Proof of Flying Spaghetti Monster

This image of his Noodliness was found last night by reader Matt on an artichoke leaf. He says the photo was “not altered in any way”:



An experiment: an open thread

My absence in Bulgaria, and inability to post so often, has prompted this experiment: a readers’ thread.  Feel free to post links or even videos that you think might start a conversation, and see if you can keep it going. Feel free to change the subject if you’ve talked one dry.


The Big Nom in Sofia

The night before last, several people connected with the “Ratio” science event repaired to one of the two most famous “local cuisine” (i.e. Bulgarian) restaurants in Sofia: a place called “Under the Linden Tree,” which of course is nearly the name of a famous street in Berlin. Below you can see the restaurant from the outside after it became dark. Built to resemble a traditional Bulgarian home, it’s is on several levels, and entirely paneled in wood on the inside.


To begin, a traditional Bulgarian beer: this is a Stolichno white beer, and though it is made of wheat, it’s darker than American wheat beers. Accompanying it is the traditional Bulgarian hard liquor, rakia. It comes in several flavors (peach, apple, grape, and so on), but this is the traditional one distilled from grapes. It was surprisingly tasty and smooth.

I suppose this is the Bulgarian equivalent of a beer and a shot.


To begin, two heaping platters (for the eight of us) of the most famous Bulgaraian salad, shopska.  It’s made with Bulgarian feta cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other stuff; you can find the recipe here. Delicious!


With the shopska came a heaping plate of various spreads for bread, which you can also eat on their own. They included cucumber/cheese spread, pepper spread, eggplant spread, and another I couldn’t identify. They were all scrumptious:


You can also dunk the bread (delicious, served warm, and made in house) into a dry mixture of various spices, which is supposedly secret. There is salt and cumin, but I couldn’t identify the other flavors. Here’s Vassi showing me how to do it:


There was also shish kebab for the table: chicken and grilled vegetables. The roasted onions were to die for:


Vassi also recommended (at the waiter’s suggestion) a special stewed pork dish with wild mushrooms and potatoes. It was great, but I could barely finish it after chowing down on the bread, spreads, shashleek (shish kebab) and salad:


The dinner was accompanied at intervals by traditional Bulgarian music: a man playing a Bulgarian bagpipe made from goatskin, and accompanied by a wonderful folk singer with an eerie, nasal voice. (I took a film of this and will put it up when I return.

And there were three desserts. First, a cake made with yogurt and fresh peaches:


A Bulgarian equivalent of baklava: crunchy, syrup-covered pastry filled, I was told, with loukom (Turkish delight):


Finally, what is called “dried yogurt with fruit,” which was a very concentrated yogurt (probably left in cheesecloth to let the water drip out) covered with local berries and served in a clay pot (I’ve scraped the berries aside so you can see it). The yogurt was very thick and concentrated, much richer and heavier than the Greek yogurt one buys in the U.S.


Needless to say, the only utterance I could make after this feed was, “Oy, am I full!”

What a dinner!



A tame hummingbird

This is a touching YouTube video showing a man and his semi-tame hummingbird. The YouTube notes give this information:

João Silvestrini lives in barretos, Brazil. Has two hummingbird mother and child visiting your home. This video is 01/10/2014. João on message reports that this is the puppy, and makes one months that Mom hummingbird presented the child to Mr. João

Although we can’t see the bird very well, perhaps one of our readers with tropical experience can identify it.

A translation of what João says from the YouTube comments:

Hey, hey.
Come here.
Let’s film you here.
Here here.
Let’s talk here real close, look.
You seeing (it)?
There, look.
And, eh, come here, here now.
Come drink a little bit, eh?
Like that, look here, come here.
Come here, there (closer to ‘like that’), there. Look.
Let’s go to the camera again?
There, look!
Look there!
It’s filming, it’s filming.
Like that, sit on my finger, there there. You see? Like that.
Look there, without embarrassment he stays here the whole day calling me. He goes and (not sure about ‘rodea’, means turns but might be slang I’m not familiar with), it’s already been half an hour that I let him call me.
This is the little son. His mom introduced me to him here, and left him here in my window, on the porch (not really a porch, just kinda a small landing outside), and he’s accustomed to this. All the time he comes to call me here. All the time.
Eh? Yeah, like that. There, sit on my finger.
Come here! Come a little bit more, come here, sit here. Come, come.
There, a little bit more. Take advantage of the video here. See?
There. Like that. Drink there, very close to the camera there.
Don’t want any more, don’t want it? I’m gonna put it away. There, it’s put away. I leave it closed here, and he keeps (‘me rodeando’ again, literally translates to ‘turning me’) and calling and calling, so I get him/it (could be either here, no actual pronoun so vague), come here, and attend to him.

h/t: Michael~

Readers’ wildlife photos

We have two sets of photos of red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) from reader Stephen Barnard, and one photo of a moose and a d*g. His comments are indented:

Two siblings and one with breakfast.



It spooked, circled around, flew by, looked directly at me, and blinked with its nictitating membrane:





Stephen also sent a photo of his d*g with a large mammal and this comment:

He tried to herd a young bull moose yesterday and it didn’t buy his act.



Sunday: Hili dialogue

I believe Hili is talking here about her bête noire Fitness, as Cyrus the d*g and Fitness encountered each other last week without rancor. Andrzej dreams of getting a picture of the black Fitness together amiably with the black Cyrus.
Hili, of course, cannot abide Fitness, who lives upstairs with the lodger.
Cyrus: See? There would be room for another cat.
Hili: What? Has he tried to muscle in already?
In Polish:
Cyrus: Widzisz, tu by się jeszcze jeden kot zmieścił.
Hili: A co, już próbował się tu wepchną

Guest post: The relationship between Islam and female genital mutilation

Dr. Oliver Scott Curry works on the evolution of morality at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford. Just to check out Reza Aslan’s claim that female genital mutilation (FGM) was an African rather than an Islamic problem, Curry did a preliminary statistical analysis. As you’ll see below, his results (and he emphasizes again that they’re tentative and need deeper analysis) don’t support the “African Hypothesis”. Note that “rs” is the nonparametric Spearman rank correlation coefficient between two variables, a measure of their association. It ranges from -1 (perfect negative correlation) through 0 (no correlation) to 1 (perfect positive correlation). The statistically significant positive relationship between Islam and FGM is given in his title.


Question: What’s the relationship between Islam and Female Genital Mutilation? Answer: rs=.54

by Oliver Scott Curry

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the debate between Bill Maher and Reza Aslan about Islam and female genital mutilation (FGM). Maher has argued that FGM is an Islamic problem, pointing out that: “91 percent of Egyptian women have had their clitorises forcibly removed. 98 percent of Somalian women have.” Aslan countered that it is “empirically, factually, incorrect” to say that FGM is an Islamic problem, rather it is an African problem: “Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.”

Who’s right? You can’t tell on the basis of these cherry-picked examples, as you have to look at all of the data. This is not my area… but the data is not difficult to find. We have WHO data on FGM, and Pew data on the prevalence of Islam (and from Wikipedia, Christianity), in 28 African countries (and Yemen as well).

These data [JAC: presented as a plot below] clearly show that there is a large significant positive correlation between the percentage of women subject to FGM, and the prevalence of Islam. Both variables are non-normal, so technically we should report a Spearman’s correlation: rs=0.54, p=.003. The correlation between FGM and Christianity is negative (rs=-0.48, p=.01).

So Aslan is wrong. There is a “factual, empirical” relationship between Islam and FGM. Maher’s examples illustrate this relationship, whereas Aslan’s examples are conspicuous outliers.

Aslan is also wrong to say that “Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue”. It would be more accurate to say that we just don’t know whether the relationship between Islam and FGM holds elsewhere because (as far as I can tell) there is no reliable data on FGM outside of Africa. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Of course, correlation does not prove causation. Why there is this relationship between Islam and FGM is a separate question. And certainly the outliers—Senegal, Yemen and especially Niger—suggest that there is no necessary connection between Islam and FGM. So what other factors may be at work? Poverty? Healthcare? Education? Here are some UN development data for the same 28 countries: Gross National Income / capita, life expectancy, years of schooling, and a composite Human Development Index (HDI). Of these, Islam remains the single best predictor. And surprisingly, there is no relationship between FGM and income, life expectancy or development. But there is a negative relationship between education and FGM (-.44) (And schooling is strongly negatively correlated with Islam [-.55]). So who knows, perhaps education is key.

Like I said, this is not my area. I don’t know how this problem might be solved. (Perhaps a reader of this blog with expert knowledge of FGM can help illuminate the issue, or point to additional data.) But I do know that it won’t be solved by misrepresenting the evidence. As Aslan himself says in the CNN interview: “You know, this is the problem, is that these kinds of conversations we’re having aren’t really being had in a legitimate way. We’re not talking about women in the Muslim world. We’re using two or three examples to justify a generalization. That’s actually the definition of bigotry.”



Noms in Bulgaria: Thursday dinner and Friday lunch

Dinner Thursday and lunch on Friday (during the tour that Vassi gave me) was a warmup for the Big Traditional Bulgarian Feed on Friday night; pictures of that will follow.

Can you read Cyrillic? If so, you’ll recognize this ubquitous food item:

Big Mac

Dinner Thurday, after I arrived: a white beer and gnocci with spinach, goat cheese, cream, and pine nuts. Delicious. In the background is Lubo’s dinner, a fantastic prosciutto pizza (I had a slice):


Lunch at a local cafe yesterday started with a drink much like Indian lassi: Bulgarian yogurt mixed with water. It’s served with salt and pepper (they don’t make an equivalent of sweet lassi here:

Yogurt drink


More yogurt (I can’t get enough): the first course of the set menu was Bulgarian cucumber and yogurt soup with mint (cold, of course). It was also delicious and filling.

Yogurt soup


Finally, the main course: lamb and cumin meatballs on a bed of potatoes, served with diced green and red peppers, carrot curls, and lettuce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. After all this, I didn’t know how I could do justice to the dinner in store, but somehow I managed to.

Lamb meatballs

Stay tuned for The Big Feed! ~

Seven more cases of apparent plagiarism by C. J. Werleman

Yesterday I reported on the blogger Godless Spellchecker‘s report that the atheist journalist C. J. Werleman had apparently plagiarized some of his prose from at least half a dozen sources. Werleman’s purloined wording was, to my mind, quite blatant.  In response, Werleman first argued that he’d done nothing wrong: that he was just citing “facts” (which happened be cited in the same words as the original sources), or that his “plagiarisms” were clichés that didn’t need citation.  Here’s his rather haughty response in the comments:

CJ Werleman

How extraordinary. The first is from the study the piece spoke to those exact findings. These are the citations of the facts from that study.

The second WTF are you talking about?: “The findings of the Flinders University study are supported by the research conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism, which was partly funded by the Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Agency. The authors, Robert A. Pape.”

The third is a commonly used cliche. “War for every reason. A reason for every war.”

The fourth is another commonly used cliche when speaking to Iran’s anti-Israel strategy: “Khomeini’s strategy had always been that Iran had to be more Arab than the Arabs…”

Finally, here’s a quote from Hitchens: “Plagiarism = that most obvious and banal discovery of the literary truth.

The last bit is a lame excuse for stealing words. Hitch was surely referring to borrowing ideas rather than words. Further, the “War for every reason” phrase doesn’t seem to me to be a cliché, for, when I Googled it, it turned up in only one place: the source from which Wereleman is accused of lifting it. And I don’t buy the notion that using the exact words as your source is simply citing “facts,” and is therefore okay.

A bit later Werleman admits that he did lift a quote, and for some reason forgot to cite it because of “sloppiness”. He also says that because he did cite surces in other places, this somehow mitigates the plagiarism: an argument I find unconvincing.

CJ Werleman

On further thought, I have no excuse for the OECD ‘Education Failing’s’ quote. Why I hadn’t enclosed that, I don’t know. It should’ve been. Very sloppy. But if you look over the entire body of my work, you’ll see that all of my op-eds are riddled with citations and quotes.

But that’s not the end of it. As one often finds when pursuing a writer who uses other people’s words, the problem is deeper than it first appears. Or so it appears from a post by Michael Luciano in yesterday’s The Daily Banter, “New Atheist-basher and plagiarizer apparently thinks it’s no big deal.” 

Luciano, in a series of updates, finds at least 7 more cases in which Werleman appears to have lifted words from other people without attribution. This suggests that there may be many more cases that haven’t yet been uncovered. I’ll cite just four of the new ones:


Chuck Thompson, Better Off Without ‘Em, 2012:

“‘Public schools have been the great leveler of America. They were our great achievement. Universal education for all.’”

Werleman, Salon, May 5, 2014:

“During the New Deal era of the 1940s to 1970s, public schools were the great leveler of America. They were our great achievement. It was universal education for all…”

Werleman mentions Thompson’s book, but he gives no indication these are not his own words.



The ‘Green Dragon’ Slayers, (Report by People for the American Way) 2011:

“Buoyed by corporate finances and a radical ‘dominion theology,’ the Religious Right has become more aggressive and fanatical in its defense of corporations and denial of climate science.”

Werleman, Alternet, November 18, 2013:

“Buoyed by corporate finances and a radical ‘dominion theology, the Christian Right has become increasingly aggressive in its defense of corporations and its denial of climate change.”

Werleman does not mention the report or give any indication that these are not his words.



Pew Research Report, May 24, 2013:

“In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed by their families at some point in the last year is three times that in Germany, more than twice that in Italy and Canada.”

Werleman, Alternet, December 9, 2013:

“In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed to feed their families at some point in the last year is three times that of Germany, more than twice than Italy and Canada.”

Werleman does not cite the Pew Report or give any indication that these are not his words. [JAC: Here the wording of the original and duplicate differs only by about four words!]

Luciano also cites one case in which Werleman might have lifted prose from the frequent object of his ire: Sam Harris himself! But I’ll let you look at that supposedly plagiarized quote.


Here’s one more case, in which Wereleman appears to have used wording from—of all places—Wikipedia: an undergraduate mistake!:


Wikipedia entry on the National Union Party:

“The temporary name was used to attract War Democrats and Border State Unionists who would not vote for the Republican Party.

“…The National Union Party was created in 1864 prior the end of the Civil War. A faction of anti-Lincoln Radical Republicans held the belief that Lincoln was incompetent, and therefore could not be re-elected. A number of Radical Republicans formed a party called the Radical Democracy Party. The party nominated incumbent President Abraham Lincoln and former Democrat Andrew Johnson, who were elected in a landslide.”

Werleman, Alternet, February 12, 2014:

“In 1864, prior to the end of the Civil War, a faction of radical Republicans believed President Lincoln was incompetent, and therefore unelectable. These anti-abolition extremists broke away from the establishment under the name Radical Democracy Party, while Lincoln and establishment Republicans created the National Union Party with the intent of attracting War Democrats and Border State Unionists who would not have ordinarily voted for the Republican Party.

“The party nominated incumbent President Lincoln alongside a Democrat — Andrew Johnson. The rebranded establishment ticket went on to win the 1864 election in a landslide.”

Werleman does not mention Wikipedia or a cite any references for this information.

Luciana notes that this is ironic in view of a tw**t Werleman made last year about Rand Paul’s similar theft:


I predict that Werleman will find reasons to excuse this shameful theft of other people’s words, and will not be contrite, but continue his usual pattern of obstreperous and aggressive behavior.

But as the number of cases mount, he looks worse and worse. If he is to maintain any credibility, he’s going to have to apologize. You can get away with saying you “forgot” to attribute a single quote, but when it’s more than a dozen (and I predict others will follow), that won’t wash. What is bizarre is that he must have had some of the sources before him as he wrote, and wasn’t even savvy enough to put the facts in his own words.

Salon and Alternet have a duty to not only report Werleman’s plagiarism, which appears ironclad at this point, but to take action against him. If they don’t ban him from their pages, I won’t necessarily be surprised (my opinion of Salon is lower than a snake’s belly), but I will certainly stop citing them.  Failure to deep-six a plagiarizing writer is a serious breach of journalistic ethics. You can argue that Salon and Alternet are not journalistic venues, but that’s not how they present themselves. ~

Caturday felids trifecta: The cats of Sofia; Swiss try to pass one-cat-per-house rule; Cat fights washing machine

Three items today, just so I don’t miss a Caturday. But I’m in a rush, as I’m speaking at the Ratio conference this afternoon. So let us hasten to the felids:

I’ve seen two live street cats in Sofia, but they were moving too fast to either pet or photograph. Fortunately, the Bulgarians love cats, and the lion is also a national symbol of sorts, so you see the big cats frequently, if only in effigy. Here are a few moggies, large and small, I encountered on my ramblings yesterday:

A lion guarding a government building:


Cats on display in a jewelry store:


Wooden cats AND a self-portrait!:


This is Vassi (short for Vassilena), one of my amiable hosts. She and her partner Lubo are the staff of an 18-year old Siamese male named Tancho, who will eat every item of food except citrus fruits. And I mean everthing, including onions, melon, and cucumbers. I hope to get a photograph of Tancho nomming a cucumber before I leave.

Here, while showing me around Sofia, Vassi posed with a famous old Bulgarian cat image emblazoned on a government building.


This bronze lion guards Bulgaria’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:



Matthew Cobb loves fighting cats. He previously sent me the “boxing cat,” and now he provided this: “Cat fights washing machine”:


Finally, the Swiss run their independent country as finely as one of their watches, but in this case they’ve simply gone too far. According to The Local (an English-language Swiss news site), a Zurich group, Zürcher Tierschutz, is trying to get the country to limit cats to only one per household.  This is, of course, because of the depredation cats inflict on wildlife.

Zürcher Tierschutz estimates there 1.4 million cats in the country, whose human population is just over 8.1 million.

Claudia Kistler, co-author of a study on cats for the group, said measures are needed to stabilize or reduce the cat population to protect wildlife, including small mammals, birds and reptiles.

“We have calculated that the density of cats in Zurich is 430 cats per square kilometre,” Kistler told Le Matin Dimanche newspaper earlier this year.

. . . “By comparison there are 10 to 15 fox for the same area.”

François Turrian, director of ASPO/Bird Life Suisse in French-speaking Switzerland, said the Zurich animal protection group’s proposal at least merits debate.

. . . “But let’s stop putting our heads in the sand: the cat is a great predator,” he said.

“It kills birds, small mammals, lizards, amphibians, dragonflies.”

Turrian said the green lizard had disappeared from certain areas of the canton of Valais and was rapidly declining in Geneva because of cats.

I am sensible of the infliction of cat damage on wildlife, but I think there are better ways to do this than limiting the number of cats per household. For one thing, many cats (including my last one) are strictly indoor cats; animals kept indoors and prevented from hunting do live much longer.  And some cats aren’t happy without a companion around. Why restrict those to one per household?

Of course the cat lovers are fighting back:

Dennis C. Turner, a British professor at the University of Zurich and a specialist in cats and dogs, is among those opposed to the one-cat, one household proposal.

Turner, a research associate at the institute of evolutionary biology and environmental studies, told Le Matin Dimanche that the idea there were too many cats in Switzerland was “completely unfounded”.

Switzerland may have more cats on a per capita basis than other countries because dogs are not permitted in many apartment buildings, he said.

“But Rome has 2,000 cats per square kilometre and there are 2,350 in a Japanese fishing village — don’t tell me that Switzerland suffers from an overpopulation of cats.” [JAC: The abundance of cats in other places, including a fishing village where presumably they are piscivores, does not mean that Swiss cats aren't overly abundant.]

Turner, who is director of the Institute for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology, said the proposal to limit cats may even be illegal.

Swiss animal protection law, for example, requires that guinea pigs must be owned in pairs so why should cats be forced into a solitary condition?

Now that is cute: Swiss law mandates that guinea pigs be kept in pairs. (Only Switzerland could make such a law, and I approve of it.) But cats suffer from loneliness too, especially if they’re kept inside.  Bell the cats, require them to be on a lead or stay inside, keep them in a fenced yars, but do not limit them to one per household.

h/t: Steve


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