Michigan professor rescinds offer to write student a letter of recommendation—after he discovers it was for study in Israel

This is the equivalent of deplatforming a speaker after he or she has been invited to speak. In fact, it’s worse, for it involves impeding a student’s career because of an associate professor’s ideological stand.  The professor is in cultural studies (of course), John Cheney-Lippold in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan. And the story is reported in both the Washington Post and the student paper, The Michigan Daily; click on the links below to read (h/t: Rodney).

Washington Post:

The Michigan Daily:

From the report in the Post:

The clashing visions turn on a reference letter, one of the most valuable currencies of the teacher-student relationship. At the University of Michigan, the letter of recommendation is now also a tool in the protest against Israel, as John Cheney-Lippold, a professor of cultural studies, this month rescinded his offer to write on behalf of his student’s semester abroad at Tel Aviv University. [JAC: The Michigan Daily identifies the student as “LSA junior Abigail Ingber”; “LSA” stands for “The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts”.]

His decision, first reported by the Michigan Daily campus newspaper, newly tests the line between opposition to Israel and hostility to Jews, while marking the latest chapter in the bitter debate about the movement known as BDS — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The movement seeks the end of Israeli occupation of “all Arab lands,” the full equality of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of return for Palestinian refugees as stipulated in U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.

. . . a query from a student arrived [in Cheney-Lippold’s box] in August. The student’s request was a standard one, made of professors around the world. After a back-and-forth, in which he asked for a clearer deadline from the student, identified by the Michigan Daily as a junior at Michigan’s College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts, Cheney-Lippold agreed to write on her behalf for a study-abroad program.

But when he received the form letter, Cheney-Lippold realized that he had missed a key detail. His student’s desired destination was Israel, whose academic institutions he has pledged to boycott as a way of protesting the state’s treatment of Palestinians. Cheney-Lippold is a member of the American Studies Association, whose members in 2013 voted by a ratio of more than 2 to 1 to endorse BDS.

Cheney then wrote the student this email response declining to recommend her (but offering to recommend her for other programs). Here’s his response, posted on the Facebook page of the University’s “Club Z”, a pro-Zionist organization that in turn obtained the email from another faculty member to whom Cheney-Lippold sent it:


Cheney-Lippold is a member of the American Studies Association, which has endorsed the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which is committed to ending Israeli occupation and, as is pretty clear, wants to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state (the founders’ statements were clear on this, it supports the “right of return,” and its supporters chant “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea”).  However, Cheney-Lippold’s statement that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel” is simpy wrong: no department at the University of Michigan, nor the University itself, support the BDS movement.

Cheney-Lippold argues that refusing to write the letter is in fact an act of academic freedom in support of his beliefs:

He had been careful in wording his email, wanting to impress upon the student that his decision was not personal. He rewrote the message twice to perfect its tone. But the choice was otherwise a simple one. “It was about consistency,” he said. “If I believe in this, I have to exercise my will as a professor.”

“If a union asks me not to buy a grape from a certain producer, or not to cross a picket line, I would support that,” he said. “It’s the same thing here. Following requests from Palestinian and Jewish activists, I find the boycott against Israeli state institutions to be a very useful way to put pressure where I can as an academic.”

His support for the boycott — an international protest that has been criticized as inhibiting academic freedom and free expression — did not interfere improperly with his student’s plans, he noted. Nor has his involvement been inconsistent with his teaching duties, he said, but rather is protected by his academic freedom. “I can’t prevent a student from going to Israel,” Cheney-Lippold reasoned. “But everybody has the right to withhold something, and I chose to exercise that right based on what the movement needs from me as a solidarity activist.”

. . . The reason [his email to the student] touched a nerve, he suggested, is not just because of the vexed debate over the Israel-Palestine conflict but also because of a misunderstanding of free speech and a professor’s role. He argued that rising tuition means a college education is increasingly understood as an investment, and a letter of recommendation as something owed to a student as a consumer. “Michigan’s brand is being stained right now,” he said.

That is a crock.

While I support Cheney-Lippold’s right to belong to BDS and promulgate its views however he wishes as a private citizen, it is not kosher (forgive the pun) to enforce those views on students in a way that impedes their careers. It’s one thing if he didn’t feel that he could write a supportive letter for the student because of her performance, and in that case he could have told her. But he clearly didn’t feel that way, and thus agreed to write the letter. He also, after he rescinded that offer, said he was happy to write other letters, implying that he could write a supportive letter. Once he agreed to write, though, he was duty-bound to follow through, regardless of what he felt about Israel, because the student wanted to study there as a way to forward her career. It is Cheney-Lippold’s academic duty to write that letter, for it’s part of his job.

If a professor claims the right to not recommend students to study in countries whose policies he opposes, or for programs he opposes, that would lead to chaos. There are, for instance, professors who feel that America is an imperialistic and oppressive state. Should a professor claim that he can’t recommend students for programs in America? Some professors feel that American law enforcement is structurally racist. Should a student not deserve a recommendation for a career in law enforcement? You can imagine many other situations like these, and I can’t imagine any for which I would withhold recommendations. The only reasons I wouldn’t write a letter is if the student wasn’t a good fit for the job, unqualified, or not diligent, and in such cases I would invariably tell the student that I couldn’t write a supportive letter. (Many faculty, however, would just write a letter without telling the student how positive it would be. That’s a matter of taste, though students usually ask for letters only if they’re pretty sure they’ll be positive.)

The University of Michigan’s response has been pretty tepid; here are statements from both papers:

Cheney-Lippold said that he hasn’t met with the “upper echelons” at the university, but that his department chair has been supportive. [Post]

What the bloody hell? His department chair, Alexandra Minna-Stern, should give Cheney-Lippold a trip to the departmental woodshed. And this is from the Michigan Daily:

University Public Affairs released a statement regarding the incident, reaffirming the consistent opposition of boycotting Israeli institutions of higher education. The statement upholds no academic department or unit officially maintains a boycott.

“It is disappointing that a faculty member would allow their personal political beliefs to limit the support they are willing to otherwise provide for our students,” the statement read. “We will engage our faculty colleagues in deep discussions to clarify how the expression of our shared values plays out in support of all students.”

That’s about as tepid a statement they can make. “We will engage in deep discussions. . ” Another crock. The University of Michigan should clarify to its faculty that it is the duty of professors to write letters of recommendations for students whose tone is independent of the professor’s political, religious, or ideological beliefs, and it is up to the professor whether to tell the student that the professor can’t write a positive letter on academic grounds. I will be writing to Cheney-Lippold, to his chair, and to the President and the Regents of the University of Michigan expressing my displeasure with Cheney-Lippold’s stand.

As for the students, the reaction is mixed. The Jewish students of course object, with some feeling that Cheney-Lippold’s act is anti-Semitic. Grania also feels this is anti-Semitic. I won’t go quite that far, but I do think the BDS movement, whose implicit aim is to eliminate the country of Israel, is essentially anti-Semitic, and was organized by anti-Semites. But in this case that’s largely irrelevant.

One student clearly was anti-Semitic, however, as reported by The Michigan Daily:

LSA junior Sophee Langerman said she fully supports Cheney-Lippold’s decision as a boycott, divestment and sanctions activist, but reaffirmed the complexity of the issue and the diversity of opinion among students on campus.

“I believe that this professor is 100 percent correct in his refusal of writing a recommendation letter in support of the BDS movement,” she said. “A trip to Israeli-occupied Palestine would mean the support of the mass murder and oppression of not only Palestinians, but Ethiopian Jews, Mizrahi [Middle-Eastern] Jews, East-Asian immigrants and other non-white minority communities. BDS cannot support that. I would also like to point out that this professor was never under any obligation to write this student a letter of recommendation, and in fact, she got more than most students do by receiving a reply about why he would not participate.”

Even if this student isn’t a Jew-hater, she’s pretty much off the rails. First, note that she considers Israel to be “Israeli-occupied Palestine,” which means she thinks Israel shouldn’t exist.

Further, it is Israel who took in Ethiopian and Mizrahi Jews! And how a student’s study in Israel would lead to the “mass murder and oppression” of those groups, as well as of Palestinians, East Asian immigrants (to where?) and “non-white minority communities” is unclear. I think Langerman is just spouting nonsense here, throwing in every oppressed group she can think of to give some gravitas to her letter. But her claim that visiting Israel will lead to the mass murder of Israeli Jews from Ethiopia and the Middle East is clearly bogus and stupid. This is the result of the unthinking nonsense and propaganda that fills the head of many college students.



C. J. W*rl*m*n goes fully over to the dark side, supported by organizations soft on Islamist terrorism

By my own rules I’m not allowed to write the full name of disgraced plagiarist and Islam-osculator C. J. W*rl*m*n, so I’ve disemvoweled his name. I note that his Wikipedia entry, which described his plagiarism and other bizarre deeds as well as his osculation of Islam, has now been deleted (I have no idea why). I refer you, reluctantly, to his Twitter feed. You can find his plagiarism amply described on this website; much of the cribbing was found by Stephen Knight, creator of the Godless Spellchecker website.

The Man Who Cannot be Named was once a strong critic of Islam, but then something happened: an atheist, he began ripping into New Atheism à la Glenn Greenwald and, also like Greenwald, became an Islamophile, working for Islamic outlets and constantly decrying “Islamophobia”. The conversion was, I think, intensified when he was found guilty of plagiarism and could no longer write for mainstream outlets. And of course when you become hugely sympathetic to Islam, you gain a big new audience that isn’t so scrupulous about your journalism.

You can see an account of W*rl*m*n’s bizarre conversion at the site Atheism and the City, as well as in an acerbic Twitter exchange with Ali Rizvi on Daily O.

Now, it seems, W*rl*m*n is issuing encomiums for Muslim terrorist-supporting organizations (he’s always blamed their existence on the West). They even seem to be supporting him. 

I tender this Twitter thread, which gives documentation for the claims. It was found by Grania. Note the bizarre touting of a bogus Qur’an. Stephen Knight is a main participant in the thread.

There’s more documentation of W*rl*m*n’s activities on the thread, but I’ll leave you to look at them.

In view of this, I wouldn’t be surprised if W*rl*m*n actually converted to Islam. There he will find a congenial group of friends who share his values.

My apologies for tendering a Tweet-based post, but I think this is informative, and I’m short on time today.

Readers’ wildlife photograph

Posting may be light today as I have some science to do (working on my last research paper!), and we’ll have but one wildlife photo, an astronomy photo by reader Tim Anderson. But I love the astronomy shots, and this is a good one. Tim’s notes:

This is a picture of the Sculptor Galaxy, NGC 253, also known as the Silver Coin Galaxy. It was observed by Caroline Herschel in 1783. It is likely to merge with our galaxy, the Milky Way, at some time in the future.
Note that Brian Cox’s cat, the calico Herschel, is named after Caroline Herschel.
Tim also added a picture of his pet:

Herewith a picture of Angus the Big Dog (he is now the live-in mate of Paddy the Magnificent Hound, a picture of whom you have published previously). Angus likes knitting and flower arranging (aficionados of Australian movies may recognise the reference…)

Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning! It’s Thursday, September 20, 2018, and we have two more days of summer to go. Appropriately, it’s National Rum Punch Day. An example:

Rum Punch
  • 1 part dark rum
  • 1 part coconut rum.
  • 1 part pineapple juice.
  • 1 part orange juice.
  • 1/2 part lime juice.
  • Splash of grenadine.

I have never had one of these drinks, but it sounds a bit too sweet.

As of yesterday afternoon, Honey and James were still in Botany Pond, eating three big meals a day. I now have a new bag containing 25 pounds of duck food (the company delivers fast) as well as plenty of corn and mealworms. I feel that Honey deserves some pampering after the hassle of raising eight ducklings, during which time she ate little. And I’m happy that she’s bonded with a handsome and kindly mate, James Pond. All is well for the nonce.

On this day in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan left Spain with five ships and about 270 men to sail around the globe. The expedition succeeded, though just one of the ships returned—in September, 1522. Of the original 270 sailors, only about 38 made it back. Magellan was not among them, having been killed in the Philippines. Here’s the voyage’s route:

On this day in 1962, the black man James Meredith was temporarily barred from entering the segregated University of Mississippi. Governor Ross Barnett reluctantly reversed himself after pressure from Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and Meredith entered the University on October 1—accompanied by 500 U.S. Marshals. Here’s his entry:

Meredith, still alive, is somewhat of a maverick, having supported both the reelection of Barnett and the 1991 bid for the Louisiana governorship by racist David Duke. He disassociated himself from the Civil Rights movement, though he was once an icon of it.

On this day in 1973, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match held at the Houston Astrodome. What a show that was!

On this day in 1973, Jim Croce and five other people died in a plane crash in Louisiana. Croce, who was only 30, was a great musician. Here’s one specimen of his work, and my favorite of his songs. “Operator” was written by Croce and released the year before his death. He’s accompanied here by Maury Muehleisen, also killed in the crash: 

On September 20, 2001, nine days after the World Trade Center attack, George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” in an address to Congress. He clearly meant a “war on terrorism.”  Finally, on this day seven years ago, the U.S. military abandoned its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, finally allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the armed forces.

Notables born on September 20 include Upton Sinclair (1878), editor Maxwell Perkins (1884), S. Dillon Ripley (1913), Sophia Loren (1934), and Asia Argento (1975). Those who died on this day include brother Jacob Grimm (1863), Fiorello La Guardia (1947), Jean Sibelius (1957), Jim Croce (1973, see above), Steve Goodman (1984; two great musicians died on this day), Paul Erdös (1996), Simon Wiesenthal (2005), and Sven Nykvist (2006).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is up in the trees again:

Hili: I will move on to more serious matters.
A: And that means?
Hili: Onto another branch.
In Polish:
Hili: Przejdę teraz do poważniejszych spraw.
Ja: To znaczy?
Hili: Na inną gałąź.

Here’s a cartoon that Matthew spied in Private Eye. No free will for cats!

A tweet from reader Barry, showing once again the enormous empathy many biologists have for animals. You have to like a guy who’d rescue an exhausted and starving wasp! Video on, please:

Some tweets, also from Matthew, with the first one showing the continuity of carbon:

This is a stunning find: a terrestrial eel!

I eat shaggy manes whenever I can find them, but they can’t have started deliquescing when you pick them:

Birds flee the typhoon in east Asia (watch the video in the second tweet):

A salacious but informative tweet. Birds do it, bees do it, even beetles on their knees do it:

Tweets from Grania, starting with Owl-in-the-box (video on):

Anybody want a cat prize?:

You’d have to go a long way to beat this video of a squirrel eating an avocado, and wearing part of it as a hat. Now this is what Twitter is good for!


Three Maine clergymen try to ban a library display of banned books

Reader Ken called my attention to an article in the Lewiston (Maine) Sun Journal about a group of three clergymen who tried to ban not books, but worse: they tried to ban a display of banned books at the local library.

It turns out that National Banned Books Week is from September 23-29, when libraries and bookstores throughout the USA will put up displays of banned books as reminders of the odious nature of literary censorship. The Rumford (Maine) Public Library also put up a display recently, shown below (click on it to see the books that have been banned). In response, three “men of faith” wrote a letter to the library objecting to the display. (I’m guessing that all of these books are actually in the library.)

The banned books display at the Rumford Public Library will remain, trustees voted last week. (Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times)

An excerpt (my emphasis):

Seventy people gathered Sept. 11 in the Children’s Room at the library to debate the display, which three members of the local clergy said in a letter to trustees was not appropriate for a public library serving the families and people of the River Valley.

The message from the audience was one of acceptance and diversity.

The two-page letter was received Sept. 6 by Rumford Library Director Tamara Butler, signed by Dan Pearson, pastor of the Rumford Baptist Church, Justin Thacker, pastor of Praise Assembly of God., and the Rev. Nathan March of Parish of the Holy Savior.

Pearson, who was present with Thacker, opened the discussion.

“I do want to apologize for some of the wording in the letter,” he said. “I did not want to alienate the gay community.”

He said they thought their letter would be presented to the board of trustees.

“I think it was unfortunate it was posted publicly, before we had a chance to have a discussion with this small group or to revise some things in it that created some of the hoopla,” Pearson said.

“None of us that signed that are interested in banning or destroying any books. I don’t know how that rumor got started. There was concern because a few of the books on the banned book display, front and center, were displaying sexual themes that we thought were not appropriate for children, especially. Displayed prominently up front, when they’re coming in there.”

What people objected to, including a local high school teacher who’s quoted in the piece, was the display of books with LGBTQ themes, even though they’re in the library and have been banned elsewhere. Fortunately, the audience at the public hearing was sympathetic to the display (my emphasis).

Each month, the Rumford Public Library has a themed book display.

Mary Ann Fournier said, “I’ve been coming to this library just about every day since I was 5 years old, and I now work here.”

June was Pride Month, and as a member of the LGBTQ community, she did a pride display.

“I had ‘Two Boys Kissing’ and ‘My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness’ on that display (books also on the banned books display),” she said. “My question is why didn’t anyone come to me and complain in June?

“And you want me to hide the LGBTQ books that are like bibles to some of these children. Some of these books are stolen by some of these LGBTQ teens because they don’t want their parents to know they’re checking them out,” she said.

Mitzi Sequoia said the gay pride display was the first time since she moved to Rumford in 1996 that “anyone ever even acknowledged the gay community or alternate lifestyles.”

The good news is that the library’s trustees voted unanimously to retain the display. To paraphrase Clarence Darrow, literary censorship is busy ever feeding, trying to drag us back to the Dark Ages when nobody was allowed to read mildly subversive literature—not even the Bible. And it’s gotten worse now that the Left has decided that free speech should take a back seat to people’s feelings.  Thank goodness for librarians and their supporters, who have always been a bastion of freedom of expression in America. Kudos to the Rumford library and its trustees!



Bert and Ernie were gay: Fake news from true believers

I grew up too early to watch the children’s television show Sesame Street, so all I know of it is what you’d pick up from popular culture. I’ve heard of the friends Bert and Ernie, but only now has a fracas erupted about whether the friendship was also romantic—that is, whether Bert and Ernie were in fact gay. It’s all erupted this week because one of the show’s writers, Mark Saltzman, argued that the two characters were gay, and that’s because Saltzman was gay.

Much of the Leftist internet was delighted to hear this, and accepted it at face value. Here’s one example from my favorite mushy-left rag (click on the screenshot):

A summary of the piece with Saltzman’s claim:

A former “Sesame Street” writer says there’s some truth to the long-standing rumors that two of the show’s most beloved characters, Bert and Ernie, are gay.

Emmy winner Mark Saltzman, who is credited with having worked on 31 episodes of “Sesame Street” that aired from 1985 through 1998, told LGBTQ news outlet Queerty he always saw Bert and Ernie as a same-sex couple.

“I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked, ‘Are Bert and Ernie lovers?’ And that, coming from a preschooler was fun,” Saltzman said in an interview published Sept. 16. “And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”

The writer, whose other credits include “The Jim Henson Hour” and the TV movie musical, “Mrs. Santa Claus,” went on to suggest that the Bert and Ernie’s storylines were inspired by his real-life relationship.

“The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie and I as ‘Bert and Ernie,’” Saltzman said, referring to his partner, Arnold Glassman, a filmmaker and film editor who died in 2003.

“I was already with Arnie when I came to ‘Sesame Street.’ So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple,” he said. “I wrote sketches … Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert and Ernie dynamic.”

To be sure, HuffPo does grudgingly present the show’s denial (see below) as well as that of Frank Oz, who directed the show and was a puppeteer, including the person who did Bert. But then HuffPo buttresses the puppets-were-gay theory by noting that some other venues interpreted Bert and Ernie as gay—as in this New Yorker cover showing “the characters cuddling together on a sofa to celebrate the Supreme Court declaring the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, unconstitutional that June.”

Clearly the New Yorker itself wants to support the “Burt and Ernie are gay” side. I’ve pretty much given up on the magazine, though, as it makes the inevitable slide toward Authoritarian Leftism.

Well, frankly, I don’t worry much about whether Bert and Ernie were meant to be gay. If they were, then more power to Sesame Street for breaking it to children that not all relationships must be between people of different sexes. (However, if they wanted to impart that lesson, why weren’t the characters presented as gay more explicitly?) I applaud books and shows that let kids know about the diversity of sexuality in a sensitive way.

Sadly, the data suggests that “gay” theory was wrong. Sesame Street itself, which, one would think, doesn’t have a dog in this fight, denies it. Here’s a story from Sky News (click on screenshot):

An excerpt (my emphasis):

The makers of Sesame Street have denied that the classic characters Bertie and Ernie are homosexuals.

Their statement comes after one of the writers on the children’s TV show said he believed the educational puppets were “lovers”.

. . . Rumours have swirled for years that Bert and Ernie might be more than just friends, with the puppets known to sleep in the same double bed at night.

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation that makes Sesame Street, said in a statement: “As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends.

“They were created to teach pre-schoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.

“Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.”

Well that’s a good lesson, too. Being friends with people who are very different is not that far from being lovers with someone of the same sex, and imparts a message of similar tolerance. Below are the denials by the Sesame Workshop and Frank Oz.

Given the pushback from those in the know, the New York Times has taken up the controversy, reporting that Saltzman says that his comments were misinterpreted (click on screenshot below):

An excerpt (my emphases below):

The recurring question shot back into our consciousness this week after a former “Sesame Street” writer who is gay said in an interview that he wrote Bert and Ernie as a “loving couple,” taking inspiration from his own relationship with his longtime partner.

“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were” gay, the writer, Mark Saltzman, said in an interview with Queerty, a gay news and entertainment site. “I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”

His comments thundered across the internet, spreading both outrage and glee. “They’re official!!!!!” said one post, showing an image of a smiling Bert and Ernie wearing sparkling wedding rings. But Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind “Sesame Street,” quickly knocked down the idea, saying in a statement that Bert and Ernie are “best friends” and, being that they are puppets, have no sexual orientation.

Mr. Saltzman, who was a writer for “Sesame Street” in the 1980s and ’90s, now says that his comments were misinterpreted.

He said that he and his partner, Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003, were much like Bert and Ernie, opposites who found a way to love each other. “As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday night.

“Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay,” he said. “There is a difference.”

Of course in the statement at the top, Saltzman says they were indeed portrayed as gay, and that he meant them to be, so he’s simply walking back his claim. Now he argues that he just infused the characters with the spirit of homosexuality.

That may be a distinction without a difference, and I can’t be too bothered to make a judgement on all this. What does amuse me, and why I’m writing about this, is because many people insisted that they were gay, despite the show’s denials, and in fact demonized those who claimed that they weren’t gay. Such is the power of confirmation bias, and of the ideological Zeitgeist. 

HuffPo is one example, and here’s another (these aren’t hard to find) from the NYT:

Frank Oz, who helped create Bert and Ernie nearly a half century ago, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the characters were not gay

His comments received pushback from those who shared the importance of having gay and lesbian representation on television. One person wrote on Twitter that “having the flexibility to see them” as gay “was good for me, and the more voices I see CONFIRMING that they DEFINITELY ARE NOT is what makes me sad.”

Good Lord! Isn’t it enough for that person that they weren’t meant to show that very different people can be friends? Isn’t that an equally valuable lesson?

So be it. Here are some tweets that Grania found appropriate for this teapot tempest:

This one appears to show that “different types can be friends” (after all, they’re in separate beds):

From comedian Shappi Khorsandi, former President of the British Humanists:

And Grania insisted I post this, which shows that the debate has been raging a long time:


An antagonistic interview with Steve Bannon

In my futile effort to show that people need not fear public presentations of Steve Bannon, I present one interview from the Showtime program “The Circus”. It was sent by reader Paul, who said this:

This show is one of my favs as it combines behind the scenes looks at US politics and good food and drink.
Well, I wasn’t that impressed by the food and drink, but the 8-minute Bannon interview, from 12:30 to 20:25 in the clip below, is quite enlightening. In contrast to the last video I showed (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s interview with Bannon and Sarah Ferguson), the interviewer, John Heilemann, just takes out from the beginning after Bannon. And Bannon doesn’t look very good. Not only does he paint a completely ridiculous picture of Trump as a very smart man, but Bannon also spouts rather unintelligible politicospeak. Here’s the YouTube summary.
The Gathering Storm. With the looming midterm elections, the Trump presidency under siege, and Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolina coast, Washington has a lot on its collective plate. Executive Producer and Host John Heilemann interviews Steve Bannon. Season 3 Episode 7 premiere. Watch The Circus Sundays at 8pm ET/PT.
The entire video covers a variety of topics, but all are centered on the frightening Trump presidency. Although I wasn’t as impressed as Paul with the show’s format, I was engrossed by the hard-hitting interview. My point is that it shows how unfounded is people’s fear that a public talk by Bannon—or interview, as proposed by both my University and David “Invertebrate” Remnick at the New Yorker Festival—will hurt feelings and, indeed, constitute a form of violence. Bannon is a fairly eloquent right-wing ideologue, but when pressed by somebody that knows something, his facade collapses. There’s nothing to be scared about having Bannon speak in public, or in a debate format.

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Conspiracy

In today’s Jesus and Mo, called “clever”, the barmaid floats Pascal Boyer’s theory for the origin of religion, applying it to conspiracy theories. But Mo has his own theory:

The author makes a pitch for his site, and do throw a few bucks his/her/hir/ way:

They don’t want you to know the truth!
Support J&M’s secret plan to take over the world by becoming a Patron:



Travel and wildlife photos

As I didn’t have much time to post travel and wildlife pics on my recent trip to California, I’ll try to post a few every day.

On the day after arrival, we visited Año Nuevo State Park near Santa Cruz, one of the protected sites where Northern Elephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris) bask and breed. Thanks to reader and biologist Bruce Lyon, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California at Santa Cruz, we were given special access to a restricted beach where bachelor males and young seals were resting before going to see to feed.  On the drive to the beach from Santa Cruz, we saw tons of birds, especially brown pelicans (Pelicanus occidentalis).

A young gull:  According to Bruce, this is actually a cool gull, and an adult. His description:

The “young gull” with the red beak is a Heermann’s Gull adult (Larus heermanni). They are interesting because they breed mostly in Mexico but have a reverse migration and head north after breeding. They show up here in late summer. There is a tiny breeding colony down by Monterey—they apparently breed on the roof of a building owned by baseball legend Reggie Jackson. He does not want the gulls breeding on his building so he put netting up and they no longer breed there.

The trek to the beach over the dunes. Walking on loose sand, especially uphill, was pretty hard. We were accompanied by three naturalists who studied the sea lions, all arranged by Bruce, in the middle here with his big lens. We all had to wear “UCSC Research” jackets so the rangers wouldn’t mistake us for interlopers. It was a swell visit.

When we got there, there were tons of fat seals lazing on the sand. These are big ‘uns: as Wikipedia notes,

“The huge male northern elephant seal typically weighs 1,500–2,300 kg (3,300–5,100 lb) and measures 4–5 m (13–16 ft), although some males can weigh up to 3,700 kg (8,200 lb). Females are much smaller and can range from 400 to 900 kg (880 to 1,980 lb) in weight, or roughly a third of the male’s bulk, and measure from 2.5 to 3.6 m (8.2 to 11.8 ft).”

The males have long noses to help them vocalize (this is all about sex and female choice, of course, as males contribute nothing to offspring care). Here are some pictures:

A beach full o’ seals:

Two males engaging in mock combat (during real fights, they bloody each other’s necks with their sharp teeth, and can even kill each other):

But they are ineffably cute:

Most of them are tagged with markers like this one (I think it goes through the flipppers):

A piece of molted sea lion skin found by one of the naturalists:

Two videos. The lassitude of the colony is broken up only by mock fights and the constant flinging of sand over the seals’ backs with their flippers. That serves as both sunscreen and to cool the sea lions, as the whitish sand masks the dark, sun-absorbing coat:

The seals move with difficulty, humping their blubbery bodies along the beach. Despite that, they can move with surprising speed, though they can’t catch a fleeing human. (We weren’t allowed to get closer than 20 feet anyway, so we didn’t disturb them.)

Two out-of-focus brown pelicans:

After the seal viewing, Bruce afforded a tour of a nearby redwood trail in Butano State Park, which was lovely. Along the way he heard bird calls, and tried to call them in using a bluetooth box connected to bird songs on his smartphone. We didn’t manage to lure in birds, but apparently during the mating season you can get the birds to come right up to your face (the males respond to calls in a territorial way). Here is a big banana slug (Areiolimax columbianus), the official mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz:

And a Pacific Slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) nest inside a shattered tree:

Here’s a photo of that lovely bird from Wikipedia:

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

It’s Hump Day: Wednesday, September 19, 2018, with three days of summer left (that includes today). It’s National Butterscotch Pudding Day, a dessert that I ate as a child, much debased since it came from a Jell-O box. It’s also International Talk Like a Pirate Day, about which Wikipedia says this:

An observer of this holiday would greet friends not with “Hello, everyone!” but with “Ahoy, maties!” or “Ahoy, me hearties!”. The holiday, and its observance, springs from a romanticized view of the Golden Age of Piracy.

So, ARRRRRRRR (kiss the black spot!)—on with the news that happened on this day:

On September 19, 1778, the Continental Congress passed the U.S.’s first federal budget. In 1881, President Garfield died of sepsis from wounds inflicted in an assassination attempt on July 2. Chester A. Arthur, the Vice President, took over at the helm. And here’s the story of a hero (click on the link): it was on this day in 1940 that Witold Pilecki was “voluntarily captured and sent to Auschwitz to smuggle out information and start a resistance movement”. A member of the Polish Resistance during the War, Pilecki was summarily executed by the goddam Soviets in 1948 (Russia didn’t like the Polish Underground).  On this day in 1952, accused of Communist sympathies, the U.S. government barred Charlie Chaplin from returning to the U.S. after Chaplin had made a trip to England.

It’s a day that will live in infamy: on September 19, 1982, Scott Fahlman posted the first documented emoticons,  🙂 and 😦 on the Carnegie Mellon University bulletin board system. Here is that original message:

19-Sep-82 11:44    Scott E  Fahlman             :-)
From: Scott E  Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways.  Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends.  For this, use


On September 19, 1991, the frozen corpse of Ötzi the Iceman was discovered in the Italian/Austrian Alps.  Here he is, along with a reconstruction of his clothes. He’d eaten ibex meat a few hours before his death, and had an arrow embedded in his scapula—probably the cause of death.

Finally, it was on this day in 1995 that both The Washington Post and The New York Times published the Unabomber‘s manifesto.

Notables born on this day include Arthur Rackham (1867), Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (1907), William Golding (1911), Brian Epstein (1934), Cass Elliot (1941, died 1974, but not from eating a ham sandwich), and Twiggy (1949; my age). Here’s a rendition of Rip Van Winkle by Rackham, one of my favorite illustrators:

Those who expired on September 19 include James A. Garfield (see above), mountaineer Lionel Terray (1965, died on a rock climb), Gram Parsons (1973), Italo Calvino and Orville Redenbacher (both 1985), and photographer Eddie Adams and singer Skeeter Davis (both 2004). Here’s Skeeter Davis singing her immortal crossover hit from 1962, “The End of the World“. As Wikipedia reports (my emphasis):

In December 1962, “The End of the World” peaked in March 1963 at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (behind “Our Day Will Come” by Ruby & the Romantics), No. 2 on the Billboard country singles, No. 1 on Billboard’s easy listening, and No. 4 on Billboard’s rhythm and blues It is the first, and, to date, only time that a song cracked the Top 10 on all four Billboard charts.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is on a solipsistic hunt:

Here are some tweets from Grania. the first showing the kindness of humans:

. . and the preserved foal we mentioned the other day. Look at those hooves:

A flatulent d*g offends a cat (sound on, please):

This must be a tame bear. I’d love to give one a snow massage! (sound on):

Another video demonstrating the cleverness of cats. I would dearly love a cat-made pot:

From First Amendment lawyer Mark Randazza, who clearly has an adolescent streak:

Tweets from Matthew. Can you spot the caterpillar in the picture? It’s in plain view!

Saber-toothed cat tracks!!!

What is this? Matthew says, “It’s a spine on a spiny-backed spider I think.”

Orson Welles was a great filmmaker, but this ad, which is genuine, shows his pretentious side. Seriously: “mallow-based confection”? (I do love Peeps, though.)

NOTE: I’ve since found that this ad is a fake.