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They blacked out the eyes of the donkeys!

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 11:00am

This story, from the Daily Post of Wales (h/t Matthew), wouldn’t give you much pause just from the headline. Yes, a guy was caught smuggling equids from Ireland to Leeds, but that’s sort of. . . ho-hum. It’s the photos, or rather one photo, that make this story. Click on the headline to see the tale of the donkey + horse smuggler:

A summary from the Post:

A donkey smuggler has been sentenced for trying to bring the animals into Wales without the proper paperwork.

John Peter Luke Wilcock admitted five charges brought against him by Anglesey council when he appeared at Caernarfon magistrates court.

Delyth Crisp, prosecuting, said the 37-year-old, of Dens Green, Bradford, was driving an animal transporter but was stopped at Holyhead Port in May.

Officials were concerned and, upon inspection, found 12 donkeys and a horse in the vehicle.

. . . Wilcock was also ordered to perform 200 hours of unpaid work, 20 days rehabilitation activity, and pay £100 costs.

Here’s the miscreant. Note that his face is fully visible:

John Wilcock (Image: Daily Post Wales)

And here are the donkeys Wilcock smuggled. THEY BLACKED OUT THEIR EYES IN THE PHOTO!!

There is no indication that this is a joke, but it surely must be, right? If it’s serious, then one must wonder what the purpose of this concealment is. Are the donkeys considered as children to be hidden so they won’t be harassed? I have no idea, but look and giggle:

The donkeys smuggled into Holyhead by Wilcock

Categories: Science

Mutant creatures of the air

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 10:00am

From Matthew we get a tweet of an albino bat. It sure sticks out from the other bats, and I hope it will be okay.

A rare and incredible find today. An albino cave myotis (Myotis velifer). A little white jewel standing out in the crowd. #Albinism #bats @BatConIntl

— Winifred Frick (@FrickWinifred) February 22, 2018

This is a true mutant, unlike my favorite bat, the Honduran white bat (Ectoyphylla alba), which lives in the tropics and makes nests for itself by folding together Heloconia leaves. As far as I know it’s the only species of white bat on Earth. When I was in Costa Rica in the early seventies, doing a graduate course in tropical ecology, I went on a night walk and we found one of these bats in a leaf. We also mist-netted one, which I got to hold in my (gloved) hand. I promptly fell in love (photos from Wikipedia):

Here’s a group, probably a male and his harem, sacked out for the night. They look like cotton balls!

Here’s another photo of a “bat train” from Animal Spot. They are adorable!

Reader Don found a report at of a yellow Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in Alabama. I’ve never seen one of these before. The site reports this:

An extremely rare cardinal has birders and biologists flocking to Shelby County, Alabama this week, as images of a yellow cardinal have circulated around social media.

Jeremy Black Photography

Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill said the cardinal in the photos is an adult male in the same species as the common red cardinal, but carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be brilliant red feathers to be bright yellow instead.

Alabaster resident Charlie Stephenson first noticed the unusual bird at her backyard feeder in late January and posted about it on Facebook. She said she’s been birding for decades but it took her some time to figure out what she was seeing.

. . . Hill — who has literally written books on bird coloration — said the mutation is rare enough that even he, as a bird curator and researcher has never seen one in person.

“I’ve been birdwatching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I’ve never seen a yellow bird in the wild,” Hill said. “I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.

They’re keeping the location secret because birders will mob the site if they knew where it was. Here’s a video of this bird:

There are also leucistic cardinals lacking melanin pigment. This one doesn’t seem to be a true albino as its eyes aren’t pink:

Speaking of mutant cardinals, here’s a gynandromorph cardinal (half male/half female), probably reflecting a chromosome abnormality in the bird. This was sent by reader Brian Peer, who photographed it in Illinois. My piece on this was one of the most popular posts I’ve ever made.


Categories: Science

The first Neanderthal cave art

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 8:30am

There has been some debate about the artistic ability of Neanderthals, and to date no art has been found, though their “spirituality” has been suggested from traces of ochre in burial sites. That suggests either that living bodies were decorated before burial or were adorned after death in some kind of ritual.  People seize on that, eager to detect signs of religiosity. (Ochre is a red “earth” pigment that contains ferric oxide.)

There are of course famous representational cave paintings, like the wonderful beasts of Lascaux, but these were made about 20,000 years ago. That was after Neandertals became extinct and when “modern” H. sapiens had already colonized Europe from Africa around 40,000 years ago. (Note: I’ve always considered Neanderthals a “subspecies” of H. sapiens, H. sapiens neanderthalensis, while “modern” humans are H. sapiens sapiens. Needless to say, some anthropologists disagree, though the interfertility of these forms, as evinced by Neanderthal genes in the modern human genome, makes me deem them members of the same biological species.)

Neanderthals are conventionally thought to have been in Europe from about 250,000 years ago to about 40,000 years ago. Thus the finding of 65,000 year old cave paintings in Spain, as documented in a new paper in Science by D. L. Hoffmann et al. (reference below; free access with Unpaywall, pdf here), not only bespeaks an artistic bent of Neandertals, but is the oldest cave paintings by a hominin. (The previous records are a hand stencil in Indonesia and a red disk  in a Spanish cave: both date to about 40,000 years ago and were therefore almost certainly done by H. sapiens sapiens.)

So what did Hoffmann et al. find? The three Spanish caves they investigated bear red hand stencils, abstract art consisting of geometric figures, as well as figures of animals like deer and birds. Since the caves appear to have been continuously occupied for at least 100,000 years, there’s no way of knowing, without dates, which subspecies produced which art.

The novel thing about this paper, though, is that the authors were able to actually date the art using uranium-thorium dating on the carbonate crusts that form on top of the paintings. These carbonates are what make stalactites and stalagmites, and form when the calcium compounds crystallize out of dripping water. A crust on top of a painting therefore had to form after the painting was created. I didn’t look up how they can date the formation of the crusts using uranium and thorium, but I’m sure a reader will tell us.

At any rate, here’s a geometric ochre panel, with crusts over it (see inset), that was dated at a minimum age of 64,800 years. It’s called a “red scalariform sign” (“resembling a ladder especially in having transverse bars or markings like the rungs of a ladder”), but I sort of see a humanlike figure to the right, though it’s probably my imagination. You can see the crust that was dated atop the red pigments. What a lucky find!

Fig. 1 Red scalariform sign, panel 78 in hall XI of La Pasiega gallery C. This panel features the La Trampa pictorial group (21). (Inset) Crust sampled and analyzed for a minimum age (64.8 ka), which constrains the age of the red line.

Here’s a hand stencil almost completely obscured by calcite, but made visible with software (right). This is between 45,300 and 48,700 years old, but other samples indicated a minimum age of 65,000 years.

Fig. 2. Hand stencil GS3b in Maltravieso cave (minimum age 66.7 ka). (Left) Original photo. The inset shows where the overlying carbonate was sampled for MAL 13. (Right) Same picture after application of the DStretch software (25) (correlation LRE 15%, auto contrast) to enhance color contrast. See (20) for details.

Finally, here are some “speleothem curtains” (calcite sheets) which have some red pigment (surely of human origin) covered with calcite; the ages here are 65,500 years.

Fig. 3 Speleothem curtain 8 in section II-A-3 in Ardales cave with red pigment, painted before at least 65.5 ka ago. (Left) Series of curtains with red paint on top, partially covered with later speleothem growth. The white rectangle outlines the area shown at right. (Right) Detail of curtain 8. The black square indicates where carbonate, overlying the red paint, was sampled for ARD 13. See (20) for details.

Paintings and ochre daubings from all three caves are, as the authors say, consistent, and, at 64.8 kyr (64,800 years), “substantially predate the arrival of modern humans in Europe, which has been variously estimated at between 45 ka and 40 ka ago.” Thus this art predates the arrival of “modern” humans by 20,000 years. (“Modern H. sapiens” remains simply aren’t found Spain at the time of these paintings). Since the only hominins in the area were Neanderthals, it’s presumed these paintings are by that subspecies—unless there’s some still-undiscovered hominin, which seems unlikely.

Neanderthals, then, had art—though it’s not representational—well before the famous cave paintings of France. This shows, as the authors say, that Neanderthals had a light source and premeditation, both of which are necessary to create hand stencils. They add, “it is difficult to see them [the art] as anything but meaningful symbols places in meaningful places.”  Well, we are meaning-seeking creatures, so I wouldn’t go that far. Perhaps they’re the Neanderthal equivalent of graffiti, not having much meaning at all. (“Hey, Zog, look: I made a print of my hand!”)

It’s unlikely that this kind of art was unique to these three caves, and so, as Hoffman et al. propose, it seems likely that eventually we’ll find Neanderthal art in other caves. And it will be interesting to see if that subspecies hit on representational art—showing animals or hominins—before H. sapiens sapiens came to Europe and Neanderthals died out.


Hoffmann, D. L., C. D. Standish, M. García-Diez, P. B. Pettitt, J. A. Milton, J. Zilhão, J. J. Alcolea-González, P. Cantalejo-Duarte, H. Collado, R. de Balbín, M. Lorblanchet, J. Ramos-Muñoz, G.-C. Weniger, and A. W. G. Pike. 2018. U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neandertal origin of Iberian cave art. Science 359:912-915.

Categories: Science

My letter in the student paper promoting free speech

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 7:00am

I guess I’m on some sort of free-speech-on-campus kick since I heard that many students, alumni, and faculty were protesting an upcoming debate at the University of Chicago featuring Steve Bannon. Given our University’s liberal free speech policy, I was surprised—indeed, sandbagged—by this protest. It’s actually is more than just peaceful protest (I also think Bannon is a bad dude), but a call to deplatform him and rescind his invitation. Peaceful protest is great, and I encourage it, but I abhor censorship, deplatforming, and disruption of speakers. Students might actually learn something from such a debate, but the Censors of Record are trying to prevent that. How dare they? What gives them the right to determine what others on campus can hear?

Anyway, to date the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, has said nothing about the free-speech issue on our campus, despite it being a newspaper and despite it being on the free-est speech campus in America. If they are in favor of free speech, and against deplatforming, why haven’t they said anything? Or if they want Bannon banned because he represents “hate speech,” they should say that instead. So far: crickets. I have no idea why the Maroon‘s editorial board hasn’t weighed in yet, but it bothers me.

And so I wrote a letter to the editor pleading for the paper to take a stand. You can read my letter, which came out today, by clicking on the link below. I won’t reproduce it here as I’m sure the Maroon would appreciate the views. But do go read it, if for no other reason than to show the paper that many people are interested in free speech. And, if you wish, leave a comment after the letter.

Note that there’s another letter in the same issue, written by a first-year undergraduate, that characterizes Bannon’s views as “hate speech”, implicitly arguing that they have no place on campus.  This gives even more urgency for the paper to take an editorial stand on this issue! Are the editors afraid of student reaction if they don’t call for banning “hate speech”? Or are the editors divided in their views and thus can’t produce a coherent statement? Who knows? All I know is that it looks mighty bad when the student newspaper keeps its editorial mouth zipped on such a pressing issue.

(Note: I did not choose the title below.)


Another piece on the same page describes a recent appearance here by New York Times Columnist David Brooks, who graduated from the U of C in 1982. At the end of the article, Brooks, though not a fan of Bannon’s views, endorses his visit to the University:

Brooks enthusiastically endorsed Bannon’s upcoming visit to campus as an opportunity to better understand the populist worldview, although he stridently disagrees with Bannon’s views.

“I spent an afternoon a few months ago with Steve Bannon. I highly recommend that he come here,” he said. “It was like being with Trotsky in 1905. This guy knows who his intellectual antecedents are, he’s got a 50-year plan to take over this institution, that institution, he knows who his international allies are…. He’s got a tremendous coherence to his worldview and it was kind of inspiring. I didn’t agree with it at all, but at least there’s a coherence and a conviction.”

Brooks referred to his College experience, which taught him that hearing others’ ideas was the best way to sharpen his own convictions.

“They taught us how to argue by seeing the other points of view as well as we saw our own,” he said. “If you don’t get in the habit of teaching it, people will dismiss what they don’t want to believe.”

Categories: Science

Spot the cats!

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 6:15am

Reader Tim E. sent a “spot the cats” photo. I rate this one “pretty easy”, so if you’re a beginner start here.

I was in Rome last week taking a tour of the ancient ruins.  There was one I thought you would take a particular interest in, Largo di Torre Argentina.  As the tour guide was telling us it (it is very near where Caesar was assassinated) I noticed a number of cats lazing about in the ruins.  I snapped a quick picture thinking it would make a good “Spot the…” post. There are (at least) 5 in the picture.

The guide said that at one point there were more than 350 cats in the ruins.  In total I noticed about 10 once I started looking for them. Of course, most of them were just napping.

The answer is below the fold, but don’t look till you’ve seen at least five cats. Click the picture to enlarge it.


Here are the cats (circled). If you spot more, you’re better than I!


Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 5:30am

Reader Tim Anderson has some astronomy photos for us:

Here are three astrophotographs assembled using my 10″ Newtonian telescope and a monochrome camera using narrowband filters to pick out wavelengths emitted by specific kinds of material. The first is the Horsehead Nebula (officially known as Barnard 33 – Barnard was a fascinating personality, well worth a Google search). This image is made using only emissions from Hydrogen atoms. The second is the Keyhole Nebula, which lies at the heart of the Carina complex. It is so far south that it is rarely visible to you northern types, and should provide a good reason to visit the infernal regions. This image is comprised of exposures filtered to receive Hydrogen, Oxygen and Sulphur emission. The third is a galaxy field – one big one and five small ones. Perhaps your readers may care to spot them.

Wintery closeups by reader Ken Phelps:

Some frost on a twig bent by the snow.

And a crop:

Flakes of frost fallen off the twig.


Ran across something I’d never noticed before this morning – icicles interfacing with a spider’s web. The depth of field isn’t exactly as deep as I’d like, but I was hand-holding the camera so had to keep the aperture a bit wide. There are larger slightly more detailed versions of some of the images on Flickr.

Tara Tanaka’s been busy, but has provided us with a new video called “The price of protection”. Be sure to watch it on full screen.  Here are her notes (warning: shows nature red in tooth):

I was eating breakfast last July overlooking our backyard swamp, and saw an enormous spray of water out in the cypress trees. I grabbed my binoculars and saw that it was one of our alligators with one of our recently fledged, still naive Wood Storks that had been hunting for food in the shallow water. I grabbed my digiscoping gear and ran out in the yard to video the behavior. The bird was already dead, but it was still hard to watch. I hoped that the parents weren’t watching.

The rookery couldn’t survive without the alligators that patrol the swamp, keeping raccoons from raiding the nests. If you’ve ever been to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm or Gatorland near Orlando, you know that birds understand that nesting over alligators keeps them safe from most predators. Unfortunately the draw for the alligators is that some birds fall – or are pushed by their siblings from their nests when they’re young, and then there are some like this unfortunate stork that fledge, but are not yet savvy enough to keep an eye out for alligators.


Categories: Science

Friday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 4:30am

Good morning on Friday, February 23, 2018: National Chili Day and National Banana Bread Day. It’s also the Christian Feast day of Serenus the Gardener (Do Christians really feast on feast days? If so, I want in!) And, according to reader Chris, it’s National Drink Wine with Your Cat Week (see the link for cat-safe wine). Sadly, I have no kitty to drink with. It is sad.

The good news is that the world’s oldest wild bird, Wisdom, has hatched another chick! She is a 67 year old Laysan Albatross, and her age is undisputed.  Since females of the species raise at most one chick per year, Wisdom is the proud mother of between 30 and 36 chicks. All else pales before this awesome bird!

Wisdom’s chick hatches! The Laysan albatross chick has been named Kūkini. Full story:

— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) February 9, 2016

On this day in history, the Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the building of the Hagia Sophia, which at that time was an Orthodox Christian church, later repurposed as a mosque. The Great Secularist Kemal Atatürk converted it into a museum, but for the last few years, as Turkey grows more religious, Muslims have been holding prayers there.  On February 23, 1886, Charles Martin Hall produced, with the collaboration of his sister Julia Brainerd Hall, the first sample of man-made aluminum.  On this day in 1903, Cuba leased Guantánamo Bay to the U.S.—”in perpetuity”. Big mistake! It’s time to close our prison there, and perhaps the base as well.  On this day in 1927, Werner Heisenberg wrote to Wolfgang Pauli describing, for the first time, his new “uncertainty principle.” Exactly 14 years later, Glenn Seaborg first produced and isolated plutonium.

It was on this day in 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific, that a group of U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi. It is, in America, the most famous photograph of the war, and has been memorialized with a famous statue in Arlington, Virginia, right outside Washington, D.C. The photograph, which was actually of a second flag-raising, was taken by Joe Rosenthal.

Here’s the photo:

Here’s Mount Suribachi:

And a commemorative stamp from back in the 3¢ postage days:

A banner day in medicine: on February 23, 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was first given to a large group of children—in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Salk lived and worked. Finally, on this day in 1974, the Symbionese Liberation Army demanded $4 million dollars for the release of the kidnap victim Patty Hearst. They later demanded $400 million, and some money was paid, but she wasn’t released.

Notables born on this day include Samuel Pepys (1633), W. E. B. Du Bois (1868), William L. Shirer (1904), Peter Fonda (1940), Rebecca Goldstein (1950), and S. E. Cupp (1979). Those who went to the Big Fjords on this day include painter Joshua Reynolds (1792), John Keats (1821), John Quincy Adams (1848), Carl Friedrich Gauss (1855), Nazi “martyr” Horst Wessel (1930; you can discover a lot of unsavory stuff on the Internet by trying to hear the Host Wessel Lied on YouTube), Nellie Melba (1931), and Stan Laurel (1965).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has gone out, and you know what that means. But isn’t the vicious predator cute?

A: What are you looking at? Hili: Dinner. In Polish: Ja: Na co patrzysz?
Hili: Na obiad.

Leon has taken his staff hiking, and Elzbieta has four pictures:

Leon: Let’s go. I planned an interesting hike.


Leon takes a break:

For your reading pleasure this Friday, I recommend having a look at Heather Hastie’s post “Are guns in schools a good idea?” (it comes with bonus tweets not seen here). I bet you can guess her answer.

From Matthew, a tweet about a real cat lover:

It's #LoveYourPetDay? I'll take any excuse to post James Mason with his cherished cat friends.

— The Nitrate Diva (@NitrateDiva) February 20, 2018

Don Marquis’s archie & mehitabel poems and stories are fantastic. Matthew and I love them, but I doubt that more than 1% of the readers even know of these wonderful tales and drawings. A tweet by writer Tom Holland, who also admires them:

Even though she's been reincarnated as a New York alley cat, Mehitabel is – IMO – the second greatest fictional portrayal of Cleopatra after Shakespeare's… #ToujoursGai

— Tom Holland (@holland_tom) February 21, 2018

Archie was a cockroach, Mehitabel an alley cat. Archie typed the poems and stories, but had to use all small letters as he was too light to press down the shift key. Do yourself a big favor and read some of this work, wonderfully illustrated by Don Herriman (creator of Krazy Kat):

Another tw**t from Matthew:

Out of all the Couch Gags The Simpsons has done over the years, this one is by far the best.

(Was Animated by the legendary Eric Goldberg in case you guys were curious.)

— JustSomeRandomSquid who’s Switchless (@J_S_R_S_) February 21, 2018

From Grania; a woman finding solace in bats (watch the video):

This woman had such bad panic attacks that she was hospitalized, but she started feeling better when she met a very special bat — who helped her so much, she has a house full of rescue bats now!

Categories: Science

Corvid altruism?

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:30pm

Reader Amy called my attention to this new video, which seems to show a crow not only sharing his bread with a mouse, but actually bringing it to the mouse. Could it be he’s trying to trap the mouse to eat it? I don’t think so. Could it be altruism? Hard to believe!

Judge for yourself:

Categories: Science

Am I the bad cop?

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:15pm

Apparently so! Matthew sent me this strip from Existential Comics with the note, “You are Bad Cop.”  (Click to enlarge; it’s gonna overlap with website text on the right.) I am sad. . . .

Categories: Science

The Perpetually Offended, east and west: Dresses, saris, diapers and square-root signs

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 11:15am

When I woke up this morning there was one notice of how the Perpetually Offended were acting, and then it multiplied through today, so now I have four instances and no time to write about them. I’ll just give brief notices about these four episodes, which combine to show that people are looking for any reason to call other people out. It’s sad that forgiveness can’t obtain in innocuous cases like these.

First up, actress Jennifer Lawrence, who wore a revealing dress at a photoshoot in the cold.  Apparently she was publicizing her new movie, “The Red Sparrow” Here it is:

It’s a lovely dress on a lovely woman. So what’s the beef? The beef is that it was cold and she had her picture taken with men who wore coats against the cold. That has to be sexist, either on her part (objectifying herself), theirs (refusal to give her a coat), or the moviemakers (forcing her to show skin in the cold):

Jennifer Lawrence poses with her bundled-up colleagues, from left: director Francis Lawrence and actors Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons. (John Phillips/Getty Images)

More reporting:

An article in Jezebel had the headline, Please Give Jennifer Lawrence a Dang Coat, showing the actor’s co-stars, Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons among them, wearing large coats and scarves.

Similarly, Metro wrote that the men in the image are “nicely wrapped up bracing themselves against the chill of a bracing London winter, while Jennifer Lawrence is wearing a plunging thigh-split gown”. One tweet that called it “quietly depressing and revealing” received over 12,000 likes.

Other likes were accrued by intersectional tweets, like these from Helen Lewis, deputy editor of The New Statesman:

True equality means either Jennifer Lawrence getting a coat, or Jeremy Irons having to pose for a photocall in assless chaps.

— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis) February 20, 2018

Essentially, kneejerking to “maybe it’s her choice!” is a good way of ducking a whole discussion of how society shapes and limits our choices. Refugees *choose* to get on rickety boats across the Mediterranean. That doesn’t make it empowering.

— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis) February 21, 2018

And Lawrence’s response:  GET A GRIP, PEOPLE!

Jennifer Lawrence latest post from her Facebook page

— Jennifer Lawrence (@JLdaily) February 21, 2018


On to Canada’s beloved Prime Minister. Well, maybe Justin Trudeau overdid the Indian clothes on a trip to India, during which he and his family not only wore Bollywood style clothes, but made the “namaste hands”

Pictures from the BBC, which also dominates the reaction of people (I haven’t yet seen any claims of “cultural appropriation,” though of course they could easily be made here). Most of the reaction seems to be that these clothes are over the top, and they are. I dress in Indian clothes when I visit the country, but wouldn’t wear stuff like heavy gold-embroidered coats, which are more suited for either a Bollywood movie or an Indian wedding. But leave the poor family alone!

Still, Trudeau is wangling a Canadian-Indian trade deal, and may also be trying to get Indian movies filmed in Canada. He’s just trying a wee bit too hard; so we get stuff like this:

Is it just me or is this choreographed cuteness all just a bit much now? Also FYI we Indians don’t dress like this every day sir, not even in Bollywood.

— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) February 21, 2018

That’s funny, but some of the commentary was more offended than funny. You can find it with a bit of Googling. Let’s move on.


This isn’t quite as funny. As several venues report (e.g., here, here, here, and here, and yes, one of them is The Daily Fail, but other sources substantiate it), a smiley-faced cat adorning a package of diapers from Pampers (“nappies” to Brits) has enraged Muslims in India because the cat’s nose and whiskers look like they’re spelling out “Allah” in Arabic:

Vector of arabic calligraphy name of Prophet – Salawat supplication phrase translated as God bless Muhammad; Shutterstock Purchase Order: –

You have to be a Pecksniff looking for offense to even see a resemblance!

As reports:

The lines of the whiskers, nose, mouth and left eye of the smiley cat, which appears on each nappy and on the brand’s packaging, allegedly bear close resemblance to the Islamic prophet’s name when written in Arabic or Urdu.

Members of the Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat group lodged a formal complaint with police in the Indian city of Hyderabad on Tuesday over the alleged “insult” to Islam, as video footage emerged of activists burning packets of Pampers Baby Dry Pants in the streets.

In a formal letter to police, the group claimed that “name of Prophet (PBUH) can be seen printed” on the packet in Arabic “even with the bare eye”, adding that it had “hurt the feelings of the entire Muslim community”.

“Therefore we request your goodself to kindly immediately intervene into the matter forthwith and stop the sale and distribution of Baby Dry Pants of Pampers Company and take action against its manufactures [sic], arrest them and punish them,” the letter said.

One of the complainants, Shahnoor Khan, told Indian newspaper the Deccan Chronicle the group believed the company had “deliberately printed” the word on each nappy to “hurt the Muslim community” and spark community unrest.

Muslims in Hyderabad burned the diapers. Don’t they know that Muhammad loved cats, had a favorite moggie (Muezza); and that cats are especially revered in Islam?

Proctor and Gamble responded:

“We are aware of the issue that some people are seeing the name of the Prophet on Pampers diapers, leading to unsettlement for some members of the Islamic community.

“We would like to clarify that this claim is not true. Our intent was never to hurt any individual or group’s religious sentiments or beliefs and sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.

“We would like to clarify that the diaper shows an innocent animated representation of a cat. It shows a cat’s mouth and whiskers like it is commonly portrayed in drawings and cartoons across the world, especially by little children.”


Finally, I’ll drop this here and move on. It’s from in Louisiana (click screenshot to go there):

The world is going mad, I tell you!

h/t: Brian, John (whose comment was, “Is anybody left who isn’t nuts?”

Categories: Science

UoC President Bob Zimmer talks about free speech on campus

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 9:00am

The Wall Street Journal has a week-old interview with University of Chicago President Bob Zimmer (a mathematician); the topic is free speech and Steve Bannon. The piece below (click on the link) is paywalled but judicious inquiry might yield a copy—if you really want it.As I’ve noted before, Luigi Zingales, a professor at the Business School, invited Bannon here for a debate, and Bannon accepted. (Note: the WSJ says that Bannon is scheduled to speak “early next month,” but I don’t think that’s true, as I haven’t heard anything about that.) Students objected (not all of them), to their eternal shame, 100 faculty signed a petition asking for Bannon’s invitation to be rescinded, and (to more shame) a large number of alumni did likewise (see my coverage here).

Calls to de-platform Bannon run contrary to the University’s speech code—probably the most liberal in the U.S. Any professor or group who invites someone to speak, and that person accepts, has a right to have the person speak on campus, and a right that the speaker be neither de-platformed by others nor disrupted.  Last year the faculty voted to impose sanctions on those students who try to disrupt speakers or keep them from talking.

Zimmer is a model of calm rationality, and I’ll just give a few statements he made in the interview with Tunku Varadarajan. At many universities, someone like Zingales would be called into the President’s or Provost’s office for a “chat.” Not here!

Mr. Bannon was invited to the university by Luigi Zingales, a finance professor. Would Mr. Zimmer ever contemplate having a quiet word with the prof and asking him to withdraw his invitation to Mr. Bannon? “I wouldn’t even think of it,” Mr. Zimmer answers, in a mildly but unmistakably indignant tone. And no, he won’t be attending the Bannon event. “We have many, many talks,” he says. “I’m really pretty busy.”

Mr. Zingales’s attitude is consistent with the norm Mr. Zimmer seeks to uphold. When I asked the professor by email why he extended the invitation, he replied that Mr. Bannon “was able to interpret a broad dissatisfaction in the electorate that most academics had missed. Remember the shock on November 9, 2016? Regardless of what you think about his political positions, there is something faculty and students can learn from a discussion with him.” Mr. Zingales, too, welcomed peaceable protests as a healthy exercise of free speech. “I admire the way our students have conducted their protests,” he wrote. “It speaks very well to the values that our university shares.”

Our antecedents:

In recent years, as colleges across America have censored unfashionable views, Chicago has also come to be known for setting the gold standard for free expression on campus. Mr. Zimmer, who became president in 2006, deserves much credit. He has been outspoken in defense of free speech and in 2014 even set up a committee—under the constitutional law scholar Geoffrey Stone —that produced the Chicago Principles, the clearest statement by any American university in defense of uninhibited debate.

Mr. Zimmer, a mathematician, says Chicago’s intellectual and moral strengths are “totally tied together.” He’s also quick to point out that its commitment to free debate precedes him, naming virtually every one of his predecessors as a guardian of openness. Mr. Zimmer created the Stone committee, he says, after watching free-speech struggles at other schools: “People were starting to be disinvited from campuses—speakers of some stature, in fact. You started to see this pattern.”

I don’t know much about our President (I met him once), but suspect that he’s a liberal (the odds favor this even if you know nothing about him); he makes a strong statement about not impeding immigration because it attracts talented people who improve the U.S. The WSJ being a conservative paper, the interviewer tries to get Zimmer to talk about identity politics. That’s a bit of a hot-button issue for a college president (but not for an emeritus professor!), so he handily deflects the question:

One could argue, perhaps paradoxically, that today’s campus activists are much more atomized as well. Identity groups push for their own particular agendas, often in absolutist terms: It matters to me more than anything else in the world that you call me “they,” not “she.” That’s not exactly a broad-based concern.

When I put this argument to Mr. Zimmer, he gently deflects: “Again, I’d go to the point that the main issue is—whether everybody is focused on one thing, or whether there are multiple groups focused on multiple things—that you get the same . . . kind of fervor, which says certain ideas should not be discussed and thought about. And that’s what the problem is.”

Well, to me this is politically astute, but a distinction without a difference. For it’s the very hierarchy of oppression associated with identity politics that makes those higher up on the ladder able to declare that some ideas (i.e., the ones they don’t like) shouldn’t be discussed or pondered.  But censorship is the crux of the problem of identity politics, so Zimmer got it right.

At the end of the piece, the President discusses a new initiative he has: having conversations with high-school teachers about how to prepare college-bound students for an atmosphere of free speech.

. . . it would be very healthy, [Zimmer] thinks, for high-school teachers “to actually be thinking about this in a kind of systematic way.” He’s observed that “a lot of students are not prepared for this environment.” Some of that is inevitable, Mr. Zimmer believes, because “free expression doesn’t come naturally for most people. It’s not an instinctive response.” Young people need “to be taught it”—and it’s better if universities don’t have to start from scratch.

Categories: Science

Once again the Left dines on its own: the demonization of Gal Gadot

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 7:15am

When Gal Gadot starred in the enormously successful movie “Wonder Woman,” Leftists at first saw it as a moment of women’s empowerment. Here we had a strong and independent superhero who was a woman—much like “Black Panther” is praised for empowering black children. But it didn’t take long for the approbation to wane. After all, Gadot is Israeli and, like nearly all Israelis, she had to serve in the IDF, the Israeli military. That’s a national requirement. Gadot didn’t kill anybody; she was a combat instructor.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before her nationality and service in the IDF eroded her status as feminist hero, for in the pantheon of intersectionalist Leftism, Israel lies at the bottom of the heap—just above old cis white males. Her luster (and that of “Wonder Woman”) among Leftists began to fade (see here and here).

Now, it seems, Gadot, since she’s way low on the Oppression Hierarchy, isn’t allowed to decry last week’s school shootings in Florida.  One would think that her tweet below would have garnered approbation, and it did according to the hearts and retweets. But not everyone was happy.

— Gal Gadot (@GalGadot) February 15, 2018

Yes, the termites gnawed their way in, and, according to Everyday Antisemitism, the new social editor of Allure magazine, Rawan Eewshah, issued the following hateful response. “Child murderer”—seriously?

(I think this tweet has now been deleted. Good call!)


Eewshah wasn’t alone:

I wonder if you ever heard about what happens to Palestinian children, wait a second .. you were in the Israeli army

— اشر (@cocofishpen) February 16, 2018

Gal Gadot tweeting about protecting children is the ultimate act of hypocrisy and the biggest joke of 2018

— Ayatollah Rukaia (RA) (@Luzde_laluna) February 16, 2018

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the same person who relishes watching Israeli army massacre Palestinian children.

— J'accuse (@moi_artiste) February 17, 2018

There are many more such reactions, but I needn’t go on. This reprises the old “blood libel” fiction of anti-Semites, and in my view reflects anti-Semitism. Does anybody think that Gadot endorses the targeting of children? Apparently some of the people above do, and they’re simply lying for the cause.

Let’s get this straight. Gal Gadot didn’t kill anybody when she was in the IDF. She did not kill any children. I highly doubt that she “relishes” watching children killed.  The Israeli Army has killed Palestinian children in military operations, but it does not do so deliberately, despite the claims of the ignorant. It would be a public-relations disaster in the eyes of the world if Israeli solders were under orders to kill children; in fact, the opposite is true. Children do get imprisoned in Israel for terrorist acts or attempted murder or injury. Gadot had no part in this; her crime was solely to be Jewish, to be Israeli, and to be in the IDF. To Intersectionalists, that makes it hypocritical for her to react in horror when a shooter kills 17 people in a Florida school.

Well, let’s look at the shoe on the other foot. Hamas and Hezbollah, and other Palestinian terrorists, deliberately target and kill Israeli children.  Want examples? Here are some:

  • The Itamar Attack in 2011(even in Wikipedia!): An Israeli civilian, his wife, and three of their children (aged 11, 4, and 3 months), were slaughtered by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The baby was decapitated and the children stabbed. The IDF tracked down the murders, who were tried. Many Palestinians celebrated the murders, even handing out candy and sweets in the street.
  • The murder of Hallel Jaffa Ariel, a 13 year old girl, in 2013. Mohammad Nasser Tra’ayra, the Palestinian killer who wished to be a martyr, stabbed Hallel to death in her bed. (You can see photos of the girl and the gruesome murder scene here.) Tra’ayra was killed when attempting to evade capture. He, too was celebrated for his deed; as Wikipedia reports:

The attacker’s mother praised her son as a martyr defending Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque and hoped others would follow in his path. A banner with pictures of Tra’ayra and the late Yasser Arafat was hung outside a building in the West Bank village of Tra’ayra’s family, and the family is eligible for $350 a month from a Palestinian fund for martyrs.

  • Here’s a long list of Israeli children killed by Palestinian terrorists; some were deliberately targeted, others were killed in suicide attacks, which of course are aimed at civilians. I suspect that if people take issue with this, Malgorzata can provide more examples in the comments.

The killing is bad enough, but when the murder of children is celebrated by Palestinians, as they so often do, that makes it doubly disgusting. Do Israelis shoot off fireworks and hand out sweets in the street when a Palestinian child is killed? Think again.

Now here is a Palestinian father taunting and daring Israeli soldiers to shoot his 3-year-old son. He even goads the kid to throw rocks at the soldiers. Note how the soldiers behave. I can’t help but think that the father, his comrades, and the person making the video actually wanted that child shot—so they could use it for propaganda. What kind of father would do this?

Who are the hypocrites? It is the intersectional Leftists who support Palestine (and their child-killing practices) and yet decry the shootings by Nikolas Cruz. What Cruz does resembles what Hamas, Hezbollah, and the terrorists named above do: they all deliberately target children. ‘

It is those who support Palestine, not those (like Gadot) who support Israel, who tacitly endorse the targeting of innocent children. If somebody lacks the moral standing to criticize what Cruz did in Florida, it is those who defend the actions of Palestinians. When was the last time you heard them complain about the murder of civilians, much less children?

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 6:00am

From Switzerland, one of the world’s happiest countries (and champion in 2015), reader Jacques Hausser sends orthopterans. This is the second installment in a three-part series (the first is here), and it’s CRICKETS! Jacques’ notes are indented:

Like bushcrickets, aka katydids (infraorder Tettigoniidea), the crickets proper (Gryllidea) belong to the suborder Ensifera. Like bushcrickets, they have long threadlike antennae, and stridulate by rubbing one of their forewing (elytrae) on the other. But contrary to bushcrickets, they rub the right wing over the left one. And their feet consist of three tarsal segments only, instead of four.

May I introduce you to the real Charles Dickens’  “cricket on the hearth” ? The house cricket, Acheta domesticus, is mostly a commensal species across most of Europa, living in houses – traditionally in well warmed kitchen or in bakeries under the baking oven. However, in mediterranean regions and other warm places (in Switzerland, typically at the vineyard level), it can maintain wild or feral populations. Here is a male. Note the rolled hindwings protruding at the rear between the two cerci. The species is well known to herpetologists, being bred to feed various reptiles and amphibians – and recently it became a fashion food for humans too. I haven’t tried it.

A female of the same species. The ovipositor of crickets looks like a spear rather than like the sword of bushcrickets. Both pictures were shot in a white bowl, what allows to get the insect almost without background.

Like bushcrickets – and contrary to the grasshoppers (Caelifera)—crickets hear with their forelegs – thus the old joke is not entirely wrong. You can see the eardrum just under the knee.

Gryllus campestris, male, the field cricket. A flightless species with a big black rounded head. The male digs a burrow and in the warm summer afternoons and evenings, sits in front of it and sings to attract females. Like most species, they are very aggressive toward other males. In China, another species, Velarifictorus aspersus, is used in very popular cricket fights. Usually the animals are not wounded: the fight stops as soon as the loser retreats and the winner sings his victory song. Champions can reach several thousands of dollars, which is astonishing for pets living only up to three months. But of course champions are naturalized with due reverence after their short career.

A sad end… I don’t know the reason for the death. The animal looked intact, and the wasp (Vespula vulgaris) was certainly not the killer, only a scavenger.

The life span of field crickets run on two years – another difference with the bushcrickets in which only eggs survive the winter period. In autumn, old larvae or late born adults look for warm places to overwinter, and frequently try to go inside houses. Here’s a female larva of G. campestris; you can see the not-yet-grown ovipositor.

The smaller wood cricket, Nemobius sylvestris, shows the same behavior: I found this adult female in my workshop. A good opportunity to take a picture of an usually very active, very fast and very camera-shy species. The thin yellow mark on the head is diagnostic.

Categories: Science

Thursday: Hili dialogue

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 5:00am

Good morning: it’s Thursday, February 22, 2018, National Sticky Buns Day. That means you have to sit in molasses! It’s also the Christian Feast Day of Eric Liddell, whom you might remember from the movie “Chariots of Fire.” Liddell, who became a missionary after college, died on this day in 1945 in a Japanese prison camp in China, malnourished and afflicted with a brain tumor. By all accounts, he was a metaphorical saint, even if he was religious. Remember that he wouldn’t run the 100 m race in the 1924 Olympics because it was on the Lord’s Day (Sunday)? But he won gold in the 400 m race on another day. Here’s that win:

On February 21, 1632, Galileo’s heliocentric book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was published. He got in trouble with the Church for that, but of course it had absolutely nothing to do with religion—just ask Ronald Numbers. On this day in 1856, the Republican Party had its first national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. How it’s changed since then! On February 21, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill that admitted four states to the Union: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington.  In 1924, “Silent” Cal Coolidge became the first U.S. President to broadcast a radio address from the White House.  On this day in 1980, in the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the underdog U.S. ice hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 4-3, a feat called the “Miracle on Ice.” I remember watching it live. The rivalry was keen; as they say: “Sports is war without weapons.”

Here are the game’s highlights:

On this day in 1997, British scientists announced the cloning of the sheep Dolly. Finally, exactly seven years ago today, New Zealand’s second deadliest earthquake struck Christchurch, killing 185 people.

Notables born on this day include George Washington (1732), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788), Robert Baden-Powell and Heinrich Hertz (both 1857), Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892), Edward Gorey (1925), Ted Kennedy (1932), Steve Irwin (1962, killed by a stingray in 2006), and Drew Barrymore (1975). Those who died on February 22 include Stefan Zweig (1942), the “White Rose” trio of Christoph Probst, Hans Scholl, and Sophie Scholl (1943, beheaded by the Nazis), Felix Frankfurter (1965), Andy Warhol (1987) and Chuck Jones (2002).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Cyrus are inadvertently making trouble. Malgorzata explains:

Well, it was an “animal blockade”: one (Cyrus) is barring Andrzej’s access to the desk chair, and the other (Hili) is occupying the chair. Cyrus can be bribed (by a pat) so he will go away, but Hili just couldn’t believe her ears – she has no intention to vacate the chair. I hope you can see one Andrzej’s leg in the picture – he is trying to gain access to his computer.

A: May I sit down at my computer? Cyrus: Pat me and then I’ll go on the sofa. Hili: What did you say? In Polish: Ja: Czy mogę usiąść przy moim komputerze?
Cyrus: Pogłaszcz mnie, a potem pójdę na sofę.
Hili: Co mówiłeś? Yesterday was Gusiversary: four years to the day when the young cat (estimated at 10 months old) was brought home from the vet after his frostbitten ears had been trimmed. His staff and he celebrated the day with porkchops and wine (as did I). Here’s Gus at the celebration, eyes fixed on the chop.

And a video of him playing with his food before eating it (apparently he always does this):

A tweet from Grania, showing once again that medieval artists couldn’t draw cats:

And now a musical interlude
[Beinecke, MS 662, 15th c.]

— Damien Kempf (@DamienKempf) February 20, 2018

A lovely cat aphorism:

“God made the cat to give man the pleasure of stroking a tiger.” Joseph Méry #catnews #catstories #cat

— philosophic cat (@cat_philosophic) February 20, 2018

Periscope up!

Snow Cat Submarine

— Land of cuteness (@landpsychology) February 20, 2018

This cat likes water instead of snow:

omg u ever see a cat at the beach

— no (@tbhjuststop) February 20, 2018

I’m always puzzled about how cats can find balls under cups:

This cat's got skills

— Words Posts (@Words_Posts) February 20, 2018

Okay, I hope you understand the next two tweets:

Rare Roman boxing gloves found near Hadrian's Wall

— The Guardian (@guardian) February 20, 2018

Hadrian! HADRIAN!

— Emo Philips (@EmoPhilips) February 20, 2018

From Matthew, a greedy moggie:

There was one last piece of sausage on my plate aND MY CAT SNATCHED IT OUT OF MY HAND U SAUSAG THIEF

— pepper@CFX C16-17ab (@pepperfetiish) February 20, 2018

A spiritual moggie:

When you have flashbacks to your past life as an Egyptian God.

— Nathan Kraemer (@kraen0044) February 21, 2018

Also from Matthew, showing that raccoons’ status as Honorary Cats goes only so far (watch the video):

Some species are incredibly adept at making human habitats their own, such as bobcat, raccoon, & coyote. These animals that not only survive but thrive in suburbs and cities will be honored in the URBAN JUNGLE Division! #2018MMM

— Prof. Katie Hinde (@Mammals_Suck) February 20, 2018

Finally, Matthew has crabs:

What happens when hundreds of thousands of crabs gather together on the sea floor? It's a shell shedding soirée! #BluePlanet2

— BBC America (@BBCAMERICA) February 20, 2018


Categories: Science

Are you kidding?

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 3:42pm

The “President” tweeted this today:

The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018

All religions? Who is he kidding? Graham was an anti-Semite, and why would the Jews miss him? Given that he thought all non-Christians—and those Christians who didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior—would go to hell, why would any non-Christian miss him?  Trump could have been laudatory without that ridiculous statement.

Categories: Science

Gorgeous sea slugs from southeast Asia

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 12:45pm

Reader Brian called my attention to a beautiful collection of sea slugs (nudibranchs, or shell-less marine gastropods) at EarthTouch News Network. It’s likely, but not certain, that the striking appearance of many species, as you see here,  are aposematic: they advertise the fact that they’re toxic, distasteful, or dangerous (stinging cells) with their easily-recognized patterns and colors.

These marine jewels all come from one small area. As the site notes:

Take a dive in the waters surrounding Pulau Hantu, a small island off the west coast of Singapore, and you may reemerge feeling unimpressed. Visibility around the island rarely tops three to four metres, and plentiful algae tints the water a vivid green. For macro photographers like Katherine Lu, however, Hantu is a hidden gem. The island harbours a little-known reef that’s teeming with tiny marine life – and among its most remarkable inhabitants are the local sea slugs.

All photos are by Lu; captions are from the website:

A nudibranch in the genus Stilliger. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel


Bornella anguilla. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel


Sakuraeolis kirembosa. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel

This little creature can photosynthesize in its body:

“Shaun the sheep” Costasiella sp. Measuring just two to three millimetres, this tiny sea slug has the ability to absorb chloroplasts from the algae it feeds on. This allows photosynthesis to occur in the animal’s body. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel

For more of Lu’s fantastic photography, go here.



Categories: Science

Jeff Tayler interviews Lubna Ahmed (and writes a memoriam for his dad)

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:00am

Over at Quillette, Jeff Tayler has a nice interview with a Muslim apostate who’s new to most of us: Lubna Ahmed. She’s an engineer from Baghdad, and, after going on the Rubin Report via Skype 3 years ago, and proclaiming her atheism and dislike of Islam, she became a pariah in Iraq. She was attacked and got death threats. Ahmed had little choice but to move, and came to the U.S. with the help of the Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Center for Inquiry. Now fairly safe, she speaks freely about Islam.

It’s a far-reaching conversation, and will of course not only be deemed “Islamophobic”, even though it’s about the religion and not the people, but will also make Ahmed an endangered person. For nearly all ex-Muslims in America, or at least those who are vocal about the problems with the faith, are endangered. Some, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, need bodyguards. Remember when you hear that “all religions are the same” or “Islam is no more dangerous than any other faith,” that apostate Christians, Jews, or Hindus don’t risk murder when they declare their atheism and begin criticizing their former religion. Only Islam motivates people to become fatwa-following killers.

Ahmed’s quiet demeanor contrasts starkly with her strong words. (She’s only 26!) I’ll let you have the pleasure—if that’s the right word—of reading Jeff’s interview for yourself. Here’s just one excerpt (with both Ahmed and Tayler’s words) to give you a taste, but the whole thing is sufficiently short that even those who are attention-deprived can read it. Ahmed covers the story of her growing unbelief, the misogyny of Iraq, the hijab, Western reaction to Islam, and so on.

During our talk Ahmed repeatedly returned to the misogyny of Islam, and made it clear that this is what most angered her about the faith.

“In my country I saw a lot of women, a lot of children, treated in a very bad way because of that religion. Look at what happened in Mosul and what ISIS did there. ISIS reflects the true identity of Islam. Islam treats women as trash, as, I’m sorry, not even animals. Women are just objects in Islamic countries, in Islam.”

One who hopes to argue with Ahmed here will find that the faith denies women rights to a degree no enlightened observer could justify. It values their testimony in court as half that of a man; sanctions the barbarous savagery of female genital mutilation; deprives women of half their inheritance in favor of male heirs; demands that they submit to their husbands (even abusive husbands, whom they may be compelled to share with as many as three other wives); and, as mentioned above, allows men to seize them as sex slaves in jihad. Backed up by the Hadith, the Quran devotes no small number of surahs to condoning slavery, including sex-slavery.

In view of all that, it should come as no surprise that the World Economic Forum has consistently found that nineteen of the twenty worst countries for women on earth are Muslim-majority. Regarding personal freedoms in general, Muslim countries have, year after year, ranked overwhelmingly as “not free.”

And then comes the matter of veiling. By chance we happened to speak on “World Hijab Day” – a vile slap in the face of the brave women of Iran protesting against the Islamic regime for the freedom not to wear it, yet, out of mistaken notions of solidarity, celebrated in the West by at least some morally oblivious, regressive leftist simpletons. It was not hard to imagine what Ahmed thought of the Islamic headscarf, yet I asked.

“Islam wants all women to wear the hijab – it’s a sign that women are slaves, not human beings. Whether you’re eight years old or an adult woman, you don’t have the right to choose for yourself. Islam has to control you [if you’re a female]. Menshould control your whole life as a woman. . . . Islam was created by men to control women, to be slaves, to use and abuse them, sexually, physically, mentally, and treat them like trash, as if they were nothing.”

Heres’s Ahmed with Dave Rubin last year, now able to have a live conversation:

I’d also like to call your attention to Jeff’s essay on his father’s death, published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, called “The chiming bells of mortality.” Traveling to a Greek island, he limns his father’s death (and reflects on his own mortality) with ancient Greek poetry. I found it very moving.


Categories: Science

Macy’s sells hijabs; Linda Sarsour and Masih Alinejad debate the garment

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 9:05am

In the article below, CNN reports on Macy’s (a department store’s) decision to sell fashionable hijabs. I don’t care whether they do or not, though it’s a bit incongruous (and oxymoronic) to talk of “modest, fashionable clothing.” As a veiled Muslim women, you’re not supposed to call attention to yourself, and a spiffy hijab (or makeup) will do just that, defeating the religious purpose of the veil—the “modesty” part. But Macy’s has a chance to cash in on Muslim women’s desire to look good, so why not?

Click on the screenshot to go to the piece.

What’s more interesting in this article is the debate it gives: a back-and-forth between Linda Sarsour, co-head of the Women’s March, professional victim, and rapaciously ambitious grifter, and Masih Alinejad, Iranian activist and founder of the admirable #MyStealthyFreedom campaign, which displays Iranian women illegally removing their hijabs.

I can’t quite make out what’s going on in the discussion, for it sounds as if Sarsour and Alinejad are talking past each other. Sarsour constantly wants to emphasize that her hijab is her personal choice, and she’s been the victim of “Islamophobia” for wearing it. In contrast, Alinejad calls attention back to the plight of women in Iran (and other countries) where veiling is not a choice.

Of course I’m biased in favor of Alinjad, and so my take may be colored by that, but it seems to me that Sarsour is, as she so often does, wallowing in her personal victimhood. In reality, Sarsour, while she may be vilified, is vilified more for her views on Islam, and her polarizing ideology—including favoring sharia law—than for being a Muslim.

That, at least, is what I get out of these exchanges, in which Sarsour reluctantly seems to decry oppression in the Middle East:

MA: I don’t see any Muslim communities in the West being loud and condemning compulsory hijab, especially you, when people of Iran are putting themselves in danger and risking their lives. I was loud enough to condemn both the burkini ban and travel ban, but I never saw the feminists in the West condemning compulsory hijab when they go to my country… They go to Iran and they obey it … All I see is double standards and hypocrisy.

LS: I will say on a personal level that I’ve been very vocal in support of Iranian women. For me, hijab is only a form of oppression when a government forces it on people, when a father forces it on his daughter or when a husband forces it on his wife. For me, as a woman who chooses to wear hijab, it is not a form of oppression and I will not be pushed into a position by anyone to say that hijab is a form of oppression.

Note Sarsour’s transition from saying that the hijab is often a form of oppression to asserting that she “will not say the hijab is a form of oppression.” That’s a movement from the personal to the general.

There’s this, too:

CNN: What are your thoughts on the current protests against compulsory hijab in Iran?

MA: Twenty-nine women who practiced civil disobedience, who peacefully took off their hijab, they are in prison. It’s a global issue and we should all condemn it. We shouldn’t let any feminists in the West downplay our cause and say this is a small issue, it’s not.

LS: Sister, I think I think the issue here is not whether or not we think it’s important … the issue is the narrative. In the United States, we as Muslim woman are attacked saying that we are upholding a system of oppression by wearing hijab. So we have a narrative we have to fight by saying we stand with women who choose not to wear hijab, and I will unequivocally say here that I stand with the brave courageous woman in Iran who are standing against compulsory hijab, but they also need us to create a narrative that says you also stand with my right as a Muslim woman in America who is having to endure Islamophobia.

Note that to Sarsour “the issue is the narrative,” not what counts as real and important oppression. Sarsour would rather maintain a “narrative” that gives lip service to the women in the countries of the Middle East (including the country of her parents’ origin, Palestine) but to always keep the narrative on Islamophobia, which of course Sarsour claims to be a victim of. That is what gives her credibility among feminists, even though Islam itself is one of the most anti-feminist ideologies I can think of.

There’s more, but I’ll add just one more exchange:

CNN: Why do you think hijab has become so politicized?

MA: I’m coming from a country where for four decades the Islamic Republic of Iran wrote its ideology message on our bodies. We won’t be able to get an education from the age of seven if we don’t wear it. We won’t be able to live in our own country.

LS: Hijab is solely a spiritual practice, but unfortunately there have been people who have taken it, including governments, to control women’s bodies. I hope we end this conversation by saying that you and I are actually a lot closer in what we believe that we think we are.

“Solely a spiritual practice”? I think Sarsour has it backwards. She wants it to be a spiritual practice, as that divorces the garment from its misogynistic origin, developed in post-Qur’anic Islamic theology. Every school of Islam, so far as I know, endorses the wearing of the hijab as a garment of modesty, so its wearing didn’t spread as a “spiritual practice.”

If wearing hijab was a “spiritual” practice by Muslims, then in the 1960s and 1970s, Muslim women in Iran, and Afghanistan would have been largely covered. But they weren’t, and protested when the theocracies made the hijab compulsory.  It has always been a “garment of modesty”, with some women choosing to abjure that modesty for choice and modernity. (Yes, I’ll admit that some Muslim women wear it not out of modesty considerations, but as a sign of their faith. But those motivations are deeply entwined.)

It is by wearing the hijab that Sarsour can claim victimhood. Yes, there have been cases in which bigots have ripped off hijabs or mocked their wearers to their faces. I find those actions shameful. Although that hasn’t happened to Sarsour, she claims the victimhood narrative of others, which she hopes to use as a crane to hoist her to Congress; and she’ll cry “Islamophobia” at every opportunity. Wearing the hijab is the best overt signal of your victimhood. In Iran it’s an unwanted one, but for Sarsour it’s a signal she embraces.


Categories: Science

Gun legislation turned down by Florida legislature; Dinesh D’Souza mocks students lobbying to get it passed

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 7:20am

Over the past two days, the evening news has featured distraught, angry, and determined Florida students marching on the state legislature, stunned about the 17 students shot by Nikolas Cruz, but bent on ensuring that it won’t happen again. Many of the lobbyists were classmates of the slain students.  I thought to myself, “If anybody can change this country’s attitudes towards guns, it’ll be the young people who were the targets of those guns.” I hoped mightily that Florida, and then the country, would at last begin to respond. Dare I hope that this might be the turning point in the struggle against America’s senseless proliferation of weapons—especially assault weapons?

No chance. As I predicted, we’ll have a brief flurry of anger and calls for new gun laws, and then it’ll be business as usual. Far too many Americans see student lives as collateral damage to the necessary production and ownership of guns. That’s just sick.

Of course Florida turned a deaf ear to those students. As ABC 10 reports, just one day after the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School went to Tallahassee, Florida to lobby for gun control at the state capitol, the House voted down a motion to ban assault weapons like the AR-15 used by Cruz. The vote wasn’t even close: 36-71.  And it’s ASSAULT WEAPONS!  There is no reason to allow these even if you think that the Second Amendment should permit personal possession of weapons for self defense.

The students were devastated, as they should be, watching a bunch of Republicans vote down sensible restrictions on the very gun that had shattered the bodies of their friends. They watched and wept:

And Dinesh D’Souza, odious human being that he is (he’s supposed to be a pious Christian), brutally and cruelly mocked these students on Twitter:

How lame a human being must you be to say things like this? Reader Pliny the in Between adds a comment:


h/t: Grania, Hempenstein

Categories: Science

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ gender identity

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:30am

Today’s Jesus and Mo, called “self,” is a wry comment on Islamic misogyny using tropes from transexualism. Now Mo can claim double victim status!

Categories: Science