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Updated: 3 hours 11 min ago

A holiday joke

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 2:00pm

I just remembered this one, and it’s appropriate for the upcoming Christmas season.

The Three Wise Men, having followed the star, finally make it to Bethlehem. As they enter the stable, one of them, being tall, hits his head on the door frame.

“Jesus Christ!!” he shouts in pain.

“Hey!” said Mary, “That would be a great name for the baby!”

I’ll be here all week, folks.

Add your jokes below (nothing too risqué, please!).

Categories: Science

Sundogs and halos!

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 12:30pm

Here’s a lovely Sun halo from December 1 sent to me by Matthew Cobb (be sure to click on the arrow to see the video). You can see why such phenomena were once taken to be evidence for God or the supernatural.

Spectacular Sun halo display, with a 22° halo, parhelic circle, sundogs and a tangent arc as well as 44° parhelia (sundogs) and 46° halo, spotted in Vemdalen, Sweden on December 1, 2017

— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973b) December 2, 2017

What causes these things? Wikipedia says this:

The ice crystals responsible for halos are typically suspended in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds high (5–10 km, or 3–6 miles) in the upper troposphere, but in cold weather they can also float near the ground, in which case they are referred to as diamond dust. The particular shape and orientation of the crystals are responsible for the type of halo observed. Light is reflected and refracted by the ice crystals and may split up into colors because of dispersion. The crystals behave like prisms and mirrors, refracting and reflecting light between their faces, sending shafts of light in particular directions.

And here’s a 22-degree halo seen from Annapurna Base Camp. I’d love to see something like this:

Wikipedia‘s explanation:

Among the best-known halos is the 22° halo, often just called “halo”, which appears as a large ring around the Sun or Moon with a radius of about 22° (roughly the width of an outstretched hand at arm’s length).

But what’s really amazing is this from EarthSky (my emphasis):

These clouds contain millions of tiny ice crystals. The halos you see are caused by both refraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear.

That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.

Here’s a longer video of the event at the top, courtesy of reader Vera:

Categories: Science

Is Lindsay Shepherd still in trouble?

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 10:45am

Most of you know know about Lindsay Shepherd, the graduate student at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) who was threatened by her advisor and her University for showing a short clip in class of Jordan Peterson’s views on using different pronouns for different genders.  Her university has apologized, as has her advisor, but it created a big kerfuffle in Canada, with most people being outraged that she was treated so poorly and harassed so mercilessly. Fortunately, the facts came out because Shepherd was savvy enough to tape her inquisition and to take it to the press. She’s since been all over the media, and that, of course, has simply emphasized that the Termite Feast has reached Wilfrid Laurier.

But is she off the hook now? Not according to columnist Christie Blatchford at the National Post, who talked to Howard Levitt, a Toronto employment attorney who’s defending Shepherd pro bono. According to Levitt—and this has been widely reportedthere was no formal complaint on record against Shepherd for her behavior in class. Here’s an interaction between Levitt and WLU’s lawyer, Rob Centa, hired by WLU to investigate the whole affair:

Levitt. . . wrote Rob Centa, the lawyer Laurier hired to conduct the investigation, last weekend, asking for the details of the complaint or complaints made against her.

In reply, Centa told him “I do not believe there is a document that contains a ‘complaint’ made about Ms. Shepherd nor is there anything I would describe as a formal complaint under any WLU policy.”

What’s disturbing, though, is that Centra claims his investigation is not about free speech or academic freedom, but about employment:

Centa also answered Levitt’s question about the terms of his mandate by saying it is an employment-related matter.

“It’s certainly ominous,” Levitt told the Post in a phone interview Wednesday. He said it sounds like the university is taking “a backend run” at her, and that he’s advising Shepherd not to meet Centa.

“I think it’s a trap,” Levitt said.

And Blatchford adds that Centa himself “says he has been ‘retained to an independent, confidential fact-finding exercise with respect to employment-related matters’ arising out of the Shepherd tutorials.”

If there wasn’t a complaint against Shepherd, then why did her inquisition take place? Blatchford adds this (“Robinson” is an associate professor at WLU and program coordinator of its “Human Rights and Human Diversity” program):

Yet with Centa saying there was no formal complaint, and the [WLU] policy saying only official complaints can generate an investigation, Robinson asks, “If there was an official complaint, why isn’t Lindsay being provided with a copy of it? And if there wasn’t … why is the university conducting an investigation of Lindsay’s tutorial at all?”

Levitt says he’s not before had a case quite like this. “This is the new age,” he said. “Political correctness is descending into all strata of society.”

Well, if someone’s employment is still under investigation, it better not be Shepherd’s—not after WLU and her advisor apologized for how she was treated. The “employment” should be that of the inquisitors: two professors as well as Adria Joel, WLU’s manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support.

I don’t think anybody should be fired over this, but the three inquisitors should be reprimanded and told how to act in cases like this. For if Lindsay Shepherd is fired as a teaching assistant, it would be to the eternal shame of Wilfrid Laurier University. And although it would make Shepherd even more of a free-speech hero, I think she’d prefer to keep her teaching job.

Categories: Science

Does hate have a home on the Left?

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 8:45am

I’m seeing these signs all over Hyde Park, the part of Chicago where I live:

And of course they’re supposed to be signs of inclusivity and welcome, which is good. But are they sincere? According to Frank Bruni’s editorial in today’s New York Times, they’re not always true for the Left. Bruni is distressed by this editorial that appeared in the Texas State University (San Marcos) student newspaper, an editorial I wrote about before:

If you go to my original post, where you can read it, you’ll see it’s by Rudy Martinez, a Hispanic student who claimed that he almost never met a decent white person, as he sees the vast majority of them as privileged racists. The college op-ed was taken down, but Bruni’s piece, “An Abomination. A monster. That’s me?“, calls out not only the hatred (racism, really) of the author, but argues that such views play into the hands of Trumpian conservatives since “mirroring the ugliness of white nationalists and the alt-right just gives them the ammunition that they want and need.” And I think he’s right here, as things like this editorial, or the shenanigans of liberal students when people like Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Sommers, or Charles Murray try to speak, just let the Right broadcast that we’re violent, narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, and all the things we dislike about the Right.

Bruni says this about the column above:

Yes, this was deliberate provocation. By a college student. And he’s obviously right that people of color have been systematically oppressed.

But what college newspaper would have published a column by a white student telling his black peers that they’re a wretched lot? What, beyond catharsis, did the column’s author accomplish?

And what has happened to our discourse — and how we do we make necessary progress — when hate is answered by hate, prejudice is echoed by prejudice, extremism begets extremism and ostensible liberalism practices abject illiberalism? Isn’t that how Donald Trump wins?

This wasn’t just one student or one campus or college campuses in general. This was a manner of thinking and language too prevalent among those who correctly call out racial inequities and social injustices but wrongly fall prey themselves to the bigotry behind those ills.

The far right set the tone, but the left shouldn’t adopt it. Doing so won’t get us to the fairer place that we must inhabit, and it plays directly into Trump’s dirty hands.

Bruni gives several examples of this kind of behavior (my words, not his quotes):

  • The fracas at Evergreen State College when Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying were demonized as racists despite their history of anti-racist activism
  • A professor at Delaware State University who said that Otto Warmbier, the student who died in North Korean custody after supposedly stealing a poster, “got exactly what he deserved”. (The professor, an adjunct, has since been let go.)
  • A professor at Trinity College in Hartford who, after the shooting of Republican lawmakers who were playing baseball, created a hashtag saying “let them fucking die”. (He’s since been put on leave.)
  • And this tweet from Ashley Feinberg, a senior editor at HuffPo (she’s since removed the tweet), alluding darkly to John McCain’s terminal brain cancer:

Feinberg has not been put on leave, and I don’t think the HuffPo has apologized or penalized one of their senior writers (they’d never do that for something like this)—but what a horrible thing to say! I’m not surprised, of course, as HuffPo has, as I often say, been driven literally mad by Trump’s election. But while I disagree with many of McCain’s political views, he’s nevertheless done some good things, like voting “no” on the Obamacare repeal, and I think he’s a decent man. To celebrate his terminal illness, or to use it as political snark, is unconscionable.

And just yesterday I saw on my Facebook page a remark by someone who, commenting on speculations that Donald Trump is ill because he’s recently slurred his speech, remarked that he hoped that Trump was really sick and died a horrible death. Much as I dislike Trump and what he and his administration are doing, I wouldn’t wish that kind of suffering on anybody or his family.

As Bruni says, a lot of this is promoted by the nature of social media, which allows you to broadcast your thoughts instantly, unfiltered, and often anonymously, and to say things to the world that you’d never say in person to another human. Would the Delaware professor tell Otto Warmbier’s parents that he “got what he deserved”? Would Feinberg tell McCain’s family that they should be glad that their inheritance will be tax-free after he dies?

We’re better than this—or should be. We can hate ideas rather than people, and we can behave civilly towards those who espouse ideas we don’t like. We don’t have to be kissy-kissy with white supremacists, of course, but we don’t have to punch them, either.

Being civil does not guarantee that the Left will once again become ascendant. But being uncivil does guarantee that our opponents will find plenty of extra ammunition against us.

Categories: Science

New evidence for the multiverse—and its implications

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 7:00am

As skeptical as I am, I think the contemplation of the multiverse is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the nature of science and on the ultimate nature of existence: why we are here…. In looking at this concept, we need an open mind, though not too open. It is a delicate path to tread. Parallel universes may or may not exist; the case is unproved. We are going to have to live with that uncertainty. Nothing is wrong with scientifically based philosophical speculation, which is what multiverse proposals are. But we should name it for what it is.

— George Ellis, Scientific American, Does the Multiverse Really Exist?

Well, Ellis’s uncertainty may not be permanent. This short film, on the “skydivephil” playlist, presents what they say is evidence for a multiverse. It was sent to me by reader Phil, who I believe is the eponymous creator .

A multiverse is a collection of all multiple, parallel universes; and in the set taken together, a whole panoply of different things happen: many alternative outcomes are instantiated somewhere. The idea of a multiverse first came from Erwin Schrödinger, and for a long time physicists thought that a multiverse was possible but impossible to test, as there was no way we could detect the presence of universes other than ours. The Wikipedia link two sentences prior gives a good summary, as does the video at the bottom.

Now, according to this video, we’ve gotten some evidence for the multiverse, though our Official Website Physicist notes (see below) that the new evidence isn’t terribly decisive. The evidence adduced is cosmic inflation, but not just that: eternal cosmic inflation, in which space grows forever. One of the implications of eternal inflation is, according to some (but not all) physicists, the multiverse.

The Physics Man who presents the results below is George Efstathiou, a British physicist at Cambridge.

When I saw this, realizing that it was above my pay grade, I wrote to Sean Carroll, our Official Website Physicist, asking him this:

Does eternal inflation really constitute evidence for a multiverse? I know you favor multiverses, but I want to know how strong the evidence is. If you want to give me a quote to post, I’d be delighted to do that, but the most important thing is that I understand what this is about. Sean responded, and I quote him with permission: Of course it depends on what you mean by “evidence.” In a Bayesian sense, yes: there is experimental evidence that favors inflation (e.g., in temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background), and theory predicts that most inflationary models lead to eternal inflation and a multiverse, so in that sense there is evidence for a multiverse. But not in a direct, empirical sense, of course: everything we see in the observable universe is also completely compatible with ours being the only universe. And even the indirect evidence is quite weak; we don’t know for sure whether inflation happened, nor if it really does create a multiverse. So one’s credences for or against the multiverse shouldn’t be very close to 0% or 100%, they should be somewhere in between.  The YouTube notes present a similar caveat: A note of caution. In our opinion inflation is the dominant paradigm for early universe cosmology and most experts in inflationary cosmology seem to agree it leads to a multiverse. Does the mounting evidence for inflation then mean we should accept the multiverse? Well, inflation has passed every test to date but there is still one last hurdle and it may fail at this last test. It’s also possible that we haven’t understood inflation correctly. We need to wait and see if more data can give us a firmer picture of these fascinating questions. Whilst the evidence for inflation and the multiverse then may not be strong enough to call them facts, the statement that there is no evidence at all for these concepts looks dubious.  Finally, here’s a list proponents and skeptics from Wikipedia, and there are Big Names on both sides:

Proponents of one or more of the multiverse hypotheses include Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Max Tegmark, Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, Michio Kaku, David Deutsch, Leonard Susskind, Alexander Vilenkin, Yasunori Nomura, Raj Pathria, Laura Mersini-Houghton, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Sean Carroll.

Scientists who are generally skeptical of the multiverse hypothesis include: Steven Weinberg, David Gross, Paul Steinhardt, Neil Turok, Viatcheslav Mukhanov, Michael S. Turner, Roger Penrose, George Ellis, Joe Silk, Carlo Rovelli, Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, Jim Baggott, and Paul Davies.

Now the multiverse has lots of implications for our views of physics, philosophy, and biology. Depending on how you conceive of a multiverse (and there are apparently several ways it could be), the anthropic principle—that the laws of physics seem “fine tuned” for our existence—is simply a result of different universes having different laws of physics, and the one with the “right” laws is the one that is ours, the one that allowed life to evolve. This, of course, blows the “fine-tuning” argument, and its supposed use as evidence for God, out the window. There are, of course, other implications for stuff like quantum entanglement, Schrödinger’s Cat, and other physical puzzles: many different outcomes would be realized in one universe or another. The cat would be dead in some universes, but alive in others.

Further, it means that the evolution of humans was inevitable somewhere. In one of those universes that permitted the evolution of life, it was inevitable that a thinking hominin would evolve. That, too, is evidence against theistic arguments—made famous by Simon Conway Morris—that the evolution of humans, which is taken as inevitable, is evidence for our position as God’s special creatures.

Finally, it may (and I’m not sure about this) constitute evidence for “you can choose” free will: that all possible decisions that could be the outcome of the laws of physics in our brain would be instantiated in some universe. [Rethinking this, I don’t think this buttresses “you can choose otherwise” free will unless it reflects quantum phenomena in the brain, which I don’t think is the case.]

Now I’m just speculating here, and these may not follow from any conception of the multiverse, but from what I’ve heard of the “many worlds” hypothesis, these things are possible.

If you want to watch the entire one-hour video from which the above is an excerpt, I’ve put it below.

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 5:45am

My photo tank is getting low, so send me your good wildlife photos, please.  Posting will probably be light today as I’m crazy busy getting ready to go to India. A week from today, jet-lagged, I’ll be on the train from Delhi to Chandigarh to begin the first leg of the Jerry Coyne All-India Tour.

Today’s photos come from reader Karen Bartelt, who continues her photoodyssey in Texas with some photos of birds and butterflies (see part I here). Her notes are indented.

South Texas, Part II We visited the Laguna Ascosta National Wildlife Reserve and some other areas in the Harlingen-Brownsville area.  More first-time birds and butterflies. Plain chachalaca (Ortalis vetula); near Los Fresnos TX: Soldier (Danaus eresimus); Laguna Atascosa NWR: Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae); Laguna Atascosa NWR: Buff-bellied hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis); Hugh Ramsey Park in Harlingen TX: Band-celled sister (Adelpha fessonia); Resaca de la Palma State Park near Brownsville TX: Malachite (Siproeta stelenes); Frontera Audubon Center, Weslaco TX:
Categories: Science

Sunday: Hili dialogue

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 4:45am

It’s Sunday, December 10, 2017, both Ceiling Cat’s Day and National “Have a Bagel” Day; also, by UN decree, it’s International Mountain Day. There’s snow on the ground in Chicago right now, and the daily highs will be either below or just above freezing all this week.

And be aware that EVERYTHING THAT I LIST BELOW (NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS) HAPPENED ON DECEMBER 11 (TOMORROW), NOT DECEMBER 10 (TODAY). I screwed up yesterday, getting the date wrong (I write these in advance). I can’t be arsed to fix it, for it’s early in the morning and I haven’t had coffee; and I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow.

Regardless, December 11 was not a day on which much happened. On that day in 1920, there were big depredations in Cork, Ireland, home of Grania. In retaliation for a recent ambush by the IRA, British soldiers burned and looted buildings in Cork, as well as shooting and robbing civilians. On December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. after the U.S. had declared war on Japan several days earlier after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Also on December 10, the U.S. reciprocally declared war on Germany and Italy. On this day in 1972, Apollo 17 became the sixth and final U.S. mission to land spacecraft and men on the Moon.  Finally, it was on December 11, 1990 that demonstrations by students and workers began in Albania, eventually leading to the fall of that communist nation—once, after North Korea, the world’s most secretive state.

Notables born on this day include Hector Berlioz (1803), Robert Koch (1843; see below), Max Born (1882), Amon Goeth (1908; you’ll remember him from “Schindler’s List”), Tom Hayden (1939) and Hailee Steinfeld (1996). Those who died on this day include Sam Cooke (1964) and Bettie Page (2008).

Cooke wrote and performed the greatest civil rights song of our era (“Blowing in the Wind” is a strong contender): “A Change is Gonna Come“. It was released on December 22, 1964, and still moves me immensely. I know I’ve posted it before, but you can’t here it too often. And his version is by far the best of many covers were made later.  Here’s some information from Wikipedia:

Each verse is a different movement, with the horns carrying the first, the strings the second, and the timpani carrying the bridge. The French horn present in the recording was intended to convey a sense of melancholy.

Cooke incorporated his own personal experiences as well into the song, such as encounters in Memphis, Shreveport and Birmingham, to reflect the lives and struggles of all African-Americans of the time. The lines “I don’t know what’s up there / Beyond the sky” could refer to Cooke’s doubt for absolute true justice on earth.  The final verse, in which Cooke pleads for his “brother” to help him, is a metaphor for what Alexander described as “the establishment” The verse continues, ‘But he winds up knocking me / back down on my knees.'”

There’s a Google Doodle today honoring Robert Koch, even though Koch was born on December 11, 1843, not today, December 10. For it was on this day in 1905, one day before his birthday and 4.5 years before he died (May 1910), that Koch was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. What did he do? He proved that tuberculosis, rather than being an inherited disease as was then thought, was actually caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. As depicted by Paul de Kruif in his great book Microbe Hunters, many guinea pigs died in the service of this work. Koch, the father of modern bacteriology, well deserved his Nobel:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is showing unusual restraint:

A: What are you doing? Hili: I’m showing patience and waiting until my staff finish their breakfast. In Polish: Ja: Co robisz?
Hili: Okazuję cierpliwość i czekam aż służba zje śniadanie.

A tweet from Matthew showing an optical illusion, one of his favorite things (see more about the illusion here). I have to admit, this one is amazing:

Very cool new illusion discovered- these lines are all sine waves!
via @DiscoverMag @JaneEBSmith @Neuro_Skeptic

— Ginny Smith (@GinnyFBSmith) December 8, 2017

Here’s Harry, Matthew’s newest cat:

Harry amongst the decorations.

— Matthew Cobb (@matthewcobb) December 9, 2017

And an unusual flower:

“Skeleton Flowers” Become Transparent When It Rains, when the the leaves dry out turn back to white. More:

— John Evans (@Distinctboxes) December 8, 2017

From reader Charleen, a strutting cat in a tutu:

Categories: Science

A compendium of atomic bomb explosions

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 12:15pm

Here’s a compilation of various tests of atomic bombs which I’ve put up just because they’re mesmerizing and because this is one of the things that we have to worry about with North Korea.  It’s also amazing—and terrifying—that the human brain is able to manufacture something like this out of our neurons and substances in the earth’s crust.

Categories: Science

Steve Paikin discusses freedom of speech with five Canadian professors

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 11:00am

Wilfred Laurier’s attempt to stifle/punish Lindsay Shepherd for playing a bit of Jordan Peterson video in her class has ignited a big debate in Canada, none of which would have happened had Shepherd not been savvy enough to tape the meeting in which she was admonished, and then to release the tape to the press.

The debate  goes on, below in a 40-minute television debate on Steve Paikin’s show The Agenda, a debate involving five professors:

Janice Stein, University of Toronto
Thomas Merritt, Laurentian University
Shannon Dea, University of Waterloo
Rinaldo Walcott, University of Toronto
Emmett Macfarlane, University of Waterloo

And after hearing it, I have to say, “O Canada!” The debate, about free speech and how to treat students, should arouse passion, but only three people show any: Janice Stein, whose views seem close to mine, and two Authoritarian Leftists, Rinaldo Walcott and Shannon Dea. Dea mouths the jargon of postmodern feminism, even arguing that Shepherd might have been on the side of Jordan Peterson (Shepherd says she was not), and Walcott sees white supremacy everywhere, to the extent that many of his answers aren’t responsive. The geneticist Thomas Merritt politely shows that Regressive Leftism has infected his class in genomics and genetics, to the extent that when teaching Jim Watson’s work he’s impelled to say that the man is a racist and a homophobe, and political scientist Emmett Macfarlane politely straddles the fence.

I suppose this is worth listening to to see how well the beavers have dined in Canadian universities, with only Stein sticking up for freedom of speech (Walcott even says that some speech, like Jordan Peterson’s views on pronouns, should not be allowed to be uttered in society).  If ever passion was needed to defend truly progressive principles, it’s now, and I fear, after hearing this, that Canadians are, by and large, too polite to muster that passion, and will simply go along with the demands of Regressives. Since this is only a sample of five professors (but there were two more in Shepherd’s “hearing”), I may be overly fearful.

Finally, I’ll say, as I have before, that Paikin is one of the best t.v. moderators around. He asks just the right questions, doesn’t intrude or dominate the discussion, but keeps it on track right up to the end. That there’s no agreement among these five faculty is not his fault.

Categories: Science

Are dogs smarter than cats?

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 9:30am

Yes, that’s the perennial question, and of course it depends on what you mean by “smarter”. Several people (mostly dog owners, of course) have sent me articles touting a recent finding that dogs are smarter than cats because they have more neurons in their brains. For example, this article reports a new article in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy (reference and free abstract at bottom; I haven’t read it as it hasn’t been published beyond the abstract).

“I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has, especially in the cerebral cortex, determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience,” says neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel from Vanderbilt University in the US.

Past studies have compared the ‘neural packing density’ in the brains of our favourite carnivorous pets, estimating that cats have about 300 million neurons, roughly doubling the 160 million of dogs.

But now it seems we might have been a little hasty handing the trophy to cats.

The team looked at eight different meat-eating animals, analysing one or two representative specimens of ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion, and brown bear.

Based on their results, dogs have closer to 530 million neurons, compared to the 250 million of cats.

What’s more, dogs had the most neurons of any carnivore, even though they didn’t have the largest brains.

Sorry, but this is complete nonsense. Barring data showing that neuronal number has a very tight correlation with intelligence, barring widely accepted definitions of  animal “intelligence”, and barring “intelligence tests” on a diversity of species, all we know is what the paper reports: dogs have more neurons in their brains than do cats. And there could be reasons for that beyond intelligence, like, perhaps, olfaction.

The real way to see which animal is smarter is to devise some test that comports with your definition of animal intelligence, and then apply it to the species in which you’re interested. You also have to be sure that the animal can be trained to take a test—and we know about training of cats versus dogs.

The kicker here, which throws all this garbage out the window, is in the very article above:

The real oddball carnivore is the racoon [sic; these people can’t even spellcheck] – even though it’s close to cats in terms of size, it actually has a similar number of neurons to dogs. Considering raccoons can smash intelligence tests, we’re not surprised.

Racoons >> dogs even though they have the same number of neurons.  Sorry, but I’m not impressed with neuron count.

And here’s another bit of evidence: watch the video below. The “smart” dog can’t figure out to turn the stick sideways. And realize that a cat wouldn’t even pick up a damn stick to please somebody else. Now who’s smarter?


Alvargenga, D. J. et al. 2017. Dogs have the most neurons, though not the largest brain: Trade-off between body mass and number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivoran species. Frontiers Neuroanatomy, in press.  doi: 10.3389/fnana.2017.00118

Categories: Science

National Coalition Against Censorship and PEN defend Met’s showing of a “controversial” painting

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 8:30am

Four days ago I reported about an attack of the Pecksniffs on a painting at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: Balthus‘s Thérèse Dreaming”, created in 1938. Here it is in the gallery:


A New York Pecksniff, one Mia Merrill, launched a campaign to have the painting removed (one call was simply for a “trigger warning”, but the petition—as of this writing signed by over 11,300 Pecksniffs—was to remove the painting. Merrill’s beef, as I said in my previous post, was this (from her petition and her emphasis):

When I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past weekend, I was shocked to see a painting that depicts a young girl in a sexually suggestive pose. Balthus’ painting, Thérèse Dreaming, is an evocative portrait of a prepubescent girl relaxing on a chair with her legs up and underwear exposed.

It is disturbing that the Met would proudly display such an image. They are a renowned institution and one of the largest, most respected art museums in the United States. The artist of this painting, Balthus, had a noted infatuation with pubescent girls, and it can be strongly argued that this painting romanticizes the sexualization of a child.

Rather than cave to these leisure fascists, the Met refused to take it down, with Ken Weine, the Museum’s chief communications officer, saying this:

“Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression.”

So the painting stayed up, as it should have. Now two other groups have come forward to defend exhibiting the painting. As Time Magazine reports, one is the National Coalition Against Censorship (see their own article here), which said this:

“The idea that this painting suggests that the Met supports, on some institutional level, an unhealthy sexualization of young women misunderstands the role of a cultural institution,” Nora Pelizzari, a spokeswoman for the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), told Newsweek. “Attacking art is counterproductive to the open discussion necessary for us to confront the realities of sexual harassment and abuse,” the NCAC had said in an earlier statement.

The anti-censorship organization applauded the Met’s decision to keep the painting on view. To their mind, said Pelizzari, “Hiding potential sexualizaiton of young girls throughout history does not help…the current conversation around sexual harassment.”

. . . Pelizzari is disturbed by the “escalation of the culture of outrage, as well as the move towards threats of violence as a means of stifling artistic expression and artistic display.” The Whitney’s decision to keep Shutz’s painting up was, in her view, precisely right. The museum engaged in discussions with the protestors and other artists, allowing for “a wider conversation on our interaction on race and history and grappling with our history as a society.”

From the NCAC’s perspective, “the removal or silencing or erasure of art is never good.” That, she said, includes the works of individuals who have sexually harassed or assaulted others, like Louis C.K., although she emphasized that the viewers’ decisions about whose art to consume and support financially is of course up to them.

“Everyone is allowed to react to art in exactly the way they naturally do,” she said. “Where we intervene is when you try to impose your reaction to a piece on others’ ability to see it.”

The other organization was the estimable PEN, dedicated to furthering literature and free expression (do remember, though, that some of its members objected to PEN giving an award to Charlie Hebdo). In its defense of the painting, PEN said this, as quoted by Time:

PEN America, which works to protect literary and artistic expression, agreed. They see such petitions as part of a troubling trend. “We are alarmed about what seems to be a rising tendency to turn to artistic censorship as a way to express social, political, or other grievances,” PEN America said in a statement to Newsweek. “Some advocates seem to have decided that artists and art institutions represent soft targets, more vulnerable to public campaigns than are the actual power structures that perpetuate the ills these campaigners are fighting against.”

Pelizzari is exactly right in her last statement: these kinds of calls or demonstrations—like black activists blocking people’s view of a painting of Emmett Till by a white artist—do nothing to solve problems like pedophilia or racism. They are not attempts to create a dialogue, but to keep people from encountering viewpoints that the activists don’t like. Seriously, does the painting above foster pedophilia and contribute to the sexualization of young women? I don’t think so. It stimulates dialogue, like the kind we had on my post. And does a sympathetic and graphic painting of Emmett Till in his casket, body battered by white racists, somehow promote racism because it was painted by a white woman? You’d have to twist your logic pretty far to conclude that. In fact, demonstrations to prevent people from seeing or reading things just create the “Streisand effect,” making people want to see them all the more, and arouse hostility towards the censors.

I can’t think of a single instance when the censorship of literature or art that doesn’t violate the law (e.g., blatant child pornography) has helped society progress. On the other hand, I can think of plenty of cases in which attempted censorship has been an impediment, as in the unsuccessful case to ban Ulysses. And it goes on. Here’s just a small list of works of literature that schools or libraries have tried to ban in the last hundred years (see more here):

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
The Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby
The Grapes of Wrath
Invisible Man
The Jungle
Our Bodies, Ourselves
The Words of Cesar Chavez

If you know anything about these books, most of them are actually about oppressed people and explicitly sympathetic to them. It’s insane that people try to keep them out of the hands of others.

Remember three things about censorship.  First, it doesn’t work to suppress art or words that you don’t like. Second, trying to censor something just arouses interest in it, as well as resentment towards those who try to tell others what they can or cannot see. Third, exhibiting art or recommending that students read a book does not mean an endorsement of the image or contents.

But don’t expect Pecksniffery to abate any time soon, at least in America. It goes hand in hand with Authoritarian Leftism (why do you think they call it “authoritarian”?), and Authoritarian Leftism shows no signs of abating. But if we all stand up against those who try to censor things by playing on our guilt—on our liberal sympathies for underdogs—that ideology will eventually wane.

Guilt is the great weapon of the Authoritarian Left, and we must resist it when it comes to endorsing free expression.

h/t: cesar

Categories: Science

Caturday felids: Leonardo’s cat studies, traveling cat chronicles, world’s bravest kitty

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 7:00am

Stephen Barnard wrote me this: “I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Leonardo da Vinci, so your Caturday post prompted me to google Leonardo’s cat drawings. (As far as I know he never painted cats, or if he did they don’t survive.) I found this image of his cat studies:”

and here [“Study of cat movements and positions” 1517-1518]:


He added this: “As they’re studies, there’s little attempt at realism. The most realistic ones, to my eye, are the sleeping cats. The dynamism and anatomical accuracy of the action studies contrast with the grotesque cats we’re used to seeing in early Renaissance paintings.” Indeed! I’ve long pondered why artists of all ages have been unable to accurately portray cats. This is a welcome exception, but of course it’s Leonardo!


The Guardian calls our attention to a book that might be worth a look: The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (click on the screenshot to go to the Amazon page, where you can read an excerpt):

Here’s the Guardian‘s plot summary:

Nana is the protagonist. A stray cat in Tokyo with a strong survival instinct, he is taken in by a young man named Satoru after being hit by a car. Nana finds he has fallen on his feet. Satoru is a cat lover from youth; gentle and intuitive, he still mourns his first cat Hachi, from whom he was traumatically separated as a child. The name “Nana” derives from na, the Japanese word for seven – the shape of Nana’s tail; Hachi was named after the number eight because of markings on his head. Nana is scornful of Satoru’s literal-mindedness when it comes to naming cats, but he has the usual feline instinct for knowing which side his crispy chicken is battered, and decides to stick around.

Five happy years of cohabitation pass in a single sentence, and then Satoru tells the cat that they must make a journey. They will visit Satoru’s childhood friend Kosuke, with the purpose of rehoming Nana. Satoru is not forthcoming about the reason. “We just can’t live together any more,” he says. I wrote “Oh no, is Satoru ill?” in the margin, but that’s me; I’ve seen a lot of films. At this stage, Satoru’s motives are officially unclear. The reunited Kosuke and Satoru reminisce about the number-eight cat, and we learn about Satoru’s talent for friendship and the shock of his parents’ death. But does Nana stay with Kosuke?

The structure of The Travelling Cat Chronicles is deceptively simple. With alternating sections of third-person and Nana-the-cat narration, it consists of three journeys to friends, followed by a pilgrimage across a beautifully evoked landscape. There is then a heart-breaking last journey that left me in bits. I’ve rarely changed my mind so much about a book in the course of reading it. I started out quibbling with the translation (would a cat that exclaims “Good lord” also say “yada yada”?), but before long, I had surrendered to Arikawa’s powerful emotional agenda, according to which a human’s love for his cat is not delusional but self-fulfilling, just as all loving sacrifice is its own reward.

The reviewer, Lynne Truss, gives two thumbs up, as do nearly all the reviewers weighing in at Amazon:

What Nana observes and experiences through their journeys is Satoru’s huge, lifelong capacity for quiet consideration, which is moving enough in itself. But when the cat responds to his love – well, you ought to laugh, but I couldn’t. “Cats are not so heartless,” declares Nana. “How could I ever leave him?” I know, I know. What a sap I am. But anyone who has ever unashamedly loved an animal will read this book with gratitude, for its understanding of an emotion that ennobles us as human beings, whether we value it or not.

Has anybody read this? This is one cat book I’d consider reading!


And here’s a brave moggie playing with a huge rhinoceros and her baby. I’m surprised they let it in the room with those beasts!


h/t: Snowy Owl

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 5:45am

Just a reminder to send in your photos. Today’s come from reader Mark Richardson’s decade-old trip to Alaska. His notes are indented:

These are a mixture of wildlife and landscape photos from a 2006 fishing trip in Alaska. We flew into Anchorage and drove south toward the Kenai peninsula. We met our fishing guides at the Soldatna airport and took a small airplane up the Cook inlet to a secluded fishing cabin. We were fishing for Coho (silver) salmon as they were heading towards fresh water rivers to spawn. Since they were still in the ocean, they were feeding (salmon stop feeding once they hit fresh water). We were catching them using lightweight fly rods. It was a hoot! The first three are photos of wildlife, two of which are common animals seen on WEIT. The rest are landscapes- the first six were taken from the plane. A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) that hung around our camp looking for scraps.  One of the fishing guides fed it pieces of steak, so no wonder it liked to loiter.   A juvenile Grizzly bearUrsus arctos, combing the beach for noms. Grizzly bears were a common sight and this fact kept us all alert.
The ubiquitous (at least in Alaska) bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus. Soldatna seen from the plane shortly after take-off.

A colorful landscape from the plane of an alpine lake. Big country up in Alaska- there is a glacier in the background. A beautiful braided river. A steaming volcano in the far background. The runway at our fishing camp- not cool! Low tide, big sky and two fishermen. Not wildlife…just some essentials for the perfect fishing trip!
Categories: Science

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 4:30am

It’s the weekend: Saturday, December 9, 2017, and a week before I arrive in India. It’s also Nation Pastry Day and, according to the UN, International Anti-Corruption Day. I’m at work early as I have to do shopping later for India (my friends want some stuff not available there), and I’m waking up with a homemade giant latte in my favorite cup:

On this day in, 1531, The Virgin of Guadalupe made her first appearance: to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in Mexico City.  On December 9, 1793, the first daily newspaper in America, the American Minerva, was established by Noah Webster.  In 1897, Parisian activist Marguerite Durand founded the feminist daily newspaper La Fronde.  Exactly seven years later, France passed the law separating church and state.  On this date in 1946, the Indian Assembly met to begin writing the Constitution of India.  And on December 9, 1960, the first episode of Coronation Street—the world’s longest-running t.v. soap opera (it’s still on), was broadcast in the UK.  And it’s a banner day in science and medicine: on this day in 1979, the World Health organization certified that the smallpox virus had been completely eradicated from the planet—still the only human disease driven to extinction. Here’s the last person to get it: two-year-old Rahima Banu from Bangladesh, who contracted the disease in 1975. She survived, and now has four children of her own:

But we’ve also driven an animal disease to extinction; do you know what it is? Finally, on this day in 1987, the first Intifada began in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Notables born on this day include John MIlton (1608), Peter Kropotkin (1842), Fritz Haber (1868), Joseph Pilates (1883; yes the inventor of the racist discipline of Pilates), Tip O’Neill (1912), Kirk Douglas (1916), Judi Dench (1934), and Donny Osmond (1957). Those who fell asleep on this day include Anthony van Dyck (1641), Edith Sitwell (1964), Branch Rickey (1965), Ralph Bunche (1971), and Mary Leakey (1996).

Here’s a lovely van Dyck:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s dialogue is subject to interpretation (she’s not telling), but I’m pretty sure I know what it means.

Hili: Which invention was more important: a bed or a wheel? A: It depends on time of the day. Hili: I’m not sure. In Polish: Hili: Który wynalazek był ważniejszy – łóżko czy koło?
Ja: To zależy od pory dnia.
Hili: Nie jestem pewna.

Here is a tweet from Grania: Roy Moore accuses evolution of corrupting children.

Wanted to share a video of Roy Moore in 1997 arguing that kids commit drive-by shooting because they are taught evolution in school: "They're acting like animals because we've taught them they come from animals."

— Christopher Massie (@chrismassie) December 7, 2017

Tweets from Matthew Cobb:

Red kites (Milvus milvus) in the snow (play video):

Red Kites in the snow today. Superb.

— Drew Buckley (@drewbphoto) December 8, 2017

And the most perfect cat ball:

That's a 10/10 circle cat

— Luv Kittens Daily (@LuvKittensDaily) December 7, 2017

Another cat from reader Charleen:

When you know whats coming, but jump out of your skin anyway


And a video of a kitten that appeared yesterday. LIVING THE DREAM!

Living the dream

— Cute Emergency (@CuteEmergency) December 9, 2017

Categories: Science

The Mueller Sanction

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:30pm

I don’t know who made this video, or how they got it to look so realistic, but it’s pretty cool. The Trump investigation as a James Bond story!
Categories: Science

Should a Christian baker be able to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding?

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 11:30am

In 2012, a Christian baker and self-proclaimed “cake artist” in Colorado, Jack Phillips, decided he wasn’t going to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, because the request violated his religious beliefs. The couple sued for violation of the state’s anti-discrimination lawsuit, and won. The case was appealed, and now it’s been argued at the Supreme Court, as it has never been decided whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, color, sex, or national origin, also applies to sexual orientation. Phillips claims that, at least in this case, his First Amendment rights were being violated: that he should be able “to use his artistic talents to promote only messages that align with his religious beliefs.” The court will probably rule in a few months.

Remember, while it may be illegal to not make a cake requested by a gay customer or a Jewish customer, this case is about baking a wedding cake for a gay marriage, which could be construed as discrimination not against a person, but an act that violates the baker’s religion, so there are First Amendment considerations here.

Nevertheless, my own view is that the gay couple should prevail, for one could use one’s religion to discriminate against other things that seem wrong, like a Christian baker choosing not to make a Bar Mitzvah cake for a Jewish family, which comes close to discriminating against religion itself. (Remember, again, this is discrimination not against sexual orientation, but against an act that violates one’s religious beliefs.). Further, it gives weight to acts like Catholic doctors refusing to perform abortions when the pregnancy is due to rape or incest since such an act violates the doctor’s religion. While I believe that’s illegal in the U.S. (I’m not sure), but it’s still legal in Ireland, where abortion can be performed only to save the life of the mother. Given our new Supreme Court, all kinds of acts that seem discriminatory or dangerous could be approved because they privilege one’s religious belief over secular notions of equality. (I still, of course, believe that religious beliefs should be accommodated in public when they are not overly onerous to society.)

Andrew Sullivan is also conflicted (he’s a Catholic but also gay), but comes down on the side of the baker. In New York Magazine, he writes this:

Which is why I think it was a prudential mistake to sue the baker. Live and let live would have been a far better response. The baker’s religious convictions are not trivial or obviously in bad faith, which means to say he is not just suddenly citing them solely when it comes to catering to gays. His fundamentalism makes him refuse to make even Halloween cakes, for Pete’s sake. More to the point, he has said he would provide any form of custom-designed cakes for gay couples — a birthday cake, for example — except for one designed for a specific celebration that he has religious objections to. And those religious convictions cannot be dismissed as arbitrary (even if you find them absurd). Opposition to same-sex marriage has been an uncontested pillar of every major world religion for aeons.

And so, if there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be — and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it. One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, “How does someone else’s marriage affect me?” and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change. It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core “live and let live” argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

Nonetheless, here we are. And it is a hard case constitutionally. It pits religious and artistic freedom against civil equality and nondiscrimination. Anyone on either side who claims this is an easy call are fanatics of one kind or other. I’m deeply conflicted. I worry that a decision that endorses religious freedom could effectively nullify a large swathe of antidiscrimination legislation — and have a feeling that Scalia, for example, would have backed the gays in this case on those grounds alone. Equally, I worry that a ruling that backs the right of the state to coerce someone into doing something that violates their religious conscience will also have terrible consequences. A law that controls an individual’s conscience violates a core liberal idea. It smacks of authoritarianism and of a contempt for religious faith. It feels downright anti-American to me.

I sympathize with Sullivan, and feel a bit conflicted as well, as we have two “rights” competing with each other, but in the end I think the “freedom of speech” defense is weaker than the anti-discrimination principles that underlie our society.

The Supreme Court, which recently heard arguments on the case, seemed from their questions to be divided—largely along ideological lines. The case isn’t completely straightforward because baker considers himself an artist who can choose for whom to practice his art, and he has a First Amendment (constitutional) defense for his actions. Justice Anthony Kennedy may again be the swing vote.

So let’s take two polls here: one on how you feel and the other on how you think the Supreme Court (which has a conservative majority) will rule. As always, this is just my attempt to gauge opinion; I’m not pretending that this is a scientific result, or representative of anything beyond a sample of WEIT readers. And please take a few seconds to vote!

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src='';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

and your prediction:

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src='';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));


h/t: Simon


Categories: Science

Here’s the organism (well, sort of. . . .)!

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 10:00am

Did you guess what organism made the pattern below, found on a recent dive around the hydrothermal vents off Tonga?

Here’s the answer in the second tweet:

For comparison here is a live "Paleodictyon" from the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Pic from Paper by Rona et al. #UnderwaterFire Tonga

— Polychaeta Species (@WPolyDb) December 8, 2017

How big is that thing? The laser beam images are 10 cm (about 4 inches apart): The paper from which this comes (below) adds, “Note the shield-shaped elevation, marginal elevated rim and mote, and color (pale pink) of the area of the pattern compared with the surrounding veneer of gray calcareous lutite (image courtesy The Stephen Low Company).” You can find thousands of these things on the wall of the mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The pattern is similar to that described in a 2009 paper in Deep Sea Research (click on screenshot to go there):

It’s called a “living fossil” because the patterns are nearly identical to those found in ocean sediment cores from about 50 million years ago. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the organism that made (or left) this pattern is the same as the ancient one, for it may be not a fossil but a burrow.

But what IS the organism involved? The paper above doesn’t say, because they haven’t recovered an organism from whatever makes this pattern. DNA sequencing of material recovered from the holes shows genetic material from foraminiferans, protists that probably settled in the holes rather than making them.

When the holes are injected with resin underwater, and then the cast recovered, it looks like this (caption from paper):

Fig. 8. Photo of plasticine reconstruction (3-D) of the modern P. nodosum pattern based on observation of the hexagonal pattern of holes at the sediment–water interface and vertical shafts connecting with an underlying horizontal hexagonal network of tunnels or tubes (model and photo by Hans Luginsland).

The raised nature of the pattern as well as the rim can, according to the authors’ models, enhance water flow over the openings, suggesting that either this is a burrow of some sort or the 3-D remains of an organism that filtered microbes out of the water.  The authors suggest this could be a remnant of one of two types of organisms:

1.) Xenophyophores: Giant single-celled foraminifera that have multiple nuclei and form a “test”, a hard skeleton made from minerals extracted from seawater.

2.) The remains of a sponge. As the authors say:

Alternatively, the modern form is the compressed body of a hexactinellid sponge adapted to an unconsolidated sedimentary substrate (Rona and Merrill, 1978). If this interpretation is correct, then the fossil form is a body rather than trace fossil.

These sponges have hard parts as they contain spicules (small bits of the body) made of silicon.

Alternatively, it could be something else. The authors don’t consider that it might be burrows of a worm, but this site suggests that:

The short answer is, “We have no fricking idea.” There are many mysteries on the ocean floor.

Categories: Science

Zinnia Jones: The dangers of Regressivism

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 9:00am

Zinnia Jones is a transgender woman who nominally posts at The Orbit, a series of blogs that were once part of Freethought Blogs but separated from that site for reasons that were never explicit. I rarely read her site, and rarely look at The Orbit itself because postings at the 22 constituent blogs are rare; in fact, Zinnia’s last post was December 2 of last year, and here are the dates of the last posts from some other people whose sites I’d sometimes read when they were at Freethought Blogs:

Dana Hunter: May 18, 2017
Alex Gabriel: January 3, 2017
Aoife O’Riordan: January 22, 2017
Greta Christina: December 6 of this year, but last post before that was on September 27, 2017
Ashley Miller: May 3, 2016
Heina Dadabhoy: December 31, 2016
Jason Thibeault: September 17, 2016

Of the remaining 15 sites, eleven haven’t had a post since October of this year. It’s clear that The Orbit is dying a slow death, and probably for the same reason that the Atheism Plus site went under: off-putting authoritarianism and, in the case of Atheism Plus, horrible internecine squabbles over completely trivial matters.

Zinnia Jones, however, seems to be on Twitter almost constantly (I don’t look at many people’s accounts, but just checked), and one of her tweets from this year demonstrates in a nutshell the reason why The Orbit has put so many people off. It’s from July, and seems to have been removed, but was saved (nothing disappears for good on the Internet):

The tweet:

But of course it’s clear that ISIS in Syria and Iraq does indeed throw gay people off of buildings to their deaths. Here’s a CNN video documenting it (some of the images might be disturbing). You can find videos rather than still pictures elsewhere on the Internet, but I’ll let you suss them out yourself.

Why did Jones say that these are “suicide photos”? It’s clear: she’s trying to defend Islam from the charge of homophobia, a regular pasttime of Regressive Leftists. But the accusation won’t stand, and Ngo attributes it to “intersectionality”:

I feel intersectionality has robbed many queer activists of legitimacy. Here, a trans activist, like many others in the same influential circle, says images of accused gay men being tossed from roof tops were actually images of suicide.

— Andy C. Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) December 7, 2017

The principle of intersectionality—that people can be oppressed on the basis of several different characteristics (e.g., ethnicity and religion)—is not problematic, but what it’s done is foster each group’s defense of all the others. So, for example—as in this case—Muslims, who occupy one “axis”, must be defended by a transgender woman against any of the religion’s own oppressions. In the end, intersectionality seems to poison everything, as every “oppressed” group becomes immune to all charges of racism or bigotry, which become solely the purview of heterosexual white men. And what that does is erode basic principles of liberalism.

Let me assure you that Zinnia Jones wouldn’t last a day under ISIS, or, as a blogger, in several Middle Eastern countries.

h/t: Grania

Categories: Science

Identify the organism that made this pattern

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 8:00am

Here’s a new tweet that Matthew sent, showing a pattern found underwater by ROV SuBastian dive #96 (dive #97 starts at 11 a.m. Chicago time, and you can watch it here).  These dives are sponsored by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, and are currently investigating hydrothermal vents around Tonga in the Pacific.

Oh wow, one of those mystery pattern organisms, perhaps related to Paleodictyon trace fossil #UnderwaterFire 2370 m Mata Fa Tonga SuBastian dive 96, in shallow sediment on rock.

— Polychaeta Species (@WPolyDb) December 8, 2017

Your job: Guess what kind of organism made that pattern. It’s not a human creation, but a genuine trace left by living organisms. What is it? I’ll put up the answer at noon Chicago time. Paleodictyon trace fossils are of unknown origin, but we’re pretty sure what made this one. You’ll find out in two hours.

Today’s dive looks cool, and here’s the info:

This is the twelfth ROV dive of the Underwater Fire expedition. This dive will visit the known hydrothermal vent field at Mata Fitu volcano, one of the North Mata group of volcanoes. This is the second dive of this expedition at Mata Fitu, but first visit to the hydrothermal vent field.The dive will start downslope of the area of known venting and will traverse back-and-forth upslope to establish the aerial extent of venting. The dive will be a mix of geo-transects to visually explore the area, sample lavas and sediments, and will also do chemical and biological sampling at the hydrothermal vents.

Watch it here in about an hour:

Categories: Science

Ali Rizvi talks sense on Israel and Palestine

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 7:00am

Unbeknownst to me, Ali Rizvi, author of The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason (I blurbed the book) wrote a fine article on the Israel Palestine crisis that was published in PuffHo on July 28, 2014. (Click on screenshot below to read it, and you should.) Normally I’d kvetch about his publishing this on a regressive site like PuffHo, but the readers there really need this kind of thoughtful article. Why is it that ex-Muslims, often raised—as was Rizvi—to hate Israel and Jews, always turn out to be more pro-Israel (or at least more balanced) than are American Regressives Leftists? I suppose that’s because the apostates thought their way out of Islam, and thus can more easily see through the propaganda of the Israel bashers, including people like Linda Sarsour and organizations like CAIR, the BDS movement, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

I’ll list Rizvi’s seven points (he by no means excuses Israel, criticizing Netanyahu and the expansion of settlements on the West bank), and also excerpt some of what he says, with all his words indented. Where I’ve commented, I’ve put that in brackets:

1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?

Over 700 people have died in Gaza as of this writing. Muslims have woken up around the world. But is it really because of the numbers?

Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years — more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. Thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Syria have been killed by ISIS in the last two months. Tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban. Half a million black Muslims were killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan. The list goes on.

But Gaza makes Muslims around the world, both Sunni and Shia, speak up in a way they never do otherwise. Up-to-date death counts and horrific pictures of the mangled corpses of Gazan children flood their social media timelines every day. If it was just about the numbers, wouldn’t the other conflicts take precedence? What is it about then?

If I were Assad or ISIS right now, I’d be thanking God I’m not Jewish.

Amazingly, many of the graphic images of dead children attributed to Israeli bombardment that are circulating online are from Syria, based on a BBC report. Many of the pictures you’re seeing are of children killed by Assad, who is supported by Iran, which also funds Hezbollah and Hamas. What could be more exploitative of dead children than attributing the pictures of innocents killed by your own supporters to your enemy simply because you weren’t paying enough attention when your own were killing your own?

This doesn’t, by any means, excuse the recklessness, negligence, and sometimes outright cruelty of Israeli forces. But it clearly points to the likelihood that the Muslim world’s opposition to Israel isn’t just about the number of dead.

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?

There are three pervasive myths that are widely circulated about the “roots” of the Middle East conflict:

Myth 1: Judaism has nothing to do with Zionism.
Myth 2: Islam has nothing to do with Jihadism or anti-Semitism.
Myth 3: This conflict has nothing to do with religion.

3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians? [JAC: They do nearly everything they can to avoid it because they know the consequences for Israel’s image.]

4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields? [JAC: Rizvi’s answer, which is a fact well known but often hidden, is “yes.” And that’s why so many more Palestinians die than Israelis, for rather than protecting the Palestinian people, Hamas, a truly odious organization, deliberately tries to get them killed as a propaganda tool. So much for the “disproportionate” reaction of Israel (see #3 above).]

5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza? [JAC: People forget that Gaza was once Israel and was given to the Palestinians, who failed to develop it.]

6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel? [JAC: see #4.]

7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn’t everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?

Because Israel’s flaws, while smaller in number, are massive in impact.

Many Israelis seem to have the same tribal mentality that their Palestinian counterparts do. They celebrate the bombing of Gaza the same way many Arabs celebrated 9/11. A UN report recently found that Israeli forces tortured Palestinian children and used them as human shields. They beat up teenagers. They are often reckless with their airstrikes. They have academics who explain how rape may be the only truly effective weapon against their enemy. And many of them callously and publicly revel in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.

. . . However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims — it needs to do much more to show it isn’t the same as the worst of its neighbors.

Israel is leading itself towards increasing international isolation and national suicide because of two things: 1. The occupation; and 2. Settlement expansion.

Remember, this is the take of an ex-Muslim who has no political reason to love Israel. He says that, instead of us taking sides, it’s more productive to foster peace initiatives than to put all the blame on one side or the other. The only solution, I think, is the two-state solution, but I’m slowly beginning to realize three things: a. it’s not going to happen, at least not in the next several decades, b. Neither Hamas, Fatah, nor the Palestinian Authority wants it to happen, even if they get most of what they want, and c. Israel only exacerbates the situation by continuing to expand settlements.

Finally, re the Jerusalem issue, Ali published the bit below on his public Facebook page (click on screenshot to go there). It doesn’t take sides, but faults everyone for fighting about a city that symbolizes three delusional religions. But aside from the delusions, he fails to consider that these sites are also important in the history of all the main Abrahamic religions as sites of worship, and they’re fighting not just over which delusion is true, but who has access to their history.

h/t: Grania

Categories: Science