Ark Encounter commercial

Reader Tom wrote me that he saw this ad for Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Park “during the Red Sox game this afternoon, on TBS.”

I’m surprised it doesn’t mention religion or the Bible, but only the size of the Ark. Is this a way to lure the kids when the Park’s apparently having financial difficulties?

Not a joke: Atlantic article notes that eclipse path moves over many white areas, uses path of totality to indict America for racism

The present climate in America is such that almost anything can serve as a reason to hammer on America’s racist past and the racism that our country still harbors. That’s fine when we’re discussing Confederate statues or white supremacy, but today’s eclipse? Granted, at least Atlantic author Alice Ristroph, a white professor at Brooklyn Law School, didn’t say that the laws of physics were racist, moving the shadow of today’s eclipse over mostly white areas of the U.S., but she uses that fact to emphasize the whiteness of the areas traversed by the shadow, and to rehash things that we already know. Her lesson (see below) is that the eclipse itself gives poignant reminders of America’s racism.

Click on the screenshot to see the article:

The piece is so contrived, so ridiculous, that at first I thought it was a joke.  But it wasn’t. As a writer friend of mind noted:

I am just as shocked, dismayed, and wearied by the idiocy of this piece as you.  It seems like some sort of sick, virtue-signaling satire, but it’s not.  The author is a law professor!  She’s supposed to teach her students how to think straight!

First, here the New York Times‘s map of the full and 75% totality shadow. As you see, the shadow passes over much of the South.

Now I don’t want to enact the emotional labor to provide a full dissection of this piece, but it pretty much dissects itself when quoted. Yes, I think racism is evil, but I’m weary of people using things like eclipses to point out once again how evil we white people are and how complicit in racial injustice. A straight article about the topic with a genuine hook would have been better, but Ristroph more or less has to force the astronomical facts to fit her ideology. I’ll give some quotes (indented) to show how the article indicts itself:

It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.

Presumably [JAC: ??], this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system. It is a matter of population density, and more specifically geographic variations in population density by race, for which the sun and the moon cannot be held responsible. Still, an eclipse chaser is always tempted to believe that the skies are relaying a message. At a moment of deep disagreement about the nation’s best path forward, here comes a giant round shadow, drawing a line either to cut the country in two or to unite it as one.

At this point my kishkes began tying themselves in knots. But wait! There’s more! Here’s where she comes very close to blaming the eclipse for giving white people the best view of totality:

Oregon, where this begins, is almost entirely white. The 10 percent or so of state residents who do not identify as white are predominantly Latino, American Indian, Alaskan, or Asian. There are very few black Oregonians, and this is not an accident. The land that is now Oregon was not, of course, always inhabited by white people, but as a U.S. territory and then a state, Oregon sought to get and stay white. Among several formal efforts at racial exclusion was a provision in the original state constitution of 1857 that prohibited any “free Negro or Mulatto” from entering and residing in the state.

But wait! There’s still more:

From Oregon, the Great American Eclipse will travel through Idaho and Wyoming. (It will catch a tiny unpopulated piece of Montana, too.) Percentage-wise, Idaho and Wyoming are even whiter than Oregon. And as in Oregon, but even more so, the few non-white residents of Idaho and Wyoming are not black—they are mostly Latino, American Indian, and Alaskan.

She shoehorns in a lot of stuff taken from history books, but, sadly, the tedious piece goes on as the eclipse moves East:

After Wyoming, the eclipse will go through Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. This is America’s heartland, and also, literally, the land of compromise. When Missouri sought statehood in 1819, the United States consisted of 22 states, equally divided between those that permitted slavery and those that did not. Missouri’s request to enter as a slave-holding state threatened to upset the balance, but a kind of unity was preserved with the Missouri Compromise. The deal allowed Missouri its slaves but drew a line across the nation, east-west to the Pacific Ocean, and mandated that slavery would be illegal in all other territories north of the line. Nebraska and Kansas, bordering Missouri to the west and lying just north of the compromise line, were thus to remain slavery-free. But the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed the (white) people of those territories to decide for themselves whether to have slavery.

Had enough? But wait—there’s still more! With all that you get this free juicer disquisition on how the path of totality unfairly goes through white areas:

The total eclipse will be visible from Lincoln, Nebraska, the state’s capital, which reports a black population of 3.8 percent. The city of Omaha has a greater black population, about 14 percent. It is home to many of the refugees from Africa and elsewhere that Nebraska has welcomed in recent years, many of whom now work in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants. But Omaha is about 50 miles northeast of the path of totality.


From Kansas, the eclipse goes to Missouri, still mostly bypassing black people, though now much more improbably. About a third of Kansas City, Missouri, is black, but most of the city lies just south of the path of totality. To get the full show, eclipse chasers should go north to St. Joseph, almost 90 percent white and about 6 percent black, the place where Jesse James died and where Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, was born.

. . . Moving east, the eclipse will pass part of St. Louis, whose overall population is nearly half black. But the black residents are concentrated in the northern half of the metropolitan area, and the total eclipse crosses only the southern half. Eight miles north of the path of totality is Ferguson, where Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown three summers ago.

When the eclipse finally hits the South, Ristroph sees its path as highlighting racism all the more:

Former slave-holding states are still the home to most of America’s black population. In Kentucky, Tennessee, and eventually South Carolina, the eclipse will finally pass over black Americans. Even here, though, the path of totality seems to mark the legacy of slavery and the persistence of segregation more than any form of inclusion.

The problem here is Ristroph’s confirmation bias: there is no place in America where the path of total could pass where she couldn’t draw a lesson about racism. If that’s the case, then what’s the point of her article? It’s just a poorly conceived conceit for her to flaunt her virtue by indicting the rest of us.  And so, mercifully close to the piece’s end, we get this:

But after Tennessee, the shadow regains some speed and travels over white people only again for a while. It catches the northeast corner of Georgia and the western tip of North Carolina. Though both these states have substantial black populations, both also include overwhelmingly white rural areas, and it is those areas that lie in the path of totality. Rabun County, 1 percent black at the 2010 census, is the best place in Georgia to see the eclipse. Also in the path of totality are Habersham (3.4 percent black), Union (0.5 percent), and White (1.7 percent) counties.

. . . After Georgia, the eclipse will pass over a small piece of western North Carolina. The black population of these barely populated counties hovers around 1 percent, falling as low as 0.2 percent in Graham. The path of totality will narrowly miss Tryon, the birthplace of Nina Simone. In 1963, after learning of a bombing of a black church that killed four girls, Simone shut herself in a room and wrote “Mississippi Goddam” in less than an hour.

Had enough? I’ll spare you all but the end of the piece.

There are two possible conclusions: either God (or physical law) is racist, or that Ristroph is straining hernia-hard to use her metaphor. The latter is clearly the case, but in Ristroph’s last paragraph she lapses into full-on purple prose, working herself into a lather of righteousness and perhaps angling for a New Yorker article—but the New Yorker has far better writing than this:

And then the shadow goes to sea, still indifferent to the Earth below, indifferent to the little creatures here, indifferent to these people indifferent to their own histories. Or perhaps we are not indifferent, but just no more capable than butterflies and bees of seeing the long path and of deciding to change it. The Great American Eclipse illuminates, or darkens, a land still segregated, a land still in search of equality, a land of people still trying to dominate each other. When the lovely glow of a backlight fades, history is relentless, just one damn fact after another, one damning fact after another. America is a nation with debts that no honest man can pay. It is too much to ask that these debts simply be forgiven. But perhaps the strange path of the eclipse suggests a need for reorganization. We have figured out, more or less, how to count every person. [She’s referring to the census.] We have not yet found a political system in which every person counts equally.

I’m sure Dr. Ristroph’s feelings are sincere and admirable, but she has to find a better way to work against bigotry than use the eclipse as a metaphor. It’s labored to the point of being amusing which sort of undercuts her purpose. And I’m mystified that a respectable publication like the Atlantic would publish something like this. I guess it shows that in modern journalism, there’s no vehicle too bizarre to convey your anger about injustice.

Honey’s back again!

I fully anticipated that when I went to the pond this morning, laden with corn and mealworms, I would be duckless—flat out of duck. I was even going to write a post called “The bill is gone.” But Honey came back; I suspect she’s ducking with me and testing out her wings. Lord knows where she flies to. (No he doesn’t, as there’s no such Ground of Being.) At any rate, she was there this morning, I had my better camera, and I got photos of her, including gobbling the mealworms.

Daisy, her erstwhile companion, appears to be gone for good.

I’m feeding her up now; I’ll be gone in two weeks and I doubt I’ll see her after that.  Today’s photos; in the first, her loon-like red eye is from a flash:

“Tasty Mealworms™” for breakfast:



Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Charles Spotts sent us some nice hummingbird photos; his notes are indented:

I have several hummingbird photos here that are from April and May of this year.  I keep thinking that I’ll get some better ones this summer, but I don’t think that’s going to happen now; the weather has been uncooperative to say the least.  By my count we’ve already had fifty 100+ degree days, which is unusual for this zip code.  Maybe some of the pics will meet the standards for Readers Wildlife Photos 🙂  The guy with the bright orange head staring at the camera is a Rufous (Selasphorus rufus)  and the others are Anna’s (Calypte anna).

The Rufous first:

And the Anna’s:

Tongue out!

Reader Pyers sent a dragonfly photo and a question; if you’re a card-carrying insectophile, try to answer it:

Out in the Malvern Hills (just round the corner from where Annie Darwin is buried), Worcestershire, England, I saw this critter, a Southern hawker dragonfly, Aeshna cyaneaI had only my mobile so could only grab a snatched shot. 

He adds a question deriving the photo below:

A poser for you and your readers…
If you enlarge the photo of the dragonfly and look at the right wings you will see that amongst the beautiful tracery of the wing are two black areas, one on each wing, at the front tip. (They are present on the left wings but they are a bit blurred). Any idea what the significance of these areas are? Evolutionary significance? I have enlarged the area in the attached. I have also looked at other photos of the same species and they are present as well.
My own guess, if the spot is present on both males and females, is species recognition.

Eclipse today

I asked reader Rick, who a while back had sent me links to eclipse viewing, to remind me yesterday so I could post them today. So, if you want to watch it either live or livestreamed, here’s where to go (links are all from Rick):

NASA has coverage: has a page of info on live streams that will be available:

Here’s a link( time and date)  that gives the exact time parameters for any zipcode:

And, Fast Company provides an extensive compendium of link. Remember: DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT SPECIAL GLASSES; the one exception is during the two minutes or so of complete totality—if you’re lucky enough to be in that path.

• NASA will have not one, but two live streams of the eclipseNASA TV, the space agency’s television service, will broadcast live footage compiled from terrestrial video feeds, “eclipse jets,” spacecraft, high-altitude balloons, specially modified telescopes, and from aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Stream the eclipse on your favorite platform, including YouTubePeriscopeTwitch, and Facebook Live.

The space organization will also broadcast a live stream from NASA EDGE, its unscripted live feed, and if lizard people emerge during the eclipse, you’re probably gonna want to be watching NASA’s unscripted feed.

• Twitter and the Weather Channel will live-stream the event. Coverage will include live shots from 10 locations in the eclipse’s “path of totality,” including Nashville, Casper, Wyoming; McMinnville, Oregon; and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the point where totality is expected to stretch out the longest.

• Virtual Telescope Project will host a free online observing session with views of the total solar eclipse beginning at 1 p.m. EDT. Watch here.

• Time and Life VR will be producing a 360-degree VR livestream of the solar eclipse on Time‘s Facebook and YouTube pages, in partnership with Mesmerise Global.

The Ballooning Project will use its high-altitude balloons to stream videos of the eclipse. Watch here.

• Slooh, a space broadcaster, will cover the eclipse as it travels from sea to shining sea, broadcasting its view of the eclipse from a perch in Idaho, capping off a three-day long-eclipse fest. Watch here.

• Exploratorium, the San Francisco science museum, will have five live streams of the eclipse filmed in Madras, Oregon, and Casper, Wyoming. They’ll have Spanish- and English-narrated eclipse feeds and a special “sonification” of the eclipse by the Kronos Quartet. You can also watch on their app. Watch here.

• Science Channel will broadcast views from Madras, Oregon, in partnership with the Lowell Observatory, while retired astronaut Mike Massimino will host the proceedings from Charleston, South Carolina. Watch here.

• CNN and Volvo will provide a 360-degree view of the eclipse from various locations along the path of totality. The stream will also be viewable in virtual reality, in case reality is too much of a bummer. The livestream begins at 12:03 p.m. EDT. Watch here.

If you sleep through the entire thing, lay off the Ambien and tune in to NOVA’s Eclipse Over America,  which will premiere Monday night and recap the great eclipse.

 Here’s what totality will look like; this is from Australia in 2012:

Oh, and during the last eclipse I saw the birds went nuts, singing all over the place since they thought it was dawn. Pay attention to the animals you see during the eclipse, and add a comment if they do anything weird. If I’m lucky enough to have Honey come back (she has been gone for nearly two days), I’ll be watching it with her and observing her behavior.

Monday: Hili dialogue

Good morning; it’s Monday, August 21, and exactly one month before Fall comes. And it’s ECLIPSE DAY (see the next post for details), with about 90% totality in Chicago, beginning about noon. Had I known that Amtrak was running special one-day “eclipse” trains downstate to Carbondale, where it’s a total eclipse, I would have signed up, but the two trains sold out in 24 hours.  Today’s Google Doodle is a gif of that’s now called The Great American Eclipse (“Make the eclipse great again!”; Nobody has better eclipses than we do!”; “We’re gonna have an eclipse, and we’ll make the Sun pay for it!”, etc.):

It’s also the annual National Sweet Tea Day in the U.S., and that means heavily sweetened iced tea—the perfect accompaniment of heavy Southern food or barbecue. It’s sometimes called “the table wine of the South.”

On August 21, 1770, James Cook claimed the eastern part of Australia for Great Britain (how does one “claim a land”?), and named it New South Wales. On this day in 1831, Nat Turner‘s slave rebellion took place in Virginia as both free blacks and slaves marched for the emancipation of slaves. They were brutally suppressed, Turner was hanged, and new laws were passed in the South, prohibiting among other things any education for slaves and free blacks.  In 1888 William Seward Burroughs patented the first successful adding machine in America; his grandson, writer William S. Burroughs, acquired a lot of his dosh from his grandfather’s machine.  On this day in 1957, the Soviet Union successfully tested the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7 Semyorka. On August 21, 1959, President Eisenhower, in an executive order, made Hawaii America’s 50th state and, two years later, Motown Records released its first #1 hit. Can you guess what it is? (see here).

Notables born on this day include Count Basie (1904), Wilt Chamberlain (1936), Peter Weir (1944), Kim Catrall (1956), and the french cartoonist Charb (1967), who worked for Charlie Hebdo and was killed in the terrorist attack on the magazine in 2015.

I loved the old Basie big band, and the first ten minutes or so of this vintage video show the group in action. (Bonus: Duke Ellington’s band follows with a bit of “Take the A Train” and the great song “Cottontail”, with Paul Gonsalves substituting on sax for the man who made that solo famous, Ben Webster):

Those who died on this day include Leon Trotsky (1940), George Jackson (1971), Buford Pusser (1971; I love that name!), and my colleague in physics Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1995). Wikipedia also lists Jerry Lewis as dying on this day, but it was yesterday, August 20. Someone please correct that!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes an astute observation:

Hili: Are you aware how much love of cats is on these shelves?
A: I don’t understand.
Hili: Almost all the authors of these books loved cats.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy jesteś świadomy ile jest miłości do kotów na tych półkach?
Ja: Nie rozumiem.
Hili: Prawie wszyscy autorzy tych książek kochali koty.
Her claim is true, and here’s why (h/t: Taskin):

Here’s a lovely tweet found by reader Charleen: it’s a video of two lions being reunited after two years with the woman who raised them. And yes, I watched it several times.

Also from Charleen:

Finally, here’s one I swiped from Heather Hastie, who now posts a well-chosen selection of “daily tweets.” I wasn’t aware that owls bathed, much less with such alacrity:

En passant, we have fewer than 150 subscribers to go till we hit the Magic Goal. Is it possible?

Jerry Lewis died

Jerry Lewis,  comedian, actor, director, writer, and raiser of more than $2 billion for muscular dystrophy, passed away peacefully this morning at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.

I emailed the news bulletin to a friend who was a huge fan of Jerry Lewis (and did a credible imitation); his response was this:

All I can say is:
Flaven! Godspeed, you crazy, complicated, comedic sumbitch!
Flaven indeed.

The rise of Christianity

Reader Alexander called my attention to what he said was an “interesting article in Aeon. It will not make theologians happy.”

And the article, called “Christians were strangers” (subtitled “How an obscure oriental cult in a corner of Roman Palestine grew to become the dominant religion of the Western world”) is indeed worth reading, though at 3300 words it’s longer than a usual piece. The author, Michael Kulikowski, is identified as ” professor of history and classics at Pennsylvania State University, where he also heads the history department.”  His speciality is late Roman history.

As I’m off to a wedding, I’ll leave you with the puzzle posed at the essay’s beginning and then the two paragraphs at the end. I’ll let you figure out for yourself why the article won’t make theologians happy.


The Roman empire became Christian during the fourth century CE. At the century’s start, Christians were – at most – a substantial minority of the population. By its end, Christians (or nominal Christians) indisputably constituted a majority in the empire. Tellingly, at the beginning of the century, the imperial government launched the only sustained and concerted effort to suppress Christianity in ancient history – and yet by the century’s end, the emperors themselves were Christians, Christianity enjoyed exclusive support from the state and was, in principle, the only religion the state permitted.

Apart from the small and ethnically circumscribed exception of the Jews, the ancient world had never known an exclusivist faith, so the rapid success of early Christianity is a historical anomaly. Moreover, because some form of Christianity is a foundational part of so many peoples’ lives and identities, the Christianisation of the Roman empire feels perennially relevant – something that is ‘about us’ in a way a lot of ancient history simply is not. Of course, this apparent relevance also obscures as much as it reveals, especially just how strange Rome’s Christianisation really was.


As most people know from their own experience, intellectual differences can harden into intractable convictions for all sorts of non-intellectual reasons. Patronage, factionalism, political advantage, social cliquishness can all play a role in the formation of intellectual positions and in continuing attachments to them. From the fourth century onwards, Roman history is filled with bitter religious conflicts, state persecution of heretics, and the perpetual alienation of communities whose Christian beliefs pitted them against official orthodoxy. Since the time of Constantine, in fact, Western history has been plagued by the impossibility of policing belief rather than practice. After all, how do you decide what someone really believes, or does not believe?

That problem would not have come to have its historic, and tragic, consequences had Constantine’s conversion not rapidly brought much of the imperial population with him. As social advancement came to depend on being a Christian, and as the civic calendar of non-Christian beliefs was increasingly dismantled, the majority of urban Romans actively thought of themselves as Christians by the end of the fourth century. Rejecting Christianity now stood as the marked and unusual choice that embracing it had been 200 years before. How Christianity went on to become not just a state religion, but the central fact of political life, and how Christian institutions of the Middle Ages both maintained and distorted the legacy of the ancient world, is another, different story.


Dick Gregory died

Yesterday the comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory died in Washington, D. C. He was 84; the cause was heart failure. Although he started his comedy career as a convention funnyman, he gradually incorporated more material about racism into his routines. The New York Times gives some of his bon mots:

He would plant himself on a stool, the picture of insouciance in a three-button suit and dark tie, dragging slowly on a cigarette, which he used as a punctuation mark. From that perch he would bid America to look in the mirror, and to laugh at itself.

“Segregation is not all bad,” he would say. “Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?” Or: “You know the definition of a Southern moderate? That’s a cat that’ll lynch you from a low tree.” Or: “I heard we’ve got lots of black astronauts. Saving them for the first spaceflight to the sun.”

Some lines became classics, like the one about a restaurant waitress in the segregated South who told him, “We don’t serve colored people here,” to which Mr. Gregory replied: “That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Just bring me a whole fried chicken.” Lunch-counter sit-ins, central to the early civil rights protests, did not always work out as planned. “I sat in at a lunch counter for nine months,” he said. “When they finally integrated, they didn’t have what I wanted.”

I well remember Gregory marching on the front lines of many civil rights demonstrations, and he was arrested a gazillion times. Here’s a short monologue about “black power”:

Kudos to a great (and funny) force for racial justice.

A thought about “Nazis”

I was heartened yesterday when anti-racist protests took place in several U.S. cities—and there was no violence. One of the tropes of these protests, of course, is the denigration of “Nazis”, now a broad term for all white supremacists, but also including those supremacists who aren’t members of the American Nazi Party but still march under swastika flags, celebrate Hitler’s birthday, and give the “Sieg Heil” arm salute. Of course such people are odious, for Hitler is the byword for “evil.” But when I was thinking about this, something struck me. I offer it up here as a conundrum.

When we think about why Hitler was evil, one thing comes to mind: the Holocaust. Yes, he attacked Russia and western Europe, and his crazy ambition led to the death of about 60 million people (3% of the world’s population, including millions of Germans and Austrians). But the evil that resides in Hitler and the Nazis rests largely in their murderous anti-Semitism (the figure of six million Jews is well known, and that’s out of nine million living in Europe). Yet the total figure in the Holocaust, including homosexuals, criminals, prisoners of war, the infirm and mentally ill, Romanis and others, is close to ten million. But, as is evident from Mein Kampf, the Jews were Hitler’s special scapegoat from the beginning.

So the identification of Hitler with evil rests largely on his treatment of the Jews. Indeed, as I wrote the other day about Ron Rosenbaum’s new introduction to his 1998 book on Hitler,  Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil:

. . . Rosenbaum argues provocatively that the military defeat of Germany, as well as Hitler’s suicide, did not mean he lost the war, for Hitler conceived of the war not as a military exercise against the allies, but primarily as a way to dispose of the Jews, whom he saw as viruses. In that way, says Rosenbaum, Hitler wound up winning, for he exterminated most of Europe’s Jews—and the population has never recovered.

Yet the widespread and proper denigration of Nazis doesn’t comport with the Regressive Left’s demonization of Israel and Jews, which sometimes verges on anti-Semitism. The BDS movement, Students for Justice in Palestine, and many other groups, student or otherwise, not only fault Israel for its oppression of Palestinians, but sometimes call for the dissolution of the state of Israel: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Yet that state was created largely as a refuge for Jews fleeing from Hitler’s Europe and its aftermath, as well as for Jews oppressed everywhere.

Even today in the U.S., the per capita rate of hate crimes against Jews is twice what it is against Muslims. (Any of these crimes, of course, are reprehensible acts of bigotry.) Yet Jews are not seen as an oppressed minority, even as they are directly targeted by some terrorist attacks in Europe and often singled out for disapprobation in American colleges.

So why the hatred of Nazis but the concomitant demonization of Israel and—often—Jews themselves? It doesn’t make sense.