Some links: 95

Some links: 91

  • Mr. and Mrs. Pickles have three baby tortoises! Cuter than cute.
  • They were gone before I knew what to call them: David W. Dunlap of The New York Times remembers reader ads.
  • “I can’t define it, but I’m against it.” Also from the Times, Nate Cohn attempts a definition of woke and what it portends.

    … much of what woke is grasping toward: a word to describe a new brand of righteous, identity-conscious, new left activists eager to tackle oppression, including in everyday life and even at the expense of some liberal values.

    * * *

    In the most extreme case for Democrats, the backlash against the new left could end in a repeat of how New Left politics in the 1960s facilitated the marriage of neoconservatives and the religious right in the 1970s. Back then, opposition to the counterculture helped unify Republicans against a new class of highly educated liberals, allowing Southern opponents of civil rights to join old-school liberal intellectuals who opposed Communism and grew skeptical of the Great Society. The parallels are imperfect, but striking.

  • Isobel Novick stans webbing clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella).

    These moths, unfortunately for those with infestations, have other behaviors that contribute to their indestructibility. They can metabolize their own water as a byproduct of keratin digestion, so access to water is not a dealbreaker for survival. What kind of organism can create its own water? This moth has evolved to be an efficient, dynamic, super-survival machine. They are incredibly temperature tolerant, with the ability to survive as eggs or larvae for several days at broiling temperatures as high as 95 degrees F and as far below freezing as 5 degrees F. They are attracted to the smell of woolens, and once established, send pheromonal signals to nearby moths to invite them to party. To add to their tank-like nature, webbing clothes moths can digest toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead. They have no problem metabolizing synthetic materials or chewing through soft plastics. They have even been found on mummified human remains and have been around long enough to be mentioned in the Bible.

  • 17th-18th century tomfoolery: dummy boards.

My year in contributions, 2022

Looking for somewhere to spend that Hanukkah gelt (yes, I know, but just imagine)?

What organizations are worthy of support? Please give some consideration to this list.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2022.

My year in contributions, 2021

There are a few hours left in the giving year.

(Who will win the dubious prize of last begging e-mail of the year? Judges are monitoring my inbox hourly.)

What organizations are worthy of support? Consider this list as some recommendations from me.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2021. Limited travel and in-person work this year, so my out-of-pocket expenses continue to be down.

Buchanan subbasement

OK, one parting shot at 45: Sarah Lyall polls several historians, looking for a prediction of how history will judge the recently departed resident.

“He’s in a whole other category in terms of the damage he’s done to the Republic,” said [Sean] Wilentz [professor of American history at Princeton University], citing the radicalization of the Republican Party, the inept response to the pandemic and what he called “the brazen, almost psychedelic mendacity of the man.”

Tim Naftali goes into detail.

My year in contributions, 2020

There not much time before the window closes on tax-deductible contributions for the year. What organizations are worthy of support? Consider this list as some recommendations from me.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2020. Limited travel and in-person work this year, so my out-of-pocket expenses were down. But, thanks to a mini-windfall, I was able to surge my dollar contributions and generally bump up contribution levels.

Teddy Loser-velt

It is my sincere wish that this be my last post about 45: “Why it has to be Biden.”

In 2016 American voters did not know whom they were getting. Now they do. They would be voting for division and lying. They would be endorsing the trampling of norms and the shrinking of national institutions into personal fiefs. They would be ushering in climate change that threatens not only distant lands but Florida, California and America’s heartlands. They would be signalling that the champion of freedom and democracy for all should be just another big country throwing its weight around. Re-election would put a democratic seal on all the harm Mr Trump has done.

h/t: Barry Blitt

Dump the Trump

You can’t say it any plainer: The Case Against Donald Trump.

Under his leadership, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stopped trying to protect consumers and the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped trying to protect the environment.

In June, his administration tear-gassed and cleared peaceful protesters from a street in front of the White House so Mr. Trump could pose with a book he does not read in front of a church he does not attend.


[Clem] Whitaker and [Leone] Baxter won nearly every [political] campaign they waged…. Every campaign needs a theme. Keep it simple. Rhyming’s good (“For Jimmy and me, vote ‘yes’ on 3.”) Never explain anything. “The more you have to explain,” Whitaker said, “the more difficult it is to win support.” Say the same thing over and over again. “We assume we have to get a voter’s attention seven times to make a sale,” Whitaker said. Subtlety is your enemy, “Words that lean on the mind are no good,” according to Baxter. “They must dent it.” Simplify, simplify, simplify. “A wall goes up,” Whitaker warned, “when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American citizen work or think.”

—Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States (2018), p. 451

One of the first efforts by Whitaker and Baxter’s Campaigns, Inc. was to defeat Sinclair Lewis’s bid to be elected governor of California in 1934.

Not a thread

My, there certainly have been some people with things to say about holding a meaningful conversation. I’ve read the open letter to Harper’s, and I’ve read at least some of the criticism, most saliently the response posted to The Objective. Frankly, I see little to object to in the words of the Harper’s letter. The nut sentence for me:

The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.

I am not particularly persuaded by the The Objective‘s response. Much space is given to quibbles about some of the examples cited. The responders write,

Under the guise of free speech and free exchange of ideas, the letter appears to be asking for unrestricted freedom to espouse their points of view free from consequence or criticism.

I don’t read a request for “unrestricted freedom to espouse” at all.

However, context is crucial. The Harper’s signatories, at least the names that I recognize, do make up a list of prestigious and powerful (insofar as any intellectual can be called powerful, these days) persons. And there are some people on the list with whom I rarely agree, others whose writing is rather superficial, and still others who have uttered some awful things.

A more nuanced, persuasive response comes from Gabrielle Bellot in Literary Hub: “Freedom Means Can Rather Than Should: What the Harper’s Open Letter Gets Wrong.” She writes:

The problem, then, is that the letter… fails to consider the experiences of others, the experience of what it is like to see your very identity coldly dissected and suspected in the name of free speech.

* * *

I want to believe in a world where, if someone doesn’t understand what it means to be an identity different from their own, they can at least open up a conversation with someone who has this different identity, and, if that person feels inclined to share their experience, they can help show that uncertain person a bit of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

But it’s difficult to hold these dispassionate discussions in a world where I feel scared when I see a police officer, and, when I say why, I am asked to “prove” that systemic racism exists, or where I am asked to “prove” that I have a right to use the women’s restroom.

Her nut graf:

…I became accustomed to such thinkpieces, which never seemed to truly grapple with what it must feel like to be transgender—pieces that failed, like simplistic novels, to put oneself in the shoes of someone wholly different. Ironically, I loved debates, but calmly discussing my very right to exist felt icy and isolating. The philosopher Thomas Nagel famously asked in a 1974 essay entitled “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” that very question, trying to put himself into an ontological, experiential position deeply dissimilar to his own. I found myself wishing that some of these anti-trans screeds, which were often defended as simply people “asking questions,” would take the time to truly imagine what it might be like to be someone so different from themselves, rather than treating people like me as clinical subjects to be unempathetically, dehumanizingly dissected in the name of free speech.

When I first read the Harper’s letter, I had recently seen Conor Friedersdorf’s “The Perils of ‘With Us or Against Us’,” which has attracted relatively little attention even though it hits the mark more cleanly.

… in the stifling, anti-intellectual cultural climate of 2020, where solidarity is preferred to dissent, I hear echoes of a familiar Manichaean logic: Choose a side. You are either an anti-racist or an ally of white supremacy. Are you with us or against us? (emphasis in the original)

In my younger days, this idea was often expressed as some version of “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” And when I was young, I subscribed to that idea, but I’ve let my subscription lapse. There are just too many problems to go around: climate change looming like a melting iceberg, the crushing loss of habitat and species diversity, the nuclear doomsday clock (it’s at 23:58:20), shameful human rights violations by our allies and our rivals, excruciating tropical diseases—all of this on top of galloping economic inequality and the string of issues connected to it, not least among them the disenfranchisement of 700,000 Americans. It’s too much. I can’t expect you to drop everything to work on everything that I know is important; how can you expect me to do so for you?

You have to pick your battles. Today, I worked in the park: I rebuilt a protective cage around an oak sapling, and I sowed seeds. Tomorrow will be another project.

I’ll close with Friedersdorf’s closing:

Absolutely, Black lives matter, which is part of why everyone should encourage constructive dissent, even when it seems frustratingly out of touch with the trauma and emotion of the moment. Identifying changes that will achieve equality is hard. Avoiding unintended consequences is harder. Without a healthy deliberative process, avoidable catastrophes are more likely.

My year in contributions, 2019

‘Tis the season when we are beset by requests for contributions. What organizations are worthy of support? Consider this list as some recommendations from me.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2019.

My year in contributions, 2018

Did you have a good year this year? Great! Please consider sharing some of that good fortune with one of these organizations. (If you had a bad year, I’m sorry.)

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2018.