“Walk on the Wild Side” offends Guelph college students; Lou Reed friends incredulous

Walk on the Wild Side” was a song written by Lou Reed and released on his Transformer album in 1972. If you were young then, you’ll surely have heard it, though perhaps not on the radio.  It’s about people making the journey to New York City, where Andy Warhol’s “Factory” attracted all manner of beats, proto-hippies, counterculture rebels, and—the subject of this post—transsexuals.

Here’s the song:

Here is the first part of lyrics; the first four lines are the ones at issue:

Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.
Candy came from out on the island,
In the backroom she was everybody’s darling,
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She sayes, hey baby, take a walk on the wild side
Said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
And the colored girls go,
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Those lines refer to a real person: Holly Woodlawn, a transsexual female born in Puerto Rico, who later became a star of Warhol’s movie Trash and then a singer; she was quite well known in New York. In fact, one reader sent me this:
I knew Holly Woodlawn very well when I lived in New York; she was a good friend of our neighbour.  Every time a movie theatre in NY played Trash or other Warhol movie Holly went to see it, but she had to pay for a ticket every time!

Although Woodlawn transitioned before coming to NYC, Reed was taking artistic license here. But something of the kind really happened with Holly, and yes, what was known as a “he” became a “she”. It’s just a gender change; no need for offense.

But that would underestimate the degree of offense taken when anyone, even 45 years ago, wrote lyrics like the above, and then the song gets played to the Perpetually Offended. As the Guardian wrote:

The Guelph Central Student Association, a group at the University of Guelph in Ontario, apologised for including the song on a playlist at a campus event.

In an apology published to Facebook and subsequently removed, the group said: “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgement.”

The Guelph student group promised to be “more mindful in our music selection during any events we hold” and added: “If there are students or members of the campus community who overheard the song in our playlist and were hurt by its inclusion and you’d like to talk with us about it and how we can do better, we welcome that.”

Here’s the Guelph Student Union Facebook post, now MIA:

I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with that at all: in fact both Reed and Warhol were extraordinarily sympathetic to transsexuals like Woodlawn and Candy Darling, who would at that time been totally ostracized from society at large. The apology above sounds like something from China’s Cultural Revolution: the kind of things criminals would wear on a sign around their necks. Perhaps the student union realized this, too, and maybe that’s why they removed the post. They’ve refused press requests for comment.

Warhol’s and Reed’s friends of course defended the song (from the Guardian and the Star):

Friends of the late Lou Reed responded on Saturday with disbelief to a claim by a Canadian student body that the singer’s 1972 hit Walk on the Wild Side contains transphobic lyrics.

“I don’t know if Lou would be cracking up about this or crying because it’s just too stupid,” the singer’s longtime producer, Hal Willner, told the Guardian. “The song was a love song to all the people he knew and to New York City by a man who supported the community and the city his whole life.”


Friends, colleagues and biographers of Reed have come to the late singer-songwriter’s defence.

“The song was a love song to all the people he knew and to New York City by a man who supported the community and the city his whole life,” said Reed’s former producer Hal Willner in an interview with the Guardian.

Howard Sounes, author of Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed, told the Star that Reed “cannot fairly be accused” of being transphobic.

“Lou Reed was a difficult and sometimes unpleasant person, but transphobic he was not,” Sounes said. “Reed was a bisexual who had close friendships, and conducted love affairs with, (transgender) men.”

In the mid-1970s, Reed was in what was essentially a marriage with a transgender person who went by both Ricky and Rachel, Sounes added.

“Lou loved Ricky/ Rachel, and was very public about their relationship at a time when such things were considered extremely outré . . . He was in love with transgender people. He found them exciting — sexually and intellectually — and he celebrated them in his work.”

. . . In a 2016 article about Reed for New York magazine’s entertainment blog Vulture, music critic Bill Wyman said much of Reed’s work centred on “the experience of the unwanted and the despised. Some of the words we have today — bullied, gay, trans — didn’t really exist as such back then.”

In his piece, Wyman singled out Reed’s compositions “Sister Ray” and “Sweet Jane” as examples of bringing transgender stories to mainstream music.

What happened here is what happens so often these days: students or Authoritarian Leftists just hear a word that “triggers” them, and then, without understanding the context (or reading an “offensive” article), respond with a kneejerk ideological reaction, apologizing profusely to the marginalized and often demonizing their opponents with slurs like “transphobe,” “racist” or “sexist.”

Well, transgender people are widely disliked and mistreated, and all of us should ensure that they’re treated like everyone else. Changing gender, like being gay, is not a “choice” but, to a determinist, a cultural and/or biological imperative. There is no excuse for discriminating against them.

But the Guelph Student Union carried this too far. Like Dan Arel, who accused Richard Dawkins of writing the “conceptual penis” paper (the real authors were Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay), they had no clue about the facts behind what enraged them (in Arel’s case, he apparently didn’t read the paper he went nuts about).

Why do I write about these issues, ignoring the perfidies of the Trump Adminstration? For one thing, because Trump and his odious minions are widely analyzed elsewhere, everyone knows I despise them, and I have nothing more to add to analyses of the Daily Presidential Follies. I am on the Left, and I don’t want it torn apart by ridiculous infighting about issues like an old and apparently transphilic song. If we keep behaving this way, taking offense at everything and demonizing those who should be on our side, we’ll never have the unanimity it will take to reclaim our government from the ultraconservatives.

For the sake of that unanimity, we must speak our minds—and not be cowed by the slurs that are the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the Regressives.

Holly Woodlawan (1946-2015)

h/t: Alexander

ISIS claims responsibility for Manchester bombing; toll rises to 22 dead and 59 injured

As the New York Times reports, the toll at last night’s post-Ariana-Grande-concert suicide bombing has risen to 22 dead and 59 injured, many critically. I weep for the families of these people; it was an act motivated by pure hatred, unconcerned that the targets were young people (indeed, that may have been why they were targeted).  As for who was behind it, this is the report:

The British government did not make any immediate comment on the claim by the Islamic State, which said on the social messaging app Telegram that, “One of the soldiers of the Caliphate was able to place an explosive device within a gathering of the Crusaders in the city of Manchester.” The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militants’ communications, also provided a translation of the claim. The Islamic State statement did not identify the bomber.

Matthew Cobb, who lives in Manchester, thanks readers for their concern and expressed his own sorrow about the affected families. He and his own family are all right, though Matthew had been in that very arena the night before attending a science presentation by Brian Cox. I asked Matthew about the ISIS claim and he said this:

Yes but [ISIS] clearly know nothing about what happened (their declaration says it was a planted bomb, suggests perpetrator escaped; he didn’t, plus they call it “a meeting of the crusaders”, which may either show their contempt for most of humanity or their ignorance of where it actually took place). They may have inspired it, but they don’t seem to have planned it.

The bomber lived not far from my house, apparent accomplice arrested by my local supermarket by armed police in masks; police helicopter hovering about…

The recriminations will follow, as will those characterizing this as “no true Islam”. I have no wish to engage in these, but of course we have to do something to stop this unpredictable slaughter of innocents.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning; it’s Tuesday, May 23, 2017, and when most of you are reading this I’ll be flying to DCA, otherwise known as R*agan Airport. It’s National Taffy Day, something I haven’t eaten in years, and also World Turtle Day, sponsored by American Tortoise Rescue. Anybody out there have turtles?

I wrote about the Manchester Arena bombing last night, but haven’t yet read about what’s happened since then. Matthew and family are okay, but the night before, Brian Cox presented a science show before 6,000 people in that very arena, and Matthew was there.

On this day in 1430, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians, leading to her trial for heresy and subsequent burning at the stake; she was only 19 when she died. On May 23, 1533, the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon was annulled, though, unlike some of Henry’s other wives, Catherine wasn’t executed. In 1701, the pirate Captain Kidd was executed, and in 1829 Cyrill Denian was granted a patent on the accordion in Vienna, a patent that many would think was unwise. On this day in 1873, the antecedent of the Mounties—the North-West Mounted Police—was created by the Canadian Parliament. Finally, on May 23, 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and riddled with bullets by The Law in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Notables born on this day include Carl Linnaeus (1707), Pär Lagerkvist (1891), Artie Shaw (1910),  and Nobel-winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg (1925). Shaw was second only to Benny Goodman in his ability make that licorice stick swing; here’s one of my favorites, “Frenesi” (1940), written for the marimba and adopted as a jazz standard. (“Frenesi” means “frenzy” in Spanish.)

Those who died on this day include Kit Carson (1868), Heinrich Himmler (suicide, 1945), Sam Snead (2002) and John Forbes Nash, Jr., a Nobel winner with “a beautiful mind” (2015). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has decided to supervise the garden as well as the Listy website.

Hili: All this is a bit untended lately.
A: It’s easier to criticize than to start weeding.
In Polish:
Hili: Trochę to wszystko ostatnio zaniedbane.
Ja: Łatwiej krytykować niż zabrać się za wyrywanie chwastów.

At least 19 killed, 50 injured in Manchester explosion

Apparently some kind of explosion, possibly with nail bombs, happened this evening in Manchester following an Ariana Grande concert. The New York Times reports at least 19 killed and 50 injured so far, with the police treating it as a “terrorist incident” until they know otherwise.

What a horror, and many of these would have been young people. Matthew lives in Manchester and I’ve written him to see if he and his family are okay.

Killer sea lion nabs little girl (she’s okay)

This video of a girl being dragged into the ocean by a sea lion (and then saved by her father) has gone viral, but perhaps there are a few people who haven’t seen it. According to The Global News, the incident occurred at Steveston Wharf in Richmond, British Columbia:

The video, captured by Vancouver resident Michael Fujiwara, shows the large marine mammal slowly circling the area before it suddenly lunges from the water, nipping at the girl’s dress and pulling her into the water.

Fujiwara said he was at Steveston Wharf around 6:30 p.m. when he spotted a sea lion in the water and pulled out his cellphone.

“A young girl came around with her family and they just started to feed it bread crumbs,” he said. “They were getting a little too close to it, for sure.

“The sea lion seemed pretty friendly at first. It jumped up to the girl, gave her a little greeting, but seconds after when she tried to sit down on the dock, it just came back up … and dragged her in the water.”

As screams erupt from the crowd, a family member immediately leaps into the water, grabs the child and takes her to safety.

I’ve heard intimations that these people were feeding the sea lions before this occurred, but I can’t find a record of that. At any rate, after it took place, the Harbour Authority put up signs saying, “Do not feed the sea lions.”

Of course this made me curious about whether there was any record of a human killed by a seal or sea lion. The only thing I found were several reports of a leopard seal killing a woman scientist who was skin diving in Antarctica fourteen years ago. There are several other reports of leopard seals going after inflatable boats or other people, but nobody succumbed. As for other seals or sea lions. . . nada.

Leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx), are fearsome predators, and the adults eat penguins and other species of seals. Their canine teeth are an inch long. Here’s an epic battle between a hungry leopard seal and a group of large emperor penguins. The cinematography is amazing.  Remember, though, that pinnipeds are wild animals, and that means they’re unpredictable. Enjoy them, but keep your distance:


h/t: P.

“You’re an embarrassment to this religion”: Muslim Maajid Nawaz rips apart a Muslim who thinks women should be stoned for adultery

From LBC Radio (“Leading Britain’s Conversation”), we have a two-minute segment of Maajid Nawaz taking apart a coreligionist who can’t bring himself to consider whether stoning a woman to death for adultery might be, well, a wee bit harsh. The site’s notes:

The LBC presenter, himself a Muslim, insisted that elements of the Quran are simply not fit for modern life and should be ignored.

And when Joe insisted on consulting a scholar on whether stoning a woman for adultery should be allowed, Maajid couldn’t hold back any longer.

Joe asked Maajid his thoughts on those elements of the Quran and he responded: “I’m saying that we can’t implement them, we have to suspend them, we have nothing to do with those attitudes in this day and age, that is an out-of-date notion.

“What do you say? In an ideal Islamic state, when all the Sharia conditions are met and it’s allShariacompliant, is it still wrong to stone an adulterous woman to death?”

When Joe responded: “I’m not in a position to answer that. I’m not a scholar to answer that,” Maajid hit back hard.

He boomed: “There we are. You need a scholar to tell you that it’s wrong to stone a woman to death?

“Joe, you have just exposed yourself to the nation as the apologist that I suspected you were from the beginning of this call.

“The reason you are taking offense at me exposing some of this is because deep down inside you you can’t even bring yourself as a human being to condemn the notion of stoning a woman to death, just because some man who’s got a medieval scripture stuck in his head, hasn’t told you that it’s wrong?

“How would you react if you asked me ‘Is it wrong to torture a baby?’ and I said to you ‘I don’t know because the Pope hasn’t told me yet‘?

“You’d think I’m subhuman. You’d think I’m inhuman, Joe.


Now nobody on this site (I hope!) favors this kind of barbarism, but I note again that those feminists and Regressive Leftists who refused to criticize Muslims because they are brown, and therefore oppressed, rarely say anything about stoning, which is part of sharia law in some countries, and never say anything about forced veiling, morality police, and the general denigration of women in Muslim countries—all of this based on Islam.

Frankly, I’m amazied that a single non-insane person in this world thinks a woman should be killed by being pelted with rocks for copulating with a man who’s not her husband—but it’s not that rare. Here are the data from the 2013 Pew Report on the world’s Muslims showing the percentage of those Muslims who believe sharia should be the law of the land—a high proportion of all Muslims in these Muslim-majority lands—who think women should be stoned for adultery. Read and weep!

And here are the proportion of Muslims in each country that favor sharia as the law of the land. These proportions can be roughly multiplied by the ones above to get the proportions of all Muslims in a country who favor stoning an adulterous woman to death:

Linda Sarsour, the nasty piece of work idolized by many feminists and regessives, also publicly favors sharia law. If pressed, she’d probably say she favors a milder version of sharia than the one above, but she has given approbation for Saudi sharia law, which stipulates the death penalty for adultery, with the preferred method of execution being stoning. It hasn’t been done for several years, but is still on the books, and I suspect is done in rural areas.   Here are the tweets from a feminist hero:

We need a word

The contest is in the last paragraph.

An increasing number of articles on websites, even respectable ones, seem to consist largely of a collection of people’s tweets. Here’s an example from a non-respectable site. (Click on screenshot to go to articles. The tweets given in the piece go on beyond the screenshot; nearly the whole piece is tweets!)

Now think about what this sort of journalism means. First, it abnegates reporting by journalists, whose jobs now can consist of trawling Twitter for reactions. Second, it makes those reactions the focus of the piece; but the story is not about social media. In the case above,. it’s about a walkout of students during Pence’s graduation address at Notre Dame. Finally, twitter-trawling is often associated with biased reporting (picking those tweets that you find ideologically convenient) and is simply LAZY.

Now we already have a word for website articles that consist of lists, like the one below: they’re listicles

How about a word for articles that consist of Tw**ts? I will pick a winner, though there’s no material prize.

Theresa May scraps Tory pledge to ban sales of ivory in the UK

I’ve had people defend Prime Minister Theresa May on this site when I called her “odious”. That was in reference to her plan to bring back the filthy sport of fox hunting in Britain.

Okay, if you don’t think that’s odious, how about her new scrapping of a Tory pledge to ban ivory trade in the UK? As you know, the ivory trade, especially in China, is the main reason why African elephants are slaughtered by poachers, many of whom kill a magnificent elephant just to saw off its tusks, which are very valuable.

In 2010, Cameron’s Tory government pledged to honor the ban on ivory sales mentioned below, a pledge reiterated five years later, but so far the government has dragged its feet. As the Guardian reported in February of this year;

Last year countries reached a historic international agreement to shut down domestic ivory markets that contribute to poaching or illegal trade. The recommendation applies to parties to the convention on the international trade in endangered species (Cites), which includes the UK, the EU, China, the US and 29 African countries, calling themselves the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), along with Botswana, formerly a major ivory trading nation.

“But,” warns Patrick Ormondi, chair of the AEC, “it will be meaningless if countries ignore it.”

Outside Africa only China, India, the US and France – the lone standout European country – have responded by implementing measures to close their domestic markets. On the 30 December China’s announcement that it will stop its ivory trade by 2017 effectively closed down the world’s largest domestic market.

Meanwhile, back in the UK:

The UK and Europe’s domestic ivory markets are thriving and the bloc is the world’s largest exporter of antique ivory. International trade in ivory is permitted under Cites regulations, but may only involve ivory acquired before the convention came into being in 1975, and only as long as a certificate proving each item’s age is provided. In the case of the UK, antique ivory is classified as ivory acquired before 1947, which some have said goes further than internationally agreed regulations.

However, the antique trade is said to contribute directly to illegal trade, providing the opportunity for illegal ivory to be laundered. According to Conservative Party MP, Luke Hall, who introduced the debate: “It is difficult for our law enforcement officers to tell the difference between pre and post-1947 ivory, especially as newer ivory is frequently and deliberately disguised as antique.”

An EU document issued in February 2016 states that: “Between 2011 and 2014, EU member states reported seizures of around 4,500 ivory items reported as specimens and an additional 780kg as reported by weight.” Most was destined for Asia, particularly China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

The report notes that: “it is often difficult to distinguish pre-convention specimens”, and points out there are many cases of buyers purchasing ivory using forged pre-convention certificates with the intention of exporting them illegally to Asia.

The UK is by far the largest exporter of ivory items by number among EU member states with declared exports of 25,351 ivory items, 54% of the EU total, between 2006-2015.

. . . The UK seems to be doing little too. This is the second time that the domestic ivory has been debated in the house in the past two months, following a debate on 8 December, when minister of environment Therese Coffey minister promised a consultation, something that has yet to occur.

Labour MP, John Mann, summed up the public mood: “If I were a minister, I would ban the lot and stop any trade in or movement of ivory. The survival of the elephant is far more important than a museum. It is about time we were bold and said that there should be no half-measures, mixed messages, little promises or small steps forwards. A total ban is what I want.”

Sadly, in spite of overwhelming cross-party support from MPs and strong public support for action on this issue, Coffey’s response was simply that consultation on whether or not to close down the domestic ivory trade would begin “shortly” and that she “really hope[s] it will be as soon as possible” – a claim that had already been made in December.

Now, according to several sources (e.g., here, here, and here), the Tories have quietly dropped their commitment—reaffirmed to years ago—to a ban on ivory trading, a ban favored by, among others, Prince William. According to several reports, that’s probably due to pressure on the government from antique dealers, who want to continue selling ivory items without the often hard to get documentation that it’s older, pre-ban ivory.

Between 2012 and 2015, 100,000 African elephants were slaughtered: that’s a quarter of the present population of 400,000, which is half of what it was in 1990.

Even the U.S. has signed the ivory ban and is enforcing it, but May and her Tories can’t be arsed to bother: they in fact want foxes to be slaughtered and don’t care much about the killing of elephants. Signing the ban is the right thing to do, and will help (although not as much as did China) in curbing the slaughter of elephants. Yes, Teresa May is odious.

This is what happens when bans aren’t enforced:


My podcast with Radio Live

When I was in New Zealand I was unable to do a podcast with reader Graeme Hill for the podcast Radio Live, but I did it from my home in Chicago a few days ago. I was on my landline, so the sound quality on my end isn’t optimal. The interview is about 40 minutes long; click on the screenshot below (taken in February 2016) to go to the podcast. I like the photo as it brings back pleasant memories of Darwin Day last year, when I spoke to the British Humanists. My hair is a bit unkempt, but at least I have a tie.  Behind me you can see the well known anatomist and science presenter Alice Roberts, who was the moderator that night.

Readers’ wildlife photographs

Because it’s World Biodiversity Day, I thought I’d show a diversity of photographs, each from a different reader. Most of them, of course, will be birds! Readers’ notes are indented.

Oh, and keep those photos coming in, folks. I can never have too many.

First up is by Brianna Ernst, daughter of Darrell Ernst:

This is a portrait of a boat-tailed grackle (Quiscalus major). Very serious! Though the males are black, in good lighting you can see all sorts of shade variations from purples to blues and more, changing as the lighting angle changes. A clue that the color is a result of scattering, diffraction and refraction affects due to surface structure rather than pigments. The photo was taken within 25 miles of where we live and this was taken by my daughter Brianna with a Nikon D3200.

From Divy Figueroa, a starfish of unknown species, photographed in Parguera, Puerto Rico [JAC: This now appears to be a “cushion star,” Oreaster reticulatus; h/t Christopher Mah.]

From Don Bredes:

Thought you’d like to see an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea) and an  American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) together; not sharp, alas, as it was 6:30 am so the light was low, but the colors are striking.

From Joe Dickinson:

This rather chubby California ground squirrel (Citellus beecheyi) was expertly working tourists visiting Morro Rock [California]:

From Stephen Barnard in Idaho, sent on Saturday:

Here’s yet another Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) photo from this morning. He’s almost tame. His name is Willie.

From Mark Sturtevant, a mantid snapped in Michigan:

Late in the summer, one can fairly regularly find the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) out in the fields. This picture is of picture is a female, taken on the day that I released her after a couple days of being pampered and generally fussed over while in captivity. The same mantises were seen before in WEIT for some of the ‘Spot the mantis’ challenges.