Wednesday: Hili dialogue

It’s Wednesday, July 17, and National Peach Ice-Cream Day (why the hyphen in “ice-cream”?) It’s also World Day for International Justice and World Emoji Day. Although I use emojis, I can’t decide whether they’re a good or bad thing, as they replace words with sometimes ambiguous symbols, and reduce the propensity to write accurately. That said, when I use them I favor the smiley- and frowny-face emojis as well as the smiling cat or cat-with-heart-eyes emojis. (And sometimes the duck, though the emoji group is sexist since they depict only a drake and not a hen.)

Stuff that happened on this day includes:

  • 1717 – King George I of Great Britain sails down the River Thames with a barge of 50 musicians, where George Frideric Handel’s Water Music is premiered.
  • 1867 – Harvard School of Dental Medicine is established in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the first dental school in the U.S. that is affiliated with a university.
  • 1902 – Willis Carrier creates the first air conditioner in Buffalo, New York.
  • 1918 – Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his immediate family and retainers are executed by Bolshevik Chekists at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
  • 1938 – Douglas Corrigan takes off from Brooklyn to fly the “wrong way” to Ireland and becomes known as “Wrong Way” Corrigan.
  • 1945 – World War II: The main three leaders of the Allied nations, Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin, meet in the German city of Potsdam to decide the future of a defeated Germany.
  • 1975 – Apollo–Soyuz Test Project: An American Apollo and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft dock with each other in orbit marking the first such link-up between spacecraft from the two nations.
  • 1984 – The national drinking age in the United States was changed from 18 to 21.

The story of “Wrong Way Corrigan” was once a big deal: Wikipedia reproduces it:

Douglas Corrigan (January 22, 1907 – December 9, 1995) was an American aviator born in Galveston, Texas. He was nicknamed “Wrong Way” in 1938. After a transcontinental flight from Long Beach, California, to New York City, he flew from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland, though his flight plan was filed to return to Long Beach. He claimed his unauthorized flight was due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscured landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass. However, he was a skilled aircraft mechanic (he was one of the builders of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis) and had made several modifications to his own plane, preparing it for his transatlantic flight. He had been denied permission to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland, and his “navigational error” was seen as deliberate. Nevertheless, he never publicly admitted to having flown to Ireland intentionally.

Although Corrigan’s flight was 9 years after Lindbergh’s, his story caught the fancy of the public and he became somewhat famous. Here he is:

Here’s his “jerry-rigged” plane (sans wings) coming back to New York on the liner Manhattan (Corrigan got a ticker-tape parade down Broadway):

And here’s the headline of the New York Post on Friday, August 5, 1938, with a “wrong way” headline:

And there were four big airplane crashes and one train crash on this day between 1996 and 2014. Consult the “July 17” entry for Wikipedia for details.

Those who were born on this day include:

  • 1763 – John Jacob Astor, German-American businessman and philanthropist (d. 1848)
  • 1871 – Lyonel Feininger, German-American painter and illustrator (d. 1956)
  • 1889 – Erle Stanley Gardner, American lawyer and author (d. 1970)
  • 1899 – James Cagney, American actor and dancer (d. 1986)
  • 1910 – James Coyne, Canadian lawyer and banker, 2nd Governor of the Bank of Canada (d. 2012)
  • 1947 – Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
  • 1954 – Angela Merkel, German chemist and politician, 8th Chancellor of Germany

I’ve often said that Feininger was one of my favorite painters. Here’s his “The Market Church at Halle” (1930):

Notables who “fell asleep” on this day include:

  • 1790 – Adam Smith, Scottish economist and philosopher (b. 1723)
  • 1793 – Charlotte Corday, French murderer (b. 1768)
  • 1887 – Dorothea Dix, American nurse and activist (b. 1802)
  • 1912 – Henri Poincaré, French mathematician, physicist, and engineer (b. 1854)
  • 1918 – Victims of the Shooting of the Romanov family
    • Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (b. 1901)
    • Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia (b. 1899)
    • Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia (b. 1895)
    • Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia (b. 1897)
    • Alexandra Fyodorovna of Russia (b. 1872)
    • Aleksei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia (b. 1904)
    • Nikolai II of Russia (b. 1868)
    • Anna Demidova (b. 1878)
    • Ivan Kharitonov (b. 1872)
    • Alexei Trupp (b. 1858)
    • Yevgeny Botkin (b. 1865)
  • 1959 – Billie Holiday, American singer (b. 1915)
  • 1961 – Ty Cobb, American baseball player and manager (b. 1886)
  • 1974 – Dizzy Dean, American baseball player and sportscaster (b. 1910)
  • 2001 – Katharine Graham, American publisher (b. 1917)
  • 2006 – Mickey Spillane, American crime novelist (b. 1918)
  • 2009 – Walter Cronkite, American journalist and actor (b. 1916)

Here’s a photo I took of the tombs of the Romanovs in St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg (photo from July, 2011). The remains were identified and buried in the cathedral. The Czar and Czarina are in the middle:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili mistakes biology for cosmology:

Hili: A black hole.
A: Don’t be afraid, it will not gobble you up.
Hili: But mightn’t there be a horrible spider inside?
In Polish:
Hili: Czarna dziura.
Ja: Nie bój się, ona cię nie wchłonie.
Hili: Ale czy nie kryje się w niej jakiś straszny pająk?

Two cartoons I found on Facebook:

And more cats:

Four tweets I found. The first involves two poor penguins in New Zealand: all they wanted was fish!

Nice slow-motion, video: a bullet goes through a block of gelatin:

Parkour, but I wouldn’t do this:

This seems a bit excessive: does it matter where Trump’s tweets were written, as they’re execrable no matter where they were composed? Is every President tainted by living in a slave-built house?

A tweet that Grania sent me on October 20 of last year: big noms for a big mammal:

A tweet from Heather Hastie. As they say, no cat ever suffered from insomnia:


Tweets from Matthew Cobb, who said to have a look at the thread. As he told me of this one, “Mainly they are very bad puns, but you might be amused, or have your own.”

I told you that cats always land on their feet!


You can’t win

When I criticize Ilhan Omar, I get faulted for not mentioning Trump or Omar’s death threats. Now, when I criticize Trump, I get this (not posted, of course):

As the saying goes, you can’t satisfy all of the people all of the time.  But I’m sick and tired of this kind of stuff, and of accusations of whataboutery: “Why didn’t you denounce [opposite ideology from what I’ve denounced]?” Trump doesn’t just happen to be saying mean things on Twitter, of course: he’s wrecking the country. But Samedi wants me to go after the left-wingers more. I suggest he—again, I’m presuming it’s a male—read Breitbart.


Trigger warnings: new study says they don’t work for traumatized people

Reader Gregory called my attention to a tweet from a Ph.D. student at Harvard calling attention to a new paper that was just put on the internet. It shows that, for those who survived trauma, there’s no evidence that trigger warnings reduce anxiety, and may even be harmful.

While there’s no indication that the paper has yet been accepted for publication, preprints are increasingly appearing before they show up in professional journals, and this is one of them. You can download it by clicking on the link below:


While trigger warning have been promoted for creating “inclusivity” and reducing trauma, critics decry them for impeding education and instilling victimization in people, especially survivors of trauma. But the pro-trigger-warning arguments have been based on what people feel is right, not on data. In fact, as the authors conclude from a useful summary of previous work, there is no evidence that putting trigger warnings before exposure to potentially damaging material reduces anxiety at all, and some evidence that the warnings may exacerbate anxiety. (The authors’ table of relevant literature is very useful.)

These earlier studies, however, were limited to people who hadn’t experienced trauma—neglecting the very people at whom trigger warnings are aimed. After all, the goal of such warnings is to avoid re-traumatizing people by exposing them without warning to subjects that damaged them psychologically, from incidents that even gave them PTSD.

I won’t go into detail about the rather complicated methodology of the paper, which uses numerous analyses, controls, and measurements. Suffice it to say that the subjects (451 of them) were surveyed for things like degree of trauma (all had been traumatized), psychological diagnoses, nature of their trauma, various demographic variables, and so on. They were then exposed to three types of readings, with or without (control) trigger warnings: “neutral” readings (like a character description from Moby-Dick), “mildly distressing” (like a description of a battle but without gore), or “markedly distressing” (characterized as things like “graphic scenes of violence, injury or death; e.g., the murder scene from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment”). The trigger warnings that were issued half the time were these:

TRIGGER WARNING: The passage you are about to read contains disturbing content and may trigger an anxiety response, especially in those who have a history of trauma. 

The authors’ null hypothesis was that the effect of trigger warnings—effects on things like anxiety or perceived centrality of trauma in your personality—was zero.

In general, the results either supported the null hypotheses or were “ambiguous”, but almost always in the direction of trigger warnings increasing rather than reducing anxiety. This study did not replicate those from an earlier paper showing that trigger warnings actually undermined individuals’ sense of vulnerability and their sense that others were vulnerable. In other words, they didn’t support an earlier study showing that trigger warnings were harmful.

In general, then, the authors showed that there’s not much of an effect of trigger warnings one way or the other, and the “way” they work is usually counterproductive but insignificantly so. Nor did the type of trauma an individual experienced have any effect on this conclusion.

There were, however, two effects—and counterproductive ones. The first is this:

We found substantial evidence that giving trigger warnings to trauma survivors caused  them to view trauma as more central to their life narrative. This effect is a reason for worry. Some trigger warnings explicitly suggest that trauma survivors are uniquely vulnerable (e.g., ” …especially in those with a history of trauma”). Even when trigger warnings only mention content, the implicit message that trauma survivors are vulnerable remains (why else provide a warning?). These messages may reinforce the notion that trauma is invariably a watershed event that causes permanent psychological change.

And there’s also a bit of evidence that trigger warnings increase anxiety for trauma suffers who also have PTSD.

These results are clearly counterproductive to the aims of having trigger warnings. Because of these results, and mainly because there was no evidence that trigger warnings had any of the intended effects, the authors conclude that “If there is no good reason to deploy [trigger warnings] in the first place, we need not require strong evidence of harm before abandoning them.”  If they’re not helpful, and can even do some harm, as well as imbue people with a stronger victimhood narrative, then why use them? According to this paper, we shouldn’t.

Will this paper have any effect? Will colleges abandon trigger warnings? I wouldn’t count on it. Since when has evidence ever changed the mind of the woke? That said, even if the traumatized aren’t helped by such warnings, I would probably still let students know if I were showing something gory in class, like someone being beheaded. Fortunately, because I taught evolutionary biology I never had to show stuff like that, nor issue any trigger warnings.


Trump aims an old bigoted trope at Justice Democrats

As you know, “President” Trump issued some disgusting tweets the other day, telling the four Justice Democrats—Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley (he didn’t mention names, but it’s clear who he meant— to “go back to where they came from”. Here is some of what he said, and the New York Times has a story about the fracas.

This is, as usual, completely unworthy of a President, and reminds me of the old, bigoted calls for people to “go back to where they came from” if they’re foreigners you don’t like. But not even foreigners! When I was an antiwar activist in the Sixties, a lot of us were advised, “Why don’t you just go over to North Vietnam?” The trope then about America was “Love it or leave it.”

And the racist calls for blacks to go back to Africa are a well known facet of this bigotry. When I was a kid, a friend and I mustered up our courage to visit the American Nazi Party Headquarters—a small house in Arlington, Virginia owned by George Lincoln Rockwell. It was way scary, but I wanted to see what a real Nazi looked like. They gave us a bunch of literature, and I remember one item: a set of “Coon-Ard Boat Tickets to Africa”, emphasizing the Nazis’ desire to kick out African-Americans.

These tweets, and this confrontation, are shameful and reprehensible: low even by Trump standards.  I feel that I must call this out here because, although my writings on this site should make my hatred of Trump obvious, some readers have faulted me for not being sufficiently anti-Trump. I’ve explained why: the entire left-wing media and centrist media are already going after Trump for this, and I’m not saying anything novel by adding my voice to the chorus. But I emphasize that I’m singing with them. And this episode was especially shameful.

I also decry the fact that almost no Republicans have condemned Trump for his latest episode of bigotry (CNN lists only 18, including Mitt Romney); that is equally shameful.  When Republicans can’t bring themselves to call out bald-faced bigotry, it’s time to write most of them off.

Yet as ashamed as I am of this President, and of an America who would elect him, I’m also pleased—pleased that this episode will, at least temporarily, unite the Democrats, who are rightfully supporting the four Justice Democrats against this Presidential tirade. Will this unite the party now? I hope so, but I don’t think so. For you also know that I see the Justice Democrats as entitled and inexperienced social-media mavens who would rather incite their followers to feed their narcissism than enact legislation. They engage in unproductive identity politics that, I fear, will help push support towards Trump.

I will continue to call out what some call the “progressive Democrats” if they do what I don’t much like. But, for the moment, I support them in fighting the bigotry of our “President”, who not only has once again shown his true colors, but may have eroded some of his own support.  After all, surely some Republican voters will be alienated by the “go back to your own country” mantra. And, of course, among the four, only Omar wasn’t born in the U.S. All are American citizens, who have the right (and the duty) to criticize their own country as they see fit. And, as Representatives, it’s their job to determine how the government, the legislative branch, is to be run.

Readers’ wildlife photos

It’s been a while since we had some photos from Mike McDowell, but here are some of his speciality subjects: tiger beetles. His IDs and captions are indented.

We’ve had some serious flooding along the Wisconsin River this summer, so some sandbar tiger beetle species (C. macra and C. hirticollis) have been hard to find. Thus, I don’t have as many species to share with you and your readers this time around. However, a young entomologist friend of mine found dozens of Ghost Tiger Beetles (E. lepida) at Sauk Prairie Recreational Area a few weeks ago and I went there to score some portraits. Also included in this beetle-batch are a few species from Spring Green Preserve, which is also where I photographed Sand Milkwort and the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. As per usual, my first tiger beetle of the year was the Six-spotted (C. sexguttata), a species commonly seen on forest paths and sidewalks beginning in late April and early May.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata):


Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa generosa):

Bronzed Tiger Beetle (Cicindela repanda):

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris):

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida):

Purple Milkwort (Polygala polygama):

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa):

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

It’s Tuesday, July 16, 2019, and National Corn Fritters Day. What a delightful snack, especially with syrup!

Corn fritters!

It’s also Fresh Spinach Day and, for you herpers, World Snake Day. If you have a pet snake, celebrate it today. And, as you see below, it’s the 50th anniversary of when the Apollo 11 mission took off for the Moon. The mission lasted eight days, and we’ll celebrate the landing in a few days.

Stuff that happened on July 16 includes:

I tried looking up why it began on this day, and I can’t find an easy answer. Muhammad is said to have died on June 18, 1632, and his birth date is unknown, so please enlighten me.

Here is one of them from the Sveriges Riksbank site . They were accepted readily, but eventually the public lost confidence in them as they weren’t backed with any reserves, and the Banco in Stockholm failed:

  • 1769 – Father Junípero Serra founds California’s first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Over the following decades, it evolves into the city of San Diego, California.
  • 1861 – American Civil War: At the order of President Abraham Lincoln, Union troops begin a 25-mile march into Virginia for what will become the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major land battle of the war.
  • 1915 – Henry James becomes a British citizen to highlight his commitment to Britain during the first World War.
  • 1935 – The world’s first parking meter is installed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. adds that the Park-O-Meter cost 5 cents an hour, and was beloved by retailers as it forced turnover of cars—and customers. Here’s a Park-O-Meter (the first one is now installed in a museum in Oklahoma):

  • 1941 – Joe DiMaggio hits safely for the 56th consecutive game, a streak that still stands as an MLB record.
  • 1945 – Manhattan Project: The Atomic Age begins when the United States successfully detonates a plutonium-based test nuclear weapon near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
  • 1969 – Apollo program: Apollo 11, the first mission to land astronauts on the Moon, is launched from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Kennedy, Florida.
  • 1999 – John F. Kennedy Jr., piloting a Piper Saratoga aircraft, dies when his plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. His wife and sister-in-law are also killed.
  • 2004 – Millennium Park, considered Chicago’s first and most ambitious early 21st-century architectural project, is opened to the public by Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1723 – Joshua Reynolds, English painter and academic (d. 1792)
  • 1796 – Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, French painter and etcher (d. 1875)
  • 1821 – Mary Baker Eddy, American religious leader and author, founded Christian Science (d. 1910)
  • 1872 – Roald Amundsen, Norwegian pilot and explorer (d. 1928)
  • 1887 – Shoeless Joe Jackson, American baseball player and manager (d. 1951)
  • 1907 – Orville Redenbacher, American farmer and businessman, founded Orville Redenbacher’s (d. 1995)
  • 1924 – Bess Myerson, American model, actress, game show panelist, and politician, Miss America 1945 (d. 2014)
  • 1941 – Desmond Dekker, Jamaican singer-songwriter (d. 2006)

Do you remember Dekker’s reggae song “Israelite“, from 1969.  It’s catchy, but the lyrics are a bit hard to make out. (Here’s a transcription.) As for what they mean, well, here’s what Wikipedia says:

Dekker composed the song after overhearing an argument: “I was walking in the park, eating corn [popcorn]. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needs money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I related to those things and began to sing a little song: ‘You get up in the morning and you’re slaving for bread.’ By the time I got home, it was complete.” The title has been the source of speculation, but most settle on the Rastafarian Movement’s association with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. In the 1960s, Jamaican Rastafarians were largely marginalized as “cultish” and ostracized from the larger society, including by the more conservative Christian church in Kingston. Destitute (“slaving for bread”) and unkempt (“Shirt them a-tear up, trousers is gone”), some Rastafarians were tempted to a life of crime (“I don’t want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde”). The song is a lament of this condition.

Below is Dekker and company singing “Israelite” live on the BBC; you can hear the original release here.

Other births on this day:

  • 1956 – Tony Kushner, American playwright and screenwriter
  • 1963 – Phoebe Cates, American actress

Those who joined the Choir Invisible on this day include:

  • 1557 – Anne of Cleves (b. 1515)
  • 1882 – Mary Todd Lincoln, First Lady of the United States 1861-1865 (b. 1818)
  • 1953 – Hilaire Belloc, French-born British writer and historian (b. 1870)
  • 1981 – Harry Chapin, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1942))
  • 1985 – Heinrich Böll, German novelist and short story writer, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1917)
  • 1995 – Stephen Spender, English author and poet (b. 1909)
  • 1999 – John F. Kennedy Jr., American lawyer and publisher (b. 1960)
  • 2012 – Kitty Wells, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1919)
  • 2014 – Johnny Winter, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (b. 1944)

I learned to appreciate Johnny Winter only after his death. Here he is singing and playing “Mississippi Blues”:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is thinking about sleep:

Hili: It’s evening again, and I have to decide what to do with the night.
A: You can sleep with us in the bed.
Hili: I slept during the day so I’m in danger of a bout of insomnia.
In Polish:
Hili: Znów wieczór, trzeba zdecydować co robić z nocą.
Ja: Możesz spać z nami w łóżku.
Hili: Spałam w dzień, więc grozi mi krótka bezsenność.

A product seen on Facebook. Now you don’t have to wait for a miracle: you can see Jesus on your toast every day! Sadly, it’s “currently unavailable” at Amazon, and if you do some digging you’ll find out why.

And the ever-popular cat cartoon:

One of the lost tweets of Grania, from October of last year. She called this one “a new version of clever Hans”:

A beautiful orchid mantis sent by reader Barry:

Reader BJ has a long explanation for his tweet:

it’s my favorite tweet I’ve seen in many months. Even though you’re not an ice hockey fan (I’m making an assumption from your general posting history), I’m sure you know how special the Stanley Cup is. And, of course, it’s even more special for Torontonians. When a team wins the Stanley Cup, every player gets to spend a day with the Cup so he can do whatever he wants with it. Many throw parties, take it in the swimming pool, drink out of it, eat cereal, etc. Michael del Zotto of this season’s Cup-winning St. Louis Blues brought it to downtown Toronto on his day, letting fans look at, touch, and even drink from it, walking through the streets with it and bringing it to random bars. Here’s a great clip of a woman getting to celebrate her 81st birthday by drinking a shot out of the Stanley Cup as it’s held by a veteran hockey player.
What a great moment. Hockey players are known for their kindness and community work off the ice, and this is a nice reminder of that. And how could you not love an octogenarian getting to celebrate her birthday by drinking out of something she probably never thought she’d have the honor of touching? Talk about a surprise party! To even touch the Cup is considered one of the greatest honors in sports (the person who is the keeper and presenter of the Cup has to wear white gloves any time he handles it), and we all know how much Canadians love their hockey. What a birthday present!
And here you go. I don’t see any white gloves here!!

Two tweets from Heather Hastie, who adds (to appeal to me), “This is a dog, but it’s a real tear-jerker. I can’t help thinking about her life before she was rescued. How can people be so cruel? I just don’t get it.

It is a tear-jerker.

This clever octopus was using a shell as a home, and managed to get back to the sea (via Ann German):

And some tweets from Matthew Cobb. First, another octopus. Look at that camouflage!

Avian bagpipes! It took me a minute to figure out what was going on here. You could make smaller duck bagpipes, too. . .

And a sneaky chipmunk:


A typical banned comment

I’ve received considerable opprobrium for giving Steve Pinker a forum to answer critics who accused him of somehow being complicit in the sex crimes of Jeffrey Epstein. I’m not going to reproduce the hateful emails, comments, or Twitter accusations I’ve received for providing that forum, or for speaking out on Pinker’s behalf, but I will reproduce one below. Since it accuses me of a crime, I have no compunction about reproducing the entire comment, IP address and all. In its direct accusations of criminality it is not typical, but its tone is quite similar to that I’ve seen in many comments and emails.

Note as well the gratuitous and anti-Semitic addition of “Goldbergs and Cohens” (yes, every name on the list is Jewish).

Needless to say, the comment won’t appear, and perhaps “Goyem” will cry out that he—I suspect these people are usually men—was banned. Free speech!

Years of writing on this site have more or less inured me to nonsense like this, but what I’ve never gotten used to is how horribly people behave on the internet—in ways they’d never behave were they to address you face to face. I’m not asking for sympathy, as I let myself in for this stuff by taking strong stands in a public forum. Still, I often wonder if posting under one’s real name would cure this behavior. A reader informed me that a new study says no, using one’s real name might actually exacerbate bad behavior. And, at any rate, I’m not going to force people to use their real names.  I can take stuff like this, but I don’t have to publish it.

It is this kind of low behavior that erodes my faith in humanity and drives me to seek solace among my ducks.


The Lagers: A farewell letter from a doomed woman

This article from the Indy [Indianapolis] Star is more than a year old, but I still found it moving and wanted to call it to your attention (there’s a similar piece with additional information in the 2019 Journal Review).

Click on the screenshot to read the Star piece, whose words I’ve put in indents below:

In 1944, Frank Grunwald and his family, along with many other Jews, was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Grunwald (then 11) was standing in line with his mother Vilma and crippled brother, waiting for the gas chamber when, unaccountably, a German guard pulled him out of the death line and put him with children who weren’t to be immediately executed. (Frank’s dad Kurt wasn’t killed, but had been put to work earlier in the prison hospital.)

Here is Frank with his mom before the war:

And Frank’s parents:
As his mom waited for execution (most of those prisoners were aware of their fate, as they could see the crematorium smokestacks billowing ashes of the dead), she scribbled a ten-sentence note on a sheet of paper in pencil and handed it to a German guard.  It was addressed to her husband : “Dr. Grunwald F Lager.”  (F Lager was her husband’s barracks, and her husband had apparently been sent to Auschwitz before the rest of the family.) Unaccountably, the guard actually gave that letter to Kurt Grunwald.

The article tells the rest:

Auschwitz was liberated seven months later. Some time after that Kurt Grunwald was reunited with his surviving son, and said: I have a note here from your mother.

“I didn’t want to see it, I was too upset,” said Frank.

In 1951 the surviving Grunwalds moved to New York City. The father practiced medicine in Forest Hills. The son went to the Pratt Institute and studied industrial design. He got a job with General Electric in Syracuse and married his wife, Barbara. The couple had two children.

Kurt Grunwald died in 1967 at age 67, and it was while going through his father’s belongings that Frank came across the letter. “He had it in a desk in his bedroom,” Frank said.

“The paper had turned yellow. I saw it and knew what it was right away. I recognized my mother’s handwriting.”

The Grunwalds were Czechoslovakian, and Vilma had written in her native language. Frank read it.

Frank kept the letter to himself for ten years, and eventually donated it to the National Holocaust Museum.

Over the years the museum has received donations of thousands of personal artifacts. But Vilma Grunwald’s letter stands alone.

“I’m always reluctant to say it’s the only such document ever created,” said Judith Cohen, the museum’s chief acquisitions curator, “but to the best of our knowledge it is — it is the only one we have ever seen. Auschwitz, in the moments before gassing. In the extermination camps it was almost impossible to write material that was preserved.”

Here it is:

By now you’ll want to see what the letter says. It’s heartbreaking. Here’s a translation:

“You, my only one, dearest, in isolation we are waiting for darkness. We considered the possibility of hiding but decided not to do it since we felt it would be hopeless. The famous trucks are already here and we are waiting for it to begin. I am completely calm. You — my only and dearest one, do not blame yourself for what happened, it was our destiny. We did what we could. Stay healthy and remember my words that time will heal — if not completely — then — at least partially. Take care of the little golden boy and don’t spoil him too much with your love. Both of you — stay healthy, my dear ones. I will be thinking of you and Misa. Have a fabulous life, we must board the trucks.

“Into eternity, Vilma.”

The “into eternity” signature makes me tear up.

There’s nothing more to be said, except that although this is stirring, as is Anne Frank’s diary, they are unique only in that they are written documentation of the lives and feelings of doomed Jews. Multiply this letter by six million who did not leave words and you’ll have an idea of the enormity of the tragedy.

Frank Grunwald, now 85, with his mother’s letter


h/t: Ginger K. 

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have some bird denizens of Florida wetlands, courtesy of reader Paul Peed. His notes are indented:

Bright and beautiful birds at T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area

Roseate Spoonbill

One of 5 species of spoonbills in the world and the only one found in the Americas, Roseate Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) have made Goodwin a primary roosting site.  These flamboyant birds sweep their bills through the marsh for crustaceans and other invertebrates:

The invertebrates the Roseate Spoonbill eats contain carotenoids that help turn their feathers pink.

The Roseate Spoonbill loses feathers from his head as he ages.  Yes, balding in the bird world!

Their feeding pattern is to plunge that paddle-like bill into the marsh and sweep side to side:

Great Egret

Another highly successful species at Goodwin is the Great Egret (Ardea alba). One of many marsh/wetland birds hunted to near extinction for their plumage, they benefited from the first conservation movements and resulting laws.

These images are from mid-April when the Great Egret is showing the peak of its breeding coloration.

These guys stand immobile or wade through shallow wetlands stalking their prey which they dispatch with an exciting quickly uncoiled jab of its spike-like yellow bill.

Great Blue Heron

Also found in substantial numbers at Goodwin Broadmoor Marshes is the stately Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).  Somewhat larger than the Great Egret, it hunts in the same manner.

A tasty morsel:


Monday: Hili dialogue

It’s Monday, July 15, 2019, and back to work for salarypeople. It’s both National Gummy Worms Day, celebrating a disgusting confection, but also National Tapioca Pudding Day. And in Kiribati it’s Elderly Men Day. I wonder how they fête us geezers there?

Things that happened on July 15 include this stuff:

  • 1099 – First Crusade: Christian soldiers take the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after the final assault of a difficult siege.
  • 1799 – The Rosetta Stone is found in the Egyptian village of Rosetta by French Captain Pierre-François Bouchard during Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign.

The Rosetta Stone entry in Wikipedia is well worth reading, as the stone, with the same text in hieroglyphics, ancient demotic Egyptian, and ancient Greek, helped us decipher hieroglyphic. It now rests behind glass in the British Museum. It used to be in the open, surrounded by a fence, but too many damn tourists thought they need to touch it and, fearing wear on the stone, it was given more secure protection. Here it is (the inscription, by the way, is about the divine status of Ptolemy V):

  • 1834 – The Spanish Inquisition is officially disbanded after nearly 356 years.
  • 1838 – Ralph Waldo Emerson delivers the Divinity School Address at Harvard Divinity School, discounting Biblical miracles and declaring Jesus a great man, but not God. The Protestant community reacts with outrage.
  • 1910 – In his book Clinical Psychiatry, Emil Kraepelin gives a name to Alzheimer’s disease, naming it after his colleague Alois Alzheimer.
  • 2002 – “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh pleads guilty to supplying aid to the enemy and to possession of explosives during the commission of a felony.

Lindh was released on May 23 of this year, though he’ll still be on probation for three years. And he will be unable to profit from anything he writes about his experience.

It’s also a pretty dark day in the era of social discourse:

  • 2006 – Twitter is launched, becoming one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

I have mixed feelings about Twitter. I like to see animal pictures or announcments of scientific breakthroughs, but too often people engage in always-unproductive battles of words, and many news sources, especially the hated HuffPost, rely on Twitter to give a “feeling for what Americans think”, even though the demographic of the users isn’t representative of America. In fact, those sources just take selected tweets that agree with their ideology and use them as an index of general sentiment: “Twitter says. . .”  That I can’t abide.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1573 – Inigo Jones, English architect, designed the Queen’s House (d. 1652)
  • 1606 – Rembrandt, Dutch painter and etcher (d. 1669)
  • 1858 – Emmeline Pankhurst, English political activist and suffragist (d. 1928)

Pankhurst is (or should be) a feminist hero, a real activist for women’s suffrage who was imprisoned multiple times and force-fed in jail. Here she is in 1914 being arrested by police outside Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to George V (May 1914). Look at the expression on those men’s faces!

More births on this day:

  • 1919 – Iris Murdoch, Anglo-Irish British novelist and philosopher (d. 1999)
  • 1921 – Robert Bruce Merrifield, American biochemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2006)
  • 1928 – Carl Woese, American microbiologist and biophysicist (d. 2012)
  • 1930 – Jacques Derrida, Algerian-French philosopher and academic (d. 2004)
  • 1943 – Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Northern Irish astrophysicist, astronomer, and academic
  • 1946 – Linda Ronstadt, American singer-songwriter, producer, and actress
  • 1950 – Arianna Huffington, Greek-American journalist and publisher (The Huffington Post)

Here’s Rembrandt’s famous etching Virgin and Child with a Cat (1654), with Joseph peeping through the window. There’s a cat to the left, and a snake slithering out from beneath the Virgin’s dress.

Those who died on July 15 include:

  • 1883 – General Tom Thumb, American circus performer (b. 1838)
  • 1904 – Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright and short story writer (b. 1860)
  • 1929 – Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Austrian author, poet, and playwright (b. 1874)
  • 1940 – Robert Wadlow, American giant, 8′ 11″ 271 cm (b.1918)
  • 1948 – John J. Pershing, American general (b. 1860)
  • 1997 – Gianni Versace, Italian fashion designer, founded Versace (b. 1946)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili finds diversity within the lawn:

Hili: Impressive biodiversity.
A: I know, when I was younger it was a manicured lawn.

In Polish:
Hili: Imponująca bioróżnorodność
Ja: Wiem, jak byłem młodszy to był zadbany trawnik.

Reposted on Facebook, and so true!

If Antonin Scalia were really an originalist, he’d have interpreted the Constitution thusly:


Here’s a tweet Grania sent me on September 20 of last year, and which I never posted. It’s similar to the wonderful tweet I put up the other day showing a red-winged blackbird singing a “frost song”:

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. Do you think the cat is really playing with the kitten here?

Classic “displacement behavior” in mammals:

Tweets from Matthew. Nightjar in the mug!

I love this one. Any idea what country it’s from? (“Polisi” might be a clue.)

Ingratiated to the rectum!

A guy with a bad case of the crabs:

Yes, this is probably male on one side and female on the other: