Caturday felid trifecta: Cat supposedly says “hello”; Django, the German hardware-store cat; and rescue cat, temporarily blinded by mites, opens his beautiful eyes

This video originally came from Reddit, where the maker says this: “My cat has never meowed, she’s just always been this raspy hisser, but I’m pretty convinced she says Hi to me and it’s pretty adorable.” At first I thought the “Oh, hello” at the end came from the cat, but that’s impossible. I guess these rasps are supposed to be “hi”s, but lots of cats do this. Am I missing something?


Reader Monika sent me this article from the Süddeutsche Zeitung (newspaper of southern Germany), about Django the Hardware Store Cat. You can have it automatically translated into English, as I have in the headline (click on screenshot):

This translation is funny because “Kater” above really means “tomcat,” but “Kater” is also the German word for tomcat.

If you’re in the Bavarian town of Starnberg, visit Django. Here’s the German translation, as I’m in a rush and can’t be arsed to translate it myself:

Sometimes Django sits on the shelf with the work gloves and sleeps. Then one discovers him in the household department, where he flutters on the floor mats, all fours stretched out. A few hours later, he makes himself comfortable in a moving box for a few more or plays rustling in a box of painters’ covers. However, the highest seems to be the summer garden furniture exhibition for the red-tabby cat: Then there is virtually no deck chair in the Hagenbaumarkt on Starnberg, where the cat has not been rehearsing.

Django is one of those cats who has a home and a staff, but likes to roam:

The long corridors of the construction market with the meter-high shelves are his home. Of course, that was never the case. Django chose it for himself. About two years ago, he just marched into the store, says Sylvi Biller, Deputy Market Manager. In the beginning he was escorted out again or called the shelter, which picked him up and contacted his mistress, who lives only a few hundred meters away.

But Django kept coming back, often standing in front of the door of the construction market just hours later. Meanwhile he is according to Biller “the most punctual employee”. In the morning at 7.30 am when the closing service arrives, he is already sitting in front of the market. He does not miss a morning meeting, says the 40-year-old. On Tuesdays and Fridays, when employees meet for a meeting at the box office at five to eight o’clock, he listens attentively. “All employees love him.”

Complaints have not yet existed, even if the cat does not always want to be touched by everyone. Twice, however, Django hid in the evening in the hardware store. Then the motion detectors sounded the alarm and the police had to move in.

. . . And the customers are also enthusiastic about the tabby tomcat in the hardware store. “He’s our main attraction,” says Biller. She tells of families whose children only force their parents into the hardware store because of the cat, and of regular customers who occasionally bring him a little bag of food.

Und so weiter. . . there are 15 pages of photos and stories about Django.


From Bored Panda we have the touching story of a rescued cat named Cotton, who was in bad shape, starving, mangy, and ridden with mites. Carmen Weinberg rescued the cat, so mite-ridden that his eyes were closed, and took him to the vet. There are videos and more of the story at the website, but I’ll just show you Carment’s report and the before and after pictures. When Cotton opened his eyes, there was a big surprise:


After (more pix at the site). Heterochromia! Cotton can see fine now and is fully recovered.


Lagniappe from My Modern Met: The company Cuddle Clones makes cat (and d*g) slippers to match your pet. Slippers will run you about $200. I would think that they’d freak out your cat.

If you have two pets, you can get mismatched slippers:



h/t: Monika, Blue, Michael

I have landed!

Oy, what a difference between the beginning and the end of my 7.5-hour red-eye flight back home! Leaving Honolulu, the weather was gorgeous, sunny, and warm, and I had a belly full of soba noodles. Arriving in a heavy snowstorm at 4:30 a.m., I found the departures board at O’Hare looking like this:

And I looked like this:

And the view from my crib looked like this:

Now I am going to have either a long nap or a short sleep.  The Caturday felid has been prepared and scheduled, and I will drift off to dream of the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa swimming lazily in Hanauma Bay.

Saturday: Hili & Leon edition

by Grania

Good morning, welcome to the weekend.

In history today:

Today is the birthday of Edgar Allen Poe(1809-1849), Dolly Parton (1946) and Janis Joplin (1943-1970).

Here’s Janis singing Mercedes Benz.

And Dolly is still performing and has participated in a couple of collaborations in recent years.


Over in Poland there are amateur dramatics and an unappreciative audience, alas poor Hili.

Hili: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
A: Do not Hamletize.

In Polish:

Hili: Nie jest dobrze w państwie duńskim.
Ja: Nie hamletyzuj.

And a new Leon:
Leon: Will this be of any use for us?
And fresh off Twitter, for you amusement:
A very big bird

A cat who is most displeased

Why anyone was trusting enough to buy this gadget in the first place still surprises me.

Did you know?

PS the “new” Trek isn’t terrible. It’s not very like Star Trek of yore, but it’s perfectly entertaining in its own right.

Free as a bird

Mud, mud, glorious mud

All the nuts

The answer, my friend


And finally, you may have seen the “ten year challenge” all over social media recently, where people are encouraged to post selfies of themselves from today and ten years ago. In general these things tend to appeal only to the the very confident, and do absolutely nothing for their purported causes – the I-just-got-out-of-bed selfie and the I-am-not-wearing-makeup selfie spring to mind.

The recent challenge doesn’t appear to have a cause attached to it but someone speculated that it might be something like this.

Mercifully, on Twitter most people have tried their best to subvert the trend of people looking to be praised for not aging much in the last decade:

So, here is the 10 year challenge, the way it wasn’t supposed to go.


Finally, a cat in the snow

And a Very Good Dog

Goodbye for real, Hawaii

I had one more feed on the way to the airport before I left Oahu: a bowl of chicken and pork soba noodles at the Japanese food court at the Ala Moana shopping mall. It’s a good place to dine, and if you spend $10 you get a free beer.

The court (beer stand in the middle):

The meal, an excellent bowl of noodles.

More good news: there was no traffic at the airport TSA, I didn’t have to take my shoes off or take out my computer or liquids, and I wasn’t groped. The TSA were in fact actually cordial. Maybe it’s the aloha.

And here’s the aloha on the restroom signs:

Farewell, Hawaii

I’m off this evening for a red-eye flight to Chicago—that is, if the predicted heavy snowfall doesn’t delay or cancel my flight. Posting will be lighter than usual until I get on my feet around Sunday.

And so I bid farewell to this blessed isle, having had a great time here over the past three weeks. Yesterday was a trip to the Honolulu Zoo. In general I avoid zoos because I don’t like to see animals confined when they should be roaming free (especially true for wide-ranging creatures like birds, primates, and cetaceans), but I did want to see a nene before I left Hawaii, and the only place on Oahu to reliably see them is at the zoo.

While wandering around, my friend Nilou and I took photo (photos that are mine are identified; the rest are hers). Here’s a familiar but beautiful creature. Although people have identified up to seven “species” of giraffe, in my view these are just geographically isolated populations with no evidence of evolved genetic barriers between them, and so should be called subspecies rather than species (see here and here).

A beautiful mandarin duck (Aix galericulata), like the one inhabiting the lagoon in New York’s Central Park. They are native to East Asia but have been introduced to Europe. This is a Picasso duck!

Like peacocks and many other birds, mandarins have extreme sexual dimorphism due to sexual selection. Here’s a male and a female from Wikipedia:

Below is a gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), a very rare crocodilian native to India. Estimates of the wild population are less than 250 individuals. The protuberance on the snout shows that this is a male; as Wikipedia notes,

Male gharials develop a hollow bulbous nasal protuberance at the tip of the snout upon sexual maturity. This nasal growth starts growing over the nostrils at an age of 11.5 years and measures about 5 cm × 6 cm × 3.5 cm (2.0 in × 2.4 in × 1.4 in) at an age of 15.5 years, and enables the males to emit a hissing sound that can be heard at a distance of 75 m (246 ft). It resembles an earthen pot known locally as “ghara”. The nasal growth is apparently used to indicate sexual maturity, as sound resonator when bubbling under water or other sexual behaviours. The gharial is the only living crocodilian with such visible sexual dimorphism.

A superb starling from Africa (Lamprotornis superbus, my photo, and thanks to Bruce Lyon for IDing this and the pochard below.) It sang us a lovely song in the aviary.

A rosy-billed pochard (Netta peposca), a diving duck from South America:

Laysan teals (Anas laysanensis), which look like smaller, light-headed mallards with a greenish speculum. They are critically endangered, having once been reduced to 12 individuals. They are now being bred for release on Midway Atoll and their native island of Laysan. There are now over 500 individuals.

And the object of my visit, the nene (Branta sandvicensis)the world’s rarest goose, and a relative of the familiar Canada goose. It is considered “vulnerable”, and is native to five of the Hawaiian islands, though sightings on Oahu are rare except in the zoo. Once numerous, it was reduced by hunting, predation, and habitat loss to 30 birds in 1952.

They are almost impossible to sex visually; the sign at the zoo said that males were banded with a metal band on their right leg; females on their left. This, then, is a female.

And yes, they can fly, but they don’t want to!

Breeding in captivity and release has brought the species back from the brink of extinction. There are now about 2500 birds in existence. (Photo by me.)

The Nene is the State Bird of Hawaii. Here’s another female (my photo).

These herbivorous birds feed from a special trough that prevents other birds from getting to the food but allows the long-necked goose access to the noms. This is a male (standing) and female (feeding). And this is almost certainly a pair: nenes mate for life, or until their mate dies.

A lovely nene (picture by me):

A putative relative whose lineage was probably the nene’s ancestor: a male Canada goose (Branta canadensis) from Wikipedia. You can see the resemblance, but the plumage pattern differs from that of the nene.

Nene foot, showing reduced webbing (Canada goose foot right below this photo). Nenes live in open habitat and on lava-heavy areas, and almost never swim. Why have webbed feet if you don’t need them? (I am not being Lamarckian here!):

Canada goose foot from Fine Art America, note the larger webbing for this aquatic goose.

Reader Joe Dickinson et famille had an encounter of the Nene kind some years ago. They are quite tame because these birds had almost no predators. Joe writes:

Here, if you are interested, is a photo of my daughter feeding peanut butter crackers to Nenes down in Haleakala crater (in 1978) as mentioned in my comment on your recent post (this post: below).

Most of the rest of the photos are mine. I will miss my animal friends here, including the grumpy-looking but very sweet Pi, my Persian friend.

And farewell to Loki, the mini-lion who loved to roll on my daypack:

Goodbye to all the Hawaiian ducks I’ve known and loved, including this female who started with ten babies and is now down to two. Life for ducks in the wild, especially when they’re not being coddled by professors, is tough!

The last feeding of the ducks (photo by Nilou):

Goodbye to Puppy, the beloved, friendly, and ponderous muscovy duck who loved food and water, and wagged his tail vigorously.

And goodbye to the plate lunch (and poi): my last plate lunch was fried saimin with teriyaki beef at the Rainbow Drive-In in Honolulu. Rice and macaroni salad were on the side, as usual.


Michael Egnor gives a religionist’s view of free will and its implications for criminal justice

I really don’t like linking to Michael Egnor’s posts—or anybody’s posts—on Evolution News, the flaccid organ of the Discovery Institute. This is because, in the absence of evidence for intelligent design, the site has taken to ad hominem argumentation, ignoring evolution and simply attacking the evolutionary messengers. Egnor in particular has it in for me, and misses no opportunity to show that my non-evolutionary views are reprehensible, especially to believers. (He’s a Catholic.)

Further, I hate giving publicity to the Discovery Institute, for they lie about evolution for Jesus or Yahweh, and they do crave the views they get from this site, so I’ve archived Egnor’s lucubrations and you can see them by clicking on the headline below:

But the main reason I’m responding to Egnor is to remind readers of the importance for religionists of contracausal free will (the kind of free will which claims, that at any moment of your life, you could have made a choice different from the one you did); and to show that, contrary to some readers’ claims, a belief in free will does have an influence on people’s views on how justice should be dispensed and how the courts should be run.

Since surveys show that most people conceive of free will as contracausal free will, I suspect that most folks would go along with Egnor, even if they aren’t religious. In the following discussion, I’ve indented stuff I’ve posted previously and excerpts from Egnor’s new post; my take on Egnor is flush left.

First, Egnor quotes from a recent post I wrote on free will (this, of course, has nothing to do with “Evolution News”). In that post I said this.

There are ramifications for the justice system. I firmly believe that if we grasped that nobody, including criminals, has a “choice” in whether or not to do something, like mugging someone, we would structure the justice system differently, concentrating less on retribution and more on keeping baddies out of society, trying to reform them, and using punishment as a deterrent to improve society.

Egnor’s response:

He’s [i.e., me] right — the consequences of free will denial for our justice system are profound. But he needs to consider the ramifications on a deeper level.

Our current justice system is dependent on the acknowledgement that man can choose good or evil, in a real sense.

JAC: note Egnor’s strong claim that our justice system is based on contracausal free will. That’s largely true, for when some factors are supposed to derail our ability to choose “freely”, such as mental illness or childhood abuse, punishments are altered or mitigated. That’s a tacit judicial admission that punishment is based on the assumption that people can freely choose whether to commit a crime.

Egnor continues:

We may be influenced by our neurotransmitters, genes, etc., but in most situations we have the genuine ability to choose good or evil. The law then is not merely or even primarily a deterrent. It is first and foremost retribution. Retribution in law is not bad. In fact, it is the cornerstone of a legal system that respects the full humanity — the genuine freedom — of citizens. If we freely choose evil, in the sense that we could have chosen otherwise, we deserve retributive punishment. A murderer deserves to be incarcerated, because he has chosen to do evil. We can choose good and evil, and are held responsible for the choice. Retributive justice is a system fit for free and responsible people.

Note here the flat assertion that we do have contracausal free will, a key belief of Abrahamic religions. Note further that, according to Egnor, this justifies retributive justice, presumably including the death penalty, which most people see as retributive. Now Coyneian justice may coincide with some mandates or retribution, such as keeping malefactors out of society, but the former is based on what works to keep criminals from hurting other people, while the latter depends not on consequences but on “deontological” adherence to rules. More from Egnor:

If we deny free will, there is no justice in retribution. There is no justice in punishing a man for an act he could not elide. There is no justice in sanctioning a meat robot for being a meat robot, any more than we apply “justice” in the eradication of mosquitoes or rats.

Here Egnor comes close to saying that we shouldn’t punish anyone if determinism be true. If that’s not what he means, what does he mean?

I believe Egnor’s view of “justice” is one of “divine justice,” but it doesn’t matter. I see punishment as consequentialist: it’s meted out for the good of society and its members. As I’ve written so often, the functions of punishment should be threefold: sequestering a malefactor from society so he doesn’t offend again; allowing society to try to reform the criminal in prison (something that the U.S. is really bad at); and deterrence of others who, tempted to commit a crime, might refrain when they see that there’s possible punishment. When these sanctions are dispensed in a rational and effective way, that’s what I consider “justice”. (Of course, it’s an empirical question exactly how to punish people to achieve the ends of sequestration, reformation, and deterrence).

And if these three things be our goals, we don’t have to worry about any other notion of “justice”, especially those based on God’s rules.

But wait! Egnor has more!

The Danger to Humanity

In a justice system that denies free will, the only justification for punishment is deterrence, as Coyne appropriately notes. But he seems not to understand the danger a justice system based wholly on deterrence poses to humanity. Such a system is no longer a “justice” system at all; there is nothing just about punishing men for doing what they could not choose or avoid.The sole purpose of a criminal justice system in a society that denies free will is management of behavior. And management need not be merely reactive. In fact, efficient management is proactive. Management of deterministic behavior is most effective if it is preemptive.

In Coyne’s deterministic justice system, identification and interdiction of miscreants is the most effective, and if fact, the most sensible approach. Incarceration for “pre-crimes” is not unjust in a system without justice. Interdiction is efficient, in fact. Why wait for a murderer to murder before you lock him up? And a free will denier like Coyne can’t plausibly argue that such preemptive incarceration would be “unjust,” if there is no such thing as guilt or innocence anyway.

Egnor makes two errors here. First, deterrence is not the only justification for punishment that I’ve given, and he’d know that if he’d ever read what I wrote about free will.

Second, Egnor is signing on to the Minority Report View of Justice, in which we should punish, reform, or intercede beforehand if we know someone is predisposed to commit a crime.

I won’t go into the complicated issues of how we “know” somebody is going to do that, except to say that we’re nowhere near that point and, for some crimes like pedophilia, you know someone is “{predisposed” only after they’ve committed a type of crime with a high rate of recurrence. That doesn’t mean you should punish them for future crimes, but they should be monitored after release since crimes like pedophilia have a very high rate of recidivism. That’s why these kinds of sex offenders have to register and be monitored, which I consider justifiable.

Further, what kind of society would we have if we incarcerated those likely to commit crimes, but who haven’t yet done anything? It would be a draconian society in which people’s brains and personalities are constantly monitored by the state to test their “criminal propensity.” People would walk around in a state of terror, worried that their dark thoughts—and yes, we all have them—could lead to their incarceration. We don’t have “precogs” who can predict the future without any intercession by the state, and we never will. So, for the good of society, we don’t lock people up simply because they’re “predisposed” to be criminals.

Finally, Egnor says this

Without free will, there is no guilt and there is no innocence. There are merely animals to be managed, behavior to be modified. A society without free will is a society without responsibility or human dignity. A society without recognition of free will is a totalitarian hell predicated on behavioral interdiction. Where there is no guilt, there can be no innocence.

He’s wrong again. “Guilt” or “innocence”, as I’ve written before, simply means, “You did the crime” or “You didn’t do the crime” according to the standards of justice. You are responsible for the crime and for that you are responsible (but in my view not morally responsible, since you couldn’t choose), and so you must suffer the consequences.

If you think that belief or disbelief in free will has no ramifications for the justice system, just consider Egnor’s view that contracausal free will justifies retributive punishment.

h/t: Blue

Refresher on the rules for posting comments

There are a lot of people who are new to this site, and who apparently haven’t read the guidelines for posting: “Da Roolz” on the left side of the site, which are here. (I don’t call attention to them often, which may be why newbies miss them.)

There are people who dominate threads (not a bad thing if the discussion is interesting; not a good thing if it’s trolling or persistent repetition), people who post comments that are too long and, especially, people who are uncivil and rude to other commenters.

If you are new here, or haven’t read the rules in a while, please refresh your memory by looking them over.

There is one that I haven’t paid much attention to myself, but will start enforcing if I see it violated. That’s this rule:

18. If you post a link to your website, referring us or asking us to read something you’ve written on that site, the site cannot be anonymous; there must be a real named person who writes it. You have every right to keep your site anonymous, but I don’t have to link to it, for I believe people should stand behind what they say publicly. That said, I’m not demanding that commenters on my own site reveal their real name.  Further, I will not allow “pingbacks” in my site if your site, which has referenced this one or reposted part of one of my posts, cannot be linked to a named and real human.

If you use your website as a link to your handle, your real name must either be your handle or revealed on your site.  I would prefer it if everyone gave their real name, regardless of whether they have a website, but I understand that not everyone can do that.

I myself haven’t read the rules in a while, and I see there are some questions in the comments; I’ll try to get to them soon.

And yes, there are a fair number of rules, but I’ve found that they work to keep discussion civil and informative. And I don’t see them as too onerous.


Friday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

It’s Friday, January 18, and today I take the red-eye flight back to Chicago, arriving at about 5:30 a.m. I haven’t taken a red-eye in ages, but I guess I can try to sleep. (United has some “free entertainment” if you connect your computer (there are no seat-back video screens), but it didn’t work for me last time. And of course there’s no food as it’s an intra-U.S. flight. Cheapskates!

Foodimentary says that it’s National Gourmet Coffee Day, and while I’m a fan of good coffee, I despise the “gourmet” coffee drinks like Caramel Mocha Peppermint Frappucinos, which are not really coffee but liquid candy for adults. To each their own. It’s also the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, but that hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work this time.

On January 18, 1535, the city of Lima, the capital of Peru was founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. But if you go to this link, you see these statements:

The history of Lima, the capital of Peru, began with its foundation by Francisco Pizarro on January 6, 1535.


Gabriel Moreira Romaní thus founded the city of Lima in Peru’s central coast on 18 January 1535.

At least one of these statements, and/or the statement that appears on the January 18 Wikipedia entry, is wrong.

On this day in 1778, James Cook became the first European to discover the Hawaiian islands, then named the “Sandwich Islands.” He was killed in Hawaii in 1779.  On January 18, 1884, according to Wikipedia’s bizarre entry, “Dr. William Price attempts to cremate the body of his infant son, Jesus Christ Price, setting a legal precedent for cremation in the United Kingdom.” Price, a Welshman, was an interesting character in many ways. He adopted the Druid “religion” for many years; here he is onstage in 1884 wearing Druidic attire (photo from Wikipedia). At the time he cremated his infant son, cremation was illegal in England, but his action helped change the law.

On January 18, 1943, the first uprising of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto began, though I also find this on Wikipedia: “The uprising started on 19 April when the ghetto refused to surrender to the police commander SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, who then ordered the burning of the ghetto, block by block, ending on 16 May. A total of 13,000 Jews died, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated. German casualties were probably less than 150, with Stroop reporting only 16 killed. Nevertheless, it was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II.” Apparently the armed resistance started in January.

Here’s a Wikipedia photo of Stroop with the caption “Jürgen Stroop (center, in a field cap) with his men in the burning of Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.  Showing no remorse, Stroop was hanged in Warsaw in 1952.  

On this day in 1977, after Legionnaire’s disease killed 29 people attending a convention in Philadelphia, the causal agent was identified: the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia. Finally, on January 18, 1983, the International Olympic Committee restored Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals, giving them to his family. (Thorpe won the pentathalon and decathalon medals in the 1912 Olympics, but was then disqualified when it was found that he’d played semi-professional baseball.)

Notables born on this day include Daniel Webster (1782), Paul Ehrenfest (1880), A. A. Milne (1882), Oliver Hardy (1892), Cary Grant (1904, real name Archibald Leach), Danny Kaye (1911, real name David Daniel Kaminsky), Bobby Goldsboro and David Ruffin (both 1941),

Those who died on this day include John Tyler (1862), Rudyard Kipling (1936), Curly Howard (1952), Cecil Beaton (1980), Bruce Chatwin (1989), and Glenn Frey (2016).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has a question.

Hili: I have some doubts.
A: What about?
Hili: Whether there is a place in the world that is still normal.

In Polish:

Hili: Mam wątpliwości.
Ja: Na jaki temat?
Hili: Czy gdzieś świat jest jeszcze normalny?

Leon is about ready to go hiking in the snow.

Leon: To go or not to go?

In Polish: Iść czy nie iść?

And Pi and I talk story for the last time. I’ll miss this grumpy-looking but really sweet cat, who has taken to sleeping on my daypack and in my duffel bag:

Jerry: Pi, what are you doing in my duffel?
Pi:  Take me to Chicago with you, bruddah!

A tweet from reader Gravelinspector. Owl vs. cat; guess who wins?

A tweet from Grania: woman accuses radio announcer of “white privilege,” but he’s not white:

Working as an expert witness for the defense some years ago convinced me that much of forensic science isn’t really “science,” as they don’t do blind tests on matching samples. This supports my conclusion:

The delightful Shappi Khorsandi (ex-president of the British Humanists) is judged by her cat:

Grania says this is a “bad cat,” but I don’t know why:

The Catholic Church can sometimes be gruesome with its reliquary obsessions:

Tweets from Matthew. I’m not sure what this first one is about (readers?), but Matthew says it’s “Post-Brexit entertainment.”

There’s a phoretic mite on this ant. Can you spot it?

Have a look at the link if you want to get worried about the effects of global warming, largely cryptic in this case:

After ten years, a rare bachelor frog, thought to be the last of his kind, has found a potential mate. Sadly, this didn’t work with George, a Hawaiian tree snail who expired in captivity this week, terminating his species.


Another Rachel Dolezal affair? Hawaii congressman claims he’s “an Asian trapped in a white’s body”.

Rachel Dolezal was a white woman who felt she was black, and, using various cosmetics and hairstyles, successfully passed for black.  She in fact became head of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington before in 2015 she was outed as white by her white parents. She was summarily fired not only by the NAACP, but by the university in Washington where she was teaching and by the Spokane City Council, where she was a police ombudsman. And she was vilified and demonized.

I don’t understand why, if race is a social construct (Native Americans have claimed that Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test was irrelevant to her claim to be Cherokee, which supposedly has nothing to do with genes), and if gender is a social construct, one can justifiably claim to be a male in a woman’s body (or vice versa) but not to be a black person in a white person’s body.

In fact, when feminist philosopher Rebecca Tuvel published an article in the journal Hypatia that asked this very question about “transracialism”, she was demonized and exorcised, with some of the journal’s editors apologizing for the article, and many academics calling Tuvel a racist and a transphobe, demanding that the article be retracted (it wasn’t).

The question still remains, at least to me, a valid one. I really think that Dolezal felt she was black with the same honesty and intensity that some transgender people feel that their gender identity doesn’t match their bodies. And, as of a year ago, the Delaware school board was weighing a policy that let students self identify as to not just gender, but to “race”.

Now the controversy has bubbled up again. Congressman Ed Case, who represents the Honolulu area in Congress (a district with an Asian-American majority), declared at an event feting Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters and members of Congress that he is “an Asian trapped in a white body.” You can read about it at HuffPo, which clearly finds his statement horrific. (Their article, by Asian Voices editor Kimberley Yam, begins with the words “Oh… oh, no.”)  There are many other articles about Case’s supposed gaffee (e.g. here, here, and here).

Now Representative Case may not be trying to look Asian or pass for Asian, but his statement was meant to say that he feels as if he were Asian. From the article (there are a lot of articles about this):

Case spokesman Nestor Garcia said the congressman had been commenting “on what his Japanese-American wife sometimes says about him.” The Democrat, whose state boasts the largest percentage of Asian-Americans in the U.S., told HuffPost in a statement that he has “absorbed and lives the values of our many cultures.”

Is this a big deal, then? Words like Case’s would in past times have been accepted as saying something informative about the man—something not pejorative.

No longer. You cannot make the claim—even in a state where the majority is Asian and that majority wields much of the political power, and Asians aren’t an oppressed minority—that you’re a white person who feels Asian. Somehow that claim is ideologically unacceptable, and seems to many to verge on racism. But why?

(One could argue that it’s political and patronizing, but Case said the claim comes from his Asian-American wife.) And so the dogpiling began on social media and in the public eye:

And so on. . .

As the Washington Post reported:

It didn’t take long for Case’s comment to reach an audience online, as well, where the reception was a collective head shake.

“I just oof’d so hard I blacked out for a sec,” one Twitter user wrote.

“As a haole who lived in Japan for 7 years and now lives in Hawai’i, I couldn’t imagine saying something like this,” another said, using a Hawaiian term for someone who is a foreigner. “Check your privilege Ed Case.”

A CollegeHumor writer wondered whether Tilda Swinton or Scarlett Johansson would play the Asian trapped in Case’s body, a reference to the whitewashing scandals that ensued after the actresses were cast in the roles of Asian characters.

And Case apologized:

[Case] continued: “I regret if my specific remarks to the national API community on my full absorption of their concerns caused any offense.”

In the same email, Case spokesman Nestor Garcia clarified that the congressman was commenting “on what his Japanese-American wife sometimes says about him.” Garcia also noted that Case is a returning executive committee member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

His full apology is here.

Truly, I don’t understand all the rancor about this. Is it racist to say something like this? Is he guilty of emotional cultural appropriation? Perhaps Asian readers can explain why this is offensive.

Now Case may not feel that he’s an ethnic Asian but rather a cultural one, but does that matter? (And indeed, there may be the white/Asian equivalent of Rachel Dolezal out there.)

Making a big stink about this, to my mind, accomplishes very little save allowing Asian-Americans to say that they have a 100% monopoly on “feeling Asian.” Does that eliminate bias against Asians, which is not that pervasive in America? What, exactly, does it accomplish?

And that is my problem with much of identity politics. It’s not that identifiable groups have no justifiable complaints about bigotry and oppression, or shouldn’t try to rectify this and obtain equal treatment and opportunity. No, what bothers me is that the way groups often go about this accomplishes nothing. (Remember the kimono fracas in Boston?) It’s a claim of ideological purity and not a way to achieve social progress. It is divisive rather than unifying.

Finally, Case made his statement in a spirit of goodwill and unity: what good does it to do hound and demonize the man? Does intent count for nothing?

Further, if you claim that ethnicity and gender are social constructs having nothing to do with biological reality but with personal feelngs, then you must be consistent, and you can have no valid reason to criticize what Case said—unless you think he was lying.

Feel free to correct me or explain this further in the comments, but, as always, please be civil.



Here’s an explanation from The Mary Sue. After reading it, I wasn’t sympathetic to their views: they’re hectoring a man for no good reason, flaunting their own ideological virtue, ignoring Case’s good intentions as well as the fact that Japanese people, especially in Hawaii, are not subject to “systematic racism and oppression”. This is language policing, pure and simple:

Here’s the thing: Case is not pulling a Rachel Dolezal here. He knows he is white, and he clearly has enthusiasm for Asian culture. But he’s going about it in a wildly insensitive and wrongheaded way. When a white person proclaims themselves to be a nonwhite race/ethnicity trapped inside a white body, they are discounting and dismissing the systemic racism and oppression that is inescapable for folks of that race or ethnicity.

It is peak white privilege, and it shares the same cultural voyeurism of straight women saying that they are “gay men on the inside.” These are marginalized communities that have suffered under discrimination and mistreatment since time immemorial, not a fashionable token to brag about how woke you are.

Race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender: these are not accessories to fit your mood: they are lived experiences and identities. If Ed Case really feels an affinity for Asian culture, he should know better than to insult it in this way. Fellow white people, it’s only January. Let’s be better than this, yes?


Thursday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

It’s Thursday, January 17, 2019, and tomorrow afternoon I wing my way back to the frozen mainland. It will be strange to go back to a city without poi, shave ice, and ducks, but with very low temperatures. It’s National Hot Buttered Rum Day again (I’m starting to remember food days from a year ago), and the Christian feast day of Our Lady of Pontmain, described by Wikipedia as:

Our Lady of Pontmain, also known as Our Lady of Hope, is the title given to the Virgin Mary on her apparition at PontmainFrance on 17 January 1871. These apparitions were approved by Pope Pius IX.

It’s curious that an apparition was “approved” by a Pope, presumably meaning that he decided it was genuine: “I’m Pope Pius and I approve of this apparition.”

On this day in 1773, Captain Cook’s Resolution, on his second voyage, became the first ship known to sail south of the Antarctic Circle. On January 17, 1904, Anton Chekhov’s famous play The Cherry Orchard premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre. More Antarcticana: on this day in 1912, Robert Falcon Scott and his men reached the South Pole, only to find, to their sorrow, that it had been visited a month before by Roald Amundsen. Scott died with three of his men on the return journey.

On January 17, 1929, exactly ninety years ago, Popeye the Sailor Man, created by E. C. Segar, appeared in the comics for the first time. Here’s the spinach-loving swabbie’s first appearance in the Thimble Theater comic strip, reproduced at the First Versions website (spinach had yet to show up):

On this day in 1945, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews during World War II, was arrested by the Soviet agency SMERSH in Budapest. He was never seen or heard from again, and his fate is a mystery, though presumably he was executed by the Soviets.

On January 17, 1961, during his farewell address as President, Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his famous warning against the “military-industrial complex.”

In 1977, after a ten-year hiatus, capital punishment was resumed in the U.S., this time by the firing-squad execution of Gary Gilmore.  Finally, on this day in 1998, Matt Drudge broke the story of the affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Here’s the big headline on that day:

Notables born on this day include Benjamin Franklin (1706), David Lloyd George (1863), Al Capone and Robert Maynard Hutchins (both 1899), Betty White (1922, still with us at 96), Eartha Kitt (1927), James Earl Jones (1931), Shari Lewis (1933), Muhammad Ali (1942), Andy Kaufman (1949), Susanna Hoffs (1959), and Jim Carrey (1962).

Those who died on January 17 include Rutherford B. Hayes (1893), Francis Galton (1911), Louis Comfort Tiffany (1933), Dougal Haston (1977, participated in the first ascent of the south face of Annapurna and of the southwest face of Everest, died in an avalanche while skiing in Switzerland), Barbara Jordan (1996), and Art Buchwald (2007).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is back to Philosophy.

Hili: So the food was good in the hospital? Were there any mice?
Andrzej: Of course not. It was a very clean hospital.
Hili: Nothing’s perfect.

In Polish:

Hili: Czy jedzenie w tym szpitalu było dobre i czy były tam myszy?
Ja: Oczywiśnie, że nie. To bardzo czysty szpital.
Hili: Nic nie jest doskonałe.

I talk story with Pi:

Jerry: Pi, I am leaving tomorrow to go back home.
Pi: Shoots den. [Hawaiian pidgin; look it up.]

And Leon’s enjoying his hiking trip to southern Poland:

Leon: I’m going to see whether there is much snow on the roof.

In Polish; Leon: Zobaczę, czy dużo śniegu jest na dachu.

A bizarre sign and humanist/comedian Shappi Khorsandi’s response:

A tweet from reader Michael. You don’t have to shake your head to see the great illusion, but it helps. Now, how did they do this?

Tweets from Matthew. Here’s an adorable wingless fly that lives on bees:

An amazing helicopter rescue (note the synchrony of the blades with the camera). What piloting!

Bouncing starfish:

Two nice sculptures that look very different from different angles. I’ll refrain from commenting on the topic of epigenetics:

A righteously vengeful cat. Matthew’s comment: “From 2013, but still . . . ”

Tweets from Grania. First, a Simon’s cat animation updated for Brexit. Given May’s tremendous defeat in Parliament two days ago, what will happen now? Give your take below:

An internet wag:

Who plays jacks any more? I did when I was a kid, and of course stepped on them often:

This is one of the cleverest stunts ever, but you need to turn up the sound: