Media, relieved that Notre Dame relics were saved, acts as if they were real

The fire at Notre Dame is out, and much of the main building was spared, though it will take years, if ever, to bring it back to where it was before. I’m not sure about the status of its famous stained-glass windows, though one photo seems to show that a big one is gone, for, after all, the glass was held together with easily-melted lead. The cause of the disaster has not been determined, and may never be.

All in all, it’s not the disaster I feared; here’s what it looks like today:

Photo from the NY Times. Thibault Camus/Associated Press

President Macron has pledged that it will be rebuilt, and private donors have already given millions to that purpose, with the LVMH Group having donated 200 million Euros.

While I was watching the news last night, they had a special report from a correspondent who was talking about whether the artwork and relics had been saved. She was especially concerned that Jesus’s crown of thorns had been recovered, and I’d forgotten that that relic was even in the Cathedral. In fact, the Cathedral also contains not only a nail supposedly used to secure Jesus to the cross, but a piece of the True Cross itself. The chances that these are real are miniscule; I suspect that if there was a “True Cross”, the pieces of it preserved in various places would be much larger than any execution cross.

On this morning’s local news, an anchor was especially excited that the cross on the altar had been preserved, clearly implying that this was the work of God. She didn’t discuss why God allowed the Cathedral to burn but saved the cross.

At any rate, here’s how CNN reported on these relics:

The cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is home to scores of priceless artifacts, artwork and relics collected over the centuries, each with their own story.

As a devastating fire tore through the revered Gothic cathedral on Monday, toppling its spire, many feared these treasures might be lost forever.

The Crown of Thorns, which some believe was placed on the head of Jesus and which the cathedral calls its “most precious and most venerated relic,” was rescued from the fire, according to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

“We managed to protect the most precious treasures in a safe place,” a Paris City Hall spokesperson told CNN.

However it has not been confirmed whether individual items such as a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails were saved.

Granted, the Crown of Thorns is qualified by saying that “some believe it was placed on the head of Jesus”, but the fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails are presented as if they were real relics. And the reporter on NBC Nightly News certainly didn’t qualify these relics.

Even the New York Times didn’t hedge that much:

While one treasure, a relic of the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus during his crucifixion, was saved, the status of other historic items is unclear.

Yes, the crown was “said to have been worn by Jesus”, but the fact of Jesus’s crucifixion (much less the identity of the Jesus person) is not established historically. The “other historic items”, like the nail that went through Jesus, aren’t “historic” in the sense that their provenance is established, but only in that they were historically seen by the credulous as being real.

Perhaps I’m being overly captious, but the chances are very high that these relics are dubious; it’s as if the press reported “It has not been confirmed whether the runner from Santa’s sleigh was saved.” Wikipedia lists over a dozen related relics, either individual thorns from the Crown of Thorns or fragments of the entire crown, preserved at various places.  Like the Shroud of Turin and many other relics of Jesus, these are fakes, products of a Jesus-relic industry in the Middle Ages.

Here’s the supposed Crown preserved in a gold reliquary at Notre Dame:

Another view (could there be Jesus’s DNA on it from bloodstains?):

Reuters: Philippe Wojazer

As for the crucifixion nails, it’s true that nails have been found in tombs in Israel that were driven through bone, and were likely used in crucifixions, but none of these has been identified as a Jesus Nail (and how could it be given that his bones would have gone missing?), and there are at least three separate crucifixions involved.  Here’s a nail that was driven through the hand:

Here’s the “Holy Nail” from Notre Dame:

(Photo by: Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Re the piece of the True Cross, well, let’s start with some carbon dating on that.

Here’s a tweet from a global news agency failing to qualify the “Crown of Thorns” although it does hedge on St. Louis’s tunic. And of course the artefacts are replaceable; you just cobble together another crown out of dried twigs.

I’m not trying to be churlish here, but just reporting how religious myths subtly become reinforced by the press.  (Caveat: some places, including the Guardian, hedges all these relics with an indication that they’re “believed to be real”.) At any rate, the value and beauty of Notre Dame, which are undeniable, are to me completely independent of the truth of Christian mythology, which I see as false. The Rose Windows are infinitely more valuable to our culture than a nail of dubious origin. But such is faith.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Stephen Barnard has been sending me photos from Idaho every few days, and let’s see them all together. His captions are indented.

The first set of photos came with a “trigger warning: mink/mallards”. I was relieved that the mallards didn’t get eaten.

This American Mink (Neovison vison) was working its way down the creek, sometimes on the bank and  sometimes in the water. It was (unmistakably) stalking a pair of mallards that were hugging the bank to keep out of a strong wind. I  expected it to attack them, but I think my presence spooked it.

A couple of new species showed up today, in wet, overcast weather that ducks seem to enjoy. Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera). Common. Breeding male. They seem to me to be gregarious and quarrelsome, often hanging close to mallards and squabbling among themselves.

Gadwall (Mareca strepera). Less common. More solitary in pairs. This is a breeding male. The feather patterns on the wing are psychedelic.

Not a good photo, but just to show another duck species in Loving Creek. Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris). Tiny, active, secretive birds. Hard to photograph.

The silhouette of a moose (Alces alces) at sunset.

Mating Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis).

Deets (Canis lupus familiaris).


Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

It’s Tuesday, the Cruelest Day: April 16, 2019, and National Eggs Benedict Day, a dish that Anthony Bourdain advised you never to order at brunch, since it’s likely to be cobbled together from leftovers from the week. It’s also World Voice Day, a rather bizarre commemoration of the phenomenon of the human voice. Finally, it’s Foursquare Day, since April is the fourth month and 16 is four squared.

On April 16, 1818, the U.S. Senate established a demilitarized border with Canada by ratifying the Rush–Bagot Treaty. In 1881, in Dodge City, Kansas, sheriff Bat Masterson fought his last gun battle (he wasn’t hurt and lived to a ripe old age).  Here’s a picture of Masterson and another famous sheriff; it’s from Wikipedia but definitely looks pasted together:

(From Wikipedia): Deputies Bat Masterson (standing) and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, 1876. The scroll on Earp’s chest is a cloth pin-on badge.

On this day in 1912,  Harriet Quimby, the first woman to get a pilot’s license in the U.S., also became the first woman to fly an airplane across the English Channel. She died in 1912 after being thrown from a two-seater plane. Here’s Quimby’s photo, this time not altered:

On April 16, 1917,  Lenin returned to Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) Russia from exile in Switzerland. He arrived at the Finland Station and gave a fiery speech calling for revolution. (You may have read Edmund Wilson’s famous history of socialism, To the Finland Station.) When I was in St. Petersburg a few years back, I made a special trip to the station to see the engine that pulled one of Lenin’s trains. Nobody spoke English, and the platform. where the car resides, was restricted, so I had to draw pictures of Lenin in a locomotive before they understood what I wanted to see.  Then they became very nice and let me see the engine. Here it is along with a plaque in both Finnish and Russian (translation please).

Wikipedia’s caption for its own picture (these one are mine) is “The engine that pulled the train on which Lenin arrived at Petrograd’s Finland Station in April 1917 was not preserved. So Engine #293, by which Lenin escaped to Finland and then returned to Russia later in the year, serves as the permanent exhibit, installed at a platform on the station.”

Exactly a year later, Gandhi organized an India-wide day of prayer and fasting in response to the April 13 killing of unarmed Sikh celebrants by General Dyer’s troops in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

On April 16, 1943, Albert Hoffman accidentally discovered that LSD was hallucinogenic while doing pharmaceutical research on the fungus ergot. Three days later he took the drug on purpose to verify its effects, and the rest is history. (I heard him lecture on this discovery when I was sitting in on Richard Schultes’s economic botany class at Harvard. He was a stiff, Swissy man who talked in a starched lab coat, not at all an acid head!)  Exactly two years later, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous  Letter from Birmingham Jail while locked up for protesting segregation. You can see the whole letter here.

On April 16, 1990, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, aka “Doctor Death”, helped in his first assisted suicide. After several more of these, he was jailed from 1999-2007.  Finally, on this day in 2007, 32 people were killed and 17 injured at Virginia Tech when Seung-Hui Cho, a mentally ill former student, went on a shooting rampage. He then shot himself in the head.

Notables born on this day include David Hume (1711), Ma Rainey (1886), Rudolf Hess (1894), Bernard Malamud (1914), I. M. Pei (1917), Fanny Blankers-Koen (1918), Carol Burnett (1933), Bobby Rydell (1942), and Melania Trump (1970). Remember this Rydell hit, “Swingin’ School”? OY!

Those who bought the farm on April 26 include John Wilkes Booth (1865), Arnold Sommerfeld (1951), Gypsy Rose Lee (1970), Count Basie (1984), Lucille Ball (1989), and Jayne Meadows (2015).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Malgorzata explains Hili’s disgust: “Andrzej’s shoes really need cleaning – not of mud but of everyday dirt. They are simply dirty shoes which haven’t seen shoe polish for ages.”

Hili: I’m afraid you have to clean your shoes.
A: It’s none of your business.
In Polish:
Hili: Obawiam się, że musisz buty wyczyścić.
Ja: Nie twój interes.

And in his future home nearby, Leon asks about the exams that all Polish secondary-school students are taking:

Leon: Tell me about it. Was it difficult?

Opowiadajcie,jak było? Trudne?

A tweet from reader Barry, showing a cat getting a massage while hearing music. (Video; sound on.)

A tweet from reader Nilou, who thinks these baby ravens are adorable:

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. She said this about the first one: “How’s this for cute?” Be sure to watch the video:

I didn’t know, either. . .

Matthew shows the variation in the vernacular words for a fish across the UK. Things get a little hairy in northwest England. (You may have to download and enlarge the picture.)

A science “hoax” perpetrated by a good science Twitter site, @justsaysinmice:

The conflagration at Notre Dame was horrible, but it appears that a large part of the main cathedral has been saved. I got an email today from a childhood playmate I had about 60 years ago and had lost track of until very recently. He told me this:

I just happened to see your recent comment about the Notre Dame fire:
  “I’m just unspeakably sad. Yes, it was a religious structure, but that doesn’t detract from its historical significance, its beauty, and the emotional effect it has on many (including me).”
That comment sparked my memory of a conversation I had with your father many years ago.  He told me that when you were very young they took you on your first tour of Paris.  He said nothing much impressed you and you seemed pretty bored by the whole excursion.  Then you went into Notre Dame and he said you stopped in your tracks and appeared absolutely mesmerized and in awe of the place. He said he had never seen you react quite so intensely at any other place you ever visited when at that age.  I have no idea how that emerged from a deep burial in my memory bank but there it is.

Tweets from Grania. This one is inexcusable as the study reports results in MICE. And it was tweeted by Discover Magazine!

A man and his best friend, a muscovy duck.

A snow leopard pounces, but no living creatures were hurt in the making of this video.


Notre Dame severely damaged; roof collapses: cathedral may be forever lost

Well, the roof of Notre Dame collapsed in the fire and the damage is horribly severe. There’s a timely report at The New York Times (click on screenshot below):

They still don’t know how the fire started, but here’s what the NYT says:

André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, said in a telephone interview that the cause of the fire remained unknown, and there was no immediate indication that anyone had been hurt.

“It’s not about the faith — Notre-Dame is a symbol of France,” said Emmanuel Guary, a 31-year-old actor who was among a huge crowd amassed on the Rue Rivoli, on the Right Bank. Many had tears in their eyes.

After part of the spire collapsed, the fire appeared to spread across the rooftop, where the growing flames licked the sky and projected a yellow smoke over the horizon.

. . . The French police rushed in and started blowing whistles, telling everyone to move back, witnesses said. By then, the flames were towering, spilling out of multiple parts of the cathedral. Tourists and residents alike came to a standstill, pulling out their phones to call their loved ones. Older Parisians began to cry, lamenting how their national treasure was quickly being lost.

. . .Vincent Dunn, a fire consultant and former New York City fire chief, said that fire hose streams could not reach the top of such a cathedral, and that reaching the top on foot was often an arduous climb over winding steps.

“These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn,” he said. “If they weren’t houses of worship, they’d be condemned.”

Apparently they couldn’t do a forest-fire-like drop of water from the air, as that, they say, might have caused the entire edifice to collapse. There will be plenty of recriminations in the next week. I’m just unspeakably sad. Yes, it was a religious structure, but that doesn’t detract from its historical significance, its beauty, and the emotional effect it has on many (including me).

The pictures and videos below show the fire in the interior, and that probably means that the stained-glass windows, the choir, and other works of art are destroyed. It will never be the same again.

Some photos:

Credit Charles Platiau/Reuters

This is such a sad picture:

Credit Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Francois Guillot/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


Monday: duck report

As usual, there’s never a dull moment at Botany Pond.  As I mentioned in my last report, there were SIX drakes at the pond yesterday. Later in the afternoon, I noticed that some violent fights had broken out among them, with up to three drakes biting each other’s necks in a furious tangle of beaks and wings.

When I went downstairs to see what was going on, I found that a new hen had invaded the pond. She wasn’t Honey, but she was quacking, and I’m sure her presence instigated the fighting. Here she is, I believe with Gregory, the dominant mallard (he had his wings full trying to drive all the other drakes out of the pond.

She’s a quacker! Here she is with her chosen mate (who is clearly two-timing Honey):

That hen wasn’t Honey, as you can tell from this photo. She’s quite plump, too.

After a while, she got in the water with Gregory, and they swam off, but were pursued by another amorous drake. As you can see below, a vicious duckfight ensued, and right on the spot where James and Billzebub battled it out for Honey’s affection last year. You can see this hen jump out of the water before the fight starts, but she eggs on the males (as did Honey last year) by quacking loudly.

The fight begins 54 seconds in:

Gregory won, and the two went off to the bank, where I fed them:

But you never know what will happen next. This morning I watched as two giant Canada geese (Branta canadensis) plopped into the pond. Sure enough, it was old 92P and 88K, the same pair who invaded the pond last year. (These geese mate for life.) They had come back again! Last year they had goslings, and then left early on while the young were still small. I didn’t want that to happen again, so I went down and had a standoff with the geese—not hurting them but confronting them. There was much honking, but they eventually flew away.  I’m afraid I haven’t seen the last of them.

88K is the female, 92P her mate (I know this because I reported their band numbers last year and acquired a Goose Spotting Certificate that gave their sexes and approximate birth dates). I still don’t know about those stiff neck tags (their legs are banded as well). They seem to do fine, but it looks constricting.

Here’s a video of the pair:

Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral is on fire

This was just reported, and you can see a scanty report at the BBC. It looks quite serious:

The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear, but officials say that it could be linked to renovation work.

Images on social media show plumes of smoke billowing into the air above the 850-year-old Gothic building.

Last year, the Catholic Church in France launched an urgent appeal for funds to save the cathedral, which was starting to crumble.

A major operation is under way to tackle the blaze, which broke out on Monday afternoon, and an area surrounding the building in central Paris has been cleared, officials said.


Click on the second tweet below to go to a livestream of the fire, or click here.


I’ve spent many hours in the lovely building, and even went to Christmas Mass one year, just to see the celebrations and smell the incense. It looks like it’s mostly the roof that will be damaged, but you can be sure that French firefighters will do their very best to stop the blaze, for this is one of the world’s great religious sites and of course a major tourist draw to Paris.

h/t: Grania

Williams College moves further down the road toward Evergreen State

Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts has been considered one of the best places in America to get an education. As Wikipedia notes: “The college was ranked first in 2017 in the U.S. News & World Reports liberal arts ranking for the 15th consecutive year,  and first among liberal arts colleges in the 2018 Forbes magazine ranking of America’s Top Colleges.”

But I wonder how long this will hold. Under its previous President, Adam Falk, and its new President, Maud Mandel—both woke-compliant equivalents of Evergreen’s George “Invertebrate” Bridges—the College seems to have decided that socially engineering the school is a more important priority than giving its students a good education.

I’ll be reporting from time to time on the shenanigans there, but suffice it to say that many of students are strongly opposed to free speech (see my posts here and here); and minority students, who are treated perhaps better than in any college in America and many of whom are truly entitled and privileged, repeatedly and falsely claim that Williams is full of institutional racism and “violence” towards professors and students of color. There is absolutely no evidence for such violence; it’s a pure expression of Offense Culture. And—the death knell for Williams—a group of students are making the customary, largely ludicrous, and unconscionable demands to the College’s Trustees. If they give in, all is lost for Williams.

These demands include, as you can see from the students’ letter to the College Trustees below, a request for segregated housing, now given the euphemism “affinity housing.” If this continues, and if the trustees don’t show some spine (I fear the President has already surrendered hers), Williams will, like The Evergreen State College, become a place where parents don’t want to send their children. If some leadership isn’t exercised that pushes back against the relentless claims of victimhood by Williams students, then the school, among the richest colleges in America in per capita endowment, will start down the Evergreen Highway.

Here’s the new letter from a group of Williams students writing under the name of the Coalition Against Racist Education Now (click on the screenshot to go to the Google document website):

For more background on this letter, the unrest among the students and some of the faculty, and the persistent claims of violence, see this Google Drive folder on “Literature of the Damned,” including the editorial in the College’s newspaper by Tyler Tsay.

Let’s take the letter’s claims one by one, noting in passing that the second paragraph begins with a conceit that’s a riff on the Declaration of Independence. As I’ll show “the truth of discursive and institutional violence” is far from self evident, at least at Williams.

The opening sentence gives you the stand of CARE Now on free speech (their emphasis): “We are the Coalition Against Racist Education Now (CARE Now), an active and growing collective of student activists born out of resistance to the 2018 faculty petition on free speech.” You can see the 2018 free-speech petition here, which is basically a pretty innocuous call for Williams to adhere to Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression. That this motivated the opposition shows the censoriousness and authoritarianism of the Williams students who wrote to the trustees. It also bodes ill for the College to adopt any decent statement on free speech in the future.  

Further, there has certainly not been a “mass exodus” of faculty of color from the campus. Two faculty, Kai Green and Kimberly Love, have taken medical leave, with Love having left by simply not showing up for class and abandoning her students without notice. In fact, this leave appears to be temporary, as both are scheduled to teach courses for this coming fall (see here and here). This is hardly a “mass exodus” of faculty of color!

Having read some writings of Green and Love (a good specimen is this article by the pair in The Feminist Wire) and having heard how hard the College has tried to accommodate the pair’s persistent and unreasonable requests for special privileges, the two appear to be unjustifiably aggrieved if not unhinged (see the article above as well as comment #4 at this site, a transcript of a truly bizarre Facebook narrative by Dr. Green).

Although the two claim they are victims of micro- and macroaggressions, and of violent practices by the College that make them unsafe, the only “violence” they describe is when a car mechanic—not affiliated with the College—was rude to them after their car broke down. Not only is this not evidence of racism at Williams, but it’s not even clear that the mechanic was a racist as opposed to just a jerk.

Nevertheless, rather than rebutting these risible claims, the Williams administration is bending over backwards to honor them, and a large group of students have almost beatified these two disturbed individuals, putting up shrines to them and holding them up as role models. This is a serious mistake on both fronts.

There have been a few reported instances of bigoted graffiti in the College over the past couple of years, but most of these appear to have been hoaxes. When the College investigates “hate crimes” and finds that they are hoaxes, often committed by minority students themselves, it deliberately does not announce the outcome of the investigations.

As most readers opined when I discussed this issue before, this is unconscionable. When a hate crime is reported and the perpetrator is found to be a bigot, the outcome would be announced, though not necessarily the name of the perpetrator. But when the crime proves to be a hoax, the College in effect acts as if the crime is unsolved and thus perpetuates an atmosphere of fear and distrust. This may be one reason the students claim that they feel “endangered.” Williams must announce the outcomes of all hate crime investigations and let people know whether they were hoaxes. They refuse to do this. This is a failure of nerve and a dereliction of duty.

There is not a scintilla of evidence I can find that Williams threatens the well-being of its minority students. But surely, by its deliberate inaction described above, the administration is contributing to student paranoia by not announcing the outcome of hate-crime investigations. Could it be that it’s in the College’s interest to allow such paranoia to continue? Could it be that the university wants to cover up the fact that “hate crimes” are hoaxes committed by members of the very group supposedly targeted by the crimes?

I have not been able to find evidence for the claims that “many junior faculty are considering medical leave due to the stress of living in an unsupported environment”. In fact, Williams tries very had to create a supportive environment for its minority students and staff. Nor do I know where the data about increased student admission to the psychiatric ward come from. Both claims may well be true, but of course student mental health issues are increasing across the board (Haidt and Lukianoff have an explanation for this). And it’s not clear whether these admissions occur because Williams is structurally racist and bigoted (there are no data on differential admission of students based on ethnicity), or, as the data show for the U.S., because of a general deterioration of student mental health—or at least an increase in visits to therapists and counseling services.

Nor have I found evidence that “dozens of faculty of color leave campus each weekend to avoid the emotional detriment of existing here at the College.” I’m aware that at least one minority faculty member lives in another city and commutes to the College, but the “mass exodus” seems like pure fantasy. 

As for the 2009 report of the College, it does not show the “exodus” of faculty of color who, it’s implied, departed at a higher rate than did white faculty. Numbers for minority faculty are given in that report, but no comparative data. Here’s what the report says:

“according to the College’s official records, in the last 21 academic years (from 1989-90 to 2009-10), 20 full-time academic faculty members of African descent were hired by the College, seven of whom have left.”

But there is no comparison with white faculty, which is the crucial issue needed to support an accusation of structural racism.  After some digging, I found such a comparison in a 2014 update of faculty diversity and inclusion data. And it shows no difference between white and nonwhite faculty in retention, tenure, or departure from the College between 1990 and 2009. That’s good, no?

This gives the lie to the claim that Williams is unsupportive of faculty of color, who are said to leave at higher rates because of the College’s violence and bigotry. In fact, these graphs show the kind of equality of treatment for which Williams is striving. One can argue that each faculty member of color is still more valuable than white faculty, and their positions more onerous to replace, but that is an expression of bigotry. High quality faculty of color are prized hires in today’s job market, and may have many job offers.

Until the students and faculty are able to document exactly how the college is unsafe for minorities, and give genuine, tangible, and convincing instances of “violence,” and until they give transparent reports about the “hate crimes” that have been reported and investigated, I cannot sign on to the students’ claim that Williams is a racist, bigoted, and violent school. I remain baffled why some administrators and faculty distort the data to make it seem that way. If this is the case, it can only be the result of a culture of offense, which I think is developing at the school. In the end that culture will bring Williams—as it brought Evergreen State—to its knees.

Now come the students’ demands (note that they compel the Trustees to act):

These demands include giving land back to Native Americans (to the Mohicans, who used to occupy that land but now occupy a reservation in Wisconsin?), more demands for hiring to accommodate the wishes of minority students and faculty, even though that has been going on at a rapid pace, the establishment of Asian American Studies, though there is already Asian Studies, and “weekend faculty-staff shuttles to New York and Boston.” They also demand “affinity housing” for Black students and other marginalized groups, which is segregated housing—probably a violation of the law since Williams gets federal funds. The students also demand three more Title IX coordinators, whose hiring is “to meet the demonstrated needs of survivors”. That is not what Title IX coordinators are for: they are there to enforce equal access of genders to education, and, in theory, to adjudicate incidents that violate it.

If Williams, its administration, and its trustees give in to these largely risible “demands,” and buy into the narrative—contrary to all evidence—that Williams is a place of structural racism and violence, the College will begin sliding down the slope to irrelevance. While all students and faculty, regardless of their gender and background, should be given equal opportunities, Williams is the most egregious case I know—save perhaps Evergreen State—of students distorting the nature of their environment to support a narrative of personal grievance.

I need hardly add that, while Williams College is weighing how to handle the free-speech issue, the “woke” students are denigrating free speech at every possible opportunity. Given the pusillanimous nature of the College administration, I predict that Williams will never approve the kind of free-speech policy outlined by the Chicago Principles of Free Expression. And shame on them if they don’t.

Readers’ wildlife photos

We’re going to count astronomy as wildlife today, as it’s Honorary Wildlife®. These two swell Cosmos Photos come from reader Tim Anderson in Australia, and I’ve indented his notes. As always, click on the photos to enlarge them.

It is the galaxy season in the Southern Hemisphere, which is to say that there are large number of galaxies up in the night sky down in these parts.
Here is one of them. This is an image of the Sombrero Galaxy (catalogued as M104 in the Messier catalogue). The dark dust lane that crosses the galaxy horizon is where new stars are forming.The galaxy is approximately 28 million light-years away from us. The image was formed from sixty 30-second frames taken using a colour camera and a 127mm refracting telescope.
Attached is an image of NGC 2997, a large barred spiral galaxy in the local supercluster. It is approximately 25 million light-years from Earth. The spiral arms contain many star-forming regions of ionised hydrogen gas. The image is a composite of three hundred 30-second shots taken with a colour astronomical camera and a 100mm refracting telescope.

And two marine invertebrates sent by reader Carl Sufit:

From my first and only trip to Turks and Caicos Islands in 2016 (geologically part of the Bahamas chain, so I’ve read):
First, the commonly seen Flamingo Tongue snail Cyphoma gibbosum, ~ 3cm long.  These hang out on (and eat) various Gorgonia (not sure of this species) at  fairly shallow depths .  I’ve heard many divers refer to them as nudibranchs, as they don’t see a shell (but also don’t see any “naked” branchial structures).  What one generally sees is the mantle that has spread out over the shell, and here you see the cephalad (I think) portion of the foot.  The underlying shell has the characteristic central bulge that you can see.

Next is the much less common fingerprint snail, formerly Cyphoma signatum?  This was the first time I’d knowingly seen one, pointed out by our guide. It was very close to some Flamingo Tongues, maybe even on the same coral—I don’t remember.  Apparently the old taxon is kaput, and this is now considered the same species as the above, C. gibbosum.  I’m not a biologist, and don’t know how those changes happen.  Some websites still show the prior name, and some had some very recent dates as to the change.  Was it DNA analysis, or breeding fertile “hybrids??” (I’d like to see the patterns of any crosses, but maybe the common pattern is dominant??)
Again, I don’t know the coral species.


Monday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

The work week has begun anew as we wend our way slowly toward extinction. It’s Monday, April 15, 2019, and if you’re an American, your tax form is due today.  It’s National Ham Day, from which Jews and Muslims are excluded. It’s also these days, too:

In honor of World Art Day, here is some lovely art; I needn’t tell you the painter:

On this day in 1755, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was published in London. On April 15, 1783, long after the fighting had ended, a preliminary peace treaty for ending the American RevolutionaryWar was ratified, at least according to Wikipedia, though I can find that date nowhere else. The error-ridden site says this: “Preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris on 30 November, while preliminaries between Britain, Spain, France, and the Netherlands continued until September 1783. The United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784. Copies were sent back to Europe for ratification by the other parties involved, the first reaching France in March 1784. British ratification occurred on April 9, 1784, and the ratified versions were exchanged in Paris on May 12, 1784. The war formally concluded on September 3, 1783.” Where’s April 15?

On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died after he was shot the previous evening in Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth. Vice-President Andrew Johnson became President.  On April 15, 1912, at 2:20 a.m., the RMS Titanic slipped beneath the sea after having struck an iceberg shortly before midnight.  On April 15, 1920, two security guards were murdered during a robbery in South Braintree, Massachusetts: the crime for which Sacco and Vanzetti were subsequently convicted and executed.

Again I find doubtful information in Wikipedia, which states that on this day in 1923, “Insulin becomes generally available for use by people with diabetes.” But I can find that date nowhere else. It is a fact, though, that on April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany was liberated by British and Canadian troops. Here are some of the happy women who survived and were liberated:

It was on April 15, 1947 that Jackie Robinson debuted at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black man to play major league baseball.  Further, and again this is dubious, Wikipedia says that on this day in 1955, “McDonald’s restaurant dates its founding to the opening of a franchised restaurant by Ray Kroc, in Des Plaines, Illinois.”  Well, maybe the chain does, but look at this, also from Wikipedia:

The oldest operating McDonald’s restaurant is the third one built, opened in 1953. It is located at 10207 Lakewood Blvd. at Florence Ave. in Downey, California (at 33.9471°N 118.1182°W).

If you’re nearby, go visit it! (Downey, of course, was where the Carpenters were from.) But if this is the case, and the Golden Arches were already in place in 1953, then the franchise’s founding date is bogus. 

And according to Wikipedia’s article on McDonald’s No. 1 Store Museum (see below), we see where the date comes from: “Ray Kroc’s involvement with the firm.” Who cares??? What a Kroc!

The McDonald’s #1 Store Museum is housed in a replica of the former McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, opened by Ray Kroc in April 1955. The company usually refers to this as The Original McDonald’s, although it is not the first McDonald’s restaurant but the ninth; the first was opened by Richard and Maurice McDonald in San Bernardino, California in 1940, while the oldest McDonald’s still in operation is the third one built, in Downey, California, which opened in 1953. However, the Des Plaines restaurant marked the beginning of future CEO Kroc’s involvement with the firm. It opened under the aegis of his franchising company McDonald’s Systems, Inc., which became McDonald’s Corporation after Kroc purchased the McDonald brothers’ stake in the firm.

The actual Des Plaines restaurant was demolished in 1984, but McDonald’s realized they had a history to preserve, so they built a replica.

I do remember when burgers, shakes, and fries were each 15 cents, so you could get a filling lunch for less than half a dollar. I grow old!

On this day in 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were killed during a human crush at Hillsborough Stadium in the FA Cup semifinal. This is known as the Hillsborough disaster.  Finally, it was on this day six years ago that the Tsarnaev brothers set off two bombs near the finish of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 and injuring 264.  One of the brothers was killed in the manhunt, while the other, Dzhokhar, was sentenced to death in federal court and is on death row in Colorado.

Notables born on this day include Leonardo da Vinci (1452), Guru Nanak (1469, the first Sikh guru), Leonhard Euler (1707), Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772), Émile Durkheim (1858), Thomas Hart Benton (1889), Nikita Khrushchev and Bessie Smith (both 1894), Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907), Kim Il-sung (1912), Harold Washington (1922), Dodi Fayed (1955), Emma Thompson (1959; she’s 60 today), and Seth Rogen (1982).

Those who gave up the ghost on Tax Day include Abraham Lincoln (1865, see above), Matthew Arnold (1888), Father Damien (1889), the victims of the Titanic, including John Jacob Astor IV and Isidor and Ida Strauss (all 1912), Wallace Beery (1949), Jean-Paul Sartre (1980), Jean Genet (1986), Greta Garbo (1990), Pol Pot (1998), and Edward Gorey (2000).  Gorey, of course, loved cats and often drew them:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is asking about the domestication of cats:

Hili: What actually united humans and cats?
A: I’m afraid it was mice.
In Polish:
Hili: Co właściwie połączyło ludzi i koty?
Ja: Obawiam się, że myszy.

And in nearby Wloclawek, it’s exam time for secondary-school students, and Leon wishes them luck:

Leon: Exam tomorrow? I’m keeping my claws crossed.

Jutro egzamin? Trzymam pazurki!

A gif from the CHEEZburger site, courtesy of reader Su. This cat would be a great goalie in the Feline League:

I found this one by looking at the Twitter sites that Matthew and Grania follow:

A tweet from reader Barry:

Tweets from Matthew. I believe the first one is Kevin Richardson, aka The Lion Whisperer. Somehow he remains alive.

Oh man, that goose is a real jerk:

Progress in making robots is dramatic. Look at this one!

I don’t know what kind of kittens these are (Abyssinians?) but they’re adorable.

Tweets from Grania. The first one is muy heartwarming:

Poor lion! But he’s a good swimmer.

This should help you appreciate how small hummingbird nests and eggs are. You dare not eat that peach!

The results of a human sneeze:

A duck sausage fest: six drakes

It started out with two drakes this morning. Then it began snowing and then there were three (photographed from my office window):

Now there are SIX. That’s Gregory in the foreground, doing his best to defend the pond and drive the others out, but I dare not feed him lest the others stay:


What the deuce is going on out there? Does snow make the drakes go to ponds?