Identify my duck

I’m pretty convinced that my new female duck is not Honey, the one I tended last year—along with her four ducklings. Yet it still amazes me that the new duck came to me immediately when I gave my three-note call, almost as if it had remembered.

Now some readers have said that a duck’s bill can change color over time, but this would have to be a big change. Honey had a unique mottled pattern on her bill, whereas my new duck (still unnamed) doesn’t. Still, some naturalists and birders have said there’s a certain resemblance.

To move this issue forward, I’m posting pictures of the bills of Honey compared to my new duck (called “New Duck”). Birders: you tell me.

Honey, left side of bill

Honey: right side of bill:

Honey, front view of bill:

New duck: left side of bill:

New duck, right side of bill:

New duck: front view of bill:


The new duck has much more yellow on the front of the bill, and lacks the stippling on the sides of the beak that Honey had. I don’t think they’re they same duck. Could this be Honey’s one female offspring? I have only one highly cropped view of her single female offspring, which doesn’t tell us much:

So, birders, you tell me: same duck or different duck?

Lagnaippe: Water reflections from Botany Pond, this morning.

Okay, time for the ducks’ second feeding.


Andrew Sullivan reviews two books on whether Trump can be impeached

In today’s New York Times, writer Andrew Sullivan reviews two books by Cass Sunstein (one authored, one edited) about whether Trump is impeachable given what we know. The verdict is “probably not.” Here are the two books, and click on the screenshot below them to read Sullivan’s take. As a highly respected Constitutional lawyer and scholar (he used to be at Chicago, but moved to Harvard), Sunstein knows whereof he speaks. But this is Washington, Jake.

A Citizen’s Guide
By Cass R. Sunstein
199 pp. Harvard University. Paper, $7.95.

Authoritarianism in America
Edited by Cass R. Sunstein
481 pp. Dey St./Morrow. Paper, $17.99.

The first book (an excerpt of Sullivan’s review):

Where does this leave us with respect to Donald Trump? Sunstein smartly doesn’t answer the question directly — instead teasing out various hypotheticals with some similarities to our current concerns. Here are a few: directing the Justice Department to prosecute someone for political reasons; pledging in advance to pardon anyone in law enforcement who commits a crime; using the F.B.I. or C.I.A. to get evidence of criminality against a political opponent; egregiously defaulting on his core presidential responsibilities; secretly bribing others in a direct quid pro quo or similarly receiving bribes; and secretly cooperating with a foreign power to promulgate false information against a political opponent. Sunstein thinks each of these is an impeachable offense — as they almost certainly are.

. . . With Trump, these analogies are tantalizingly close but probably not close enough.

Sunstein also feels the Russia affair also hasn’t risen to the level of “impeachability”

And the second book, the anthology:

What makes Trump immune is that he is not a president within the context of a healthy republican government. He is a cult leader of a movement that has taken over a political party — and he specifically campaigned on a platform of one-man rule. This fact permeates “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America,” a collection of essays by a number of writers that has been edited by Sunstein, which concludes, if you read between the lines, that “it” already has.

No, Trump is not about to initiate a coup, or suspend elections or become a dictator. The more likely model for American authoritarianism is that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or the Fidesz party in Hungary. The dismemberment of a public discourse centered on objective truth is a key first step, fomented by unceasing dissemination of outright lies from the very top, metabolized by tribal social media, ever more extreme talk radio and what is essentially a state propaganda channel, Fox News. The neutering of the courts is the second step — and Trump is well on his way to (constitutionally) establishing a federal judiciary whose most important feature will be reliable assent to executive power.

Sullivan’s conclusion is grim—too grim for me to contemplate:

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

King’s College London deplatforms its own lecturer—scheduled to talk on free speech!

Nativist and white supremacist Tommy Robinson is scheduled to speak at Speakers’ Corner in London today; his topic being free speech and the history of that famous “Corner”. The police removed him from that place about a week ago, and it’s not clear whether they’ll remove him again for talking about the very history of the area.

In the meantime, another Brit has been deplatformed for trying to talk about free speech. As the Torygraph and The Sunday Times report, lecturer Adam Perkins, a neuroscientist at King’s College London (KCL), has been de-platformed by his own university. The ostensible reason is not that his topic is anathema, or even “hate speech,” but because the College couldn’t guarantee anyone’s safety. As the Torygraph notes:

King’s College London (KCL) has been accused of “no platforming” its own lecturer, after his talk on free speech was deemed “high risk”.

Dr Adam Perkins, an academic who specialises in the neurobiology of personality, was due to speak to students on Friday afternoon about the scientific importance of free speech.

But the event, hosted by KCL’s Libertarian Society, was forcibly postponed by the university following a risk assessment.

The society said they see this as “no platforming”, adding: “When your university censors its own lecturer, you know things have got out of hand.

“The talk was meant to be about the scientific importance of free speech. It seems for King’s, there is no such concept of free speech.”

The Times add this information:

The university said that 400 students had signed a petition alleging that Dr Perkins had “stigmatised” minority groups and that the event had been postponed. “

We do not have enough resources to make sure that this event can be managed safely,” a spokesman said. Dr Perkins, who previously caused controversy by arguing that welfare dependency could be “bred out”, said: “Free speech in science is crucial because it means different opinions can be debated.” The society said that “violent intolerance” was being allowed to stifle debate.

Here are the Words that Cannot be Said, words that were called “bigoted” in the petition and “racist” by the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society:

In a book titled The Welfare Trait, Dr Perkins argues that children whose families are dependent on benefits tend to be even more unmotivated and resistant to employment than their parents. He recommends that policies should be altered so that the welfare state does not encourage families in disadvantaged households to have more children.

Nope, we can’t have college students hearing that kind of stuff! I don’t know anything about the UK’s policies, but this seems a criticism of poor people, not minorities, even if minorities are more likely to be poor. I suspect that Perkins is using the same “welfare queen” trope that made so much hay for Ronald Reagan, but he was at least allowed to speak his mind.

The Libertarian Society is right. Both reasons for deplatforming Perkins are bogus. If the event can’t be managed safely, they should give it extra resources. (And seriously, if it can’t be managed safely, it’s the fault of the protestors and not the speaker.) And as for the bully veto of a petition, Perkins had already been invited and scheduled to speak, and a petition should make no difference.

This event, and my post from earlier today, along with other recent incidents, shows that free speech is under serious threat in the UK.

h/t: Jiten

Trump’s getting scared

The Mueller investigation is drawing ever closer to Trump, whose administration is simply coming apart at the seams. It’s accomplished nothing save appointing a Supreme Court judge as right-wing as Scalia, and people are fleeing the government like rats from a sinking ship. We may live to see Trump impeached for obstruction of justice, something that (although it would make Pence President for three years), wouldn’t make me shed any tears.

And so, this morning, Trump lashed out at Mueller:

Mueller has already gotten four indictments and one guilty plea. And isn’t Trump aware that he’s a Republican?

So let’s have a poll. Are we in for another Saturday Night Massacre à la Nixon? Does Trump have the moxie to fire Mueller? I’m saying no, but you may feel differently. After all, if Trump is anything, he’s hot-headedly unpredictable.


London Police to enforce thoughtcrime, Britain circling the free-speech drain

Several days ago three right-wing white supremacists, Lauren Southern, Brittany Pettibone, and Martin Sellner, were refused entry to the UK (they are Canadian, American, and Austrian, respectively). The reason was that Pettibone and Southern set up a booth in Luton handing out pamphlets claiming that “Allah is a gay god,” while Sellner was going to make a speech at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. (Isn’t there supposed to be free speech there?) As the BBC reports:

Brittany Pettibone and her boyfriend, Martin Sellner, were refused entry to the UK when they landed at Luton Airport on Friday. They were detained for two days, and then deported. Another activist, Lauren Southern, was refused entry by the Border Force near Calais on Monday. She had planned to meet with the couple and the former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson.

Sellner, an Austrian and prominent figure in the anti-migration group Generation Identity, was due to make a speech in Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. He was the leader of a “Defend Europe” campaign last summer, responsible for targeting boats run by NGOs trying to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean.

On his social media accounts, Robinson says he plans to deliver Sellner’s speech in Hyde Park on Sunday.

In a statement about the activists, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Border Force has the power to refuse entry to an individual if it is considered that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.”

Pettibone, an American, tweeted an image of the letter she says was handed to her by an immigration officer. It states that her planned activities posed “a serious threat to the fundamental interests of society and are likely to incite tensions between local communities in the United Kingdom”.

. . . Southern says she was questioned under the Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, on her political views and her opinion on right-wing terrorism. She tells BBC Trending that she was refused entry on the grounds of her involvement “in the distribution of racist material in Luton”.

In February, the Canadian activist displayed flyers saying “Allah is a gay god” outside a restaurant in the town centre. Southern, who has nearly half a million subscribers on YouTube and regularly posts politically charged stunts, says this was part of a “social experiment” video.

I deplore the activities of Pettibone, Southern, and Sellner.  The latter two were involved in a scheme trying to turn back boats full of immigrants trying to reach Europe, and the booth in Luton was meant to be confrontational. Here’s a tweet showing the booth that got them put on the “do not allow” list of the UK:

I consider all three of these people racists, pure and simple. Still, racists have a right to speak, and it seems to me unwise for Britain to ban them from temporary entry. Yes, it preserves the peace, but at the expense of free speech—which is not as strongly supported in the UK as in the US. And although I don’t know how one can make a case that Allah is gay—after all, homosexuality is demonized by Islam, and is a capital crime in several Muslim countries—it’s valid and valuable to point out that Islam is homophobic, a view that goes against progressive sentiments. Saying “Allah is gay” is one way to express that. Whether Southern et al. wanted to drive that point home is beyond me. But this is why we shouldn’t suppress those who purvey what we see as “hate speech”. Indeed, even Muslim outrage at such shenanigans shows that intolerance cannot be allowed to lapse into violence, and fear of that violence shouldn’t drive censorship.

In an editorial at Spiked, editor Brendan O’Neill, who (like me) despises Southern and Pettibones’s views, nevertheless defends their right to express them:

That someone has been banned from Britain for, among other things, saying ‘Allah is gay’ should send shivers down the spine of all genuine liberals. It is testament to the long and difficult and strange struggle for free speech in Britain that people have actually been dragged to court and sentenced to prison in this country for the right to imply that deities are gay. It was in 1976, when Gay News published a poem titled ‘The love that dare not speak its name’, which was a fantasy involving a Roman centurion fellating Jesus Christ and bringing him to orgasm. Mary Whitehouse brought a private blasphemy case against Gay News and won: the publisher of the magazine was fined £500 and sentenced to nine months in jail (suspended). In 1976. In many people’s living memory.

. . . Liberals and gay-rights activists were outraged by this case. . . Fast forward 40 years and the authorities are once again telling us it is unacceptable to say a god is gay. In this case, Allah. Yet again we seem to have been whisked in a time machine back to the Middle Ages. Only now it is Islam rather than Christianity that is protected with the forcefield of censorship. We must be free to say anything we like about Allah, Muhammad, Islam and every other religious faith and figurehead. That more leftists and liberals are not insisting on this suggests they have abandoned the fight for freedom of speech and conceded that territory entirely to the hard right, who can now pose as defenders of great Western ideals. What a terrible, historic error.

Now the UK has a right to ban anyone it wants—there was talk of not allowing Trump himself into the UK—and I find it ironic that Southern and Sellner, who were trying to prevent immigrants from entering Europe, are beefing about being denied entry to the UK. Nevertheless, I see Europe, more than the US, going down the path of speech suppression (I’ll give another example later today). The police and politicians (except for the odious extreme right-wingers) seem reluctant to even speak about Muslim crimes or “grooming gangs”, much less to take action against them, all for fear of inflaming the Muslim faithful (note that the preceding link is to a Guardian piece). But no religion should be coddled if its tenets encourage bad behavior, and nobody should be reluctant to prosecute (much less mention) odious crimes because such persecution causes “offense.”

I’ve gone back and forth on the idea of whether there should be a special class of “hate crimes”: that crimes motivated by bigotry should be prosecuted more strongly, and offenders punished more severely, than those who commit identical crimes but from other motives. A justification for treating “hate crimes” differently would be that the perpetrators are less likely to be reformed, that punishing “hate criminals” has a stronger deterrent effect than punishing those who do the same deed but from different motives, or because society needs more protection from “hate criminals” than from “regular criminals.” I don’t think any of these have been empirically demonstrated. Rather, the extra animus against “hate crimes” seems to be one of retribution—that haters deserve extra punishment because they made especially onerous choices. As a determinist, I can’t buy that, though if the empirical data that’s missing supports a need to treat “hate criminals” differently, I’d reconsider.

In the meantime, the London Police have published a page on “What is hate crime?” They cover physical assault, incitement to hatred, and verbal abuse. The former is prima facie a crime, but the latter two, at least in America, are questionable. Incitement to immediate violence—”clear and present danger”—is illegal speech in America, but not simple “incitement to hatred”, which could of course be stretched to cover statements against religions and other things (those accused of “hate speech” in America have included Ben Shapiro, Charles Murray, Jordan Peterson, and others who should have been allowed to speak). The same goes for “verbal abuse”, which should be prohibited if it involves personal threats and harassment, but is one of those terms that has a tendency to stretch.

The most worrisome bit of the London Police report is this bit:

Leaving aside the dubious need to punish people more for the “hate” behind their crimes, what bothers me is the bit that says an incident that is not normally a crime can become one “if the victim or anyone else believes it was motivated by prejudice or hate.” That means that no real evidence is needed to turn an incident into a crime—just someone’s belief about what was motivating the perp.  Further, they add that “though what the perpetrator has done may not be against the law, their reasons for doing it are.” This is thoughtcrime, and it’s both weird and unconscionable to punish one act and not an identical one based on what seemed to be motivating the perpetrator. Even if the perp admits a motivation, doing something legal surely cannot become illegal because it’s motivated by prejudice.

Can you name any incident that should be treated like this? If you stick out your tongue at somebody out of nastiness, and that’s not a crime, does it become so if you stick out your tongue at a black person, Jew, or Muslim?

At any rate, the UK, out of what can only be called “political correctness” (a term I use infrequently, but which seems appropriate here), is going down the path of censorious authoritarianism. If a legal act can be turned into a crime because of the perceived motivations of the actor, then Britain is in trouble.

Writer’s travel photos: Madison, Wisconsin

In lieu of readers’ wildlife photos today, I’ll post a few holiday snaps from my trip to Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve already posted food pictures, so here’s the ancillary stuff.

The state capitol building, completed in 1917. It has, Dan Barker told me, the most capacious dome of any capitol building in the world, including the U.S. Capitol. Inside it’s elaborately painted and decorated, with over 40 different kinds of marble on the walls and floors. It stands 284 feet tall, and no building within a mile can be taller than the statue atop the dome:

The statue of “Wisconsin” atop the dome, sculpted by Daniel Chester French (photo from Wikipedia):

The reflection of the dome in a nearby building:

The dome and decorations:

Some of the lovely marble in the floor:

Unlike Hyde Park, where my University is located, Madison is a real college town, full of bookstores, ethnic restaurants, and record shops. It also has a lot of nice Art Deco buildings:


An Art Deco state office building near the waterfront (downtown Madison sits on a peninsula between two lakes):

State Street, the road that runs from the Capitol to the University of Wisconsin:

This appealingly named brewpub was named the best in Wisconsin in 2017, but I was there too early in the day to have a brewski:

The University, which is huge: 43,000 undergrad + graduate students. It’s too big to photograph all at once, so here’s the entrance to the campus, the Ag Building (foundation of the famous Dairy), some students, and the view from the admin building atop its hill down State Street to the Capitol:

Monona Terrace, Frank Lloyd Wright’s civic center on the lakefront, was conceived by Wright in 1937, but didn’t open until sixty years later, when Wright had been dead for 38 years. It’s hard to see the whole building as it’s low and long, but the people at the next-door Hilton allowed me into the “Honors Club” on the 14th floor to photograph it from above:


Some information:

Part of the large interior:

The men’s room with self-portrait:


And, on the way back home, there were either Amish or Mennonites close to me (I also saw them on the way to Madison). I’m not sure whether the faith prohibits them from taking planes, or whether they prefer the cheaper train. The second picture, unfortunately blurry, looks to me just like “Whistler’s Mother”:




Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sunday, March 18, 2018, just a few days until Spring, which starts Tuesday, March 20 at 11:16 a.m.. It’s also National Sloppy Joe Day, but didn’t we just have one of these?

On this day in AD 37, the Roman Senate annulled the will of Tiberius and proclaimed Caligula emperor. Big mistake: the emperor was an evil man, most probably insane. As Wikipedia notes, “Once, at some games at which [Caligula] was presiding, he ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the audience into the arena during the intermission to be eaten by the wild beasts because there were no prisoners to be used and he was bored.” In 1892, former Governor General of Canada Lord Stanley donated a silver challenge cup for Canada’s best hockey team: ergo the Stanley cup. On this day in 1922, Mohandas Gandhi was sentenced to six years in prison for “sedition”: non-cooperation with the British. He served two years before he was released for good to undergo an operation for appendicitis.

On March 18, 1965, the Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov exited his spacecraft Voshkod 2 for 12 minutes, becoming the first person to walk in space. Here’s part of that walk on video:

On March 18, 1967, the supertanker Torrey Canyon ran aground off Cornwall in England, spilling its cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil. On this day in 1990, the inhabitants of the GDR, East Germany, had their first democratic elections after communism fell in that country.  And on the very same day, the biggest and most valuable art theft in US history took place, with 12 paintings, worth in toto about $500 million, were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. This is still the greatest single theft of property in world history. Here are two of the stolen works, none of which were ever recovered:

“The Concert” by Johannes Vermeer, one of only 34 of his known works:

. . . and Rembrandt’s only seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Gaililee”. Such lovely paintings; somewhere an oligarch sits and admires them, all to himself. If you know where they are, there’s a $5 million reward.

Notables born on this day include John C. Calhoun (1782), Grover Cleveland (1837), Nikolia Rimsky-Korsakov (1844), Neville “Peace in Our Time” Chamberlain (1869), Edgar Cayce (1877), Wilfred Own (1893), John Updike (1932), F. W. de Klerk (1936), Wilson Pickett (1941), my old friend and collaborator, the genticist (Dame) Linda Partridge (1950), Ben Cohen (1951, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream), and Adam Levine (1979). Those who fell asleep on this day include Laurence Sterne (1768), Johnny Appleseed (1845), John Phillips (2001), Natasha Richardson (2009), and Chuck Berry (last year).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, a large male cat has shown up, and it’s possible that Hili has a boyfriend! The new cat appears to hang out with Hili in the garden, and then jumps on the windowsill to look at her when she comes in. I have named this cat “Ignatz.” Here he is; Hili, never having had a boyfriend, is understandably wary:

Hili: Do we defend the territory or invite him in?
Cyrus: He looks like a nice guy.
Hili: I wouldn’t trust him.
In Polish:
Hili: Bronimy terytorium, czy zapraszamy do środka?
Cyrus: Wygląda na miłego kolegę.
Hili: Ja bym mu nie ufała.

Here’s a contribution from reader Keith, who writes:

I saw this sign in my vet’s office.  This proves that cat owners are twice as smart as dog owners.  The cat owner’s head is twice as large!

From Matthew: a 100th-anniversary movie clip:

I didn’t know that pangolins were, errr, this pulchritudinous. (Matthew notes, “Not sure why this is surprising but it’s been around for a while.”)

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this, but if it’s true then it’s also very sad:

An ant bridge breaks but is repaired. All that information in such a tiny brain!

Two animal tweets, also from Dr. Cobb:

Check out the pictures of that guillemot-strewn cliff:

This wonderful painting is 3.5 millennia old!

A sciurid weather station:


Bill Maher offers some constructive criticism to Democrats

“The Democrats are to political courage as Velveeta is to cheese.”
—Bill Maher

In this segment of Bill Maher’s latest show, he calls out Democrats for their lack of courage.  To a large extent I agree with him. Americans are in favor of more gun control, want reasonable controls on immigration, and yet the Democrats are timorous on these issues. To listen to Democratic politicians, you’d almost think they favor completely open borders, something that’s insupportable.

And Democrats allow Republicans, and much of the country, to characterize Nancy Pelosi as a liability despite her remarkable effectiveness as both Speaker of the House and Minority Leader. It’s the Democrats’ fault that they haven’t defended Pelosi more vigorously, and, in truth, I don’t know why (I refuse to believe it’s because she’s a woman, for that would make me deeply ashamed of my party).

At any rate, does anybody really want to call Maher an “alt-righter” after a tirade like this?

My ducks

I don’t think my new mallard hen is Honey, but she sure has a handsome boyfriend! I was afraid that my four-day absence would drive the ducks away, but, sure enough, they were in the shallow end of the pond this afternoon, waiting for their mealworms and corn (no, they won’t eat peas).  And they look as if they’re getting into better condition. I make sure to give the hen extra food as she may be incubating some eggs.

Here are the latest photos:

Isn’t he a handsome lad? His emerald-green head glistens in the sun.

And the adorable hen. I need names for both of them.

The happy couple. They seem to get along very well, sharing their food and not pecking each other:

I like this one, as it shows a vigorous shake:

Is religion “superstition”?

The other day somebody out for blood accused me of being disrespectful to religion because I called it “superstition”. Presumably the person was thinking of “superstition” as those secular forms of belief, like carrying a rabbit’s foot or not stepping on cracks or not walking under ladders that are completely irrational but thought to have tangible effects on one’s life.

But that’s exactly what religion is! When you pray, or daven, or wash your feet before Islamic prayers, or eat a wafer at Mass, you’re performing actions that are thought to be salubrious, but they’re just as irrational as looking for a four-leaf clover for luck.  In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary—my go-to site for definitions—has this for the “religious” connotation of superstition:

And here’s the secular rabbit’s-foot definition:

Ingersoll, as you saw in the quote I gave this morning, also equated religion with superstition. And indeed it is, harsh as that may be to the ears of believers. Religions are irrational, unfounded, based on fear and ignorance, and full of “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural.” Further, they are all false, so far as we can tell: at the very minimum only one can be true. Ergo, religion is superstition. And believers are “superstitionists”:

The reason people bridle at equating religion with superstition is not because the latter word is inaccurate, but because they still retain an unwarranted respect for faith.