Readers’ wildlife photos

A short one today: two photos from Stephen Barnard of the American kestrels (Falco sparverius; I now know the name by heart) nesting in a box affixed to his garage, and a beautiful landscape from his digs. I believe this first one is the male Boris, as males have slate-gray wings and females chestnut wings:

The two of them with Natasha on the left. You can see the difference in wing coloration and head ornamentation:

And a lovely Idaho sunset (at least I think it is, as it appears to be a view toward the east):

Duck report

Well, we have eight ducklings still left, and they all look lively. I fed them this morning and all of them (ducklings first!) came to my whistle. I feed them in a special spot, while running back and forth to feed landlubbers Sir Francis and Henry, who would drive away mom and babies if I didn’t feed them in separate places. Here are four photos from yesterday’s feeding.

Now there are eight plus Honey:

Anna feeding them crushed mealworms. Note the duck ramp at upper right:

The ducklings have tentatively learned that the ramp is a place to rest, but are having trouble negotiating it all the way out of the pond. I’ve asked Physical Plant for a wider ramp, and they’ve tentatively agreed (I’m sure I’m a pain in the tuchas to them).

A big honking turtle discovered yesterday that the ramp was a good place to sun itself, so I had to chase him off (they have plenty of places to do that).

Philip Roth died

Philip Roth, one of America’s most famous living authors, is no longer living: he died yesterday in Manhattan of congestive heart failure at age 85.  From the New York Times eulogy:

Mr. Roth was the last of the great white males: the triumvirate of writers — Saul Bellow and John Updike were the others — who towered over American letters in the second half of the 20th century. Outliving both and borne aloft by an extraordinary second wind, Mr. Roth wrote more novels than either of them. In 2005 he became only the third living writer (after Bellow and Eudora Welty) to have his books enshrined in the Library of America.

To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan, though I did enjoy Goodbye, Columbus, and Portnoy’s Complaint (who can forget the liver scene?). I tried one or two of his later books, but couldn’t get into them, though I know many others who read him religiously.

The Times goes on at length about Portnoy’s Complaint, published in 1969 when I was a sophomore in college:

After the separation [from his wife Margaret Williams], Mr. Roth moved back East and began work on “Portnoy’s Complaint,” the novel for which he may be best known and which surely set a record for most masturbation scenes per page. It was a breakthrough not just for Mr. Roth but for American letters, which had never known anything like it: an extended, unhinged monologue, at once filthy and hilarious, by a neurotic young Jewish man trying to break free of his suffocating parents and tormented by a longing to have sex with gentile women, shiksas.

The book was “an experiment in verbal exuberance,” Mr. Roth said, and it deliberately broke all the rules.

The novel, published in 1969, became a best seller but received mixed reviews. Josh Greenfeld, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called it “the very novel that every American-Jewish writer has been trying to write in one guise or another since the end of World War II.” On the other hand, Irving Howe (on whom Mr. Roth later modeled the pompous, stuffy critic Milton Appel in “The Anatomy Lesson”) wrote in a lengthy takedown in 1972, “The cruelest thing anyone can do with ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ is read it twice.”

And once again the rabbis complained. Gershom Scholem, the great kabbalah scholar, declared that the book was more harmful to Jews than “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Give me a break! Seriously! It may have polluted some Jewish dinners, but that’s about it. For a young secular Jew like me, the book was an eye-opener.


NYT caption: “Mr. Roth at Princeton in 1964. He wrote more than 30 books, often exploring male sexuality and Jewish American life.CreditSam Falk/The New York Times”

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning; it’s Wednesday, May 23, 2018, and, for those of you without dental work, National Taffy Day. It’s also World Turtle Day (I mistakenly said it was yesterday; it’s not). We’ll have a readers’ Turtle Post later today, so I’m extending the deadline for readers send me pictures of their turtles, tortoises, and terrapins: 1 pm Chicago time.

I’ll have a duckling report in a minute.

On this day in 1430, Joan of Arc was captured by the English-allied Burgundians and accused of heresy, which included dressing like a man. She was burned at the stake the next year; she was only 19.  Another heretic on May 23, 1498: Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake in Florence, Italy.  On this day in 1873, the Canadian government established the “North-West Mounted Police,” the antecedents of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“Mounties”).  On this day in 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed by the Law in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, and riddled with bullets (you’ll remember the last scene of “Bonnie and Clyde”, which I’ve put below. Don’t watch it if you don’t want to see gore. In real life, each of the criminals was riddled with over 50 bullets. They’re played, of course, by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

On this day in 1945, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, committed suicide while in custody of the Allies. Finally, exactly four years later, the Federal Republic of Germany was established.

Notables born on this day include the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus (1707), Douglas Fairbanks (1883), Pär Lagerkvist (1891), Artie Shaw (1910), Nobel-winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg (1925), Joan Collins (1933), Anatoly Karpov (1951) and Jewel (1974). Those who died on this day include Savonarola (see above), William “Captain” Kidd (executed 1701), Kit Carson (1868), Henrik Ibsen (1906), Bonnie and Clyde (1934, see above), Heinrich Himmler (1945, see above), Sam Snead (2002), John Forbes Nash, Jr. (2015) and, last year, Roger Moore.

To palliate the violence above, here’s the great clarinetist Artie Shaw (real name Arthur Jacob Arshawsky—born Jewish), playing “Concerto for Clarinet” in the 1940 film “Second Chorus”.  The song that made him famous, which you can hear here, is “Frenesi”, a wonderful tune. Fun fact: Shaw was married eight times, including to Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. He also dated Judy Garland and was said to have had an affair with Lena Horne. Shaw was also the fourth highest-rated marksman in the U.S.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, there’s a Big Debate about whether to leave the garden, but Hili is of course in charge:

Cyrus: Are you staying here?
Hili: It depends…
Cyrus: Depends on what?
Hili: On what I decide.
In Polish:
Cyrus: Zostajesz tu?
Hili: To zależy…
Cyrus: Od czego?
Hili: Od tego co postanowię.

Matthew sent some tweets; this one shows how far Boston Dynamics has come with its robots. (No, that’s not a man inside!)

Impala run for their lives!

Some fun for you linguists; guess the second word, the one with 8 consonants and only one vowel. (You’ll find it in the tweet’s thread.)

A cool cat wooing his lady. What nonchalance!

Some great people save a raccoon.

The Cat Who Moves Only When Not Watched:

From Joyce Carol Oates via Grania:

Presumably you know the song:

From reader JJ:

From reader Gethyn:

Finally, reader Al contributed this cartoon, which could be used to illustrate what is NOT affirmative consent!

The problem of “sensitivity readers” in publishing

I managed to put a post together that I started before I found the sick duck, and writing this helped take my mind off its death. It may not be as fluent or coherent as usual, but so be it.

As you may recall, many publishers, especially those of young adult and children’s books, tend to use “sensitivity readers” to make sure that everything is culturally correct and positive. I have, for instance, recounted the story of Laura Moriarty, whose book American Heart was first given a starred review by Kirkus (important for sales to libraries and schools), but then the star was withdrawn because a vetter who was “an observant Muslim person of color” decided that the book was seen through a white protagonist “filter”, and projected a “white savior narrative.” Other people who hadn’t read the book also applied pressure to Kirkus.

[UPDATE: Ms. Moriarty has posted a comment below explaining the situation, which is even more bizarre than I describe above. Have a look!]

It doesn’t take a reviewing site to vet a book; books can be changed or even banned by social-media mobs, even before the book has appeared.

To avoid this, and to boost sales, publishers are employing readers who make sure books are ideologically correct, and project only positive images of minorities. This is discussed in the following Guardian article (click on screenshot).

Is there any value to such readers, given that their main job seems not to ensure that a group or culture is portrayed accurately, but rather that it’s portrayed positively? I can see only one bit of value in vetting, which I’ve bolded in the Guardian extract below.

While some sensitivity readers charge by the hour, fees start at about $250 (£180) a manuscript. Demand is clearly high: a search on Twitter finds dozens of authors over the last few days alone looking for the service. “I am in need of a black Muslim sensitivity reader ASAP,” says one writer. “I’m seeking Japanese and Japanese-American sensitivity readers,” says another.

Anna Hecker, whose young adult novel When the Beat Drops is published in May, says she first contacted sensitivity readers after two rounds of edits with her publisher. Her protagonist, Mira, is mixed-race – half Caucasian, half African-American – and Hecker is not.

She hired three sensitivity readers, who all gave feedback. Hecker did not describe race in her initial draft, something she was told was typical for white writers. As a person of colour, it was suggested that Mira would make note of white characters’ ethnicities, in the way a white character would make note of black or Latino characters. One reader queried how Mira’s white mother learned how to braid her daughter’s mixed-race hair. Another encouraged Hecker to be more creative with descriptions, saying her initial description of “light brown skin, a wide nose, and kinky dark hair” was both cliched and boring – feedback Hecker described as “fair”.

But beyond the fact that if you describe ethnicity of some characters, you should do it for others, I don’t see the point of changing words to avoid offending people. That ultimately puts all books on the same bland level, even if the words used do offend some. It is the job of an editor to edit the book, not ideologues who want all cultures portrayed positively. The fact is that some aspects of some cultures are offensive (what about the mass slaughter of prisoners by Aztecs, or the treatment of Native Americans by U.S. settlers), and of course many people in every culture are not wonderful folks.  Ultimately, the use of “sensitivity readers” produces a bland, homogeneous, and inoffensive literature in which “everyone shall have prizes” and nobody gets offended. But if literature loses the power to offend, it loses its rationale. For offense leads to thought and discussion, and many books considered “offensive” have turned out to be classics of world literature.

So, for example, I have no problem with someone republishing “Mein Kampf” or, for that matter, “Huckleberry Finn” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”—books that many schools have tried to ban. None of these would pass a sensitivity reader, and even if “Mein Kampf” isn’t suitable for young adults or children, the other two books are. Imagine how many great works of literature would be purified into valuelessness by “sensitivity readers”!

This page gives a list of books that have been banned or challenged, and it includes even great works by black writers—books like Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, Richard Wright’s “Native Son”, and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” Even “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” was challenged because its topic, the extermination of Native Americans by whites, was “controversial.” Make no mistake: “sensitivity readers” don’t just want to purge negativity about anyone in a minority group, but also want to purge controversy per se. “Sensitivity readers” are Pecksniffs, censors, and thought police.

So let us have good editors, for all authors need a good editor, but let us also forget about “sensitivity readers,” whose very job is to turn literature into pablum.

I brought up this topic with a friend who reads a lot, and was happy to see that zhe agreed with me:

As you know, I’m a complete Stalinist for free expression – I take no prisoners, people can say what they damn please; the point is to inoculate the weaklings so they’re not wounded by others’ words, not wrap them in cotton wool and pad all the corners of the world. The point isn’t to publish defensively (make sure you offend no one) and you have to rely on your own smarts to avoid the oafish. If there had been sensitivity monitors, we’d probably not have any books by Hemingway, Mailer, Trollope, Shaw, Austen (all those terrible things she says about clerics), Atwood, Twain, or Shakespeare.

h/t: BJ

Sick duckling

This little guy was called to my attention by a guy at the pond; the mother had eight babies following her and I wondered where the other one was. The guy said there was one duckling languishing on the bank, and not in good shape.

I brought the little guy (or girl) to my office, covered it, put it by a space heater, and gave it mealworms soaked in water. It’s not interested, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to die. Meanwhile, it’s peeping feebly at my feet and kicking on its side. I think it’ll die within half an hour.

It just died. A few feeble kicks of its little webbed feet, and it was gone.

I’m heartbroken, and in tears.  Don’t expect any more posts today.  Yes, I know attrition is normal, and that, on average, every female in a stable population will leave just two reproducing offspring over its lifetime. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

There are eight left, and I hope we fledge the rest.

Anti-Semitic cartoons start appearing in Turkey

As I’ve mentioned here repeatedly, anti-Semitic cartoons are a staple of the media, both state and private, in the Middle East, and especially Palestine, although Israel does not purvey such hatred in its media. This disparity is, of course, ignored by the Control-Left, who will excuse the Palestinians anything, including homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism, because they’re perceived as people of color. But if these cartoons appeared in the Western press, they’d be universally decried and vilified. Such is the hypocrisy of much of the Left.

And sadly, the cartoons, often displaying Jewish stereotypes that would befit the Nazi’s Der Stürmer, are now spreading to the once-secular land of Turkey, turning, under Erdogan, into an Islamic state.

MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), whose work is scrupulous, has presented a selection of cartoons from a Turkish newspaper. Thankfully, the paper isn’t the nation’s most popular, but I predict this stuff will spread. Their explanation:

İbrahim Özdabak is a Turkish cartoonist whose personal website includes cartoons dating back to 2005 covering many subjects relevant to Turkish society and politics. Many of his cartoons have antisemitic themes, depicting Jews as blood-soaked butchers, vultures circling over Palestinian land, and vampires drinking Palestinian blood. These cartoons present the same images of Jews as those circulated in the antisemitic tabloid Der Stürmer and other Nazi-era publications. His cartoons are printed in the Turkish daily newspaper Yeni Asya (“New Asia”), which sold 11,245 copies during the week of April 9, 2018, making it the 29th most popular print newspaper in Turkey.

Here are a few of those cartoons’s with MEMRI’s explanations. Note the big-nosed depiction of the Jew that’s always used by anti-Semites. If you think that these cartoons are only anti-Israel rather than also being anti-Jewish (they are of course deeply intertwined), you’re just wrong.

A Jewish Nero plays the harp while the “Islamic world” burns. (, August 1, 2016.)

The Jew plotting to take over the entire region “east of the Nile” and “west of the Euphrates” (, June 26, 2016.)

A Jewish man praying at the Western Wall laughs at the message on his phone, which reads: “Turkey and Israel have come to an agreement.” (, June 28, 2016.)

My emphasis in the explanation below. This cartoon is particularly invidious:

The cartoon below was a response to an open letter published April 22, 2018 in the French-language Le Parisien newspaper proposing that “the verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities,” so that “no believer can refer to a sacred text to commit a crime. The letter drew harsh criticism from French Muslims, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded harshly to it in a speech on May 8, saying: “In France, some group came out and published a communique calling for the removal of certain verses from the Quran. Even though it is very clear that the people who said this do not know anything about the Quran, I wonder, in their lives, have they ever read their own books, [such as] the Bible? Or have they ever read the Torah? Or have they ever read the Book of Psalms? If they had read it, they would probably also want the Bible to be banned… When we warn the Western countries about anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-Turkish sentiment, xenophobia, and racism, we get a bad reputation. Oh West, know that while you attack our holy book, we are not going to attack your sanctities, but we are going to take you down.”

Solving the puzzle of the Büyük Ortadoğu Projesi (“Greater Middle East Project”) reveals the Star of David. (, July 20, 2017.)

“Here there is a bit of Palestinian land left!” (, November 18, 2016.)

You have to be insane if you think that Jews control the United Nations, but of course the stereotype is that they control everything.

(, April 28, 2018.)

This one’s pretty nasty, too:

“Gaza Chambers.” This cartoon plays on the similarity in Turkish between the words “gas” and “Gaza.” (, date unknown.)

h/t: Malgorzata

Note to readers

Several readers who comment regularly have told me that their comments didn’t appear. I found the comments in the “spam” file, and have no idea why they went there. I restored the ones I found that weren’t real spam.

If you’ve made a comment and haven’t seen it, email me with your posting name and the email address you use in the comment field, and I will try to recover your comment. This assumes, of course, that you haven’t been banned, but I believe that if you are, your comments simply won’t go through, and won’t look as if they’ve been posted.

WordPress has been messing around with the format and practices lately, and, as usual, I have to go along with what they do. I may upgrade soon, which might fix some of these issues, though not the big one that readers aren’t able to edit their comments after they’re posted. Do proofread before you press that button.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning ladies and gentlement, brothers and sisters, and all the ships at sea: it’s Tuesday, May 22, 2018, also known as National Vanilla Pudding Day (meh). It’s also World Goth Day, described by its originators as “a day where the goth scene gets to celebrate its own being, and an opportunity to make its presence known to the rest of the world.” Ooookay. . . .never into that.

Finally, it’s World Turtle Day, so if you have a pet turtle, send me a photo by 5 pm today Chicago time and a few words about it.

I’m busy this a.m. so posting will be light—at least until later. There will be no “readers’ wildlife”, but that will resume tomorrow.

First, a tweet (h/t Grania) from Tom NIchols, who teaches at Harvard and the Naval War College. I apparently haven’t followed the news enough to know what this means. Readers?

On this day in 1570, according to Wikipedia, the first atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, was published with 70 maps. Note that this was honored by Google the other day, so the date may be off. On May 22, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition (named “The Corps of Discovery”) left St. Charles, Missouri for its trek to the Pacific.

It was banner day in 1826 for a ship that later became famous: HMS Beagle left on its first voyage, but that wasn’t the one that carried Darwin, which left five years later.  On this day in 1849, Abraham Lincoln was issued a U.S. patent for a “bellows” device to lift ships over obstructions (I doubt it was ever used). Still, he’s the only U.S. President to ever be issued a patent.

Speaking of patents, on this day in 1906, Orville and Wilbur Wright got U.S. patent 821,393 for their “Flying-Machine.” You know what that was! On May 22, 1915, Mount Lassen erupted in northern California; besides Mt. St. Helens, this was the only volcano in the contiguous U.S. to erupt during the 20th century. Of course Hawaii is not in the contiguous U.S.! On this day in 1987, the first Rugby World Cup began as New Zealand played Italy in Auckland. Australia and New Zealand hosted the event, with the All Blacks subsequently winning the title.

Finally, it was exactly one year ago today that Islamists attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester with grenades, killing 22 people. Here’s today’s cover of the Manchester Evening News:

When I asked Matthew (who lives there), “What’s with the bees?”, he responded, “Symbol of Manchester. After the bombing there were bees everywhere, a sign of solidarity. This design is based on a famous mural in the centre of town.

Notables born on this day include Richard Wagner (1813), Mary Cassatt (1844), Arthur Conan Doyle (1859), Hergé (1907), Peter Matthiessen (1927), Unabomber Ted Kaczynski (1942), George Best (1949), and Maggie Q (1979).  Those who died on this day include Martha Washington (1802), Victor Hugo (1885), Langston Hughes (1967), Nobel winning geneticist Alfred Hershey (1997), and Martin Gardner (2010). We will all join that Innumerable Caravan some day.

Here is “Sara Holding a Cat” by Mary Cassatt:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is trying a new trick to get birds: hypnotizing them:

Hili: Hypnosis is not working.
A: Maybe you should try to purr gently.
Hili: I’ve tried that.
In Polish:

Some tweets from Matthew. Have a look at this snake pretending to be dead:

From Philomena, who’s astounded:

One reason to marry a royal:

Matthews says, “These are Buprestid jewel beetles and this is what they look like before they’re opened.”

Before they break out:

From Ann German via reader Heather Hastie, who calls this “Proof of the stupidity of dogs”:

From Grania, who shows the famous statue of Hachikō. It’s had a resident cat for some time.

Look at this bun eat! What kind of vegetable is it?

A lovely cat painting:

Conservative Supreme Court rules against labor

In a 5-4 decision today, with voting along political lines, the conservative Supreme Court Justices (including Trump appointee Gorsuch) ruled that workers could not file class-action lawsuits against employers if they signed arbitration clauses in their contracts that waived their right to file such suits in favor of binding arbitration. This is definitely a blow to labor; as Reuters reports:

The justices, in a 5-4 ruling with the court’s conservatives in the majority, endorsed the legality of the growing practice by companies to compel workers to sign arbitration agreements waiving their right to bring class-action claims on various disputes, primarily over wages and hours.

The ruling could apply more broadly to discrimination claims like those raised by women as part of the #MeToo movement raising awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace but the court did not explicitly address that issue.

Craig Becker, a former member of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board and now general counsel of the AFL-CIO union federation, said the decision will have a “chilling effect” on employees coming forward to complain of mistreatment.

“It will cripple enforcement of all the major employment laws,” Becker added.

Growing numbers of employers, alarmed by a rise in class-action claims brought by workers on wage issues, have demanded that their workers sign waivers. Class-action litigation can result in large damages awards by juries and is harder for businesses to fight than cases brought by individual plaintiffs.

Remember, this is about the legality of companies being able to make their employees sign waivers to prevent class-actions, which seems unfair on the face of it.

The split had Gorsuch (Trump’s flak) writing the majority opinion (see it here), joined by Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, and Roberts. As for the liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer), the New York Times adds this:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion “egregiously wrong.” In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision “will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers.”

Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to address the matter.

Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who studies arbitrations and class actions, said the ruling was unsurprising in light of earlier Supreme Court decisions. Justice Gorsuch, he added, “appears to have put his cards on the table as firmly in favor of allowing class actions to be stamped out through arbitration agreements.”

As a result, Professor Fitzpatrick said “it is only a matter of time until the most powerful device to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds is lost altogether.”

Will the working people who voted for Trump, thinking he’d improve their situation, be disenchanted now? Are you kidding? They won’t pay one bit of attention to this decision.

Here’s the opinion of Steven Greenhouse, former labor reporter for the New York Times:

We often ignore the fact that one of the worst things that Trump (and the Republicans) did—something that will affect the country long after Trump is out of the White House—was to unfairly block the appointment of Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, waiting out the election to then allow a possible Republican president (Trump) the chance to put in his own nominee. That would be the odious Gorsuch.