Photos of readers

One thing I’ve discovered from soliciting readers’ photographs is how creative many of our readers are. And here’s another in that genre, Robert Lundgren, Jr. His notes are indented.

Just wanted to let you know that the Creator doesn’t reside up above, but rather has been found to reside in the dungeon (of my basement). Some prototypical evolutionary planning is evident in these photos.

All jest aside, this is a photo of me whiling away my idol hours of retirement. A while back I was looking at my back yard bird feeder and realized that it would be enhanced by the addition of a weathervane. The endeavor of making that has gotten a bit out of hand. To my left in the photo of me are a “luna moth” and a “dragon fly” mounted as weathervanes. The other photos are other “creations” that could be mounted as weathervanes, but in this case are set up to be hung.


The creator has reached the seventh day, however, and has put away the metal shears in favor of colored pencils. He just couldn’t take the dungeon any longer.




True facts about the Sand Bubbler Crab

Reader Vampyricon called my attention to this video about a crab unknown to me: the sand bubbler crab. It eats sand, extracts the organic material, and then spits out the sand in a series of little balls. Moreover, as Wikipedia notes,

In each burrow, the crab waits out the high tide in a bubble of air.

These are pretty amazing animals, and Ze Frank, as usual, gets the biology right.

Offended 9 year old girl objects to math question about weight

This is one of those issues where I can sort of see a point, but in general think it’s also overblown. In fact, it was the subject of an NBC Today show post and tv segment. It turns out that a nine year old Utah girl named Rhythm Pacheco was asked to answer a math question in which the weights of various students (females) were compared. In particular, as you see below, it was a simple subtraction question, one that Rhythm answered but then expressed anger, saying she “wont right this its rood” (committing four errors in five words). Here’s her answer.

In the NBC video on the site, the hosts get all upset and see the question as sexist (or otherwise offensive).

Now Rhythm wrote a nice note to her teacher, and the teacher responded nicely (and corrected Rhythm’s writing in brown ink!:

Here’s a television report from a local station, featuring Rhythm’s mother Naomi. You can see where Rhythm gets her ideology:

This is one of the issues where I’m torn. I do see that the comparison of bodies among women has been harmful, leading to things like anorexia and making a lot of women feel bad about themselves because they don’t or can’t look like skinny runway models. I also understand that a lot of this attitude comes from men’s ranking of women that includes weight. But would the question have been okay if they compared boys’ weights?

Nevertheless, this looks like overkill to me, with the mom being overly sensitive and inculcating her daughter with that attitude. Yet at the same time I’m proud of the girl for standing up for herself and having the moxie to write the teacher.

What do you think? Women’s voices would be especially appreciated in the comments.

The Bard College de-platforming revisited

Three days ago I wrote about the experience of Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor of the Forward, who claimed in the following article that she had been subject to an anti-Semitic protest while speaking at a panel at Bard College. (Click on screenshot).

In her piece, Ungar-Sargon claimed that she had been informed of an impending student protest of her panel, which was supposed to be on anti-Semitism and include three Jewish people. Ungar-Sargon reported that she asked the students to protest instead an other panel, because hers had nothing to do with Israel, and protesting a simple discussion of anti-Semitism that didn’t mention Israel was, to her, tantamount to anti-Semitism herself. Further, she claimed that Bard College officials had no plan to deal with the protest, that it took place and only belatedly were the protestors removed, and that fellow audience members not only applauded the protestors, but were joined by one of the panelists herself.

In protest of these actions, Ungar-Sargon gave an empassioned speech at the next panel, chastising the “anti-Semitic” protests as well as her fellow academics, whom she saw as complicit in this bigotry, and then walked off the stage (you can see her talk and exit here).

Now, however, virtually all of Ungar-Sargon’s claims have been contested by Bard officials, the participating academics, and everyone else. Their claims that Ungar-Sargon misrepresented the situation appear in four letters to the editor on the same page as the original article (below; click on screenshots), as well as in a longer piece at Jewish Currents (orange screenshot below; click on screenshot).

These counterclaims say that the protestors (members of Students for Justice in Palestine) were protesting the presence of panel member Ruth Wisse, who, they said, made anti-Muslim and Islamophobic comments in the past. Further, Bard officials say that they had a plan on how to deal with protestors, and told Ungar-Sargon and her fellow panelists about it in advance. According to that plan, silent protests were allowed, but not obstructions, and anybody trying to interrupt the panel was immediately removed from the room. And Israel was mentioned in the panel, though perhaps the protestors couldn’t have known that in advance.

The letters:

There is a full video of the panel that was the subject of Ungar-Sargon’s report her (click on the “Who needs anti-Semitism” panel, but it doesn’t show the student protests, so I can’t evaluate claims about them.

This is a summary of the counterclaims about Ungar-Sargon’s report in Jewish Currents:

So we have two opposing views of what happened, but the pushback calls into question Ungar-Sargon’s claim about the nature of the disruption and how Bard dealt with it. Read the letters and the article and judge for yourself. I will link this post to the previous one so readers can be directed here.

However, there’s still some anti-Semitism to worry about. Here’s a statement by Roger Berkowitz (who wrote the first letter above), director of the Arendt Center and the organizer of the conference:

Berkowitz does note that in 12 years of sponsoring talks, no speaker has ever been stopped from speaking, but every speaker who students have sought to de-platform is Jewish. “Insofar as students are protesting people they disagree with, the protest is a political protest and justified,” he says, adding, “Insofar as people are consistently protesting Jews, I think such protests potentially perpetuate antisemitism and do so at a time when antisemitism is rising. It’s something that can lead to more antisemitism if not done carefully.”

This does show the rising anti-Semitism on American campuses, but we already knew about that. On the other hand, I waited two days to write this article because I expected Ungar-Sargon to respond to the four letters to the editor on the same page as her report. She has not done so. Instead, Zonszein, in the report above, says this:

Ungar-Sargon did not respond to a request for comment, but Jodi Rudoren, the newly installed editor of the Forward, stands by the article. “I am very proud to have published the piece, along with the response,” Rudoren tells me. “I believe they help illuminate the very serious problems we are confronting regarding our ability to discuss critical issues, and, yes, help further that discussion. I would welcome additional voices on either what happened at the conference, or the broader questions the pieces confront.”

If Ungar-Sargon is indeed standing by her report, I would have expected her to answer the critics above. And I would have expected the editor to admit any errors in Ungar-Sargon’s reporting rather than just stand by the piece. After all, it’s not just one opinion against another: there are facts at issue, like the claim that Bard College had no contingency plan for the demonstrators.

In the end, one has to take Ungar-Sargon’s piece with a dose of salt, especially in light of her refusal to answer her critics.

A farewell to wings: many ducks come, but I must leave

As the weather gets colder, more and more ducks are arriving at Botany Pond and staying here. I’ve had to buy 100 pounds of duck chow in the last ten days to ensure that they’re well fed before they take off for the fall migration (mallards can lose up to 50% of their body weight during their travels). At breakfast today there were 26 adult mallards (including, of course, Honey). One or two more seem to arrive each day.

Last year they left about October 24, and the year before that November 2, so I’m not worried that they’re overstaying the weather. Still, it’s hard to feed so many ducks and ensure at the same time that everyone—especially Honey— gets fed. I’m not sure how many (if any) of the new arrivals are really offspring of Honey, Daphne, and Anna, but the green-headed mallards are surely at least a year old, and thus interlopers.

Anyway, this will be the last substantive duck post I put up before I leave. The pond, however, will be in good hands, as we have two Secret Duck Farmers to tend them until they leave. It looks as if I’ll be flying south before they do.

First, a few pictures of Honey, who is Queen of the Pond now, with rights to chase any other mallard, be it hen or drake:

She has a distinctive beak pattern, as you recall: “dog chasing motorcycle” on the left side:

Honey on October 7. Her feathers are well formed, she looks in good nick, and she’s ready to go:



And she’s hanging around with diverse males. This one may be molting, or simply a subadult. As usual, she’s sussing out potential mates (hens pair up with drakes before they fly south, and overwinter together in the feeding grounds of the South).



There are many drakes, and they chase each other around the pond, fighting for dominance and females. The fights, however, are tame, at least compared to last year’s epic battle between James Pond and Billzebub. Here one drake chases the other out of the pond. Matings, I believe, occur either right before they migrate back north or immediately thereafter.

A pale drake; I can’t tell if he’s molting or young and developing into a “greenhead”:

And a full greenhead:

Things get crazy at feeding time, with the ducks swimming up (or flying or running) when they see me. I did an experiment, walking randomly behind people, to see if the ducks actually recognized me.  They did. Ducks are smarter than most people think.

Another new arrival, a beautiful hen.  She may, of course, be one of this year’s offspring, but unless we band them we have no way of knowing.

Another feeding frenzy. I’ve taken to feeding them on land now, as it ensures a more equitable distribution of food.

The turtles are still here, of course, but soon they’ll be burying themselves in the mud for winter:

Until the huge mass of mallards started flying in about a week ago, the pond was empty for a few days. I wonder if the new incursion means that Botany Pond will become a “staging area,” where ducks congregate before they fly south. When  they do, the pond will look like this, but I won’t be in the U.S. to see it:

Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on Thursday, October 17, 2019—National Pasta Day. It’s also Wear Something Gaudy Day (probably too late for you, as you may be at work) and World Trauma Day and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Stuff that happened on October 17 includes:

This was the last supernova in our galaxy observed with the naked eye. Here’s a false-color composite photo:

The end of conflict in the Revolutionary War:

  • 1777 – American Revolutionary War: British General John Burgoyne surrenders his army at Saratoga, New York.
  • 1781 – American Revolutionary War: British General Charles, Earl Cornwallis surrenders at the Siege of Yorktown.
  • 1814 – Eight people die in the London Beer Flood.

Wikipedia describes how this happened. Imagine being drowned by porter!

 It took place when one of the 22-foot-tall (6.7 m) wooden vats of fermenting porter burst. The pressure destroyed another vessel, and between 128,000 and 323,000 imperial gallons (580,000–1,470,000 l; 154,000–388,000 US gal) of beer were released.

The resulting wave of porter destroyed the back wall of the brewery and swept into an area of slum-dwellings known as the St Giles rookery. Eight people were killed, five of them attendees at the wake being held by an Irish family for a two-year-old boy.

  • 1888 – Thomas Edison files a patent for the Optical Phonograph (the first movie).
  • 1931 – Al Capone is convicted of income tax evasion.

Here’s Al Capone’s mugshot:

  • 1933 – Albert Einstein flees Nazi Germany and moves to the United States.
  • 1956 – The first commercial nuclear power station is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in Sellafield, England.
  • 1956 – Bobby Fischer defeats Donald Byrne in the chess Game of the Century.
  • 1969 – The Caravaggio painting Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence was stolen from the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo.

The painting is still missing and now a replica hangs in its place. Here’s the original, whose loss I mourn since I consider Caravaggio as one of the greatest painters of all time:

  • 1992 – Having gone to the wrong house, Japanese student Yoshihiro Hattori is killed by the homeowner in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
  • 1994 – Russian journalist Dmitry Kholodov is assassinated while investigating corruption in the armed forces.
  • 2018 – The recreational use of cannabis is legalized in Canada.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1903 – Nathanael West, American author and screenwriter (d. 1940)
  • 1915 – Arthur Miller, American playwright and screenwriter (d. 2005)
  • 1918 – Rita Hayworth, American actress, singer and dancer (d. 1987)
  • 1920 – Montgomery Clift, American actor (d. 1966)
  • 1933 – The Singing Nun, Belgian singer-songwriter, guitarist, and nun (d. 1985)
  • 1938 – Evel Knievel, American motorcycle rider and stuntman (d. 2007)
  • 1968 – Ziggy Marley, Jamaican singer-songwriter, guitarist, and voice actor
  • 1969 – Wyclef Jean, Haitian-American rapper, producer, and actor
  • 1972 – Eminem, American rapper, producer, and actor
  • 1974 – Ariel Levy, American journalist and author

Who remembers The Singing Nun? Here’s her big hit, “Dominique“, from 1963, which reached the top of the charts. You can find the translation at the link.

Those who took the Big Nap on this day include:

  • 1849 – Frédéric Chopin, Polish pianist and composer (b. 1810)
  • 1910 – Julia Ward Howe, American poet and songwriter (b. 1819)
  • 1979 – S. J. Perelman, American humorist and screenwriter (b. 1904)
  • 1991 – Tennessee Ernie Ford, American singer and actor (b. 1919)
  • 2008 – Levi Stubbs, American singer (b. 1936)

Stubbs, lead singer of The Four Tops, was one of the greatest singers of the Motown era. Here’s a live rendition (Paris, 1967) that I consider one of the best live performances of any soul song. And look at that man sweat!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, editor Hili is getting in the way:

A: Could you go and meditate somewhere else?
Hili: But I’m not disturbing you at all.
In Polish:
Ja: Czy mogłabyś medytować gdzie indziej?
Hili: Przecież ja ci w niczym nie przeszkadzam.

From The Cat House on the Kings:

From Amazing Cats:

From Donna:


A reminder that the oppression of women in Iran continues, and they continue to resist.

Ducks in ancient art! Look at that bag o’ quackers!

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. First, a bipedal gorilla:

Can you imagine what this cat is thinking?

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. The first one is apparently an authentic letter from Trump to Erdogan. (Katie Rogers is a White House correspondent for the New York Times.) OY! But we don’t need more proof that Trump is a bull-goose loon.

A nice illusion of straight squares and then skewed ones:

Spot the katydid! (This one isn’t too hard.)

This has got to be the Nature Video of the Week:


Photos of readers

Reader Bob Terrace met a famous person and got a selfie. Here are Bob’s two photos and narrative:

Here are 2 photos of me for the “Readers Photo” posting.
I travelled this past weekend from Florida to NY for my 50 year high school reunion. After I sat down on the plane and others boarded, I noticed a man across the aisle and a row ahead with a NY Jets cap. When he turned, I realized he was Joe Namath, the Jets Quarterback who won the Super Bowl in 1969, the year of my high school graduation. One picture is of Joe and me in the terminal  after the flight.

When I arrived at my hotel, while passing the front desk, pulling my suitcase, I stumbled and wound up breaking my kneecap. I spent a few hours in the hospital.

The other photo is at the reunion dinner the following night. I am the one in front in the maroon shirt in the wheelchair. It was 10 PM so we went to the well-lit gas station next to the restaurant.

Watch this livefeed NOW! Whalefall: deep sea whale skeleton covered with worms, eels, and octopuses!

The tweet (h/t: Matthew Cobb), who adds about the video:

Amazing. If you rewind 30 mins or so you can watch the moment they find it! It’s 3km down! The poor thing’s body drifted all the way before becoming lunch!

The feed: Click on this now!

Words and phrases I hate

It’s that time again: time to blow off steam by kvetching about language. If you’re one of those tolerant people who says, “Language evolves, deal with it,” then you should simply skip this post. Otherwise, be ready to enlighten us with words and phrases that grate on you.

Here’s my latest list, and be aware that I don’t keep track of previous posts like this, so I may repeat myself. As usual, many of my examples come from HuffPost, where a bunch of entitled Millennials who can’t get a real job like to sound cool by larding their “articles” with the latest cool argot.

1.) “tea” as in “gossip” or “dirt”. “Spill the tea” is now the equivalent of “tell all” or “spill it”. The Urban Dictionary gives an example:

“Girl, did you know Renee is having ANOTHER baby? And the babby daddy is the same guy who she found out has been cheating on her!”

“OMG, spill the tea on that drama!!!!”

An example from this article in HuffPo:


to wit:

Demi Moore’s new memoir is giving you all the tea you could possibly want about her life and then some.

This is odious. Why can’t they just say “juicy details” or “gossip”. The word “tea” here is the verbal equivalent to virtue flaunting—it’s “I’m with-it” flaunting. I have no use for such people.

2.) Influencers.  This refers to people on Instagram who make their living by “influencing” people: flaunting products and brand names, and showing pictures of themselves in spiffy clothing (paid for by the manufacturer). It rankles me that people would actually try to earn money by influencing others commercially—”influencers” who pretend not to be the advertising agents they really are. An example of an influencer is Olivia Jade Giannulli, the daughter of soon-to-be-felon Lori Laughlin. Cursed with a deficit of neurons and a hunger for attention and money, Olivia Jade brandishes products and thereby encourages her sheeple to buy them. Viz:

Here are some examples from HuffPo:

3.) “The thing is. . . is. .. ”  The double “is” is (I just did it!), well, a sign of eloquence deficit, for nothing is added with the second “is.” In fact, you could eliminate “the thing is” entirely, replacing it with something like “the important thing is that” or “the crucial thing is that.” Sadly, I actually heard a commenter use the double “is” on National Public Radio the other day.

I won’t provide an example because if you’re an Anglophone you’ll have heard many (although I’m not sure whether, say, Brits, Aussies, or Canadians use the phrase).

Your turn!

The issue of transgender prisoners: Where do you place them?

Like all liberals, I favor equal treatment for transgender people, including using the pronouns that they choose for themselves. Previously, though, I’ve drawn the line at sports, in which transgender women, some of whom have undergone neither surgery nor hormone replacement, are allowed in some places to compete with biological women. Given the greater strength and heavier musculature of biological males, this bestows on them what I see as an unfair advantage when competing with women born as women. Even hormone replacement, it seems, can’t provide a level playing field, and so there’s an issue: what do we do to allow transgender athletes to compete but retain fairness for women athletes?

Well, one thing we shouldn’t do is to allow purely biological males who identify as females—without having undergone either surgery or hormone replacement—to compete with biological females. This is the current rule in Connecticut, which has allowed biological males to clean up in women’s track and field. As I wrote in February,

I’ve written about this before (see here and here), and, as always, I remain conflicted. Clearly transgender people should be able to participate in athletics, but what are good criteria for competing in “men’s” and “women’s” events?  Should there be a third category: “transgender women’s sports”? I don’t know.  But I do believe that simple self-identification that conflicts with biological sex is not sufficient to allow you to compete in a gendered event. In 2018 in a Connecticut state high school track meet, both first and second places in the women’s 100-meter dash went to transgender women (see the video here). As I wrote at the time:

 In Connecticut, where first and second place went to transgender women in the race above, “self identification” is the rule, so you can be a fully biological male, not having transitioned in any way, and enter a race if you say you identify as a women. Other states are more stringent: Texas, for instance, insists that you compete as the gender given on your birth certificate.

Both seem problematic.  Surely there is something unfair about the above: in which transgender women who are physically men, by virtue of greater strength, clean up in a women’s athletic event by “self-identifying” as women. That may well be true and not just a ploy, but the problem is not psychology but physicality. A liberal response would be “the civil rights of gender self-identification outweighs the disappointment of non-transgender losers.” But that answer doesn’t satisfy me. The unfairness is deep and pervasive, and “self-identification” seems a dubious solution.

As for putting limits on hormone titers, as the Olympics do, that too may not achieve “fairness”, at least to many, as the hormone limits are several standard deviations above that of biological females, and do not eliminate the physical advantages of maleness before a male transitions.  I have no solution, but as more people change their gender, the problem will increase. I suggested above a third category for competition, “transgender athletes”, but that seems unwieldy.

Now an article in Quillette (click on screenshot below) raises another issue of differential treatment for transgender people, again most often transgender women.

As Halley reports, both the UK and Canada have had difficulties with transgender women prisoners, and this may soon be happening in the U.S.. The problems are of two types. First, biological men who haven’t had surgery or hormone therapy, and who assert that they are women, can, in some places, request and be placed into women’s prisons. This has happened in Ireland (the individual was “a fully intact male sex offender”), in the UK, in Canada, while the California Senate recently voted that “self-identification”, independent of any medical transitioning, is sufficient to warrant placement in a prison with individuals of another sex.

Second, even with some surgery, like castration, transgender women, often in prison for sex offenses, have harassed and assaulted biologically female inmates. Here are a few stories:

Matthew Harks recently was released from the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario. He is a serial pedophile who has been convicted of three sexual assaults against girls under the age of 8. He has claimed to have abused 60 girls and to have committed 200 offenses. A 2006 psychiatric assessment of Harks maintained that he has an “all-encompassing preoccupation with sexually abusing underage girls.” Like Laboucan, Harks has undergone SRS [sex reassignment surgery], but this has not stopped him from facing multiple accusations of harassment and assault while incarcerated in a women’s prison. In 2016, the Calgary Herald reported that Harks was potentially facing charges for “three alleged offences that took place recently while [Harks] was in custody: assault, unlawful confinement and sexual assault.” The Vancouver Sun has reported that Harks has assaulted two female inmates who were “childlike in appearance.”

Here’s the case of Karen White, whose transitioning appears to have consisted solely of self identification as well as wearing makeup, a wig and false breasts. There was neither surgery nor hormone therapy.

The activism of these British women brought the case of Karen White to my attention. White is a male rapist who was admitted into a women’s prison in Wakefield, England in 2017. White has been convicted of sexually assaulting two female inmates during his three months of incarceration in Wakefield. He was subsequently sent to a male prison.

I’m baffled by a mentality that would put a male rapist without any medical transitioning procedures into a women’s prison.

Here’s one more, a prisoner who did undergo SRS:

Dangerous offender Adam Laboucan is currently housed in the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in British Columbia. To receive the designation of “dangerous offender” under Canadian law, there must be evidence that the offender has a pattern of brutally violent behavior that is overwhelmingly likely to persist. Laboucan was convicted of sexually assaulting a 3-month old baby, yet he is now living in a women’s prison that participates in the Institutional Mother-Child Program, which is run by the federal government “to foster positive relationships between federally incarcerated women and their children by providing a supportive environment that promotes stability and continuity for the mother-child relationship.” One feature of the program is that it allows young children to live with their incarcerated mothers in detached buildings referred to as “cottages.”

CBC report on a 2010 decision to deny parole to Laboucan relays that he had threatened to kill a female guard, and that he had confessed to murdering a 3-year old child at the age of 11. (The Province reported that Laboucan also was denied parole in 2018. He had appealed this decision citing bias on behalf of the Parole Board but this was unsuccessful.)

Laboucan is not in a women’s prison as a result of Bill C-16 (which was cited to justify a policy of self-ID). He has been accommodated because, while incarcerated, he has undergone SRS. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has allowed men who have had this procedure to apply for transfers to women’s prisons since 2001. This policy stemmed from a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling (Kavanagh v. Canada), which declared that not allowing castrated male offenders accommodation in women’s prisons was discriminatory on the basis of sex and disability.

Halley notes that women’s groups have been silent on this issue, despite the fact that vulnerable female prisoners are exposed to violent and sexually aggressive transexual women, some of whom, like White, have transitioned only by wearing wigs, makeup, and prosthetics. This doesn’t seem fair to the women inmates, already incarcerated but then facing further dangers from government policy.

Halley’s article goes in about her long and frustrating attempts to get official information on the number of transgender offenders transferred to women’s prisons (they’re apparently few but almost all were convicted of violent crimes). The article is in fact marred by Halley’s largely superfluous digression about the Canadian government’s unwillingness to give information, as the digression dilutes the issue at hand: how do we deal with transgender prisoners? One could, I suppose, put them in isolation, but that doesn’t seem fair: nobody should be given extra punishment for being atransgender individual. And yet we must protect women already in prison from further violence.

The only thing I know for sure is that there is no rationale for putting biological males who have not undergone SRS or hormone therapy into prisons with biological females. While such “self identified women” may well think they are women (and of course some may be pretending to feel that way), and should be addressed with the pronouns they prefer, they should be treated, in both athletics and in prison, as if they are biological males.

As for what to do with SRS-experiencing transgender women, well, you can weigh in below.