Some comments that have appeared on the backup site

I maintain a site on blogspot that consists almost entirely of reposts from this site.  This site is a backup, so that I won’t lose too much of my work in case something happens to WordPress.  As of now, there is little reason for anyone to read that site.

Every so often, a person offers a comment on the blogspot site.  I rather feel for these people, since there is virtually no chance that anyone but me will see what they have written, and I will occasionally go for weeks or even months on end without checking.  So, early in July, someone posting under the screen name “erplus” wrote this, in reply to my notes on an essay on theoretical studies in biology that Miriam Markowitz wrote for The Nation magazine last year:

please see the reader letter below which The Nation refused to publish neither in print nor online; tell me about esprit du corps.
Miriam Markowitz did not do her home work for an article that contains way too many platitudes imported from secondary sources. Just two examples.
A) Markowitz writes that Darwin’s “only explanation for the evolution of sterile insects was the good of the group.” This is a lie long peddled by Hamilton and his sycophants. In the The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote clearly that “This difficulty, though appearing insuperable, is lessened, or, as I believe, disappears, when it is remembered that selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, and may thus gain the desired end. Breeders of cattle wish the flesh and fat to be well marbled together. An animal thus characterized has been slaughtered, but the breeder has gone with confidence to the same stock and has succeeded” []. Here “the family” does not stand for the mafia and “stock” does stands for a kin group. These passages and others by Darwin about “kin selection” are highlighted and justly celebrated in DJ Futuyma’s textbook of reference Evolutionary Biology and in EO WIlson’s Sociobiology. This intellectual heist by the late Hamilton and his sycophants is perhaps the most brazen ever, since it’s literally Darwin whom they insist(ed) in trying to rob!
B) Markowitz treats Dawkins as a scientist but he is not. In the said “Evolutionary Biology” textbook, e.g., Dawkins’ popular-science books are cited for the metaphoric syllogism about genes with intentionality; otherwise there is only a citation for a paper with trivial applied math. Dawkins indeed has never made a discovery. Had Markowitz talked to say E.Sober or even Futuyma, she would have written a much better article.
Given the above and much much more, Nation readers stand warned that almost nothing in Markowitz article has any depth, especially her cheapo-melodramatic pieties towards the end (albeit certainly not because Dawkins and Co. are right about anything).

I didn’t see this comment until Sunday, almost two months after erplus posted it.  I felt bad about that, especially since he had asked us about the original posting before turning to the blogspot site.  I apologized for my negligence there, and repeat that apology here.  Sorry, erplus!  I hope you find it in yourself to forgive me.

I have served a couple of other commenters slightly better, at least to the extent of reading their comments in a timely fashion.  Charles J. Shields gave us the following:

Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at

All the best,

Charles J. Shields
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

That was in response to my repost of “Kurt Vonnegut, Junior, on Extended Families.”  Writing Kurt Vonnegut is worth a look, and so I thank Mr Shields for letting me know about it.


The labors of Hercules

A painting sometimes identified as a portrait of Hercules the chef and attributed to Gilbert Stuart

George Washington may have been in some ways uniquely admirable as a political leader, but as a slaveholder he was no better than he found it convenient to be.  Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer reports on recently discovered documents that show how brutally Washington could treat even his most favored household slaves.  

When Washington went to Philadelphia to head the federal government there, he took his chef Hercules with him to the President’s Mansion.   Hercules’ talent as a gourmet cook made him famous shortly after his arrival in the reestablished capital, and the president acknowledged his skill by allowing him unheard-of privileges, for example allowing him to earn income by selling leftovers from the kitchen, and to use this income to dress himself in a style that gained him a reputation as one of Philadelphia’s foremost dandies.    

In the spring of 1787, Prince Louis-Philippe of France visited Mount Vernon.  He reports that the Washingtons were upset that Hercules had escaped.  Any thought that Washington might have been a benevolent master loved by his slaves should be dispelled by a conversation his manservant had with Hercules’ six year old daughter.  The servant asked the little girl if she was sad that she might never see her father again.  “Oh!  Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now.”  What could she have seen that would have made a little girl happy that her father had gone away, never to return? 

For many years, it was assumed that Hercules had escaped while in Philadelphia.  The Quaker city was after all the world’s foremost center of abolitionism; it might have been relatively easy for a skilled man who had collected some savings to find his way to freedom there.  Perhaps Hercules had seen freedom ready at hand, and simply taken it. 

With a recently uncovered farm report and a cache of letters it makes intelligible, we now learn a far darker story.  In the spring of 1796, a year before the end of Washington’s second term as president, a woman named Oney Judge, who was Martha Washington’s personal maid,  disappeared from the President’s Mansion.  Washington would employ detectives to hunt for Oney Judge, eventually running her to ground in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Oney Judge may have been trying to make her way to Nova Scotia, where several fugitives from Washington’s plantation at Mount Vernon had already made homes.  The Washingtons then decided that it was too dangerous to try to keep slaves in Philadelphia.  When they went to Mount Vernon that summer, they took the whole establishment with them.  When they returned to Philadelphia, they returned alone. 

With the president and his lady 130 miles away in Philadelphia, there was no need for a gourmet chef at Mount Vernon.  Hercules and his sons were sent to the fields.  Evidently the demotion came as a shock to Hercules’ son Richmond, who was soon caught stealing money.  Informed of this theft, President Washington saw a plot to escape, and surmised that it might be a father-son enterprise.  He ordered Hercules and Richmond sent to the clay pits, the hardest and most degraded task given to slaves at Mount Vernon.  On 22 February 1797,  as George Washington celebrated his 65th birthday, Hercules disappeared from the plantation.  President Washington’s term was due to expire 10 days later, when John Adams was inaugurated as president on 4 March.  One might imagine that Hercules was afraid of what might happen when Washington came home.  Afraid, perhaps, that his capricious master might find new ways of humiliating him; afraid, perhaps, that he would be unable to restrain his own anger at the thoughtless and unjust treatment he had received, so that if he stayed he might do something that would lead the Washingtons to make life even worse for his children than they would make it in response to his escape.