Moar kittens for Linda

Reader Linda Grilli, the website’s Official Goat Breeder™, has many cats.  In fact, when I asked her how many, she said this:

I now have seven cats, five black.

Pewter – gunmetal grey
Clawed Monet – white with orange spots
Barney – black
Bailey – black
Ebony – black
Jose Felidiano – black
Billy the Kit – black

I still maintain that “Clawed Monet” is the greatest name ever bestowed on a felid.

Note that she says “I now have seven”. A bit more than three years ago, she had six. I posted pictures of four of them, Barney, Bibiana, Ebony, and Bailey (left to right in the first picture below). Sadly, Biana has passed on, so there were three black cats, all living in the barn, and all dining daily on goat milk and crackers:




Now, however, Linda reports that she’s gotten two more stray black kittens (bringing the total back up to seven), who will live in the house with Clawed and Pewter instead of in the barn. They are eight weeks old, had eye infections which are now cured (thank Ceiling Cat for antibiotics), and here are their photos:

Meet Billy the Kit:


And Jose Felidiano:


I hope they get goat milk, too. (I understand it’s much better for cats than is cow milk, but I may be wrong.)


Tuesday: Hili Dialogue

Hania: Why do cats purr?
A: Because they have very serious reasons to purr.

In Polish:
Hania: Dlaczego koty mruczą?
Ja: Bo mają bardzo ważne powody do mruczenia.

Tw**ets from Darwin and the Beagle: the Great Man envies kittens

Darwin had both cats and d*gs, but it’s clear that he loved his d*gs more. I’ll forgive him for that; after all, he wrote the best science book ever, and that outweighs a lot of flaws.  In fact, I don’t think The Origin even mentions cats, though I recall that it has a few words on canids.

Nevertheless, Darwin did occasionally refer to the feline group of mammals, and here, in a tw**t taken from Darwin’s Beagle journal, he even wishes he were a kitten. This appeared 7 hours ago:


But why are there tw**ts from a man who’s been dead since 1882.  The Darwin Twitter comes from David Jones, who has it as a project described on his website Metaburbia. Jones explains that he doesn’t just make up the tw**ts:

2009 was the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin Of Species. I’ve had an interest in Darwin since I  first read the Origin when I was a child, I’ve been to Down House, Darwin’s home for many years and now a museum, several times, Helen (my partner) teaches a course on evolution and I decided that it was high time Charles found his way onto Twitter.

Several people had already bagged Darwin-related names but cdarwin was free so @cdarwin I became,tweeting content from the Beagle Diary (and other journals, notes, essays, letters and books by him to fill in when he wasn’t too productive). At the time of writing, Charles is still on the eastern coast of South America, flitting about between southern Argentina, Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands. He’s getting quite fed up and looking forward to rounding  the Horn.

I load the tweets into an on-line  database periodically and then a cron job posts across to Twitter according to the current date and time so that the Tweets shadow the real world. When it’s the 5th of August here, it’s the 5th August on board ship, albeit 176 years in the past.

Shortly after setting up this automated tweeting I contacted Twitter and they permitted me to use the name TheBeagle for my tweeting client so that Tweets are apparently posted from TheBeagle. Twitter has recently changed the way client applications authenticate themselves to do this and although they’re not yet insisting that legacy applications use the new OAuth system, I’ve already created an OAuth-enabled client ready to deploy to my server.

I took to The Origin as soon as I read it and I’ve never accepted Darwin’s reputation for turgid prose. A whole new audience, responding to the humour, insight and imagination of the young Darwin as he begins to think about the marvellous, curious, and unexplained world he is circumnavigating  agrees with me, I think.

I agree with Jones that Darwin’s prose was not turgid; indeed, as in the end of The Origin, and many places in the Beagle books, it is positively inspiring. But I doubt Darwin would have taken so eagerly to social media. He was a shy man, deeply wedded to his work and not eager to travel or interact with many people. Indeed, after he returned to England on the Beagle in 1836, he never left that country again, and, after moving to Downe, he rarely even went to London, which wasn’t that far. I also recall he had a mirror installed in his study so he could see who was approaching Down House, presumably so that he could hide or tell the staff to put off the caller if it was someone unwelcome.

At any rate, I wanted  to check that kitten reference, and, sure enough, 181 years ago today on this date Darwin made the following entry in his diary (my emphasis):

 August 18, 1833:

Patagones to B. Ayres

. . . Sunday 18th

The Beagle had not arrived. — I had nothing to do, no clean clothes, no books, nobody to talk with. — I envied the very kittens playing on the floor. — I was however lucky in a hospitable reception by Don Pablo, a friend of Harris. —

[page] 351

Remember that most of the time when the Beagle was surveying the coast of South America (the purpose of its voyage), Darwin wasn’t aboard: he was traveling in the interior, observing the people, collecting specimens, and collecting most of the data that would eventually come together in The Origin. His entry on this day clearly reflects his boredom waiting to meet the ship.  What puzzles me a bit is that today’s entry is not, as Jones says, 176 years in the past. It’s 181 years into the past. Maybe I’m missing something.

Finally, to show that Darwin didn’t neglect cats completely, there is a discussion in Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) about how they can be both hostile and affectionate, a discussion illustrated with two plates:

“Cat in an affectionate frame of mind”:


“Cat terrified at a dog”:



Irish pregnancy flowchart

This is a bit macabre, for it’s sad and funny at the same time. It is in fact an Irish Pregnancy Flowchart, created and updated by an Irish blogger, Bock the Robber. I’m putting it up because it’s relevant to what we learned this morning. Note where most of the paths converge. Also, it isn’t completely accurate in light of the 2013 laws, for there is one path that should lead to “You’re getting an abortion in Ireland.”

The header (screenshot links to Tw**t):

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.05.26 PM


BvVsSJPIcAA7BWIh/t: Grania


Monday: Readers’ wildlife photographs

Whoops—I almost forgot to post this selection of bird photos from three different readers:

Joe Dickinson sent this picture of a black-crowed night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), taken near the mouth of Aptos Creek, CA (Rio del Mar Beach) in the last couple of days:


From Stephen Barnard we get a female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight:


as well as a red-tailed hawk (Buteo amaicensis):


And from reader Ed Kroc photos of sandpipers and some information:

First are some photos at the Cluxewe River estuary on northern Vancouver Island of the upper west coast’s favourite sandpiper, the Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri).  You can see the half-webbing of the feet in the first picture.

I don’t understand the physics well enough to exactly model it, but I hypothesize that this half-webbing makes it easier for these birds to run with the tides where they spend most of their time feeding.  Too much webbing would make it difficult to run fast, but too little and they would lose control on the wet sand.  Some kind of compromise position would seem to confer a selective advantage.  The Semipalmated (meaning “half-webbed”!) Sandpiper shares this trait, as well as the feeding behaviour.  The other BC piper I’ve observed is the Least Sandpiper which actually lacks any substantial webbing; however, these smallest pipers tend to feed further upshore, not quite on the cusp of the surf.

Western Sandpiper1

Wester Sandpiper2

The last picture gives a sense of their wonderful camouflage.  If it wasn’t for the water crashing underfoot, they would blend in perfectly with the rocks, the driftwood, and the kelp.  This particular contradiction* contained twenty-two individuals of three separate species – the Western (C. mauri), Semipalmated (C. pusilla), and a single Least Sandpiper (C. minutilla) – all visible in the photo.

*A “contradiction” is one of the many fanciful names for a group of pipers.



Catholic barbarity in Europe

This is a true story from a country in Europe, a country that one would normally deem civilized.

The sequence of events is this:

1. A foreign woman (country unspecified) arrives in the European country, seeking asylum.

2.  The woman is eight weeks pregnant, and the pregnancy is due to a rape.

3. The country in question prohibits abortion except in cases when the pregnancy will result in the mother’s death. Those cases can include a mother’s potential suicide. They do not include rape, incest, or fetal deformity.

4. The pregnant woman is suicidal and wants an abortion badly. She presents herself at the hospital and requests an abortion shortly after her arrival in the European country. 

5. To approve abortion under the law in those cases, however, requires unanimous approval of a panel of several physicians.

6. The panel is convened: two psychiatrists and an obstetrician. The psychiatrists concur that an abortion is warranted by the woman’s suicidality, but the obstetrician, while agreeing with the potential suicidality, doesn’t go along because he considers the fetus viable. By this time the woman is 21-23 weeks into her pregnancy. 

7. The woman, in protest, goes on a hunger strike, intending to kill herself through starvation or dehydration.

8. Determined to have its child, the country straps the woman to a bed and forcibly feeds her through a nasogastric tube.

9. Finally, at about 25 weeks after conception, the fetus is forcibly removed from the woman by caesarian section. Reports are that it is healthy and will be given into state care.

Okay, which country has those kind of draconian abortion laws (prohibiting it even in cases of rape an incest), and not only overrules a woman’s clear suicidality, in violation of the law, but then straps her to a bed and forcibly feeds her, keeping the baby alive until she can be cut open and the fetus extracted? How many violations is that, by the way? I count three horrible  and unwanted penetrations.

It’s Ireland, of course, and the law applying here (a new and supposedly liberalized one) is heavily conditioned by the wishes of the Catholic Church. Before 2013, no abortions were allowed in Ireland under any circumstances. Irish women who wanted abortions had to travel abroad (usually to England) to get them. That, too, had been illegal until 1992, when Irish courts ruled that pregnant women could not be prevented from traveling even if authorities suspected they were off to get an abortion. Still, Irish women who were poor for such a journey were forced to stay home and bear the child.

Then came the highly publicized death of death in 2012 of  Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway. 17 weeks pregnant, Halappanavar sought an abortion because her fetus was infected and she was miscarrying; of course the mother was infected as well. The hospital refused an abortion and, on October 28, the woman died of septicemia after the dead fetus was finally removed and the woman given antibiotics—too late.

This debacle led to the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (pdf at link), supposedly remedying the problems with the Halappanavar case. But the “liberalization” consisted only of allowing abortion when the mother’s life was endangered by suicidality (not fetal infection or deformity)—suicidality caused by something like rape or incest. Rape or incest alone was not sufficient: a woman is, by law, forced to bear her rapist’s baby, even if she doesn’t want it, so long as she is not suicidal. The act also allows a woman to leave the country to obtain an abortion (something prohibited previously), but in the case of this refugee, that may have been difficult, for she would have needed a special visa to re-enter Ireland and, at any rate, it’s not clear that the woman was even informed that she had this right. Nor do we know whether she could even afford the trip.

Does the Catholic Church show any sympathy here? Don’t make me laugh. It simply piles insult on top of injury: the newest Catholic bishop of Ireland, Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, saw went public with his opinion that the woman should have been forced to stay pregnant for longer:

[Doran] said the church has always taken the view that legislation “certainly doesn’t resolve the concerns”.

“You are creating greater risks for the child by terminating pregnancy at an early stage,” he said.

He also said: “I don’t think that anybody has established the right of a mother to terminate the pregnancy because she feels that she’s at risk of suicide”.

The Bishop described the early delivery of the baby as “not without its difficulties” and “simply not a healthy option” given that the normal period of pregnancy is somewhere around 38 – 40 weeks.

He said to terminate the pregnancy at 24 weeks with a caesarean “places the child more seriously at risk”.

The Bishop questioned what assistance the State provided the woman with her psychiatric problems.

He said he has seen “nothing to suggest that there is a good reason why” the pregnancy could not have progressed to full term.

 Indeed; the good Bishop has no problems with having the woman strapped down for another 11 weeks or so, force-fed while the fetus gets older.
This whole scenario conjures up images of the Catholic Inquisition: women tied to boards and tortured. This poor woman was strapped down and intubated, forced to serve as an incubator for a fetus that nobody wants—save the Catholic Church with its twisted morality. And of course the Church had no problems with the previous law, nor any problems with the present law that won’t allow abortion if a woman harbors a deformed fetus, or one produced by rape or incest.
The Church has long been behind society’s opinions about women’s issues, and their barbarity, and lack of concern for the well-being of pregnant women at the expense of church doctrine, is palpably clear in this case.  The people of Ireland want a liberalization of Ireland’s abortion laws, and so does the European Union. Only the Church, clinging to outdated doctrine, objects.
How long can an institution continue to force a medieval mentality on a country that doesn’t want it? Apparently for many years.  But it’s time for the people of Ireland to rise up against the retrograde and sexist mentality of Catholicism. Given the power of the Church in Ireland—similar to the power of the National Rifle Association in the U.S., which overrides the will of the people by threatening legislators with defeat—action will be slow. But even the Church must eventually bow to enlightened reason. The only question is how many more women will suffer before the Irish government comes to its senses.
See an analysis of (and objection to) the woman’s treatment at Doctors for Choice Ireland

Work to do

I’m working like gangbusters on the Albatross, which is coming along nicely but slowly. However, due to the existence of a real job, things on this website are either going to be either slow, video- and persiflage-oriented, or thin until this bird is off my neck.  The appropriate song was recorded in 1972 by the Isley Brothers:

Here’s the nightjar!

JAC: Many readers spotted the nightjar in yesterday’s post. Either it was too obvious, or you’re getting better. Here’s Matthew’s answer:

by Matthew Cobb

Jolyon Troscianko of the University of Exeter, whose great web-site was the source of the photo of the fiery-necked nightjar, also helpfully provides this highlighted version of the photo:


c5b808fdc8-images-Nightjars-Nightjar in Leaves highlighted

Here’s the original again:


Monday: Hili dialogue

Is it Monday already? Oy! Well, here is Hili:

Hili: What have you sniffed out?
Cyrus: A bitch was here.
Hili: Don’t you have any other problems?

10600669_10204057044493722_3905803661414426647_n In Polish:

Hili: Co tam wywęszyłeś?
Cyrus: Tu była jakaś suczka.
Hili: Nie masz innych problemów?

Marmot video-bombs time-lapse film of Glacier Park, licks camera

For some reason I don’t understand, photobombs by rodents are one of the most appealing things on the internet, drawing far more attention than, say, cat or dog photobombs. Perhaps it’s that adorable rodent face with its bulbous nose magnified by the camera. That, for example, may explain this old chestnut, perhaps the best—and certainly the most famous—animal photobomb of all time (full disclosure: I can’t vouch that it’s real, and I don’t know the species—perhaps a ground squirrel):


But now we have its video equivalent, thanks to Greenpeace, which was trying to do a time-lapse video of Glacier National Park, hoping that, seeing its beauty, people would work against the global warming that would sap its beauty (oil drilling has also been mentioned as a potential subject of the video). But Greenpeace didn’t count on this cute little marmot interrupting, and even licking the GoPro camera:

As IFL Science reports, though, Greenpeace wasn’t fazed at all:

The folks at Greenpeace apparently weren’t too disappointed by the marmot’s cameo, and have even adopted it for the mascot of their message:

“But let’s be fair about this. This marmot took a minute out of its busy day to show us some love. It’s time for us to do the same. Global warming is shrinking marmot habitat — alpine tundra. Help protect his home from climate change.”

Not only that, but this marmot has gotten Greenpeace’s campaign far more attention than it would have otherwise. Posted just about a week ago, on August 9, it’s already garnered over 1.2 million views.

Oh, and here’s Andrzej and Leon the Kitten, just because I have it and don’t know where else to put it:



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