Readers’ wildlife photos

First we have an Honorary Cat™ (also known as a fox) sent by reader Graham with the note:

As I’m typing this the fox is sitting in the garden, making itself at home and ignoring me. Photos taken with a Pentax K-500 with a Sigma 300 telephoto lens. Hope they’re good enough for your website :-).



And a wonderful series of photos of a rail attacking a crab on the Indian Ocean island of Aldabra (a coral atoll), sent by reader  and biologist Dennis Hansen. Note the flightless rail, of which there are several species. All, I recall, inhabit oceanic islands, underscoring the biogeographical observation that virtually all small flightless birds are found on islands.  Evolutionists have several explanations for this, but I don’t think we know the answer for sure. Can you think of some?

This bird appears to be classified as a subspecies of the white-throated rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri), and I’m surprised that, given its flightlessness, it hasn’t been classified as its own species. It appears to be the last flightless bird in the Indian Ocean.

We’ve had three previous submissions by Dennis, and you should go back and look at these if you haven’t. One is of the giant tortoises of Aldabra, and the other two on the fearsome coconut crab (here and here).

Dennis’s notes are indented:

I saw to my great consternation that you seem to be running out of  wildlife photos to share with your readers. Here’s a sequence of photos
I took during fieldwork on Aldabra Atoll last year. The flightless rail (Dryolimnas [cuvieri] aldabranus) is possibly the most feline bird I have ever seen hunting down prey. The elegance with which they dance and  jump around is amazing. I am pretty damn happy they are only 20-25 cm  tall, or I would fear for my own eyes, too.

#1: The flightless Aldabra rail routinely hunts down the large, terrestrial crab Cardisoma carnifex. The fearsome name of the crab suggests that it is a predator – but not here…

#2: First the rail hacks out the eyes of the crab with surgical precision… [JAC: This behavior is probably genetically encoded, but perhaps it is completely learned. I wonder if anyone's studied that.]

#3 & #4: …disabled, unable to see, the crab tries to crawl away, but is attacked by the rail from all directions…


#5: …until finally the rail manages to turn over the crab; seconds later the crab’s struggle ends, as the rail’s beak stabs through its abdomen.

#6: This is the typical leftover after the rail has finished. Soon,  other crabs will move in to scavenge the remains. Nothing is wasted on  Aldabra.



A photo of the Aldabra atoll from Panoramio. Wouldn’t it be nice to work here? The atoll is about 34 km long.


and here’s a short video of the rail and its chicks:

Saturday: Hili dialogue

The editor is dispirited by the sad state of humanity.

Hili: Sometimes I fall into a reverie.
A: What about?
Hili: How did a human get the idea that he was the most intelligent of all creatures?

In Polish:
Hili: Czasem wpadam w zadumę.
Ja: Nad czym?
Hili: Jak człowiek wpadł na ten pomysł, że jest najbardziej inteligentny ze wszystkich stworzeń?


Paws and relax on British Airways

We’ll end the week with—hmm. . . what will lift our spirits? How about CATS??

In a remarkably enlightened move, British Airways is tempting ailurophilic customers with a new channel on its long-distance flights. As Yahoo Travel reports:

Do you ever go on Youtube only to get caught in an endless web of cat videos? It’s pretty adorable and relaxing, huh?

British Airways thinks so, and has dedicated a new channel aboard their long-haul flights called ‘Paws and Relax.’ The channel, which is set to launch in September, is dedicated to light-hearted footage of cats and dogs. Sounds pretty purrrfect!

The airline recently unveiled their happiness blanket as a way to help passengers sleep better on flights, and now they’re turning to pets to further increase the mood of travelers.  In a video posted on Youtube, Inflight Entertainment Manager Richard D’Cruze says this is the newest tool that the airline is using to enhance the passenger experience. “We discovered some scientific research that proves watching images of cute animals can actually lower your heart rate and reduces stress levels,” says D’Cruze.

And to really tug at your heart strings, all of the animals used in the launch photos are from the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and are available for adoption. So if Alfie the Pug, or kittens Karma, Knight, and Karis really capture your heart, you can take them home!

The programming lineup for the initial launch includes the animated cartoon Simon’s Cat, the documentary The Secret Life of Cats, and Animal Planet’s America’s Cutest Dog.

If you’re really sharp, you’ll remember that Larry, the cat who is Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street (yes, that’s an official British goverment position) was also procured from the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, though, sadly, he won’t mouse.

And they can just ditch the d*gs; everyone knows that what the Internet is all about is CAT videos. Without cats, there would be no Internet, regardless of what Al Gore says. You think British Airways is gonna attract customers with ducks?

Here’s British Airways Inflight Entertainment Manager Richard D’Cruze explaining the new channel:

and, OMG, I’ve gotten way behind on Simon Tofield’s wonderful animations. There are at least six I haven’t shown, so let’s catch up with the first one, “Hot water”. This is a good one (notice the cat’s butt), and I expect Diana MacPherson will have a comment about the first thirty seconds:

Goalkeeper scores goal

Here’s a tidbit for soccer lovers. I’m sure this has happened before (readers?), but I’ve never seen it. In this video of a game from August 9, Hibernian goalkeeper Mark Oxley scores a goal against Livingston on a kick out from his own goal. Hibernian won this one 2-1 in the Scottish Professional Football League Championship tournament, which, as far as I know, is still going on.


Old Blue Eyes on religion: “When lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday — cash me out”

If you think of Frank Sinatra as a dumb kid from Hoboken, New Jersey, who made it big from his voice alone, you’ll be surprised by this interview he gave to Playboy magazine in 1963. He’s thoughtful, articulate, and—surprise!—godless.

The Playboy interviews were famous, one of the best things about the magazine. I used to read them when I’d sneak a peek at my father’s magazines, which, of course, I read only for the stories and prose.  The interviews were superb, and this one is eye-opening. (For excerpts from 10 engaging interviews, go here.)

Now I can’t vouch 100% that this is an accurate transcription, but several sources (e.g., here) verify that Sinatra did give the interview then, and I doubt that the source of these quotes, the “Sinatra Forum,” would simply fabricate the whole thing. But it shows a man who, despite the slang, has seen right through religion’s pretensions and its fake claims to be the arbiter of morality.

So, without further ado, The Voice discusses God:

Playboy: All right, let’s start with the most basic question there is: Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God?

Sinatra: Well, that’ll do for openers. I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me. I’m like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life — in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I’m not unmindful of man’s seeming need for faith; I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It’s not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount.

Playboy: You haven’t found any answers for yourself in organized religion?

Sinatra: There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I’ll show you a hundred retrogressions. Remember, they were men of God who destroyed the educational treasures at Alexandria, who perpetrated the Inquisition in Spain, who burned the witches at Salem. Over 25,000 organized religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each think all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well. In India they worship white cows, monkeys and a dip in the Ganges. The Moslems accept slavery and prepare for Allah, who promises wine and revirginated women. And witch doctors aren’t just in Africa. If you look in the L.A. papers of a Sunday morning, you’ll see the local variety advertising their wares like suits with two pairs of pants.

Playboy: Hasn’t religious faith just as often served as a civilizing influence?

Sinatra: Remember that leering, cursing lynch mob in Little Rock reviling a meek, innocent little 12-year-old Negro girl as she tried to enroll in public school? Weren’t they — or most of them — devout churchgoers? I detest the two-faced who pretend liberality but are practiced bigots in their own mean little spheres. I didn’t tell my daughter whom to marry, but I’d have broken her back if she had had big eyes for a bigot. As I see it, man is a product of his conditioning, and the social forces which mold his morality and conduct — including racial prejudice — are influenced more by material things like food and economic necessities than by the fear and awe and bigotry generated by the high priests of commercialized superstition. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m for decency — period. I’m for anything and everything that bodes love and consideration for my fellow man. But when lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday — cash me out.

Playboy: But aren’t such spiritual hypocrites in a minority? Aren’t most Americans fairly consistent in their conduct within the precepts of religious doctrine?

Sinatra: I’ve got no quarrel with men of decency at any level. But I can’t believe that decency stems only from religion. And I can’t help wondering how many public figures make avowals of religious faith to maintain an aura of respectability. Our civilization, such as it is, was shaped by religion, and the men who aspire to public office anyplace in the free world must make obeisance to God or risk immediate opprobrium. Our press accurately reflects the religious nature of our society, but you’ll notice that it also carries the articles and advertisements of astrology and hokey Elmer Gantry revivalists. We in America pride ourselves on freedom of the press, but every day I see, and so do you, this kind of dishonesty and distortion not only in this area but in reporting — about guys like me, for instance, which is of minor importance except to me; but also in reporting world news. How can a free people make decisions without facts? If the press reports world news as they report about me, we’re in trouble.

Parsing all that, sometimes he seems like a deist, but when he equates God with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, we’re talking Alcoholic Pantheism, aka atheism. But note that the guy really had done some thinking about religion, even if he tries to express it like a hipster.  And could you guess that Sinatra would be capable of saying this: “Our civilization, such as it is, was shaped by religion, and the men who aspire to public office anyplace in the free world must make obeisance to God or risk immediate opprobrium. Our press accurately reflects the religious nature of our society, but you’ll notice that it also carries the articles and advertisements of astrology and hokey Elmer Gantry revivalists.” Big words, and as true now as it was then.

Then Sinatra realizes what he’s said, and that, even more then than now, public criticism of religion was a no-no. Somehow, though, this didn’t seem to have hurt his career.

Playboy: Are you saying that . . .

Sinatra: No, wait, let me finish. Have you thought of the chance I’m taking by speaking out this way? Can you imagine the deluge of crank letters, curses, threats and obscenities I’ll receive after these remarks gain general circulation? Worse, the boycott of my records, my films, maybe a picket line at my opening at the Sands. Why? Because I’ve dared to say that love and decency are not necessarily concomitants of religious fervor.

Playboy: If you think you’re stepping over the line, offending your public or perhaps risking economic suicide, shall we cut this off now, erase the tape and start over along more antiseptic lines?

Sinatra: No, let’s let it run. I’ve thought this way for years, ached to say these things. Whom have I harmed by what I’ve said? What moral defection have I suggested? No, I don’t want to chicken out now. Come on, pal, the clock’s running.

Frank Sinatra 1959 "Come Dance With Me" Capitol Records © 1978 Sid Avery

A godless heathen tempts you to share his unbelief



A swell license plate

Reader David photographed this on his drive home yesterday in Nashville, Tennessee:


But southerners don’t call cats “moggies,” so it’s either somebody’s nickname, an epithet, or a transplanted Brit.

Catholics object to Ice Bucket Challenge because ALS research uses human embryos

By now everyone knows about the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC): it’s a stunt whereby people—including those George W. Bush and many celebrities—get a bucket of ice water dumped on their head to raise money for research on ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”), a progressive, debilitating, and ultimately fatal neurological malady.  As NBC News reports, so far the gimmick  has raised a solid $42 million dollars for ALS research.  When I heard that, I thought “Great; but that’s really small potatoes for research money.” And the NBC article concurs:

But anyone who thinks that money is going to cure ALS is just dreaming, experts point out.

Yes, it’s a shot in the arm for the ALS Association, which advocates for scientific research to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease after a famous baseball player who died from it. And there’s little doubt it will go to medical research.

“There’s so many ways we can go with these dollars on the research front,” says Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association. “It’s going to take some thoughtful discussion around the types of research and believe me, since this started, I’m getting requests coming in moment by moment with everybody having their own spin on research. So we’re going to work prudently through a process that gets us to what’s the right use of these dollars.”

But there’s also a more efficient way to raise funding: get Congress to stop cutting the NIH budget—the most likely source of real breakthroughs in curing or ameliorating ALS, since such benefits often come from pure research:

But if you really want to support medical research, get on the phone to your member of Congress and demand a stop to cutting the National Institutes of Health budget, experts say.

That’s because private donations are a figurative drop in the bucket compared to U.S. government funding. NIH pays out $30 billion a year for medical research, compared to about $5 billion raised by philanthropy in 2007.

. . . “If a million people would donate $100 a year for 30 to 40 years, you might get a breakthrough for ALS,” Serody, who uses NIH funds to help support his research into bone marrow transplants, told NBC News. [Jonathan Serody is at the University of North Carolina.] “These flash-in-the pan things that will go away after a few months will not help ALS in the long run. Researchers need dependable money.”

That means year-in-and-year-out support, so researchers can plan their careers and rely on being able to see experiments all the way through. A single $100 donation does little to support that, Serody says.

And Congress has slashed the NIH budget. “Almost no one realizes how dire the research situation is for NIH,” Serody said. Not only has funding not increased to stay up with inflation but it was slashed by 5 percent because ofthe sequester — remember that little budget maneuver that took effect because Congress couldn’t agree on a final budget plan?

In 2010, NIH spent $59 million on ALS research. It’s fallen by a third since then.

But it’s still a good chunk of money, equivalent to more than a year’s NIH funding for the disease.  Nevertheless, and I suppose one could have predicted this, there’s religious opposition. I heard this on the morning t.v. news today, and it was verified by an article by the Associated Press  (published on that station’s website) that some dioces of the Catholic Church are objecting to the IBC.

Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, told the schools in a letter Tuesday to “immediately cease” any plans to raise funds for the association and to instead direct donations to another organization that combats ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease that causes paralysis and almost certain death.

The Catholic Church relates the use of embryonic stem cells in research to abortion and says it violates the sanctity of human life. The use of adult stem cells in research is not forbidden by Catholic teaching.

A Roman Catholic diocese is discouraging its 113 schools from participating in the ice bucket challenge to benefit the ALS Association, saying the group’s funding of embryonic stem cell research is “in direct conflict with Catholic teaching.”

The diocese said schools could participate in the ice bucket challenge, but any money raised should be directed to groups like the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which conducts “pro-life driven” research, according to its website.

There are objections in the Chicago Archdiocese as well, as I heard this morning.  A spokesnun, Chicago Archdiocese Schools Superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, appeared on Channel 2 decrying the use of embryonic stem cells. I saw this segment, which also appears on the station’s website.

[McCaughey] told the principals of the 248 Catholic schools in the Chicago area that the ALS Association is “not a good match” for Catholic schools.

“It uses embryonic stem cells for its research,” she said.

What the written report doesn’t say, but which you can see in the video below, is that the sister’s objection is that the use of embryonic stem cells “promotes abortion.” She added that Catholic schools in Chicago could still participate in the IBC, but had to stipulate that the money they raised go to research using only adult stem cells (the ALS Association notes that this is fine).

Click on the screenshot below to go to the Chicago report and the video:

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 7.37.50 AM

But let us be clear about embryonic stem cells. Their use does not promote abortion.  The cell lines used for research are derived from frozen embryos. Where do those embryos come from? During the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF), eggs are harvested from a woman and them fertilized in vitro with donated sperm, often from the woman’s partner. The fertilized eggs are allowed to divide a few times, and then the embryos are implanted, usually several embryos at a time to ensure that at least one implant in the uterus (this is why IVF parents sometimes have twins or even triplets). The rest of the embryos are saved and frozen, just in case the first batch doesn’t work.

The vast majority of these frozen embryos are never implanted, but some are used to generate stem cells that are then cultured. Those cells have enormous potential to cure diseases, grow organs, and the like, as embryonic stem cells are “dedifferentiated,” i.e., they haven’t yet irreversibly specialized into a given type of cell (like a liver cell), and so can be induced to form many different kinds of tissue. There are also adult stem cell lines, most derived from bone marrow, that don’t come from human embryos, and also have huge medical potential.

Since the frozen embryos are the byproduct of IVF, and just languish in liquid nitrogen, they are of no value to anyone unless they’re used for research. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church sees them as humans, even though they consist of only a few cells. And it’s the Church that has severely restricted the use of embryonic stem cells in research. Things have gotten better under the Obama administration, but the number of lines available publicly for research is still limited.

Here we see the Catholic Church, by regarding stored frozen embryos as “people” (“people” who will never be born), impeding medical research that could potentially save millions of human lives. All because of their ludicrous notion that these frozen balls of cells have a soul.

“Take pleasure in it”: a Wahhabi cleric gives lesson on how to behead (no beheadings shown!); and a poll on Western support of ISIS

As if you don’t think humans can get any more barbarous and bestial, we have this video via the website of Tarek Fatah, Canadian writer and critic of Islamism. It’s a Wahhabi Muslim cleric instructing his coreligionists on the proper method of and attitude towards beheading.  (Hint: it’s supposed to give you pleasure.) Fatah’s comment:

It’s interesting to note how most Islamist groups in America have condemned the beheading of journalist Foley with claims that such beheadings are not Islamic. As a Muslim, I know these groups are not being truthful. Here to enlighten us all on how to behead the non-Muslim is an Islamic cleric. Watch and weep.

The YouTube notes say this:
A video has recently emerged that shows a Wahhabi cleric explaining to a group of his followers the proper way to behead people. He points out that it is different from slaughtering animals. He states that the sword should be placed on the neck and then moved back and forth while slitting the throat. He said that people performing the killing should enjoy themselves while doing it.
And if you don’t think that is dispiriting, have a look at the results of a poll commissioned by the Russian news agency Rossiya Sevodnia   (Russia Today). Before you discount that because it’s Russian, realize that the poll was actually conducted by ICM Research, a British polling agency that seems quite respectable. As reported in RT, the ICM organization polled citizens of three states—France, the UK, and Germany—about their sympathy for ISIS. Here’s the summary chart:
Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 6.53.04 AM

As you see, France has the highest proportion of people sympathetic to ISIS, followed by considerably lower (but not low enough) percentages for the UK and then Germany.  The French sympathy for ISIS declines with age, but 27% and 20% are still horrifically high.

Lest you think that the French positivity comes only from Muslims, be aware that the proportion of Muslims in France is only 7.5%. In the UK and Germany, however, most of the positive answers could have come from Muslims, as the proportion of Muslim citizens in those countries is 5% and 4.6% respectively.  Nevertheless, we tend to think of Muslims in Western countries as being more temperate than their jihadist brethren, so any number there reflects a disturbing approbation for the terrorist organization of ISIS.

Naturally, excuses abound; here’s one by a Russian who sees the positive figures not as approbation for ISIS, but as something reflecting “the country’s [France's] accumulated potential rejection of the existing system as a whole”—whatever that means:

“This is not a result of sympathy of a significant number of French people for this extremist terrorist organization,” Yury Rubinsky, the head of the Center of French Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Rossiya Segodnya. “This is simply a manifestation of the country’s accumulated potential rejection of the existing system as a whole. This is a form of rejection of the elites, a form of protest.”

What mendacious gobbledygook!  It’s just “protest of the existing system”? Which system? And aren’t there better ways of protesting the “system” than conquering, mass executions, forced conversions, and imposition of sharia law? That has nothing to to with approbation of terrorism? I don’t believe it for a second.  This is Muslim apologetics, and Orwellian doublespeak, at its worst.

Finally, there’s been some discussion about foreign nationals fighting for ISIS. There are repeated reports of Europeans and Americans being recruited to kill apostates and establish the Caliphate, but the Russian piece gives some (varying) estimates for British citizens:

Earlier this year the British press cited Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood as saying that at least 1,500 British nationals are likely to have been recruited by IS extremists to fight in Iraq and Syria. Then-Foreign Secretary William Hague earlier this year claimed that around 400 young British nationals have gone to the Middle East to join the fighting.

What with the bloody and seemingly irresolvable conflict between Israel and Palestine,  the war in Ukraine encouraged and funded by the thug Putin, the advances and horrible brutality of ISIS, and the continuing threat of Islam, there doesn’t seem to be much good news in the world these days.  My friend Malgorzata (on Hili’s staff) informed me yesterday that she gave Hili a treat of real cream. When I chastised her for giving such a fatty treat to the cat, she explained:

When I finished reading morning news, with rockets, beheadings, condemnations of Israel, anti-Semitism, dead in the Ukraine, and some other assorted horrors, I looked at Hili: soft, furry, warm and waking up on the sofa. It was time for her to get something to eat and she was so nice to look at after all I’ve been reading that I gave her a bowl of cream. Am I excused?
I excused her.


h/t: Barry


Readers’ wildlife photos

We’re running low, folks, so I may have to put this feature on hiatus until some good photos accumulate.  Again, we publish only the very best here at WEIT!

Today reader Diana MacPherson,  the website’s Official Animal Anthropomorpizer™, continues her analyses of sparrows and chipmunks. Indented captions are hers.

Here are some more House Sparrow & Chipmunk photos. The chippy was grooming his wet fur today & I caught some amusing poses at at the end.

Male House/English Sparrow (Passer domesticus). Either this is a juvenile or he is losing his breeding colours. I suspect this is a juvenile as his beak still has some yellow on it.


Baby House sparrow opens mouth & shows tongue. What a weird tongue – not at all like a budgie’s tongue (the only bird tongues I’m familiar with)


Baby House Sparrow waits for food in a very dignified manner.


Check out those long claws on the chippy! [Tamias striatus]


Chippy sits up straight as if instructed by a teacher.


 The next two are the funniest – this looks like the chipmunk is acting out the final scene in Hamlet or Laertes getting stabbed behind the curtain!


Here the chipmunk either “vogues” or is being a beast no one should look at! [JAC: I think it's a chipmunk facepalm.]



Friday: Hili dialogue

Friday already? Which seat can I take? And, among all the world’ crises, there’s a small one in Dobrzyn:

Hili: I see a deep crisis.
A: Have you been reading the newspaper?
Hili: No, but one of my bowls is empty.

in Polish:
Hili: Dostrzegam głęboki kryzys.
Ja: Czytałaś dzisiejszą gazetę?
Hili: Nie, jedna z moich miseczek jest pusta.



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