Update on Mietek the kitten (fairly good news)

A few days ago, I reported on Mietek the Kitten, an abused and starving ginger kitten rescued by Elzbieta and Andrzej the Second. As I said, the couple rushed Mietek to the vet for inspection. I’ll let Malgorzata tell you the rest. The good news is that Mietek is alive and kicking (also peeing, frisking about, and eating), but we’re not sure yet if he’s out of the woods:

From yesterday:

Elzbieta phoned a moment ago. The news are not bad but they are not good either. Neither Elzbieta nor I understand everything but I will repeat what Elzbieta said:
A muscle was thorn and damaged (intestines are OK). The vet tried to repair the muscle but it didn’t go as it should. There was too big part she had to cut out and not enough was left to close properly. She took some membrane [???] and tried her best but she is not satisfied. There is a risk that the bladder could fall out. E. is to observe Mietek: if he manages to pee the prognosis is better. If not, tomorrow they have to operate again. Anyhow, tomorrow morning E. is supposed to go with Mietek again and the vet will evaluate him. I would prefer better news. Mietek is now awake and very hungry.
Things seem to be looking up with this morning’s report:
I’ve just had a report from Elzbieta. Mietek slept nicely, ate a lot, used the litter box and was jumping all over the flat in the morning. There is a huge swelling on his stomach and in a moment they are going to the vet for a check-up. There even is a huge possibility that they will be here [at Malgorzata and Andrzej’s house] today with Mietek. Elzbieta has to help her mother with something and she doesn’t dare to leave Mietek alone in the flat. I will keep you posted.
And the latest report a few minutes ago:
Another operation will be needed but not immediately. Mietek gets injections with painkillers and antibiotics. Elzbieta trusts this vet. I will forward to you pictures E. took of Andrzej with Mietek.
Here’s a picture of Andrzej with Mietek. After the death of Frank the Kitten during surgery, I don’t think I could take another kitten demise. But I’m optimistic about Mietek:
Hili is said to have been suspicious of the kitten. Here she is watching her staff cuddling another feline!


More suspicion. Fortunately, Mietek is getting along with his housemate Leon.

Harvard’s undergraduate council censures the College newspaper asking ICE for a comment after a demonstration

As I reported in late October, a Harvard group called “Act on a Dream” staged a demonstration on campus calling for the abolition of the U.S. government’s directorates of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security. After the demonstration, reporters for the undergraduate newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, called ICE asking for a comment.

This simple request, de rigueur for a newspaper (ICE didn’t respond) seriously upset many students, who argued that with this simple request—made after the demonstration and not revealing the names of any undocumented immigrant students—the Crimson was endangering people. A petition damning the newspaper for its request to ICE garnered over 650 signatures. At the time, I quoted from an earlier Crimson article:

More than 650 people have signed onto an online petition condemning The Harvard Crimson’s coverage of a protest demanding the abolition of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The petition — started by student-led immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream earlier this month — criticizes The Crimson for requesting comment from an ICE spokesperson for its Sept. 13 article, “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement.” The article covers a Sept. 12 protest hosted by Act on a Dream and quotes several students’ criticisms of ICE, including calls for its dissolution. The article notes that ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In this political climate, a request for comment is virtually the same as tipping [ICE] off, regardless of how they are contacted,” the petition reads. “The Crimson, as a student-run publication, has a responsibility to prioritize the safety of the student body they are reporting on — they must reexamine and interrogate policies that place students under threat.”

The last paragraph is pure malarkey: nobody tipped off ICE about the demonstration before it happened, nobody’s name was revealed to ICE, and nobody, much less the student body itself, was endangered. I can explain the petition only as a result of ignorance about journalism, a misguided gesture of virtue-flaunting, or a nexus of both.

The climate got so bad that Angelu Fu and Kristine Guillaume, the Crimson’s managing editor and its president, respectively, wrote a “Note to Readers” explaining to the befuddled students how journalism works, helpfully adding that the Crimson’s request for a comment from ICE was not only normal, but didn’t endanger a soul.

You’d think that would be the end of it, right? If you did, then you don’t understand the climate at colleges like Harvard. As the Crimson reports today, Harvard’s Undergraduate Council, the student governing body, voted (15-13-4) to implicitly condemn the paper for endangering students and the student body. Click on the screenshot below to go to the Crimson’s new piece:

The article starts with the statement of the Council approved by the vote given above.

“The Undergraduate Council stands in solidarity with the concerns of Act on a Dream, undocumented students, and other marginalized individuals on campus,” the statement reads. “It is necessary for the Undergraduate Council to acknowledge the concerns raised by numerous groups and students on campus over the past few weeks and to recognize the validity of their expressed fear and feelings of unsafety.”

The “concerns” are about the Crimson‘s request for a comment to ICE. We know this because of what the article reports further:

Members of several campus groups including Act on a Dream and the Harvard College Democrats have instructed their members not to speak to The Crimson unless it changes its policies. [JAC: presumably the paper is supposed to deep-six its journalistic policy of asking for comments from those attacked or criticized.]

. . . “We think it’s really important that we amplify student voices on campus, especially those that are often marginalized,” [Oak Yard representative Ethan] Johnstone said. “We’re not attacking The Crimson at the same time. We just think they need to come together and come up with a sensible solution.”

Solution to what, exactly? To the problem of offended students who don’t understand how newspapers work?

The article continues with a recognition that the vote was a criticism of the newspaper coupled with a hypocritical statement by the UC Vice President that it was not directed at what the newspaper did.

Some council members, such as UC Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20, said they are concerned the vote may be construed as “commenting on what the press does” and an attempt at censorship. Other students, such as Elm Yard Representative Phillip Meng ’23, called the statement “vague” and said they are not sure exactly what stance the statement is taking.

In addition to its statements directed at The Crimson, the UC’s statement includes actions that the council may review to formalize and expand its support for undocumented students, including leveraging media interaction training resources.

If the statement is vague, it reflects the cognitive dissonance in the Council between supporting undocumented students on one hand and, on the other, recognizing that there’s something not quite right about attacking a newspaper for simply asking for a comment from ICE. But of course if the attacked group had been one approved by the Woke, the students would have demanded that the paper ask for comments.

Oy vey—my alma mater!

Here’s the only comment, a sensible one, at this writing, though a bit misguided since the Council’s concerns were clearly about the newspaper.

The last paragraph is true—and sad.

Robert Falcon Scott’s final letters

Many of you know of Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s final entry in his diary, written as he lay freezing to death in his tent on his return from the South Pole. He had made it to the Pole with five companions, only to find that Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team had beaten him to the prize by about a month.

Here’s the famous picture of Scott’s team at the Pole, presumably taken with a self timer. The caption: “Party at the South Pole, 18 January 1912. L to R: (standing) WilsonScottOates; (seated) BowersEdgar Evans“.  They certainly don’t look happy.

On the return, one of Scott’s men, Edgar Evans, died of a concussion. Another, Titus Oates, frostbitten and near death, walked out of their tent into a blizzard to his demise after famously remarking, “I am going outside. I may be some time.” Oates had hoped that his suicide by freezing would prolong his companions’ lives by removing himself from their care and leaving more food.

Oates’s departure didn’t help the team. Scott and the remaining two men, Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson froze to death, confined to their tent by a severe storm. They were only 11 miles from a food depot that could have saved them, but they couldn’t move in the blizzard.

Scott spent his last days writing in his diary and composing letters to his family, friends, and associates. The most famous thing he wrote at this time was the final entry in his diary, expressing the stoicism of a true Brit. It was presumably written on the day he died: March 29, 1912. The diary and his letters were found eight months later when a search team spotted a mound that was Scott’s snow-covered tent, a tent enclosing three frozen bodies. The bodies were left in place and covered with a snow cairn, but the papers, diaries, and fossils (yes, the team was dragging fossils right up to the end), were brought back and sent to England.

I saw this diary entry in the British Museum years ago, and you can see the full diary online courtesy of the British Library, where it now resides. There are 165 pages, and the final entry, written in pencil, reads:

Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.

It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.


For God’s sake look after our people.

Here’s the last page:

Greg Mayer and I have both wondered whom “our people” refers to? The British public? The remaining expedition team? Or Scott’s family?

I suspect the last answer is the correct one, at least as judging from Scott’s “message to the public“, detailing why he thought the mission had come a cropper and ending with two tacit appeals for the British public to look after Scott’s family:

“For four days we have been unable to leave the tent – the gale howling about us. We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last. But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honour of our country, I appeal to our countrymen to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for.

Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.”

But the most poignant message was Scott’s final letter to his wife, found in his pocket. It was made public only in 2007, nearly a century after he died. Here’s the text (the bit in bold is mine). The “to my widow” salutation is heartbreaking.

“To my widow,

Dearest Darling – we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through – In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end – the first is naturally to you on whom my thought mostly dwell waking or sleeping – if anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart.

I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also – I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour – this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot.

Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy — we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but in splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.

We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates has gone — he was in a bad state — the rest of us keep going and imagine we have a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn’t let up at all – we are now only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel.

Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I am sure you will — the boy will be your comfort. I had looked forward to helping you to bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for example — I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this. Will you send them to their various destinations?

I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found to be read when he grows up — dearest that you know I cherish no sentimental rubbish about re marriage — when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again.

I hope I shall be a good memory certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud. Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold — 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent.

You know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again. The inevitable must be faced — you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous — I’ve taken my place throughout, haven’t I?

God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later — I go on across the back pages. Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days’ cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm — I think the best chance has gone. We have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don’t worry.

I have written letters on odd pages of this book — will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy’s future — make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games — they encourage it at some schools — I know you will keep him out in the open air — try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting.

Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I know you will face it stoically — your portrait and the boy’s will be found in my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter. There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit bag together with Amundsen’s black flag and other trifles — give a small piece of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the rest a poor trophy for you!

What lots and lots I could tell you of this journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home — what tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay — to forfeit the sight of your dear dear face.

Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others — oh but you’ll put on a strong face for the world — only don’t be too proud to accept help for the boy’s sake — he ought to have a fine career and do something in the world.

I haven’t time to write to Sir Clements — tell him I thought much of him and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery.”

Well, somehow Scott’s son, only a few months old when his dad left on the fatal expedition, did get interested in natural history. For that “boy” became  Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989), a conservationist, artist, ornithologist, and science popularizer—the David Attenborough of his day. After I gave my lecture on the science of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, several older Brits came up to me and said they were avid listeners to Peter Scott’s radio broadcasts—in the days before every home had a television.

As for the “try to make [Peter] believe in a god” advice, well, I’ll just ignore that.

Oh, and Scott is a bit infamous for naming the Loch Ness Monster (Greg Mayer reminded me of that). Wikipedia says this:

In 1962, [Peter Scott] co-founded the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau with the then Conservative MP David James, who had previously been Polar Adviser on the 1948 film based on his late father’s polar expedition Scott of the Antarctic. In 1975 Scott proposed the scientific name of Nessiteras rhombopteryx for the Loch Ness Monster (based on a blurred underwater photograph of a supposed fin) so that it could be registered as an endangered species. The name was based on the Ancient Greek for “the monster of Ness with the diamond shaped fin”, but it was later pointed out by The Daily Telegraph to be an anagram of “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S”. Nessie researcher Robert H. Rines, who took two supposed pictures of the monster in the 1970s, responded by pointing out that the letters could also be read as an anagram for, “Yes, both pix are monsters, R.”

Greg adds this:

Sir Peter Scott was also the describer, along with Robert Rines, of the Loch Ness Monster, giving it the name Nessiteras rhombopteryx in a paper published in Nature (although, notably, in the “News” section, not in “Articles” or “Letters”, the sections where ‘regular’ scientific papers appear). The stated intent was to secure legal protection for the Monster, which can only be extended to a described taxon.

The Scott expedition did an enormous amount of scientific research, but I talk about that in my shipboard lecture and won’t bore you with it today. However, I do mention in Why Evolution is True the expedition’s discovery of Antarctic Glossopteris fossils, which helped document that the continents were once united in a single supercontinent.

“Who was Egon Krenz?”

by Greg Mayer

Egon Krenz was the last General Secretary of the East German Communist Party. He comes to mind today, the 101st anniversary of the end of the First World War (Veterans Day in the US), as the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall is also being widely commemorated.  A relaxed immigration policy was announced on November 9, 1989; East German border guards, without clear orders, and after some hesitation, decided to open the gates, and the wall soon came down.

As the Communist regime disintegrated in 1989, there was a shuffling of leaders in a desperate attempt to stave off the Party’s loss of power. Krenz was a deputy of Erich Honecker, the previous General Secretary, and was elevated to the Secretaryship in October, 1989, when his boss and mentor was removed. The Party hoped that Krenz, in the face of demonstrations throughout East Germany, could reimpose order.

I was paying close attention to the news from Germany at the time, and my sharpest memory is of a sign held up by one of the demonstrators who greeted Krenz as he assumed office. It read, in English, “Who was Egon Krenz?” The sign captured perfectly the sense of the time: the inevitability of the fall of Communism, the ineffectualness of attempts to save it, the newly realized (or hoped for) invulnerability of the demonstrators, the ultimate insignificance of Krenz as an historical footnote, and the knowledge that the world was watching.

A demonstration in Berlin, 4 November 1989. “Großmutter” (who is actually, of course, the Big Bad Wolf in disguise) is a caricature of Krenz. Krenz was in office for less than two months.

I have searched for, but been unable to find an image showing that sign, although images of demonstrators holding signs (such as the one above, from a UC-Santa Barbara history course) are easy to find. A common slogan at the time was “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the people”), and, as a call for German unification, “Wir sind ein Volk” (“We are one people”). A sign I just found that is almost as good as “Who was Egon Krenz?” is “Keinen Ego(n)ismus“!

Travels: A visit to the bridge of the Roald Amundsen

As of 6:30 a.m., the map tells us that we’re about to enter the Beagle Channel again, heading to Puerto Williams (the world’s southernmost city with a population of about 3,000) where customs clearance appears to be required for entering and leaving Chile, even via Antarctica. Tomorrow morning we land at the larger town of Punta Arenas, where passengers on this cruise debark and a new crop gets on.

Our ship (as of 6:30 a.m.) is circled, but we’re now stopping in Puerto Williams.

The ship’s Panomax camera has not been updated since 3:10 am so all it shows is the ship, but it’s now dawn and I can see that we’re close to land. View at 3:10:

As we were in the Drake Passage yesterday, with no opportunity to go ashore, the ship allowed the passengers to visit the bridge in groups. There captain Kai Albrigtsen, 54 gave us a nice long explanation of how the ship is run (I have pictures of the engines and batteries that I can show later.) The Hurtigruten page on his appointment as captain says this:

Hurtigruten has appointed Kai Albrigtsen as the captain of its newest cruise ship, the MS Roald AmundsenAlbrigtsen has been with the cruise line for 37 years, since joining as a galley assistant at the age of 17. 

. . .Throughout his career, Albrigtsen had a number of different positions on board more than 10 Hurtigruten vessels. His first expedition to Antarctica was in 2003, rose to the rank of captain in 2006.

An outdoor enthusiast, Albrigtsen often spends his time off fishing or hiking with his family in Norway’s Vesterålen or Lofoten islands.

For the past two years, he has held the position of master on the Hurtigruten expedition cruise ship MS Midnatsol.

Yes, it’s true (and I asked him before I read the above) that Albrigtsen began washing dishes on Hurtigruten ships, and worked his way up until now he pilots the flagship vessel for the entire company. Here’s the venerable captain standing before his station where the ship is “steered” (it’s largely done by computers and GPS, like an airplane autopilot).

There is no “wheel” to steer the ship as it’s done by computer and computer programming, though there is a “joystick” for manual control.

This is where the captain stands when he controls the ship. I hope that coffee mug isn’t full during rough seas!

A crew of 5 mans (wrong word, since some are female) the bridge, including the navigator and the co-captain (I can’t remember her name). Each person does an 8-hour shift, with three such shifts per day.

The ship has no rudder, as it’s steered by propellers in both the front and back of the boat. There are also thrusters on the side and two stabilizer fins, one on each side. Those, combined with the propulsion system and GPS, can keep the ship absolutely still in the water, moving at most a meter.  As far as I can see, there is no anchor on the ship, but I didn’t get a close inspection. (The Midnatsol, another Hurtigruten ship I circumvented in a Zodiac, does have an anchor, but I don’t know if they use it.)

Here is the co-captain. I was heartened to see so many women in high positions in the ship and in the company. The purser and several other officers are women.

There is the equivalent of a brakeman’s “dead man’s hand” in the ship: if there is no activity at least once every five minutes at night, an alarm goes off for the crew. This of course is to alert people if the skipper is either gone, unconscious, or dead.  I’m not sure how this works, and I may have given an erroneous description since I just overheard the co-captain mention this to another passenger.

Below is the co-captain’s screen. Both she and the captain have chairs, but they don’t sit directly in front of their screens, probably to get a better view of the sea ahead. (There is of course all manner of radar and sonar.)

The ship has a series of five overhead screens, again like an airplane. Here they are:

I photographed the three central screens. Although I’ve had to reduce the image quality, perhaps you can make out what each screen is showing. It’s all very high-tech.

And here’s the main screen directly in front of the captain and co-captain’s desk, showing the plotted route. As you see, we were heading north towards Puerto Williams yesterday.

Finally, how much ice can this ship plow through? It’s designed to go through a meter of sea ice, but, as the captain said, “It’s easier to go around ice than through it.” Icebergs, made of tough glacial ice that’s compressed snow, are harder than sea ice and are best avoided, as we know from the lesson of the Titanic.

You can read more about this first hybrid cruise ship at this link.

We saw a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), though whale sightings have been rare on this trip. This one came close to the ship and spouted; I was lucky to get this shot because the sun was so bright I couldn’t see the view screen. I just pointed the camera in the general direction and pressed the button when I saw a spout. The ship’s captain identified it over the loudspeaker as a humpback.

It dove and disappeared shortly after I took the photo. This picture was pure luck.

And a last photo of Antarctia. I’ll be back in a few days and will post more as I get time.


Monday: Hili dialogue, farm rush hour and some on this day tweets

by Matthew Cobb

Hili is being a good scientist:

Hili: According to my research what I was looking for is not here.
A: And what now?
Hili: Further research is needed.
In Polish:
Hili: Jak wynika z moich badań, prawdopodobnie nie ma tu tego, czego szukam.
Ja: I co teraz?
Hili: Muszę przeprowadzić dalsze badania.
Duck report from JAC:  One of the Secret Duck Farmers reports a record number of ducks in the pond:
34 ducks for lunch. Lots of fussing and shoving and jockeying for position was going on at lunch. Most of the ducks hop up to the grass for chow, and some stay back in the middle of the pond and don’t come near me. I’m making a wild guess that the majority have been here before. Those could be our ducklings all grown up? Maybe?
It’s possible, but I’m hoping these ducks are fueling up before migrating south. 34 is a record number of ducks in a small pond in my experience. (They have, as one SDF suggested, read a Yelp review that Botany Pond has great accommodations and a free buffet.) The pond should freeze this week, and if the ducks don’t leave by then we’ll start discussing cutting their rations.
The farm rush-hour takes place at a site called Marsh Farm, but it is in fact the Caenhill Countryside Centre, a charity. More here. Anyway, this morning it is dry but muddy, and the animals are in a real hurry to get out – even the goat and the sheep (why Bumblebee the sheep is kept in the barn at night, and not in the field with the others, I don’t know).


Smudge the cat is very interested in the roses that are on the barn door, and then does some climbing:

On an alpaca farm, the rush hour is more sedate:


Male copperhead snakes having a standoff:

A fabulous Monday murmuration:


On this day:


101 years ago today, the guns fell silent in World War 1. In the UK and the Commonwealth, the day is marked by wreaths of poppies, which grew ‘in Flanders fields’ despite the destruction, as the Canadian poet John McCrae put it in 1915. In Australia, something rather touching has happened.


A pack of literary Pecksniffs demands that we not use the phrase “quid pro quo” about the impeachment

A group of 33 writers has written a letter to the New York Times (it’s in the op-ed section of the paper version, too) calling for abandoning the phrase “quid pro quo” with respect to the charges against Trump in the impending impeachment hearings. You can see the letter by clicking below, and I’ve added the full text and the list of signatories:

The letter:

To the Editor:

A plea from 33 writers: Please use language that will clarify the issues at hand.

Please stop using the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” regarding the impeachment inquiry. Most people don’t understand what it means, and in any case it doesn’t refer only to a crime. Asking for a favor is not a criminal act; we frequently demand things from foreign countries before giving them aid, like asking them to improve their human rights record.

That is not a crime; the crime is President Trump’s demand for something that will benefit him personally. But using this neutral phrase — which means simply “this for that” — as synonymous with criminality is confusing to the public. It makes the case more complicated, more open to question and more difficult to plead.

Please use words that refer only to criminal behavior here. Use “bribery” or “extortion” to describe Mr. Trump’s demand to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, making it very clear that this is a crime. The more we hear words that carry moral imputations, the more we understand the criminal nature of the act.

This seems really trivial to me. I am not at all sure that most of the American public thinks that “quid pro quo” means that a crime was committed. If they do labor under that misconception, it’s the responsibility of the media to educate them, not cater to their ignorance of what is, after all, a common phrase. Alternatively, people can look up the phrase. I adhere to the Hitchensian habit of sometimes using words that may be unfamiliar to people, for if you don’t do that, nobody ever expands their vocabulary.

But the Pecksniffs go on:

Please also stop using the phrase “dig up dirt.” This slang has unsavory connotations. Instead, please use the more formal, direct and powerful phrase “create false evidence,” or “find incriminating evidence” or the simpler “tell lies about.”

Words make a difference.

Seriously? To me, “dig up dirt” means “to find out bad stuff in a person’s background (or in a situation)”. While the purpose of the impeachment hearings is not to find bad stuff, but to see if there is bad stuff, one can reasonably say that most of the Democrats are trying to find the bad stuff, as they want to get rid of the Chief Moron.

As for the alternatives suggested, “create false evidence” and “tell lies about” don’t seem to be at all similar to the phrase “dig up dirt”, which doesn’t suggest that the “dirt” be false. What are the sweating writers trying to say? “Find incriminating evidence” is a better synonymous phrase.

Words do make a difference in many things, but in this case they won’t. Maybe some people will think that “quid pro quo” means “a criminal exchange” or “bribery”, but it won’t affect at all what happens to Trump. At best, some people, who haven’t been educated by the media or haven’t bothered to educate themselves, will labor for the rest of their lives about the meaning of a Latin phrase.

And below is the literary equivalent of saying “using wrong words is violence”. It’s risible to think that a misunderstanding of “quid pro quo”, when the House and Senate clearly know what’s going on—i.e., “does this quid pro quo constitute a high crime and misdemeanor”?—constitutes a matter of survival. Does this hyperbole derive from creeping wokeness? Only partly, I think, because otherwise the letter would end with the statement, “If people keep using ‘quid pro quo’ as if it were a crime, we will boycott all writing activities.”

These are parlous times, and we look to public voices for dignity, intelligence and gravitas. Please use precise and forceful language that reveals the struggle in which we now find ourselves. It’s a matter of survival.

Roxana Robinson
New York
The writer is former president of the Authors Guild. The letter was signed by 32 other writers

The other signatories include these, some of whom you’ll recognize: Karen Bender, Rachel Cline, Martha Cooley, Angela Davis-Gardner, Alex Enders, Pamela Erens, Barbara Fischkin, Lynn Goldberg, Lisa Gornick, Masha Hamilton, Jessica Keener, Fiona Maazel, Celia McGee, Edie Meidav, Susan Merrell, Sue Miller Mary Morris, Elizabeth Nunez, Maureen Pilkington, Elissa Schappell, Debra Schupack, Christine Schutt, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Andrea Scrima, Alix Kates Shulman, Jane Smiley, Lee Smith, Terese Svoboda, Amanda Vaill, Katharine Weber, Paula Whyman, and Hilma Wolitzer. 

This list seems to me the only reason why the NYT published the letter: a list of luminaries is newsworthy. Sadly, these luminaries have become Pecksniffs.

Penguins and other seabirds on Half Moon Island

It’s a dreary Sunday in the Drake Passage—it’s almost always dreary here—as we make the two-day trip back to southern Chile.

We are halfway through the passage according to the ship’s real-time map, and may land in Punto Arenas a bit early. Passengers from this first trip are scheduled to debark on the 12th, with the ship turning around to start its second voyage to Antarctica, and then the Falklands (with me along), the same day.

The ship’s antenna camera shows a gray expanse of water (the rolling horizon must be an artifact of the system). The waves were quite strong last night, with the deck rolling so vigorously that one walked like a drunken sailor, and one speaker had to hold onto the podium.

Below is tiny Half Moon Island, which I described yesterday morning.  It’s tiny, but often visited by tourists for its seabirds and easily-accessible chinstrap penguin rookery. Here’s a photo from Wikipedia, describing it as “Half Moon Island from Kuzman KnollLivingston Island, with Greenwich Island in the background”. (Greenwich Island was our first stop, where we visited a gentoo penguin colony.)

It looks like two islands, but is really one connected by a narrow neck of land:

We had a two-hour walk on the island, constantly encountering chinstrap penguins at the rookery as well as some gentoos which hung out by the beach.

Here’s my photo of part of the lagoon, showing the  Argentine Cámara Base, a research and meteorological station (remember that I’ve degraded every image by at least 70% to be able to post them):

On the way to landing, we passed a fantastically-shaped iceberg:

There are more than penguins on the island. Resident birds include the South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki). This one was resting on the snow. It makes its living by harassing other birds, forcing them to drop the fish they caught.  It’s also a bit carnivorous, eating other birds, and will even scavange carcasses.

A Kelp gull (Larus dominicanus); there are five subspecies distributed widely in the Southern Hemisphere.

The bird below, a snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus), isn’t often seen on the island. Wikipedia describes it as “the only landbird native to the Antarctic continent.” It’s an opportunistic forager; Wikipedia adds this:

[It’s] an omnivore, a scavenger, and a kleptoparasite and will eat nearly anything. It steals regurgitated krill and fish from penguins when feeding their chicks and will eat their eggs and chicks if given the opportunity. Sheathbills also eat carrion, animal feces, and, where available, human waste. It has been known to eat tapeworms that have been living in a chinstrap penguin’s intestine.

Yuck! Pretty bird, though.

A gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) who greeted us when we came ashore. I took videos of these penguins (as well as chinstraps) walking, falling, tobogganing, and preening, but can’t post them until I return to Chicago. Bummer.

Part of rookery of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus). The males were courting females and emitting constant cacophonous calls from their upraised beaks.

Chinstrap rookery, main section:

Snoozing chinstrap:

Chinstrap eating snow. One of the naturalists told us that they do this not only to hydrate, but to cool off.

More snow-nomming:

Chinstrap, head-on view. They’re adorable, aren’t they?

Another view of the rookery:

Three ways of looking at a gentoo:

Note the serrated bill, useful for holding onto fish.

Leopard seals, the biggest predators of penguins, inflict tremendous damage on the birds. We were told that an adult leopard seal eats 6-7 penguins per day. This has led to the phenomenon of a “scape penguin”, in which a group of fearful penguins, ready to jump into the water to fish, hesitates because there might be a leopard seal below. One penguin then gets pushed into the water by the others, and if it’s not eaten the others jump in.

The Antarctic landscape is, I think, at its most magical when slightly overcast, or at sunset. After being here, I can better understand the “Antarctic fever” that grips people who visit again and again—or the explorers like Scott and Amundsen who, besides “conquering” the continent, admired its austere beauty.

Finally, a stalwart group of passengers, mostly Europeans, took the “polar plunge”, in which they jumped into subfreezing water (-2°C), just to say that they’d done it.  Most people ran in and then immediately jumped out (the penguins nearby were puzzled at these large quadrupeds), but one woman actually did a lap around the bay. I probably would have immersed myself, too, but I forgot to bring a bathing suit (also useful for the jazuzzi and heated pool on deck!). I was even more regretful when I learned that you get an official certificate, giving location and water temperature, if you take the polar plunge.

And so it’s back to Chile tomorrow. But I will return in a few days, and have a chance to see even more of Antarctica, as we spend a longer time there.


Belated Caturday felid: Leon gets a brother

Greg posted a Caturday felid yesterday (his own cat Peyton), and now we have news from Wloclawek, Poland, where Elzbieta and Andrzej the Second, owners of Leon, have adopted a stray and abused kitten. Malgorzata tells the story:

Yesterday Andrzej II went to a village nearby where, in the local library, he had a meeting with a youth orchestra. In front of the library there was a cardboard box with a kitten, obviously malnourished and ill. Andrzej II grabbed the kitten, returned to Wloclawek and, with Elzbieta, ran to the vet. The kitten was about 3 months old and wounded. Some sadist had kicked him and there was some internal damage to the stomach which was visible outside in the form of hernia. It was too late to operate (after 8 p.m. and the vet didn’t have any nurse to help), but he said that the kitten should manage to wait. It will be operated on tomorrow [JAC: today]. E&A already adopted him and gave him a name “Mietek” – it’s a diminutive from a human name (for men).

I asked for some clarification of the name. Malgorzata replied:

It’s a name for a Polish male – “Mieczysław”. The meaning is rather terrifying because it means “The one that praises a sword”. They gave him this name because it was a musicians’ meeting and the name of one of their favourite jazz musician is Mietek.

Leon was taken with the kitten from the beginning but the kitten was not initially very trusting. Now they are touching noses and the kitten doesn’t seem to be in pain.

Elzbieta with Mietek in the vet’s waiting room:

I’ll report later today on the success of the operation. Let’s hope that Mietek, if he is okay, becomes a hiking cat like Leon!

I’ll never fathom how a human being can be so cruel as to kick a kitten.

Sunday: Hili dialogue, Marsh Farm rush hour, tweets and Secret Duck Farmer report

by Matthew Cobb

In Poland, Hili is snoozing in the sun:

Hili: May I lie down here?
A: For how long?
Hili: For some time.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy mogę się tu położyć?
Ja: Na długo?
Hili: Na jakiś czas.
At Marsh Farm rush hour, the cat goes in, while the ducks come out:


Extraordinary video of an ichneumon parasitoid wasp trying to locate its beetle larva prey/host for its babies. Look at how she bends back her antennae, gradually getting closer to a point above the larva deep inside the wood. What sensory modality is it using? Chemoreception (in which case the smell of the larva would have to get through all that woody material) or some kind of sonar? The way she drums her antennae and brings them closer and closer together suggests the latter:

And finally, two Secret Duck Farmer reports:

There were 28 ducks for lunch, and 28 ducks for breakfast. At least I think so:  I have trouble counting them. They refuse to line up and sound off.

At lunchtime, it was a tad warmer: I think it was up to 40 degrees, and we had a little sunshine. But over the next three days we are expecting it to become cold. We will be lucky if we get UP to freezing.

One grad student asked, “Are we going to have to bring the ducks inside?” I got a laugh out of that.

Another grad student told me that he has seen the ducks asleep at midnight. They had their heads tucked under and they were floating together in a circle.

The other secret duck farmer sent two photos and said, ” I thought you’d both enjoy the partly iced over pond images ”