in the reduction of horn size in bighorn sheep hunted for their horns as trophies, and the reduction in the size of some fish due to commercial fisherman going after the big ones.

Is this artificial or natural selection? Well, you could say it’s artificial selection because humans are doing the choosing, but after all human are part of nature. And this selection was not conducted to arrive at a given end. Dachshunds were selected to look like hot dogs to root out badgers in their burrows, but the reduction of tusk size in elephant, or horns in sheep, was not a deliberate target of selection, but a byproduct of greed. So I would hesitate to characterize this as artificial selection, since it’s not like breeders choosing a given characteristic to effect a desired change. In fact, the evolutionary change that occurred is the opposite of what the “selectors” wanted.

You can find the article in Science by clicking on the screenshot below, or get the pdf here.  There’s a two page shorter take that’s an easier read, “Of war, tusks, and genes,” here.

The phenomenon: a civil war in Mozambique from 1977 to 1992, which increased the frequency of tuskless female elephants from 18.5% to 50.9%, nearly a threefold increase. Why? A model showed that such a change (which occurs among generations, so it’s not just selective killing within a generation) must have been due to natural selection rather than genetic drift. The killing was motivated by a desire to get money to fund the conflict.  A female without tusks had five times the chance of surviving as a tusked female. That imposed strong selection in favor of tuskless females.

Usually, tuskless elephants are at a disadvantage, for tusks are multi-use features, employed for defense, digging holes for water, male-male competition, and stripping bark from trees to get food. But the natural selection to keep tusks in females was weaker than the “artificial selection” by humans against tusks.

Here’s a photo of a tuskless vs. a tusked female:

Photo by Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

And the only kind of male that we see: ones with big tusks (tusk size varies, of course, as they continue to grow as the elephant lives). Tusks are homologous with our incisor teeth.

The authors first tried to determine the genetic basis of having versus lacking tusks. It turns out that, by and large, tusklessness behaves not as a complex trait caused by changes in many genes of small effect, but as a single dominant mutation on the X chromosome (like us, elephant males are XY and females are XX). Further, the dominant mutation causing tusklessness is lethal in males, killing them before birth. (This is probably not because the tuskless gene form is itself lethal, but is closely linked to a gene that is a recessive lethal.)

So here are the “genotypes” of the elephants. I’ve used “x” as the gene form on the X chromosome that produces tusks, and “X” as the alternative dominant allele that makes you tuskless.

Males: All have tusks and are thus xY. (Males have only one X chromosome and also a Y.) The XY genotype is lethal, so we never see males carrying the tuskless gene form (XY). Ergo, there are no tuskless males.

Females: We see two types:

Tuskless: Xx. These females will lose half their male offspring because when mated to an xy male (the only viable type), they produce half xY males, which are tuskers, and half XY males, which are lethal. Thus a population of tuskless females will produce a sex ratio in their offspring skewed towards females, which is what is observed.

We never see XX tuskless females because they’d have to inherit one “X” from from their fathers, but that XY genotype is lethal.

With tusks: xx.

There are a few complications, as other genes are involved (for example tusked mothers, who are xx, produce only 91% of tusked daughters when you’d expect the xx by xY cross to produce 100% xx (tusked) daughters. So things are not quite so simple, but in general a single gene seems largely responsible for the tuskless condition. (You might expect this, because if many genes were involved you simply wouldn’t get females lacking tusks: you’d get females with slightly smaller tusks, who would still be killed for their ivory. It would thus take many generations instead of a couple to raise the frequency of tuskless females.)

I won’t go into the gory genetic details, but the authors sequenced entire genomes from tusked and tuskless males and females and looked for signs of natural selection on some genes, comparing the tusked versus tuskless females. (One sign of rapid selection for tusklessness, for the cognoscenti, is the presence of DNA bases recurrent and common near the gene causing tusklessness.)

The researchers found one X-linked gene form with strong signs of selection called AMELX, which in other mammals codes for a protein that leads to the mineralization of enamel and regulates other tooth-associated genes. Another gene not on the sex chromosome, MEP1a, also is associated with tusklessness, but not as strongly. This gene, too, is known to be associated with tooth formation in other mammals. Here’s the diagram from the paper of which parts of the tusk are controlled by which gene. You can see that AMELX is expressed only in the “tusky” part of the tusk:

(From paper): Putative functional effects of candidate loci on tusk morphology.A cross section of an African elephant tusk shows the anatomical position of (a) enamel, (b) cementum, (c) dentin (ivory), (d) periodontium, and (e) root of the tusk. Dark blue circles indicate regions known or proposed to be affected by candidate gene AMELX. Light blue circles are proposed to be affected by candidate gene MEP1a. Neither gene is known to affect the formation of the dental pulp (black interior of cross section).

The upshot: Human-imposed (“anthropogenic”) selection that causes evolution in the wild has been demonstrated before, so this phenomenon is not new. What is new is that the genes involved in an anthropogenic evolutionary change—the increase in frequency of the tuskless allele, which is evolution—have been identified for the first time, and we know the kind of selection that’s caused the evolution. What is also unusual (I know of no other case) is that selection for tusklessness is in opposite directions (“antagonistic selection”) in the two sexes so long as tuskless females survive better. As the authors note:

Physical linkage between AMELX and proximate male-lethal loci on the X chromosome, such as HCCS, may underpin the proposed X-linked dominant, male-lethal inheritance of tusklessness in the Gorongosa population. If our interpretation is correct, this study represents a rare example of human-mediated selection favoring a female-specific trait despite its previously unknown deleterious effect in males (sexually antagonistic selection). Given the timeframe of selection, speed of evolutionary response, and known presence of the selected phenotype before the selective event, the selection of standing genetic variation at these loci is the most plausible explanation for the rapid rise of tusklessness during this 15-year period of conflict.

What of the future? Even though the conflict is over, poachers continue to kill tuskers for their ivory in much of Africa. What will happen? We expect the frequency of the dominant tuskless allele to increase. That itself will not lead to extinction of the population because tuskless males are simply not produced: all tuskless females will remain Xx and produce half the normal number of males. Tusked females will still be produced as Xx females crossed to xY males will produce both Xx (tuskless) and xx (tusked) females.  But the reduction in the number of males produced by anthropogenic selection, coupled with continual poaching of both males and females with tusks may drive the population size so low, with an unequal sex ratio, that it could become severely endangered.

Since tusks are good for elephants, the solution is not only to ban the trade in ivory, which has been done in part, but some countries continue to trade in elephant ivory. Further, we must stop the poachers cold, as there’s still a market for both legal and illegal ivory, and prices are high. That’s easier said than done given the area that must be monitored. Note, though, that in 2017, Donald Trump lifted the ban on ivory imports from Zimbabwe, which had been put in place by his predecessor. And the elephant is the Republican symbol!

h/t: Pat, Matt, and several other readers.


S. C. Campbell-Staton et al.. 2021. Ivory poaching and the rapid evolution of tusklessness in elephantsScience 374, 483-487.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 24, 2021 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and that means it’s the Day of Avise, in which we get a themed batch of bird photos by biologist John Avise. His commentary and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Wyoming Birds

I recently returned from a wonderful family vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.  The scenery and autumn colors were magnificent, the mammals (e.g., elk, bison, and chipmunks) were abundant, and I even managed to photograph several bird
species that will be the subject of this Sunday’s post.

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus):

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia):

Black-billed Magpie flying:

Gray Jay (Perisorius canadensis):

Gray Jay head portrait:

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri):

Steller’s Jay frontal view:

Common Raven (Corvus corax):

Common Raven head portrait:

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) male:

Red Crossbill pair:

American Coots (Fulica americana):

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides):

European Starlings (Sturnus vulgarus) on American Bison (Bison bison) [JAC: I don’t think they’re spaced randomly!]:

Sunday: Hili dialogue

October 24, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to the Sabbath for all cats save those of the Hebrew persuasion: it’s Sunday, October 24, 2021, and National Bologna Day (I spell it “baloney”).

It’s also Food Day in the U.S.; World Tripe Day (yuk, and yes, I did try it); National Good and Plenty Day, celebrating the licorice candy (according to Wikipedia, “[the candy] was first produced by the Quaker City Chocolate & Confectionery Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1893 and is believed to be the oldest branded candy in the United States”); World Polio Day, the birthday of Jonas Salk; United Nations Day, the anniversary of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations; and World Development Information Day

In honor of World Tripe Day we honor this man:

News of the Day:

*A new op-ed in the NYT, “Let the punishment fit the crime,” startled me by revealing that Illinois, along with several other states, had abolished discretionary parole for offenders (this was way back in 1978 in Illinois, but parole may soon be reinstated). I was also surprised to see data like this:

Both of us have visited and studied prisons in other Western countries, where 20-year sentences are considered extreme and are exceptionally rare. In Germany, according to a 2013 Vera Institute of Justice report, fewer than 100 people have prison terms longer than 15 years; in the Netherlands, all but a tiny percentage are sentenced to four years or less. In U.S. prisons, life sentences are routine.

Even Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, got the country’s maximum sentence: a minimum of 10 years and maximum of 21 years, at which time he’s evaluated to see if he’s releasable. If not, the sentence is extended in 5-year increments, which could last until he died (and likely will). But everyone gets at least a chance for rehabilitation and release, and there’s no such thing in Norway as a life sentence. The authors of the op-ed propose this:

Many legal scholars and criminologists now agree that whatever prisons are supposed to accomplish — whether it’s incapacitation, accountability, rehabilitation or deterrence — it can be achieved within two decades. The nonprofit Sentencing Project argues that the United States should follow the lead of other countries and cap prison terms at 20 years, barring exceptional circumstances. The Model Penal Code of the American Law Institute, a century-old organization led by judges, law professors and legal experts, proposes reviewing long sentences for resentencing or release after 15 years.

I’m not sure I agree, though. Would you have let Charles Manson go free after 15 years? Some people post a danger to society nearly indefinitely. We can, though, at least make American prisons much less inhumane.

*The Wall Street Journal has a long and fascinating article about two men who got the messenger-RNA vaccines for Covid developed and moving during the pandemic: “The unlikely outsiders who won the race for a Covid-19 vaccine.” One is a scientist, the other a businessman. PCC(E)’s prediction: there will be a Nobel Prize for these vaccines within three years, split between two or three recipients.

*Also from the NYT, “As Broadway returns, shows rethink and restage their descriptions of race.” Among the shows making changes: “The Lion King”, “The Book of Mormon,” and even “Hamilton.” The last is relevant to our discussion yesterday about Jefferson:

“Hamilton” has restaged “What’d I Miss?,” the second act opener that introduces Thomas Jefferson, so that the dancer playing Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore him multiple children, can pointedly turn her back on him.

(h/t Paul)

*Andrew Sullivan has posted an 80-minute conversation with John McWhorter on “woke racism”, which you can hear (for free, I think) here. I haven’t yet listened.

*Ohio has a new license plate to match the motto, “Birthplace of aviation”. (Why, you might ask, Ohio? Well, Orville Wright was born there, and the brothers did some aviation design there before testing their planes in North Caroline.) Unfortunately, the plate designers screwed up. Here’s the one that was issued and recalled. Can you spot the mistake?

Answer at the bottom of the post.

*Here’s the real opportunity cost of upgrading your phones. I’m still using a old iPhone 5s, which is completely serviceable (I had the battery replaced), and very small, so I can put it in my pocket, even in its Otterbox. But now my carrier is upgrading to 5G and my phone won’t work after Dec. 31. (I want an iPhone, but one that is small and not too pricey. Can readers help?  Anyway, the fact that people are always upgrading their phones has puzzled me, and the article above says this:

The irony of Mr. Cook’s coffee analogy isn’t lost on Suze Orman, the financial adviser who once famously equated people’s coffee habits to “peeing $1 million down the drain.” The seemingly small amount of money that people mindlessly spend on java — and now phone upgrades — could be a path to poverty, she said.

“Do you need a new one every single year?” asked Ms. Orman, who hosts the “Women and Money” podcast. “Absolutely not. It’s just a ridiculous waste of money.”

Apple and Samsung didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 735,964, an increase of 1,513 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,959,587, an increase of about 4,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on October 24 includes:

I love that Cathedral, an easy 75-minute train ride from Paris. Here’s a photo I took of some of its famous windows in November, 2018. Sadly, the day was overcast and the hand-held camera blurred the natural-light photo a bit:


  • 1648 – The Peace of Westphalia is signed, marking the end of the Thirty Years’ War.
  • 1795 – Poland is completely consumed by Russia, Prussia and Austria.

Poland has never gotten a break!

  • 1857 – Sheffield F.C., the world’s oldest association football club still in operation, is founded in England.

Here it is: the Shefffield FC in 1857:

Below is the route, which had to be detoured through Chicago to avoid the Confederates from cutting the line. Sending a transcontinental telegram then cost $1 a word, equivalent to about $33/word today! But, barring accidents like bison who brought down the lines by rubbing on the poles, it was a big success: the Pony Express shut down two days after the line was completed.

Click on the photo to see the route:

  • 1901 – Annie Edson Taylor becomes the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Taylor did the feat on her 63rd birthday, and, unlike many, survived! Here she is with her barrel and a CAT. This cat was actually sent over the falls in Taylor’s barrel two days before her own trip, and the moggy survived, too.

  • 1926 – Harry Houdini‘s last performance takes place at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit.

Houdini (real name Eric Weisz, a Hungarian Jew) died after a visitor tested the magician’s abdominal strength by repeatedly punching him in the abdomen; Houdini wasn’t prepared. He died a week later of peritonitis, though it’s not known whether the blow caused it or Houdini had an independently ruptured appendix. Here’s a photo of a different punch, with the Wikipedia caption, “Heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey mock-punching Houdini (held back by lightweight boxer Benny Leonard).”

This huge drop in the stock market marked the beginning of America’s Great Depression. Crowds gathered on Wall Street, as if their presence could somehow bring an end to the debacle:

  • 1945 – The United Nations Charter comes into effect. [see above]
  • 1946 – A camera on board the V-2 No. 13 rocket takes the first photograph of earth from outer space.

The rocket was launched from the White Sands missile range in the U.S., and here’s that photograph, taken at the apogee of 65 miles:

They killed ten people, often shooting from within the trunk with a small hole cut in the Chevrolet Caprice, comme ça:

Muhammad was convicted and died by lethal injection, the younger Malvo is spending the rest of his life in prison.

  • 2003 – Concorde makes its last commercial flight.
  • 2004 – Arsenal Football Club loses to Manchester United, ending a row of unbeaten matches at 49 matches, which is the record in the Premier League.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1632 – Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Dutch biologist and microbiologist (d. 1723)
  • 1903 – Melvin Purvis, American FBI agent (d. 1960)

Purvis (below) was a crack FBI agent who led the teams that captured Baby Face NelsonJohn Dillinger, and Pretty Boy Floyd.  He was so famous for this that J. Edgar Hoover sidelined him, or so the story goes:

  • 1911 – Sonny Terry, American singer and harmonica player (d. 1986)

Here’s Terry with his partner Brownie McGhee (on guitar) singing “Hooray, hooray, these women is killing me.”

  • 1930 – The Big Bopper, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 1959)

His real name was Giles Perry Richardson, Jr., and he had one hit before he was killed in the plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens on The Day  the Music Died (Feb. 3, 1959). His big hit:

  • 1936 – Bill Wyman, English singer-songwriter, bass player, and producer
  • 1985 – Wayne Rooney, English footballer

Here are some highlights of Rooney’s career. He spent most of his career with Manchester United, and now manages the Derby County football club.

  • 1986 – Drake, Canadian rapper and actor
  • 1989 – PewDiePie, Swedish YouTuber

Those who were no more on October 24 include:

  • 1537 – Jane Seymour, English queen and wife of Henry VIII of England (b. c.1508)
  • 1601 – Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer and alchemist (b. 1546)

Here’s a portrait of Brahe from 1586, while he was still alive. He had a formidable ‘stache:

  • 1824 – Israel Bissell, American patriot post rider during American Revolutionary War (b. 1752)
  • 1852 – Daniel Webster, American lawyer and politician, 14th United States Secretary of State (b. 1782)
  • 1935 – Dutch Schultz, American mob boss (b. 1902)
  • 1945 – Vidkun Quisling, Norwegian soldier and politician, Minister President of Norway (b. 1887)
  • 1958 – G. E. Moore, English philosopher and academic (b. 1873)
  • 1972 – Jackie Robinson, American baseball player and sportscaster (b. 1919)

Robinson was of course the first black player in major league baseball, but came up through the Negro League. In the majors, he faced no small amount of racism, but became a superstar for the Brooklyn Dodgers and helped them win the World Series in 1955. When he retired the next year, his number (42) was also retired (i.e., it wouldn’t be used again on a Dodger uniform). Here’s a photo from 1954.

  • 1991 – Gene Roddenberry, American captain, screenwriter, and producer, created Star Trek (b. 1921)
  • 2005 – Rosa Parks, American civil rights activist (b. 1913)
  • 2017 – Fats Domino, American pianist and singer-songwriter (b. 1928)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is being extraordinarily affectionate:

Hili: Don’t worry, in case of an emergency you can always cuddle me.
A: I know.
Isn’t that a cute picture of Andrzej and Hili? It was taken by Malgorzata.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie martw się, w razie potrzeby możesz mnie zawsze przytulić.
Ja: Ja wiem.

And here are Szaron and Kulka having a meal together:

From Barry; this is a hoot:

From Amy:

From Not Another Science Cat Page: a cat that is NOT pleased at his faux doppelgängers:

From an unknown reader: a tweet from Ricky Gervais:

From Barry: “A budding friendship.” Indeed!

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a rare example of a prisoner striking back. But of course that didn’t go unpunished:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one is an amazing example of camouflage but wait until the end to see that it’s also an example of aposematic (warning) coloration:

Yes, there’s a face in there:

BAT FACT (and note the modified finger bones, with one sticking out:

I don’t understand how you can be comfortable sleeping like this:

Constitutional amendments that didn’t make the cut. I like the first one from 1893:

Ohio license plate error. The banner is affixed to the leading end of the plane, not the trailing end, so it looks as if the plane is flying backwards. The designer just made an assumption without checking. Here’s what the plane looked like, with its propellers in the rear (this is the original plane, now restored, at the Smithsonian):

They’ve fixed the license plates, though I wonder if the originals (if they were sent out) will become collectors’ items, like that upside down airplane on a postage stamp. And here’s the famous “Inverted Jenny” stamp of 1918. Only 100 were printed before the error was discovered, and each one is now worth about $1.6 million!