Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Saturday, August 17, 2019, National Vanilla Custard Day. This is the harbinger of a bland and unappealing day. On the bright side, it’s International Homeless Animals’ Day (adopt one now, please) and World Honeybee Day.

It’s also National Black Cat Appreciation Day, and to help you appreciate it are the black cats of two readers, with Alcestic Jerry (recumbent) and Octavia Sadie (sitting up). Their staff is Gethyn and Laurie, and the sisters were rescued as kittens from a market and adopted out by Feline Friends London, our Official Website Charity®.  In fact, they were adopted exactly six months ago today. At first they were wild and fearful, but now they’re part of the family, even rolling upside down for tummy rubs.

Stuff that happened on August 17 includes:

  • 1498 – Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, becomes the first person in history to resign the cardinalate; later that same day, King Louis XII of France names him Duke of Valentinois.
  • 1585 – A first group of colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh under the charge of Ralph Lane lands in the New World to create Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of present-day North Carolina.
  • 1798 – The Vietnamese Catholics report a Marian apparition in Quảng Trị, an event which is called Our Lady of La Vang.

A Marian apparition is, of course, a vision of the Virgin Mary, like Bernadette’s vision at Lourdes or the one in Fatima, Portugal. But why is it always Mary and never Jesus?

  • 1862 – American Civil War: Major General J. E. B. Stuart is assigned command of all the cavalry of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
  • 1896 – Bridget Driscoll became the first recorded case of a pedestrian killed in a collision with a motor car in the United Kingdom.

The car that struck Driscoll, doing a demonstration on the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, was going only 4 miles per hour. Nevertheless, she died. Here she is (circled):


And, for your delectation, here’s the short Fantasmagorie, in which a character in pantaloons has many adventures.

  • 1915 – Jewish American Leo Frank is lynched in Marietta, Georgia after a 13-year-old girl is murdered.

Lynching of white men in the South (Frank owned a pencil factory in Atlanta) was a rarity, and Frank appears to be the only Jew in American history ever lynched. If you want to see a photo of his hanging body, there’s one at the link. Most later analyses exculpated Frank and concluded that the likely murderer was the factory’s janitor, but of course Frank was Jewish. Here’s his photo:


Other stuff that happened on this day:

  • 1943 – World War II: The Royal Air Force begins Operation Hydra, the first air raid of the Operation Crossbow strategic bombing campaign against Germany’s V-weapon program.
  • 1945 – Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaim the independence of Indonesia, igniting the Indonesian National Revolution against the Dutch Empire.
  • 1945 – The novella Animal Farm by George Orwell is first published.
  • 1998 – Lewinsky scandal: US President Bill Clinton admits in taped testimony that he had an “improper physical relationship” with White House intern Monica Lewinsky; later that same day he admits before the nation that he “misled people” about the relationship.

Of course, a few months earlier he had denied it, as shown in this video:

  • 2005 – The first forced evacuation of settlers, as part of Israeli disengagement from Gaza, starts.
  • 2008 – American swimmer Michael Phelps becomes the first person to win eight gold medals at one Olympic Games.
  • 2017 – Barcelona attacks: A van is driven into pedestrians in La Rambla, killing 14 and injuring at least 100.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1887 – Marcus Garvey, Jamaican journalist and activist, founded Black Star Line (d. 1940)

The Line, intended to transport African-Americans, was plagued by mismanagement and bad ships. Garvey wound up being convicted for mail fraud and, deported to Jamaica, died in 1940.

  • 1893 – Mae West, American actress, playwright, and screenwriter (d. 1980)
  • 1913 – Mark Felt, American lawyer and agent, 2nd Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (d. 2008)

Felt, of course, turned out to be “Deep Throat” in the Watergate affair, helping bring down Richard Nixon. I see him as a hero.

  • 1929 – Francis Gary Powers, American captain and pilot (d. 1977)
  • 1932 – V. S. Naipaul, Trinidadian-English novelist and essayist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2018)
  • 1943 – Robert De Niro, American actor, entrepreneur, director, and producer
  • 1960 – Sean Penn, American actor, director, and political activist

Notables who expired on August 17 were few; they include:

  • 1786 – Frederick the Great, Prussian king (b. 1712)
  • 1850 – José de San Martín, Argentinian general and politician, 1st President of Peru (b. 1778)
  • 1973 – Conrad Aiken, American novelist, short story writer, critic, and poet (b. 1889)
  • 1987 – Rudolf Hess, German soldier and politician (b. 1894)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has more science questions:

Hili: How do spiders select a place for a spiderweb?
A: You will have to talk to a spider about it.


In Polish:

Hili: Jak pająki wybierają miejsce na pajęczynę?
Ja: O tym musisz porozmawiać z pająkiem.

Reader Keira McKenzie sent a great cat meme:

Su sent this wonderful artwork from You Need More ART in Your Life: “A mother wrench feeding her young.”


Also from Su:

Here’s a tweet Grania sent me on January 3 of this year, saying “Here: you will enjoy this.” It’s from the fake DPRK News site. And yes, I did enjoy it:

Reader Thomas sent this tweet with a poignant conversation between Anderson Cooper and Steven Colbert. You may know that Colbert lost his dad and two brothers in a plane crash when he as ten: that’s the incident to which he refers. Although he’s a Catholic (which mystifies me in a man so smart and thoughtful), at the beginning he sounds like a Buddhist.

Nilou once again demonstrates how wicked and sly birds can be:

Two cat tweets from Heather Hastie, who got them from Ann German. I believe that’s John Lennon in the photo:

I love this ad:

And two tweets from Matthew Cobb, who has the weight of the world (Brexit, Trump, global warming, etc.) on his shoulders. This tweet has apparently added to it.

But here’s something that cheered him up:


Media distorts Tlaib decision to not visit Israel after all

I’ve now watched two national news programs, with both reporting on Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s decision not to visit her aged grandmother in Israel after all.

You probably know the details. Originally Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were going to visit Israel (“Palestine,” they called it, in the usual let’s-get-rid-of-Israel way), and Israel said okay. After a tweet from Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew the invitation. Tlaib and Omar became martyrs to the Woke, and many (including me) said that Israel’s withdrawal of the invitation was a mistake.

But then Israel agreed to let Tlaib visit her grandmother on the West Bank, so long as she abided by Israel’s law that visitors must not promote the BDS program. Tlaib agreed to that in writing. So the visit was on. (Omar was still banned.)

But then Tlaib got a bunch of criticism from Palestinians and critics of Israel, all saying that she had caved in to Israel’s unreasonable demands—demands she had agreed to in writing. And so, more concerned about demonizing Israel than visiting her grandmother (“perhaps for the last time”, she said), she decided not to go after all.

That’s all well and good. The problem is that, at least in the two national news shows I’ve heard, her withdrawal was characterized as “Tlaib refuses to meet Israel’s onerous demands.” The same distortion was evident (of course) in HuffPost’s reporting of the incident:

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said Friday that she will not visit her grandmother in the West Bank, after the Israeli government reversed a prior decision barring her from the country.

In a statement, she accused officials of “racist treatment” and of seeking to “silence” her voice. She said she won’t go to Israel “under these oppressive conditions.”

. . .Tlaib, whose family is from Palestine, later wrote to Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, to say she’d like to visit her grandmother, who is in her 90s.

“This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Tlaib wrote in the letter.

Early Friday, Deri announced that Tlaib would be allowed to visit on humanitarian grounds, provided that she would “accept all the demands of Israel to respect the restrictions imposed on her in the visit, and she also promised not to advance boycotts against Israel during her visit.”

In response to her cancellation, Deri accused Tlaib of making “a provocative request.”

Here’s the sick part: nowhere does HuffPost (or the news stations) report that Tlaib AGREED to the Israeli conditions, and canceled her trip only after she got criticized by her pro-Palestinian allies. This is grossly distorted reporting designed to make Tlaib look good and Israel look bad.

Look at the HuffPost headline:


At least the New York Times got it right.  These distortions—always to the detriment of Israel—are pervasive in even the mainstream liberal media, and they add up not to objective reporting but to an ideological agenda.

Tlaib agreed, and then changed her mind. The cancelation of her trip is due not to Israel’s onerous demands, but to Tlaib’s realization that she had screwed up and angered her allies.

As Tlaib said of her gran, “this could be my last opportunity to see her.” How sad that, as Israel’s interior minister tweeted:

And that is absolutely true.


Photographs of readers

As part of our continuing series (and I invite you to send in one picture of yourself, preferably doing something interesting or characteristic of your life), we have two photos of reader Geoff Toscano, which I’ve put up because there are two bikes involved. Geoff’s notes:

Here’s a couple of pictures of me combining my favourite hobbies, travelling and motorcycling. This first is on a Yamaha FJR1300 in the Pyrenees.


This second is on a Triumph Rocket in the Alps, Italy I think. Its 2.3 litre engine makes it the world’s largest production motorcycle, though it’s now even bigger at 2.5 litres.


Another anti-Semitic comment

It never fails: whenever I write about Israel, no matter what I say, I get some anti-Semitic comments or emails. (Note that my post this morning was critical of Israel and Netanyahu).

Here’s a comment from “opplevesannheten“, whose email address I’ve mercifully omitted, though he/she has a website that would have appeared in the comment had I allowed it to go through. (The person is, of course, now banned). I’ve linked to the website, which is inactive.

This comment was intended for posting on the “Tarring Steve Pinker and others with Jeffrey Epstein” post from July 12.

So you’re going to play the victim card?
How about: 1) You act like a creep / I doubt anyone would willingly sleep with you 2) You & Epstein are both part of the same super special atheistic group with special DNA and “higher IQs” 3) You flew on Epstein’s Lolita Express…
You can try to keep distancing yourself from your super special club, but people are waking up to the fact that your “tribe” 1) runs the pornography industry 2) runs the US war industry 3) disproportionately molests children 4) owns the entire mainstream media 5) runs Hollywood 6) supports Israel above the US.
Your whole premise is promoting the idea that everything is getting better – and for people to trust you (the authority) instead of their own senses. Right now our own senses show us that you were riding on Epstein’s “Lolita Express” *after* he was already convicted (the first time).
Your Ivey league institutions cannot protect you when they’re crumbling under the weight of your lies.

Note the personal insults and, especially, the claim about our “tribe” (Jews, of course) who not only runs the world, but is a disproportionate molester of children (where did that data come from?). Now THAT is classic Jew-hatred.

As for the comment on Steve’s sex life, I’ll just note that he has not been celibate.

Now this dude (I’m betting there’s a Y chromosome in his genome) might be drunk, just a troll, or a true anti-Semite. I’m betting on #3.

Gay penguins? Not so fast.

Two male King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) at the Berlin Zoo have adopted an egg rejected by a female penguin, and the world has gone crazy. Why? Well, for one reason, it’s because Skip and Ping are perceived as “gay penguins”, since they’re a same-sex couple. Here’s the New York Times article about it:

The story of Skip and Ping from the NYT:

The zoo knew they were a couple when they arrived from Hamburg this year, and it became clear within weeks that they wanted to start a family, he said.

“It is very common that two penguins of the same sex come together. I don’t think it is the majority of penguins, but it is not rare either,” Mr. Jäger said on Tuesday. “We are sure they would be good parents because they were so nice to their stone.” [Before they got an egg they brooded a stone.]

So the zookeepers decided to give Skip — short for Skipper — and Ping a shot at fatherhood after a 22-year-old female, called The Orange because of the color of her wings, laid an egg in July. She had never hatched a chick of her own.

“We just had to put the egg in front of one of them, and he knew just what to do,” Mr. Jäger said. “He took his beak and put the egg on his feet and then put his stomach over it, which is the normal thing penguins do.”

And if you Google “gay penguins”, you’ll see a bazillion articles that characterize the couple that way, although biologists would use “same-sex couple”. Here’s a screenshot of just a few the many pages you get when you do a Google image search for “gay penguins:


I think one of the reason people like this so much is because it seems to vindicates the fact that gay couples or gay behavior is fine in humans—because it occurs in nature. And of course same-sex coupling does occur in nature, but should we anthropomorphize it by calling it “gay”? In fact, gay humans are fine, but not because there are “gay penguins.”

First of all, we’re not at all sure that same-sex couples in animals are analogous to same-sex couples in humans. Some of them might well be, and that would be if “gay” animals were like gay humans in having an ineluctable attraction to couple and pair with members of the same sex. We’re not at all sure, for instance, that animals who form same-sex couples have that feeling (and how could we know?), and I doubt that these male penguins are sexually attracted to each other. In other cases, animals might pair up with others because, even though they’re “straight”, those feelings spill over onto whoever is available, which might be members of the same sex. In jails, for instance, males and females might engage in same-sex relationships, but not because they’re “gay” in the conventional way, but because that is the only outlet they have for their heterosexual urges. The fact is, in most animals we just don’t know.

But the animals, by analogy with humans, are nevertheless deemed “gay”, and without any qualifications. The New York Times says this explicitly, and implies that this somehow vindicates homosexuality in humans (look at the first sentence, which implies that heterosexuality might be some kind of “hangup”):

Homosexuality has been observed in a number of species of animals, who tend to have fewer hangups than humans. But gay penguins seem to be unusually prominent in the world of animal homosexuality.

There have been same-sex penguin couples at many zoos, including the Central Park Zoo in New York, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium in Australia and regional zoos or aquariums in Denmarkand Ireland.

And then there is the London Zoo, which in June celebrated Pride month — and its six gay Humboldt penguins — with a banner in the penguin exhibit that said “Some penguins are gay, get over it.”

If there are any other gay animals at the Berlin zoo, the zookeepers said they had not made themselves publicly known.

“We don’t know if there are any other gay animals in this zoo,” Mr. Jäger said. “There may be.”

What I mostly object to here is not same-sex coupling in any species, but the use of phenomena in nature to justify human behavior, using traits like same-sex coupling. This is what we call “the naturalistic fallacy”: what is natural is good. Or, in this case, what is natural in nature is natural—and good—in humans.

I have no prejudice against gay humans, and have always promoted equal treatment and rights for gay couples, including marriage and everything that goes for heterosexual couples. We just shouldn’t say that because animals have same-sex behavior, it’s exactly the same thing in humans, and is therefore acceptable and moral. No, it’s moral because there is no good reason to keep people apart, or to discriminate against them, if they happen to be of the same sex. (Religionists may feel otherwise, but they’re wrong.)

We shouldn’t base our moral judgments on what we see in other species. For if we go that route, then we can justify all kinds of behavior as “natural”: the killing of your new spouse’s children (lions do it), xenophobia and carnage against other groups (chimps do it), or rape (ducks and bedbugs engage in forced copulation that can kill females).

How we regard human behavior should be based on our tendencies to be rational, humane, and empathic. It should not be based on weak or unsupported analogies with penguins like Skip and Ping. Maybe they really do have the same feelings for each other as do human gay couples, but we just don’t know.

The big story here, to the media, was not same-sex rearing of an egg, which after all is not that rare, but “gay penguins”. And such unsupported comparisons not only give people false ideas of what animals are feeling, but, as in the case of other “natural” (but more odious) behaviors, could lead to justifying traits that we don’t like at all.

Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib refused entry to Israel (they relent a bit on Tlaib)

As you probably know, “progressive” Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were refused entry to Israel by the government because they are vocal supporters of the BDS movement, whose aim (though downplayed) is to eliminate the state of Israel by promulgating the “right of return” that will create a single Arab-majority state. Since yesterday, Israel has changed its mind a bit: Tlaib has been allowed entry to visit her family as a special “humanitarian request”. (However, as the AP just reported, Tlaib has decided not to visit her grandmother after all, even after promising not to advocate boycotts during her visit. But now she argues that “she wouldn’t allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to ‘bow down to their oppressive & racist policies’.” This change of mind is truly bizarre, and suggests that her mission wasn’t to see her grandmother after all.)


Here are the two articles:

I can understand the Israeli government’s decision, though I disagree with it. Tlaib and Omar had one purpose in going to Israel: to do down the country, buttress the Palestinian campaign against Israel, and broadcast their criticisms of Israel widely. This was not a “fact finding mission” as neither Tlaib nor Omar had scheduled any meetings with Israeli officials—only, as far as I know, with officials of the Palestinian Authority. Their visit was framed as “visiting Palestine” not “visiting Israel,” already a sign that they don’t recognize the state of Israel. And their visit was, according to the New York Times, underwritten by MIFTAH, an organization that has praised suicide bombers and  promulgated the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel.

You would be foolish to think that their visit had any purpose other than to inflame Palestinian hatred of Israel—giving it the imprimatur of two members of Congress—and to inflame America and the world (through their post-visit propaganda) against Israel. This is on top of the violence currently going on, with three Israelis civilians attacked by knife- or car-wielding Palestinian terrorists in the last few days over the Temple Mount visitation.

By letting Tlaib and Omar in, Israel was certain to have become the object of a big propaganda campaign by these women. This resembles the propaganda campaign of Womens March leader Tamika Mallory, an anti-Semite who visited Israel last year, apparently to deflect attention from her cozying up to bigot Louis Farrakhan by “fact-finding” and then demonizing Israel onsite, as recounted in this Haaretz article (click on the screenshot):


And, of course, Israel has the right to bar them, as they regularly bar advocates of BDS on the grounds that the organization is anti-Israel (and, I think, anti-Semitic). Other countries bar inflammatory speakers regularly.

But it’s one thing to have a right to bar people, and another thing to exercise that right. In this case I think Netanyahu made a mistake, though of course this is a judgment call about which I don’t feel strongly. First, his decision to bar Omar and Tlaib came after Trump called for the action, on Twitter of course. If Netanyahu was indeed influenced by Trump, that’s a bad move, for it makes the Israeli Prime Minister look as if he’s in the pocket of Trump—as may well be the case given the shaky Democratic support for Israel. More seriously, it makes Israel look afraid of criticism. Now Tlaib and Omar have criticized Israel plenty from their home in the U.S., but (to me at least), it makes Israel look stronger and more magnanimous if it lets Omar and Tlaib visit, even knowing the propaganda consequences. It is, I suppose, a matter of “optics.” But it’s also a matter of principle—of freedom of speech.

Israel also, of course, had to weigh the possibility that the visit might incite more attacks on Israelis. Propaganda is one thing, lives another.  But I doubt that would happen, at least in the First Amendment sense of Tlaib and Omar “inciting imminent violence”. (Israel would of course have every right to expel Tlaib and Omar if they did call for violence against Israel once in the country.) As anti-Semitic as these two women are, they’re not stupid enough to call for violence.

In other words, to me this is a free-speech issue—the willingness of a country to allow people to visit who they know will criticize it severely once “on the ground.”

But of course Israel couldn’t have won this one. Letting Omar and Tlaib in will inflame tensions in the region and lead to more anti-Israel propaganda. On the other hand, barring them will, as it has already, lead to the Left criticizing Israel for cowardice, as the New York Times did yesterday in an op-ed written by the entire editorial board.

Even columnist Bari Weiss criticized Netanyahu for apparently caving in to Trump’s tweets. As she writes in today’s op-ed, in a piece I agree with:

Consider who came out strengthened from this episode.

The obvious winner is Donald Trump, of course, who tweeted after Israel announced its flip-flop that “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” Here, nakedly expressed, was his actual goal: Not to protect an American ally from politicians traveling in bad faith, but to yoke mainstream Democrats to their political fringe, as he has been doing, very effectively, for weeks.

Joining him in the winners’ circle are Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib. Say Israel had allowed them, per the original plan, to visit. The upshot would have been a week of bad headlines. But Israel has gotten that tenfold anyway, and the congresswomen managed to come out looking like martyrs.

The losers? Pretty much everyone else.

First, the Democrats, who now have even less motivation to marginalize their anti-Israel fringe and, when they eventually come to power, little incentive to stick their necks out for the Jewish state.

Second, American Jews. It’s a rare day when Jewish conservatives call me to swear about Bibi. More than one did so on Thursday. Meantime, many mainstream American Jewish organizations, including Aipac, the pro-Israel lobbying group, and the American Jewish Committee, issued rare statements criticizing Israel.

Which brings us to the biggest loser of all: The Jewish state. What happened Thursday is going to do so much long-term damage to the bipartisan commitment to Israel. The country has become a partisan wedge in American politics — and that ultimately hurts Israel itself.

The U.S. would look bad if it barred strong critics of America from visiting. Israel isn’t the U.S., of course, as it’s engaged in a bloody conflict with Palestine. But unless Tlaib and Omar were going to incite more violence, barring them was a mistake. As Weiss says, “Israel has gotten [bad headlines’ tenfold anyway.”


Readers’ wildlife photos (and a contest winner)

Reader Rik Gern sent some lovely pictures of dandelions as well as some of his digital science-based art, one piece of which got a nod from Scientific American. His captions are indented. First, the dandelions:

For now, here are some pictures of dandelions (Leontodon taraxacum) gone to seed.

My neighbors probably won’t appreciate the fact that I let the plants go to seed and propagate,  but once the Buckminster Fuller “bucky ball”-looking structures caught my eye, I had to leave them alone long enough to observe and photograph them. 






And I wanted to show some of Rik’s other pictures.

Meanwhile, here’s an admitted brag; Scientific American has been sponsoring an Art of Neuroscience contest that used to be open to neuroscientists only, but that has recently been opened to the general public. I submitted two pieces of digital art; one was done from scratch with the addition of a modified image of a fetus and  a flame, and the other was taken from a retinal scan that I received from my optometrist. The second image was chosen as a staff favorite, and I have now been published in the online version of Scientific American. I’m thrilled to be included along with scientists and real artists! Here are two links to the contest: link 1, link 2.

Here are the images I submitted and the descriptions they asked for:

The Fuse Is Lit

Digital art with distorted fetal image.

A representation of the growing potential for consciousness as the brain and nervous system self-assemble during gestation. Inspired by images of the “star child” from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the cover from Zap Comix No. 0, and reading Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”.


Looking Inward and Outward

Retinal scan with digital manipulation

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the retina is a window to the brain. My optometrist gave me an image from a retinal scan which I played with to create a landscape. Our senses help our minds develop tools to create images that give our senses information to help our minds understand our senses. It’s an endlessly fascinating hall of mirrors.


Rik adds, “Check out the other images in the contest; there’s a lot of great stuff!”


Friday: Hili dialogue

It’s Friday, August 16, 2019, and National Rum Day. It’s also National Bratwurst Day, and a holiday I can’t adhere to: National Men’s Grooming Day. It’s also Xicolatada in Palau-de-Cerdagne, France, a day when hot chocolate is distributed as a hangover palliative.

Stuff that happened on August 16 include:

  • 1792 – Maximilien de Robespierre presents the petition of the Commune of Paris to the Legislative Assembly, which demanded the formation of a revolutionary tribunal.
  • 1858 – U.S. President James Buchanan inaugurates the new transatlantic telegraph cable by exchanging greetings with Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. However, a weak signal forces a shutdown of the service in a few weeks.
  • 1896 – Skookum Jim Mason, George Carmack and Dawson Charlie discover gold in a tributary of the Klondike River in Canada, setting off the Klondike Gold Rush.
  • 1920 – Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians is hit on the head by a fastball thrown by Carl Mays of the New York Yankees, and dies early the next day. Chapman was the second player to die from injuries sustained in a Major League Baseball game, the first being Doc Powers in 1909.
  • 1930 – The first color sound cartoon, Fiddlesticks, is released by Ub Iwerks.

And. . .  here it is! Is that a precursor of Mickey Mouse I see?

  • 1954 – The first issue of Sports Illustrated is published.
  • 1962 – Pete Best is discharged from The Beatles, to be replaced two days later by Ringo Starr.

Best was replaced by George Martin and Brian Epstein because his drumming—his sense of timing—was deemed inadequate for British studio work. (There were other reasons as well.) Best formed his own group, and is still alive.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1815 – John Bosco, Italian priest and educator (d. 1888)
  • 1888 – T. E. Lawrence, British colonel, diplomat, writer and archaeologist (d. 1935)

As Lawrence was one of my heroes, here’s a picture I took 13 years ago in Dorset of his house (“Clouds Hill“), the lintel, and his bathtub.  The Green over the door says οὐ φροντὶς (“Why Worry”), from Hippocleides:

More stuff on this day:

  • 1913 – Menachem Begin, Belarusian-Israeli politician, 6th Prime Minister of Israel, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1992)
  • 1924 – Fess Parker, American actor (d. 2010)
  • 1945 – Suzanne Farrell, American ballerina and educator
  • 1947 – Carol Moseley Braun, American lawyer and politician, United States Ambassador to New Zealand
  • 1958 – Madonna, American singer-songwriter, producer, actress, and director

Those who expired on August 16 include two miscreants (Abu Nidal and Idi Amin):

  • 1705 – Jacob Bernoulli, Swiss mathematician and theorist (b. 1654)
  • 1733 – Matthew Tindal, English philosopher and author (b. 1657)
  • 1948 – Babe Ruth, American baseball player and coach (b. 1895)
  • 1949 – Margaret Mitchell, American journalist and author (b. 1900)
  • 1973 – Selman Waksman, Ukrainian-American biochemist and microbiologist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1888)
  • 1977 – Elvis Presley, American singer, guitarist, and actor (b. 1935)
  • 2002 – Abu Nidal, Palestinian terrorist leader (b. 1937)
  • 2003 – Idi Amin, Ugandan field marshal and politician, 3rd President of Uganda (b. 1928)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili gets a biology lesson from Andrzej:

Hili: What are those sparrows fighting about?
A: They are probably fighting about which one is stronger.


In Polish:
Hili: O co te wróble się biją?
Ja: Prawdopodobnie spierają się o to, który jest silniejszy.

From Merilee:


From reader Karl. Never touch the belly!

This tweet was sent to me by Grania on December 3 of last year. Watch this and ponder how much Republicans have changed.

I made a tweet!

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. I love skunks (I once had a pet one), and this is a BIG skunk family! (This one was found by Ann German.)

Also via Ann German. Oh, the inhumanity of this procedure!

From Nilou: the travails of an unrelated man named Jeffrey Epstein:

Three tweets from Matthew. The first two are on whiffling. I must have gotten the idea from these sent me by Matthew recently, but I’d forgotten! Anyway, you can’t get enough whiffling. Dig that crazy goose!

Look at this gorgeous mineral. I’d love to have this specimen!




Words and phrases I hate

The list keeps growing so fast that I can barely contain my bile.  Here are a few stinkers that have bothered me lately. (And of course, add your own in the comments.) All examples come from that bastion of grammatical degeneracy: HuffPost.

1.) “noms” for nominations. This is one of those “look cool” truncations like “fam” for family or “romcom” for “romantic comedy”. The problem, of course, is that the word also means “food” to all Internet cat lovers. Why can’t they just say “nominations”?

2.) “vacay” for “vacation”. This one really ticks me off, as you save only one lousy syllable. Does this mean that “vocation” will become “vocay”, too? And it’s only a matter of time before “fashion” becomes “fash”.

3.)relatable“.  When I hear someone use or write this word, I immediately mark them down on the neuron scale. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much (it may even be in the dictionary), but somehow the longer phrase “that we can relate to” seems better. Or, better yet, what’s wrong with “congenial” or “appealing”?

4.) “advancements”.  What the bloody hell? Why isn’t “advances” good enough?


Don’t worry—I have more. And I’ll be here all year, folks.

New School Professor under investigation for saying “n-word” as used by James Baldwin

There is no word more offensive in American discourse than the “n-word”, and I hesitate to even write what it stands for, although I used to. It is, of course, horribly racist, though I have no problem writing “kike” or “spick” or any other number of racial slurs. So be it; I won’t use the word here, even though you know what it is and people automatically hear it when they hear the “n-word” phrase. Even Geoff Stone, our First Amendment law- chool professor, and head of the University of Chicago free speech committee (which produced the “Chicago Principles”) no longer uses the word  in class though he once did as an example of offensive hate speech. In that case, though, he wasn’t discussing how an author (or a black person) used the word.

If that’s good enough for Stone, it’s good enough for me. However, I see no similar problems when discussing an author’s use of the word, as in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or, in the case at hand, James Baldwin’s essay “The creative process”.  Laurie Sheck, a well-known poet who is a professor at the New School, however, got in trouble for that, as reported by both Inside Higher Education (IHE) and The Guardian (click on screenshots below):



Here’s the skinny from the Guardian:

The Pulitzer-nominated poet Laurie Sheck, a professor at the New School in New York City, is being investigated by the university for using the N-word during a discussion about James Baldwin’s use of the racial slur.

The investigation has been condemned by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire), which is calling on the New School to drop the “misguided” case because it “warns faculty and students that good-faith engagement with difficult political, social, and academic questions will result in investigation and possible discipline”.

Sheck, who is white, was teaching a graduate course this spring on “radical questioning” in writing. She assigned students Baldwin’s 1962 essay The Creative Process, in which the black American writer and civil rights activist argued that Americans have “modified or suppressed and lied about all the darker forces in our history” and must commit to “a long look backward whence we came and an unflinching assessment of the record”. During the class, Sheck pointed to the 2016 documentary about Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, and asked her students to discuss why the title altered Baldwin’s original statement, in which he used the N-word instead of negro during an appearance on a talk show.

Sheck told Inside Higher Education that a white student had objected to her language. According to Sheck, she questioned the student about her objection, who said she had been told by a previous professor that white people should never use the term. At the end of term, the student gave a presentation about racism at the New School.

Sheck told IHE that she used the word because Baldwin – a New School alumnus – did, and “as writers, words are all we have. And we have to give [Baldwin] credit that he used the word he did on purpose”.

There’s a bit more explanation at IHE (my emphasis):

During a conversation about Baldwin’s argument that the “war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war,” Sheck asked the class if anyone had seen the 2016 documentary film on Baldwin, “I Am Not Your Negro.” In so doing, she noted that the title of the documentary used the word “negro,” instead of the N-word, which Baldwin used in an appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” (that clip of the show is in the documentary). Sheck said she used the actual word because Baldwin used it, and because future class texts included the word, as well.

“As writers, words are all we have,” Sheck said. “And we have to give [Baldwin] credit that he used the word he did on purpose.”

Immediately a white student in the class objected to Sheck’s language. Sheck, who is also white, said she asked the student why, to help her explore her own thinking about it. The student said she’d been told by a professor at her undergraduate institution that white people are never to use the term, under any circumstances, Sheck recalled. So Sheck told her that that was “one school of thought.”

And so there is an investigation of Sheck—simply for uttering a word that Baldwin himself used, in a discussion that was properly academic and relevant to the text at hand:

In June, months after the class, Sheck says she was called to a meeting where she was questioned about her choice of reading assignments, and how she had prepared students for discussing Baldwin’s essay. She told the university that graduate students on a literature course “should reasonably be expected to be able to discuss painful or offensive language and the various implications of altering the words of an iconic writer”. As the meeting ended, she was given the university’s guidelines for dealing with issues of discrimination and told to familiarise herself with them.

But Sheck told the Guardian that the university is proceeding with an investigation despite its regulations stating that complaints of discrimination must be lodged within 60 days of the incident, which had passed by the time the complaint was made against her.

“I have been left completely in the dark with the accusations against me still actively in place, and classes starting in two weeks,” she said. “Having taught at the New School with an impeccable record and consistently stellar student evaluations of my classes for nearly 20 years, this drawn-out approach appears to many as an unnecessarily callous and insensitive treatment of a devoted and long time faculty member.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote a letter about this to the President of the New School, insisting that Sheck’s use of the word was not “discriminatory harassment,” but an exercise in academic freedom, and that the investigation of Sheck would have a chilling effect on academic freedom and free expression. FIRE urged the school to drop the investigation immediately. PEN America, less free-speechy than FIRE, has also called for the New School to drop the investigation.

The Guardian continues:

The New School’s response to Fire’s letter said only that it is “proud to be a place that embraces rigorous academic inquiry, diverse perspectives and respectful debate”, and that it “maintains confidentiality regarding personnel issues”. When asked by the Guardian if the investigation was proceeding, it said that open discussion of often difficult issues was central to its mission to provide an effective “learning environment”.

“In the context of the current political and cultural climate, we are bringing together faculty and students to use these principles to guide a pedagogical approach that respects academic freedom as well as an inclusive and respectful learning space,” it added.

This is bunkum. They do not embrace diverse perspectives” if someone can’t even say the identical word that Baldwin used repeatedly, and in a discussion about why he changed the use of that word in the tile of his book. In fact, even this brochure from the Film Club uses the n-word, and properly so, because it’s about the identical topic. In other words, the New School is stifling freedom of speech and catering to the offense culture in an unseemly way.

According to IHE, the faculty union has “advised Sheck to consider taking a ‘conciliatory position'” and even changing her curriculum, with alternatives of not reading passages aloud, or giving trigger warnings. Sheck replies, “I haven’t done anything wrong. . . So what we’re trying to do here is get things out in the open. When these things are covert and people feel quietly intimidated into changing the syllabus, that’s not going to help students. It just feels like enough is enough.”

Indeed. It’s one thing to use the word as a racial slur, another thing entirely to use it as part of an academic discussion of the very use of that word, and about why Baldwin changed the use. It’s hard for me to understand how someone, especially a white student, could be so offended by this discussion that they would report Sheck and make her life a living hell.

She did not do anything wrong, and it seems sheer lunacy to me that she’s being investigated. It’s not true that “white people should never use that word”. They shouldn’t use it as a racial slur, or in a way that implies bigotry, but there is nothing wrong with discussing it when an author has used it, and as part of a discussion about why the word was used and the resonance it has today.  If we can’t even say words that people consider painful and offensive, why should we be able to say anything that people consider painful and offensive. In other words, why have free speech? In this case, freedom of expression is the very thing at issue: Sheck was not promoting bigotry, but discussing the very offensiveness of a word.

The New School should drop this ridiculous investigation immediately, and I’ll write to them with that opinion. They simply look ridiculous for this kind of language policing in academic discourse.