Monday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on another balmy winter day in Chicago: it’s February 20, 2017, and National Muffin Day. It’s also Presidents’ Day, formerly George Washington’s Birthday, and a federal and state holiday. Though Washington was born on February 22, 1732, the day is celebrated on the third Monday of February, i.e., today. Other Presidents can be celebrated on this day, like Jefferson or Lincoln, but those don’t include Trump. It’s also, as proclaimed by the United Nations, World Day of Social Justice, a day for bloggers to flaunt their moral purity. (Only kidding! It is a day for social justice, but one that recognizes the need to do something about it.)

On this day in 1792, George Washington signed the act establishing the U.S. Post Office. In 1816, Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville premiered in Rome, spawning a million parodies of the Figaro song. Here’s one of them, starring Tom and Jerry:

In 1835, the Concepciòn Earthquake took place in Chile; Darwin, on his Beagle voyage, was in the area and wrote about the damage. On February 20, 1877, Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake opened at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. And on this day in 1942, Edward “Butch” O’Hare shot down several Japanese bombers to become the first “ace” in World War II. He was later killed in combat, but gave his name to Chicago’s largest airport. Below is a photo of him; note in the caption that his insignia was censored out of the picture, probably so the Japanese couldn’t identify him. (The Japanese flags on the plane represent the number of enemy aircraft he shot down.)

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LT Edward Butch O’Hare in a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat The wartime censor has blanked out the famous “Felix the Cat” squadron insignia on this photo

But. . . here he is with Felix. Note that the cat is carrying a bomb with a lit fuse:

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Notables born on this day include Ludwig Boltzmann (1844), Louis Kahn (1901), Ansel Adams (1902), Robert Altman (1925), Sidney Poitier (1927; he’s 90 today), Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941), Ivana Trump (1949, abandoned by The Donald for Marla Maples), Walter Becker of Steely Dan (1950), and Kurt Cobain (1967). Those who died on this day include Frederick Douglass (1895), Gene Siskel (1999), and Hunter Thompson and Sandra Dee (both 2005). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is hunting from the windowsill:

A: What are you looking at?
Hili: I’m waiting to see whether this is a stone or a mouse pretending to be a grey stone.
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In Polish:
Ja: Czemu się tak przyglądasz?
Hili: Patrzę, czy to jest kamień, czy mysz, która udaje szary kamień.
Lagniappe: A LOL submitted by reader Glenda, who says this:
The photos were taken June 2016. If you can’t use them at least you might get a chuckle.
The black carved cat is a treasured gift from a son who has since died. He loved cats too. My cats are Kofi – in honour of Kofi Annan -and Minky (aka Badass and Ditzy) . They are Devon Rex half sisters who are going on nine years old now. The scene takes place on their observation tower (the fridge) where they monitor most household activities – especially food preparation, of course.
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Best cinematography Oscar winners—all of them!

Film School Rejects put up this video of every movie that ever won a “Best Cinematography” Oscar.  It’s 7½ minutes long, and if you know every movie, I’ll eat my hat. You will certainly be intrigued by some of the more obscure movie and want to watch them—at least if you’re like me. FSR‘s notes:

Cinematography is more than just an element of film, it is integral and thus essential. You can have a movie without a script, after all, you can have a movie without sound, without actors, without a director even, but someone has to shoot film for it to be a movie, so in this regard the cinematographer isn’t just a spoke on the wheel of filmmaking, they’re the hub.

In the following seven-and-a-half-minute supercut, the fine folks at Burger Fiction have compiled, in order, every single Best Cinematography Winner in the history of the Academy Awards, including the years 1936 through 1966 when there were actually two such awards given out each time: one for black-and-white films, and one for films shot in color.

These are the films that have helped to define the art of cinematography, and therefore they’re more than mere winners, they are building blocks future generations of DPs must use to lay their own path through the field, taking and contributing simultaneously to insure their art is an ongoing evolution and not a static practice.

Be sure to watch this full screen. My two cinematography favorites are both here: Lawrence of Arabia and the underappreciated Days of Heaven, perhaps the most beautiful film ever made. And the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, filmed with handheld cameras, is mesmerizing.

This year’s nominees for this category are at the end.

If you have a cinematography favorite not on this list, put it below, along with your prediction of what movie will win for 2016.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

Does demonizing Trump supporters help the Left?

As you will know from reading this site, I have no love for Donald Trump. I fear he’s going to destroy America, and that this comes from his narcissism—his caring more about being loved and admired than about the welfare of America (or anyone but himself).  But what I see now among the Left is playing right into his hands. While the “Nazi” trope should be used sparingly, it’s often applied willy-nilly by bloggers or people on Facebook to smear not only Trump, but his supporters.

Well, Trump is not a Nazi, nor are all his supporters racists, xenophobes, or misogynists.  The worst comment that Hillary Clinton made during the election, I think, was this:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

Watch this and tell me you don’t this is insufferably smug:

Now Clinton apologized for this comment the next day, but the damage was done.

You don’t win elections by characterizing half of your opponent’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” nor by the kind of name-calling you see the third sentence of her quote. Now I didn’t know for sure in the days before the election, but I felt that this kind of demonization, and the moral superiority and certitude of the Left, was driving people into the arms of Trump. (Conservatives, of course, have their own moral certitude, often based on religion, but my audience here is my own readers, who are largely on the non-authoritarian Left.) And I feel uncomfortable, too. For instance, though I put up post after post detailing Trump’s follies, I also cringe when movie stars stand up at award ceremonies and give political speeches, because it’s a form of virtue signaling and arrogance that I see as unreflective and divisive. That would be like me, getting some kind of prize for doing science, giving a gratuitous political speech and calling for resistance to Trumpism (which of course I approve of).  But others may disagree.

Nevertheless, Sabrine Tavernese, a national correspondent for the New York Times, agrees with me in a new op-ed called “Are liberals helping Trump?” Her answer, by and large, is “yes.” Her argument, which finds support in interviews with several people, including Jon Haidt, is twofold. First, liberals’ name-calling of Trump supporters—even ones who voted for him reluctantly—has driven them more firmly into the Trump camp, for they see no compromise with the Left and are deeply hurt when they’re slandered. Second violent protesst by the Left reduces their support.

Here are a few quotes from the piece:

Jeffrey Medford, a small-business owner in South Carolina, voted reluctantly for Donald Trump. As a conservative, he felt the need to choose the Republican. But some things are making him feel uncomfortable — parts of Mr. Trump’s travel ban, for example, and the recurring theme of his apparent affinity for Russia.

Mr. Medford [a small business owner in South Carolina) should be a natural ally for liberals trying to convince the country that Mr. Trump was a bad choice. But it is not working out that way. Every time Mr. Medford dips into the political debate — either with strangers on Facebook or friends in New York and Los Angeles — he comes away feeling battered by contempt and an attitude of moral superiority.

“We’re backed into a corner,” said Mr. Medford, 46, whose business teaches people to be filmmakers. “There are at least some things about Trump I find to be defensible. But they are saying: ‘Agree with us 100 percent or you are morally bankrupt. You’re an idiot if you support any part of Trump.’ ”

He added: “I didn’t choose a side. They put me on one.”

and

Protests and righteous indignation on social media and in Hollywood may seem to liberals to be about policy and persuasion. But moderate conservatives say they are having the opposite effect, chipping away at their middle ground and pushing them closer to Mr. Trump.

“The name calling from the left is crazy,” said Bryce Youngquist, 34, who works in sales for a tech start-up in Mountain View, Calif., a liberal enclave where admitting you voted for Mr. Trump is a little like saying in the 1950s that you were gay. “They are complaining that Trump calls people names, but they turned into some mean people.”

He came out a few days before the election. On election night, a friend posted on Facebook, “You are a disgusting human being.”

“They were making me want to support him more with how irrational they were being,” Mr. Youngquist said.

There is absolutely no need to call someone like Youngquist a “disgusting human being”. You may feel more virtuous, but you’ve just hurt your cause. And there’s this:

Conservatives have gotten vicious, too, sometimes with Mr. Trump’s encouragement. But if political action is meant to persuade people that Mr. Trump is bad for the country, then people on the fence would seem a logical place to start. Yet many seemingly persuadable conservatives say that liberals are burning bridges rather than building them.

“We are in a trust spiral,” said Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University. “My fear is that we have reached escape velocity where the actions of each side can produce such strong reactions on the other that things will continue to escalate.”

and

I don’t have a problem with protesting as long as it’s peaceful, but this is destroying the country,” said Ann O’Connell, 72, a retired administrative assistant in Syracuse who voted for Mr. Trump. “I feel like we are in some kind of civil war right now. I know people don’t like to use those terms. But I think it’s scary.”

Mrs. O’Connell is a registered Democrat. She voted for Bill Clinton twice. But she has drifted away from the party over what she said was a move from its middle-class economic roots toward identity politics. She remembers Mr. Clinton giving a speech about the dangers of illegal immigration. Mr. Trump was lambasted for offering some of the same ideas, she said.

“The Democratic Party has changed so much that I don’t even recognize it anymore,” she said. “These people are destroying our democracy. They are scarier to me than these Islamic terrorists. I feel absolutely disgusted with them and their antics. It strengthens people’s resolve in wanting to support President Trump. It really does.”

and, finally, this:

Late last year, [Medford] hit it off with a woman in New York he met online. They spent hours on the phone. They made plans for him to visit. But when he mentioned he had voted for Mr. Trump, she said she was embarrassed and didn’t know if she wanted him to come. (He eventually did, but she lied to her friends about his visiting.)

“It invalidated anything that’s good about me, just because of how I voted. Poof, it’s gone.”

Well, I can sort of understand not wanting a romantic relationship with a Trump voter, just as I don’t think I could be involved with someone who is deeply religious. But the name-calling I see everywhere, and the virtue signaling exemplified by sites like The Huffington Post, turn me off. And I’m a Democrat who voted for Clinton!

It’s time that angry liberals stop calling every Republican a misogynist, a Nazi, or a white supremacist. On left-wing websites everywhere, these terms are being dispensed like gumballs from a machine. If we really want to take back the country, we have to deal with issues. Name-calling may make us feel good, but it’s not going to change the country. Buckling down and working for your ideas may not succeed, either, for the three branches of government are all moving rightward. But political action has a better chance of succeeding than does slander.

Stop the gratuitous slaughter of Alaska’s wildlife

According to the Dodo, the Sierra Club, and other sites, the U.S. House of Representatives just voted to overturn a prior ban on hunting in the wildlife refuges of Alaska. The resolution allows hunters to enter dens and slaughter entire families of bears and wolves, as well as to lure animals with food and shoot them at point-blank range. They can also use the unspeakably cruel leg traps, and even shoot from helicopters!

There seems to be no genuine conservation reason for overturning this ban, which was previously applauded even by hunters, as well as the citizens of Alaska. As the Sierra Club notes, there’s no scientific evidence that killing these animals will effect any kind of needed change, for these mammals are already being managed by the state of Alaska. Rather, this seems to be a Republican-inspired sop to hunters who want to put a grizzly-bear rug on their floor, or simply to blast away at wolves. As The Dodo notes:

Now it’s unclear why the push to overturn the ban was introduced in the first place, as a 2016 poll of Alaska voters showed that most agreed that those practices should be banned. Alaska’s Representative Don Young (R-AK), who has trapped animals in the past, introduced the measure, known as H.J. Resolution 69, anyway.

Congress voted 225 to 193 in favor of it on Thursday, some citing states’ rights as the reason for their vote in favor, despite the resolution being about federal lands.

“Special interest groups are quietly working at the federal and state level to lay the groundwork for federally managed lands to be handed over wholesale to state or even private ownership,” Dan Ashe, then-FWS director, wrote last year in an op-ed. “Unfortunately, without the protections of federal law and the public engagement it ensures, this heritage is incredibly vulnerable.”

The Dodo asked Rep. Young for a comment as to why he would push to allow these practices when so many voters oppose them. His office did not immediately respond.

Young is a jerk; he can’t even be arsed to answer the question. Most likely he wouldn’t want to answer publicly.

Here’s the final House vote on HJ 69, which, as usual, is very strongly divided along party lines;

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Here’s the Sierra Club’s statement on the new resolution:

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule. Voiding the rule undermines the management of public lands in Alaska, including not only national wildlife refuge lands, but also national park lands in Denali and other places. It cedes control of wildlife management on national public lands to a narrow set of extreme hunting interests. If passed out of Congress, it could have drastic implications for national public lands across the country.

In response, Alli Harvey, Alaska Representative for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign issued the following statement.

“The resolution passed today undermines the very premise of wildlife refuges as places for wildlife conservation. The extreme hunting measures promoted by this resolution– from targeting cubs with their mothers to baiting and gunning animals down from planes, are opposed by the majority of Americans and Alaskans. These measures threaten the future of bears, wolves and other predators that are so much a part of the Alaskan identity.

“Across the country wildlife refuges and other public lands support an amazing array of wildlife, recreation opportunities and outdoor economies. They provide refuge not just for wildlife, but people as well. There is value in the existence of wild places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the opportunities they provide to connect with the natural world. Our public lands must not be sold-out to narrow special interests, but preserved to inspire the hopes and dreams of future generations. We have a responsibility to ensure our parks and wildlife refuges remain protected by basic national environmental safeguards.”

Now this isn’t over yet, for the resolution has to be approved by the Senate, and SJ Resolution 18 is now being considered. There are two things you can do. First, sign the Sierra Club’s petition against the Senate bill, which you can find here.

Second, you can contact your Senator, as the bill hasn’t yet passed. The names and sites of your Senator can be found here, and, if you want, you can simply paste in the language from the Sierra Club petition, below. It’s dead easy to write Senators, as every one has a “contact” site where you can fill in your details as a constituent and leave a message. The site even allows you to enter your state in a pull-down menu and find your two senators directly.

Email header: I oppose the slaughter of wolves and grizzly babies in Alaskan wildlife refuges

Email contents:

Please oppose the CRA joint resolution, S.J. Res. 18, which would allow the cruel slaughter of wolf pups and grizzly cubs.

These proposed resolutions to strike the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule would allow wolves and grizzlies to be chased down by air and sprayed with bullets under the false pretense of “predator control.” Repealing this rule would also allow the slaughter of hibernating grizzlies and their cubs and targeting of wolf dens where pups are sheltered from natural predators.

The state of Alaska claims that these so-called “predator control” activities will increase populations of game animals like elk, moose, and caribou but there’s just one problem – there is no scientific evidence to back up that claim. Additionally, polls show most Alaskans do not support the use of these barbaric methods in National Wildlife Refuges.

Please reject the CRA joint resolution — S.J. Res. 18 — to protect grizzlies and wolves from this horrifying practice.

I don’t often ask readers to take action, and I never ask for money. But if you’re an American who opposes this resolution, as do the voters of Alaska themselves, then please drop a note to your Senator and sign the Sierra Club petition. We progressives can fight back against the Republicans, but the animals of Alaska have no such voice in issues concerning their very survival.

h/t: Nicole Reggia

“Feminist government” of Sweden dons hijabs and body-covering coats in Iran

The official website of the government of Sweden proclaims this:

A FEMINIST GOVERNMENT

Sweden has the first feminist government in the world. This means that gender equality is central to the Government’s priorities – in decision-making and resource allocation. A feminist government ensures that a gender equality perspective is brought into policy-making on a broad front, both nationally and internationally. Women and men must have the same power to shape society and their own lives.

There’s also a photo (I’m not sure which officials are included) with more than half of the people being women:

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Photo: Kristian Pohl/Regeringskansliet

And of course this is great. Sweden has been a pioneer in implementing the policy noted above, including a parental-leave policy that funds leave for both mothers and fathers—and you get financially penalized if the dad doesn’t take leave. So what happens when the feminist Swedish government sent its Prime Minister (Stefan Lofven) as well as its its trade minister (Ann Linde) and a delegation to Iran—a delegation that included 11 women?

What happened you can see below: all the women not only wore hijabs, but also longish coats to cover their lust-inciting bodies. Nor did they shake hands with any of the men, for even that gesture is barred in Iran, though I’m not sure whether it’s illegal.  Now as the Washington Post reports,

By law, women are required to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes when they appear in public in Iran, a country governed by a conservative Islamic elite. Many choose to wear loose-fitting hijabs, like the one worn by Linde in the picture [below].

These rules require international visitors to dress modestly even if they are only in the country for a short time.

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Linde was heavily veiled when she signed a document next to Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs:

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Ann Linde, left, Sweden’s minister for European Union affairs and trade, and Shahindokht Molaverdi, Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, sign documents at Saadabad Palace in Tehran on Feb. 11. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Here’s Linde deferring to the custom that women not shake hands with men—in this case, Iranian President Rouhani:

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While it is the law that women, including foreigners, should be veiled in Iran, I doubt that they are required to wear long coats.

The feminist government has received the expected pushback for complying with laws that are religiously based and stem from the idea that it’s a woman’s responsibility to cover her shameful body lest she incite the uncontrollable lust of men. As the Post reports:

“By actually complying with the directives of the Islamic Republic, Western women legitimize the compulsory hijab law,” Alinejad [an Iranian women’s rights activist see below] wrote on Facebook. “This is a discriminatory law and it’s not an internal matter when the Islamic Republic forces all non-Iranian women to wear hijab as well.”

Alinejad later shared to Facebook a recent image of Sweden’s deputy prime minister Isabella Lovin signing a document with an all-female staff behind her. That image recently went viral, as many viewed it as a criticism of President Trump’s abortion policies. “Trump’s words on women are worthy of condemnation; so are the discriminatory laws in Iran,” Alinejad wrote.

Speaking to Expressen, Linde said she had not wanted to wear a headscarf. “But it is law in Iran that women must wear the veil. One can hardly come here and break the laws,” she explained.

Other Swedish politicians were more critical. Jan Björklund, leader of the opposition Liberals party, told Aftonbladet newspaper that the headscarf is “a symbol of oppression for women in Iran” and that the Swedish government should have demanded that Linde and other female members of the delegation be exempted from wearing it.

You remember that FIDE, the international chess federation, also has a statement that “rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of gender”, but required women chess players of all nationalities to don the hijab for the world chess championships in Iran, which is underway right now. Many women refused to participate because of the hijab requirement, including American chess champion Nazi Paikidze. Wikipedia names others, some of whom may have different reasons:

Hou Yifan, the reigning women’s world champion and top ranked female player, decided not to enter the tournament because of dissatisfaction with FIDE’s Women’s World Championship system. The 2015 Women’s World Champion, Mariya Muzychuk, and current US Women’s Champion Nazi Paikidze also elected not to attend, out of protest at the tournament’s location in Iran, where it is mandatory for women to wear the headscarf in public. Other notable absentees are women’s world number 4 Humpy Koneru and 7-time US Women’s Champion Irina Krush.

Now the case of Sweden is less clear cut, as of course countries have to maintain relationships with each other. But I think it goes too far to force non-Muslims (or anybody) to adhere to religious dictates while they’re not in a house of worship. And of course wearing hijabs in Iran is not a choice: it’s compulsory, and has been so since 1979. In the end, it seems to me that the Swedes should either not have gone to Iran, told the Iranians that they had to have the meeting in Sweden or in a neutral country, or insisted on not wearing the hijab.  As UN Watch notes:

“If Sweden really cares about human rights, they should not be empowering a regime that brutalizes its own citizens while carrying out genocide in Syria; and if they care about women’s rights, then the female ministers never should have gone to misogynistic Iran in the first place,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

The government has now come under sharp criticism from centrist and left-wing Swedish lawmakers, who said the ministers should not have deferred to “gender apartheid.”

Seth Frantzman at The Jerusalem Post is ever more exercised:

Countries that respect human rights and equality shouldn’t send delegations to Iran in the first place. It’s one thing to cover one’s hair or remove shoes when entering a house of worship, to observe the local custom, but when a country has vicious discriminatory laws forcing women to dress a certain way, it’s time for governments to say “no.” No meetings, no respect, no stamp of approval to fascist treatment for women.

If Iran can force foreign diplomatic delegations of women to wear large coats and cover up their hair, what if a government forced female diplomats to go topless? Would that be a red line? You may think it’s ridiculous – but why is it any more ridiculous to force women to disrobe then to force them to robe? If Iran can force women in a delegation not to present their hands to a male leader, lest he be “contaminated,” then why can’t Western countries force the Iranians to shake the hands of women and observe Western customs? It might offend them? You’d think, maybe, it is logical to show deference and respect for another culture if that culture and religion shows deference and respect for your way of life. But what happens when the Iranians visit Europe? Italy covered up nude statues so as not to offend the Ayatollah.

. . . Beyond being honest in our language, we need to have a different policy when it comes to Iran and Saudi Arabia and regimes like them. We must demand that Rouhani’s delegations to the West consist of Iranian women dissidents, such as those imprisoned for attending volleyball games, or he won’t be allowed to come. Saudi Arabian diplomats must be forbidden to drive when they visit, and their male diplomats in our societies will have to ask permission from women who will be appointed their guardians before they travel.

Here’s a video of Iranian women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, founder of the My Stealthy Freedom page (where women take off their hijabs as a protest; see here as well), urging Western politicians not to obey these compulsory hijab laws. Alinejad refutes four arguments that Westerners use to justify wearing the hijab in Iran. Needless to say, Alinejad doesn’t live in Iran, where she’d be arrested (or worse): she’s living in exile in the UK. Note that when she got a visa to the US specifically to interview Barack Obama, he refused the interview.

This is a brave and heartfelt plea, and at 8:20 Alinejad waxes particularly eloquent, calling European female politicians “hyocrites” for bowing to hijab laws. At least listen to the last minute, and if you like that video, watch this one on the My Stealthy Freedom campaign.

So I quail at a feminist government obeying laws designed to oppress women. In the end, I don’t think the Swedes should have gone to Iran and obeyed their misogynistic laws. Similarly, if Israel required visiting male diplomats to wear yarmulkes during a diplomatic meeting, or stipulated that women couldn’t shake hands with men, I’d decry that, too.

But I’m interested in readers’ views, particularly from women, so weigh in below.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Remember to send in your photos, or I’ll run out within a week!  Reader Tim Garrett sent some of his local wildlife, but we should never neglect those plants and animals that live close to humans! Tim’s notes and IDs are indented:
My wildlife photos are mostly of the backyard variety but we have a good mix of native eastern Missouri types. We live just up the bluff from a good size tributary of the Mississippi River named the Meramac River. It actually defines the southern border of St. Louis county. Here are some of my favorite ones:
There was an eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) who lived under some concrete steps. We called him “Chip,” of course.
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He would stuff his face with seeds:

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We hadn’t seen him since last summer. I think a red tail hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) got him. I don’t have a good picture of culprit yet. The hawk has killed and eaten one of my female cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). Here’s one of the three male Northern Cardinals that hang out in my yard watching the feeder:

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The closest thing to a dinosaur walking through my yard is this female wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

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We have some eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) that are occasionally here. They are the state bird of Missouri and are on our car’s license plate:

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We have all manner of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) passing through. Here, a female with her two fawns who both decided to get a drink at the same time. The fawns are likely male and female and just losing their camouflage spots:

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I think this is a gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor). He and his buddies get very loud in the spring:

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We have hummingbirds in the summer. I’m still learning how to photograph them. I think this is a immature male ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). It might be a female?

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We have five-lined skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus) all around our property. The immature ones have bright blue tail. This guy was hiding in a basement window well:

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Finally, an immature  Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) on my front porch. I love how it’s looking over its shoulder at me. Wikipedia says the praying mantis is the only insect with this extra degree of freedom:

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Sunday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Good morning on Ceiling Cat’s Day: Sunday, February 19, 2017. The temperatures reached another record in Chicago yesterday: the news reported a high 70° F, or 21° C. That’s a record for this date—by a long shot. And for the next couple of days it will be almost that warm. It’s National Chocolate Mint Day, but I will eschew that comestible in favor of bread pudding. In Bulgaria, my friends are commemorating Vasil Levski Day, honoring a hero of national independence.

On February 19, 1878, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph. And in 1915, the British attack on the Dardanelles began, ordered by Winston Churchill. The attack on Gallipoli in April was, of course, a total disaster for the British, but a great victory for the Ottomans–and for the reputation of Kemal Atatürk. In 1943, Japanese aircraft attacked Darwin, Australia, killing 243 people; I had no idea that Australia was ever attacked directly. On this day in 1963, Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book The Feminine Mystique was published, and in 1985 the BBC began broadcasting its famous program Eastenders; I’ve never heard it, and hope that a reader will explain it and its popularity.

Notables born on this day include Nicolaus Copernicus (1473; I’ve seen his birthplace in Torun, see here), Lee Marvin (1924), Smokey Robinson (1940), Will Provine (1942), Tim Hunt (1943), Amy Tan (1952), and Seal (1963).  Those who died on this day include Ernst Mach (1915), Leo Rosten (1997), and two authors on the same day last year: Umberto Eco and Harper Lee. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Miss Hili is appropriating a prime spot next to the fireplace:

Hili: I think I will annex this place.
A: I think not, this is a place for wood.
Hili: I think I’m going to insist.
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 In Polish:
Hili: Chyba zaanektuję tę wnękę.
Ja: Chyba nie, bo to jest miejsce na drewno do kominka.
Hili: Chyba będę się upierać.

In nearby Wloclawek, Leon is stopping to smell the roses, but he isn’t impressed:

Leon: Are these flowers for me? I would prefer tuna.

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Lagniappe: a tw**t sent in by reader Ursula:

A cat saves a tiny puppy

Whoever thinks cats are useless, ponder this video! And can you imagine the reverse situation?

h/t: Malgorzata

Milo appears on Maher

Last night the controversial Milo Yiannopoulos appeared on Bill Maher’s show, which is like putting a match on gasoline (Maher would be the gasoline). I received that information from several readers, and here are some quotes from their emails (I’ll not give their names):

Interesting Bill Maher show with Milo. Really reinforces the idea that the best thing is to give people like [Milo] all the platform and air that they can get. He was, by a country mile, the least interesting person on the show. Without the hysterics of his would be censors he would have a shelf-life of a few days.

and

I had never heard Milo Yiannopoulos speak before watching this interview with Bill Maher. The interview is far from HEATED as described and maybe this isn’t representative of Yiannopoulos’ stock performance, but if this is an example of what drives some liberals to distraction, we are in a far more frightening place than I realized.

Watch for yourself. My only comments are that Maher makes some good criticisms of Milo (his irrational Catholicism, his gratuitous meanness, etc.; and Milo just changes the subject every time). What we have here is not a discussion but a sparring match combined with some world-class preening by Milo, and Maher comes out on top. I’ve realized that Milo may handle questions better when they’re leveled by triggered university students, but on a show like this, with a calm and thoughtful interlocutor, Milo doesn’t fare well:

And one reader sent me the “overtime” segment with this note: “The Overtime panel where Milo gets ass handed to him by smart guy and funny guy [Larry Wilmore], neither of which he is.”

Here’s that one:

The New York Times article on the Maher/Yiannopoulos confrontation is remarkably tepid—perhaps because the “confrontation” itself was. There’s a lot of heat, to be sure, but no light.

Finally, if you want to watch the whole hour, which has a nice interview about Scientology with Leah Remini, here it is (h/t reader Ken):

Terrible science reporting at the Guardian: woolly mammoth “on verge of resurrection”? I doubt it, and Matthew corrects it

George Church, a well known geneticist at Harvard, is renowned for his contributions to methods of sequencing DNA as well as of “bioengineering” DNA by changing it using the CRISPR technique, which he helped develop. CRISPR gives us the ability to precisely edit DNA, inserting individual nucleotides, bits of genes, or whole genes and groups of genes into precise locations in another genome. We can even use it to turn on inserted genes at will. This, of course, opens up a vast array of remarkable things we can do, has huge implications for things like human health and crop improvement, and surely the inventors of the technique will get a Nobel Prize. (Who owns the patents to this method has been the subject of bitter dispute. They were awarded this week to the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but further battles remain.)

One of the more bizarre applications of CRISPR was suggested, and is apparently under development, by Church’s own lab. It is, as the Guardian just reported, an attempt to bring back the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), a pachyderm that went extinct only about 4,000 years ago, probably due to a combination of climate warming and human hunting.

The mammoth, pictured below, is far more closely related to the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus, which diverged from the mammoth 6 million years ago) than to the African elephant (Loxodonta spp., which diverged from the mammoth 25 million years ago), and so Church is proposing to use Asian elephants to “resurrect” the mammoth.

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(Guardian caption) Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), a model of an extinct Ice Age mammoth. Photograph: Andrew Nelmerm/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

The problem is that the Guardian headline,“Wooly mammoth on verge of resurrection, scientists reveal”, and its contents, produced by Guardian science writer Hannah Devlin, are completely erroneous. What she did originally was to just uncritically quote George Church and his research plan, and then leverage that into a clickbait piece. That piece in fact was the most quoted article in the Guardian yesterday, accruing over 1400 comments. But it was just wrong, or, to paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli, “not even wrong”, for reasons I describe below. After it was published, our own Matthew Cobb, ever vigilant for bad science, complained on Twitter to the journalist. Such is the power of Twitter that she then inserted a few critical comments from Matthew. But the piece remains misleading.

What Church intends to do is not even close to resurrecting the mammoth, which would mean producing a live animal containing an entire woolly mammoth genome. As I’ve said before, we don’t have the technology to do that, because if you try to do it by putting a mammoth genome into a “host” Asian-elephant egg whose own DNA has been removed, it wouldn’t work. That’s because you can’t just stick all the DNA of a mammoth willy-nilly (or should I say “woolly nilly”?) into a DNA-less elephant egg: the DNA has to be properly arrayed on chromosomes to function. Further, maternal-effect substances from a mother mammoth would have put in the egg, for the Asian elephant doesn’t have those.

The DNA of woolly mammoths can’t be synthesized on whole chromosomes, and the DNA from frozen mammoths themselves (several have been found that fell into crevasses in the ice, preserved for thousands of years), has degraded to the point that it’s not in the proper configuration on chromosomes. What we have is bits of preserved mammoth genome. From that we can get its genomic sequence, but we can’t get a usable genome ready to insert into an egg.

As I said, we can use those bits to sequence the entire mammoth genome, and thereby see the differences between it and its close relative, the Asian elephant. What can we do then? Well, we can’t resurrect the woolly mammoth—not by a long shot. What we can do right now is simply put a small number of mammoth DNA sequences (genes) into an Asian elephant’s DNA, and then rear an egg that would, in effect, develop—if it does develop—into an Asian elephant with some woolly mammoth traits, like smaller ears, more fat, and more hair.

But even to do that we must know exactly which woolly mammoth genes produce its difference in appearance and physiology from the Asian elephant, and we don’t even know that. What Church et al. have apparently done is picked some “candidate” genes whose DNA sequence differs between the two species, and then splice in about 45 of those candidates into an Asian elephant embryo using the CRISPR technique. What they’ve achieved so far, though, is limited to having put some mammoth genes into cultured skin cells from an Asian elephant, and gotten the mammoth genes to express themselves–to produce a proteins or messenger RNA. While this is nice, it’s not anywhere near creating a whole mammoth.

There are further problems. Astoundingly, Church plans to rear this mammothized Asian elephant embryo in an “artificial womb”, which is pure fantasy. Such wombs been used to rear mice for 10 days, but not to term (20 days). No mammal has ever been successfully reared to the “birth” stage from an artificial womb. To rear a mouse embryo for ten days is quite different from rearing a 100-kilogram mammoth embryo to term over a period of 22 months! To suggest that this is just around the corner is pure fantasy—and bad reporting. Need I add that Church has never published a paper giving details of his technique or of the artificial womb?

And why would they use an artificial womb rather than implanting the mammothized egg back into an Asian elephant, a form of in vitro fertilization? Well, that could be dangerous for both the embryo and the mother, and I doubt that any zoo would volunteer one of their Asian elephants to become the surrogate mom.

The whole technique would, if successful (and that’s a long, long shot) produce an Asian elephant might be hairy and have small ears and a few other mammoth-like traits. But it’s not a genuine mammoth by any means, and the Guardian was wrong to suggest so. What Devlin did in her first version was simply parrot what Church said, not asking any other geneticists to comment Church’s plan. (Bad form!) That’s when Matthew tweeted “foul” and Devlin added his comments to her credulous report.

Vestigial bits of that article are still there, and they’re misleading:

The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.

Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the “de-extinction” effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant.

Maybe, but that embryo has to be reared to birth, and we’re not going to do that any time soon. Even developing an artificial womb that could succor a hybrid embryo for 22 months is an enormous undertaking.

Finally, Church suggested that this technique could be used, as Devlin wrote, “to help preserve the Asian elephant, which is endangered, in an altered form.”  Presumably he means that they’d produce a lot of hairy, mammothy Asian elephants and then release them in northern Asia, where their hirsuteness and fat would preserve them in the cold. That’s ridiculous too. The way to save the Asian elephant is to preserve its habitat and stop people from killing them or, in the worst case, keep a bunch of them in zoos.

Here’s Matthew’s brief pushback in the Guardian article, added to the original credulous piece. He brings up a point I hadn’t considered:

Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, said: “The proposed ‘de-extinction’ of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue – the mammoth was not simply a set of genes, it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant. What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”

. . . . “Church’s team is proposing to rear the embryo in an ‘artificial womb’ which seems ambitious to say the least – the resultant animal would have been deprived of all the pre-birth interactions with its mother,” said Cobb.

If you know British euphemistic language, you’ll know that by “seems ambitious to say the least”, Matthew means “this is going to fail big time, and that’s only one of the problems.” Matthew’s summary to me in an email, which I reproduce with permission, is this:

In fact [Church] is more circumspect than a rapid reading implies – he merely wants to use CRISPR to introduce some mammoth-like sequences into an asian elephant embryo. End of. The rest is fantasy – artificial uteruses and the rest. Sigh.

The big fault here is the journalist Devlin, who reports on an imminent “resurrection” of the woolly mammoth, a complete and utter fabrication. Church, of course, is also guilty—of wasting time and money on a hairbrained scheme that almost certainly won’t work, and even if it did work won’t resurrect anything meaningful. In fact, if you want a mammothy elephant, it’s far safer to select for Asian elephants to be hairier and have more fat and reduced ears. (That, of course, would take ages, but it wouldn’t have the dangers or expense of gene editing.)

After Matthew’s tweet and the Guardian’s insertion of his remarks, Matthew was besieged by radio and television stations to comment on this “exciting” story. (The public loves to contemplate the reappearance of extinct creatures.) As he said, “Yesterday turned into Mammoth Day.” He had to turn most of the requests down, but here he is on Newsnight last night commenting on the mammoth proposal.

I’ll just add, by way of full disclosure, that I’ve crossed swords with Dr. Church before—but on the issue of science vs. religion (see here and here; he’s an accommodationist).

But that had nothing to do with Mammoth Resurrection. Church is a good scientist and an accomplished one, but in this case he’s wasting a lot of time and money in a futile attempt to resurrect an animal which, even if resurrected, would have to be brought back in multiple copies of opposite sexes.

As the Germans would say, “Das ist ja Wahnsinn!”