Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya (1991- ), a South African runner, won the Olympic gold medal for the women’s 800-metre race in 2012 and 2016. But almost from the moment she won her first World Championship race, in 2009 at age 18, there have been questions about her gender.

Is she female? That depends:

  • Anatomy test: Yes. She is anatomically female according to her mother and grandmother. This was the main test till 1968.
  • Chromosome test: No. She was born with a Y chromosome. This test was used by the Olympics from 1968 to 1996.
  • Testosterone test: No. Her body produces high levels of testosterone, in the lower range of most men. Used by the Olympics since 2016.
  • Self-identification test: Yes. She has always considered herself to be female, despite her deep voice. This is the test that laws in the West are moving towards.

Shaky science: The chromosome test was overturned because Y chromosomes do not always affect performance in anatomically correct females. Testosterone does in general increase muscle mass, but it has different effects on different people. And there is no solid science on how testosterone affects a woman’s performance in different sports.

On May 1st 2019 the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) backed a testosterone test that would:

  • apply only to the 400m, hurdles, 800m, and 1500m races – just the ones Semenya is good at.
  • apply only to those born with 46,XY – the rare syndrome Semenya has. Most top female athletes have high levels of testosterone, but they will not be tested.

IAAF: This rule is the brainchild of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) – the very ones who leaked her gender test in 2009, humiliating her in front of the whole world. They run the World Championships, not the Olympics. The IAAF’s top limit on testosterone levels is half the Olympic one.

Just add water: CAS had suspended an earlier IAAF rule on testosterone in 2015 because of the lack of scientific proof. One flimsy scientific study later and the IAAF is back with this new rule. CAS backed it despite what it called a “paucity of evidence”. Maybe it was Lynsey Sharp’s White women tears (pictured above), which the BBC showed the world after she lost to Semenya in 2016. Sharp came in sixth.


Would it be easier for you if I wasn’t so fast?
Would it be simpler if I stopped winning?
Would you be more comfortable if I was less proud?
Would you prefer I hadn’t worked so hard?
Or just didn’t run?
Or chose a different sport?
Or stopped at my first steps?
That’s too bad.
Because I was born to do this.

What God giveth the IAAF taketh away. To compete she has to take drugs to lower her natural levels of testosterone.

Irony: Transgender women are told all the time they are not “real” women because they were born without a vagina and take hormones. But now here we have Caster Semenya, born with a vagina, told she is still not a real woman – that she needs to take hormones to become one!

– Abagond, 2019.

See also:



This is the song that made Doris Day’s name. It hit number on the US pop chart in 1945 just as the troops were coming home from the Second World War. The band is Les Brown’s Band of Renown, a famous swing band. Swing music was Anglo-Americanized jazz music and Doris Day herself was a pale imitation of Ella Fitzgerald. Doris Day passed away this past week at age 97.

See also:


Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna take a sentimental journey
To renew old memories

Got my bag and got my reservation
Spent each dime I could afford
Like a child in wild anticipation
Long to hear that “All aboard!”

Seven, that’s the time we leave, at seven
I’ll be waitin’ up for heaven
Countin’ every mile of railroad track
That takes me back

Never thought my heart could be so yearny
Why did I decide to roam?
Gonna take a sentimental journey
Sentimental journey home

Sentimental journey

Source: AZ Lyrics.

Black History posts

For the rest of 2019 every month will Black History Month, one century a month. I am getting a late start, but it will go roughly like this:

  • 1200s: May
  • 1300s: June
  • 1400s: July
  • 1500s: August
  • 1600s: September
  • 1700s: October
  • 1800s: November
  • 1900s: December

I say “roughly” because by the end of August I want to do a post on 1619.

My main concern:

  • West Africa,1200-1808
  • US,1619-2019

Some posts I have done or should do:


  • ethnic groups: Black Americans, Americo-Liberians, Mbundu, Wolof, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Fon, Akan, Malinke, Soninke, Dogon, Tuareg.

Suggestions welcomed!

– Abagond, 2019.

See also:


Codex Forster II, written between 1487 and 1505. See the whole notebook interactively online at the Victoria and Albert Museum website.

Leonardo’s Notebooks (1480s-1518) are the sketchbooks of one of the greatest painters who ever lived. But they contain not just his sketches for, say, “The Last Supper”, but stuff like to-do lists, anatomical studies, mathematical puzzles, geological field notes, ideal cities, pictures of birds in flight rarely seen before the invention of stop-motion photography, designs for wings he was building so he could fly himself, parts of books he was writing that never got printed, and endless pictures of horses, flowing water, churches, craggy looking men, and strange machines.

Leonardo’s advice to artists:

“As you go about town, constantly observe, note, and consider the circumstances and behaviour of men as they talk and quarrel or laugh, or come to blows.”

Which is why he had a small notebook hanging from his belt. But he also wrote and drew on larger pieces of paper at his art studio:

Vitruvian Man: one of the more famous pages from his notebooks. Click to enlarge.

Lost and found: We have more than 7,200 pages in 25 notebooks. But something like three-quarters of his notebooks are lost. Some more might still show up – one was discovered in 1966 at a library in Spain!

His design for a helicopter – with an example of his mirror writing.

Mirror writing: He wrote backwards, from right to left. You can read it in a mirror. He did that probably because he was a left-handed genius who did not want to smear the ink as he wrote.

A window: His notebooks show not only what he was seeing, thinking, and learning (he taught himself Latin at age 43, for example) but the process by which he did art, science and engineering. On one page you can see what looks like Mona Lisa’s smile – and also the dissection of lip muscles. He knew exactly how people smiled. But he said little about himself. His notebooks looked outward not inward.

A mess: He never meant for others to read his notebooks. His writing is hard to read even with a mirror. Most pages are self-contained, but few are dated or numbered. He did not keep them in any kind of reasonable order while collectors have taken many notebooks apart and reassembled them to their liking.

A wonder: Like a small child – or Einstein – he asked very simple questions: Why is the sky blue? How do birds fly? And then he set about to answer them in his notebooks. His way of doing science was almost a hundred years ahead of its time, heavy on first-hand observation, experiment and mathematics (but short on abstraction and published findings).

One of his tank designs.

Documentation effect: Part of why he seems like such an amazing genius is because he is so well documented. For example, he may not have been the first to think of submarines, helicopters or tanks, but because of his notebooks we know for a fact that he did think about them. But some of his thoughts which we thought were his own have turned out to be copied from books!

Last words: The last thing he is known to have written in his notebook:

“the soup is getting cold”

– Abagond, 2019.

Sources: mainly Google Images; “Leonardo’s Notebooks” (2005) edited by H. Anna Suh; “Leonardo da Vinci” (2017) by Walter Isaacson; “Leonardo da Vinci” (1959) by Kenneth Clark.

See also:



“Schoolhouse Rock!” (1973-85, 1993-99) was a series of three-minute animated music videos that appeared during the Saturday morning cartoons on US television. Like “Sesame Street”, they were meant to be both entertaining and educational, but were aimed at older schoolchildren.

Lori Lieberman sang this one in 1977. She is best known for “Killing Me Softly With His Words” (1971), a song she sang about hearing Don McLean sing “Empty Chairs”. Her song later became a hit for Roberta Flack and later the Fugees.

See also:


My grandmother came from Russia
A satchel on her knee,
My grandfather had his father’s cap
He brought from Italy.
They’d heard about a country
Where life might let them win,
They paid the fare to America
And there they melted in.

Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she’s got
Is the great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.

America was founded by the English,
But also by the Germans, Dutch, and French.
The principle still sticks;
Our heritage is mixed.
So any kid could be the president.

You simply melt right in,
It doesn’t matter what your skin.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from,
Or your religion, you jump right in
To the great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.
Ooh, what a stew, red, white, and blue.

America was the New World
And Europe was the Old.
America was the land of hope,
Or so the legend told.
On steamboats by the millions,
In search of honest pay,
Those 19th-century immigrants sailed
To reach the U.S.A.

Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she’s got
Is the great American melting pot
The great American melting pot.
What good ingredients,
Liberty and immigrants.

They brought the country’s customs,
Their language and their ways.
They filled the factories, tilled the soil,
Helped build the U.S.A.
Go on and ask your grandma,
Hear what she has to tell
How great to be an American
And something else as well.

Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she’s got
Is the great American melting pot
The great American melting pot.

The great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.

Source: Schoolhouse Rock.

The Melting Pot

(By Khalil Bendib of OtherWords.org)

The Melting Pot (1908- ) is the idea that people come to the US from all over the world but melt into one people with one culture. The Italians, for example, learn English but give us pizza and spaghetti. The whole becomes greater than the parts, better than any of the old countries that Americans come from.

In 1845 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote privately in his journal that Europeans, Africans, and Polynesians in North America:

“will construct a new race, a new religion, a new state, a new literature, which will be as vigorous as the new Europe which came out of the smelting-pot of the Dark Ages, …”

American Indians need not apply, apparently.

In 1908 both the name and idea caught on from the play “The Melting Pot”. The Jewish American hero tells his Christian girlfriend, while watching the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty:

“Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross – how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God.”

In 1916 Madison Grant was less upbeat in “The Passing of the Great Race”:

“We Americans must realize that the altruistic ideals which have controlled our social development during the past century and the maudlin sentimentalism that has made America ‘an asylum for the oppressed,’ are sweeping the nation toward a racial abyss. If the Melting Pot is allowed to boil without control and we continue to follow our national motto [E pluribus unum] and deliberately blind ourselves to all ‘distinctions of race, creed or color,’ the type of native American of Colonial descent will become as extinct as the Athenian of the age of Pericles, and the Viking of the days of Rollo.”

His ideas about racial purity led to the death of millions of Jews.

In 1977 “Schoolhouse Rock!”, on US children’s television, sang of “Lovely Lady Liberty with her book of recipes”:

“America was founded by the English,
But also by the Germans, Dutch, and French. …
You simply melt right in,
It doesn’t matter what your skin,
No matter where you’re from, or your religion,
You jump right into the Great American Melting Pot.”

I can still remember when I first learned about the Melting Pot: the words were coming out of the teacher’s mouth but it was like she could not see the Black half of the class. How in the world could she say Americans were melting into one people when they were mainly divided into Black and White? The Melting Pot seemed to be Whites-only.

White is right: In practice, the Melting Pot has pretty much become a marketing term for assimilation into Anglo-Protestant culture. And because that culture is built on racism, and because most immigrants these days are no longer White, that means most immigrants will never be fully accepted no matter how assimilated.

– Abagond, 2019.

See also:


Trtypewriter_jpg-288x300ansatlantic English is my name for English that is easily understood on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly in the two biggest English-speaking countries, America (US) and Britain (UK).

Examples: The Economist is a good example. It is a news magazine that comes out of London yet something like half its readers live in North America. Even better examples in my experience are Orwell, Churchill, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, H.G. Wells, and Desmond Morris. Their English seems even less British to me.

Some tips:

  • Dates: Write dates out: May 7th 2019 or 07 May 2019, etc, but not 5/7/19 or 7/5/19. The US compared to most of the world writes dates backwards as month/day/year.
  • Money: Use US dollars, at least on first mention.
  • Measurement: Use metric. Stuff like gallons and tons are different in the US and UK while metric units are always the same. Also, in the US most people do not know how much a league, stone, furlong, or fathom is.
  • Spelling, grammar and punctuation: These are clearly different in British and American English, but the differences, by and large, are not confusing. Everyone knows colour and color are the same word.
  • Slang: Avoid. In general, the more formal your language the more easily it will be understood. I discovered this by watching “Law & Order: UK”: I could understand the lawyers way more easily than the police.
  • Product names: Avoid these too. Some are know on both sides of the Atlantic, like Google and Band Aid, but some are not, like Q-Tip and Ribena.
  • Dialect words: Avoid these, of course, but the dangerous ones are not those found mainly on one side of the Atlantic – like lorry or gasoline – but those found on both sides but with different meanings or shades of meaning. Middle school, for example, means roughly ages 9 to 13 in Britain, but 12 to 15 in the US. Or: pants means trousers in the US, but underpants in Britain. Some other examples: Asian, biscuit, braces, brilliant, bum, chemist, chips, the civil war, clever, cot, dear, diary, dumb, fanny, fight, football, homely, keen, mad, momentarily, no question, public school, purse, quite, smart, spunk, subway, surgery, vest.

Transatlantic culture: stuff that is well-known on both sides of the Atlantic:

  • holidays: New Year’s Day, Easter, Christmas.
  • sport: tennis, Olympics (but not cricket or baseball).
  • film: Hollywood, James Bond.
  • television:
    • channels: Netflix, CNN, BBC.
    • shows: Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Planet Earth, Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory, The X Files, Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, Happy Days, Dallas, Starsky & Hutch, The A-Team, The Waltons, The Sopranos, The Wire, The West Wing, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  • music: most pop music is the same (The Beatles, Rihanna, etc).
  • magazinesGlamour, Good Housekeeping, Time, Cosmopolitan, National Geographic, Marie Claire, The Economist, Men’s Health, Vogue, The Week, Reader’s Digest, Elle, InStyle, GQ, Maxim. Some of these have separate US and UK editions.
  • Internet: 15 of the top 20 websites are the same: Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Wikipedia, Reddit, eBay, Twitter, Netflix, Live.com, Instagram, Twitch.tv, Yahoo, Pornhub, Microsoftonline.com.

– Abagond, 2019.

See also:



%d bloggers like this: