I hate TSA and customs

Well, I wasn’t groped this time, but it was still a nightmare getting into my own country. The flight from Puebla to Houston was fine: I got to the airport early (about 6:00 am) and had breakfast with two physicists, Mario Livio and Adam Riess  (yes, a Nobelist at the impossibly young age of 41) and then got to sit at the gate with Robyn Blumner (Pres. and CEO of the Center for Inquiry and head of the Dawkins Foundation) and Julia Sweeney (the author and comedian formerly known as Pat). Richard is writing a new book, but I don’t think I can divulge it here.

At the meeting I collected a lot of signatures for the copy of Faith versus Fact that will be auctioned off on eBay in a year or so when I’ve gotten every well known atheist and scientist I know to sign it. My haul this time included the signatures (and a statement) from  Steve Pinker, Robyn, two Nobel Laureates, including Riess, and Julia.  We already have James Randi, Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sean Carroll, Maryam Namazie, Lawrence Krauss and a ton of other people. Sam Harris, as always, is the most elusive quarry, but I’ll see him in Chicago in February.  I hope another rich person buys it when it’s done, as the proceeds will go to charity. (A similar version of WEIT, with fewer signatures but artistically illuminated by Kelly Houle, sold on eBay for $10,500.)

Other good news: I wasn’t groped anywhere.

That was the good part. The bad part is that when clearing customs in Houston, I waited over an hour in a slowly-moving line, only at the end to have the passport-checker decide that I needed to go downstairs into Luggage Hell for a “bag check”. I was minutely questioned and my bags examined and X-rayed before I had to leave the terminal, re-enter and then go through security. And even though I had TSA “Pre-Check”, they decided to examine my bags all over again and swab them for explosives.  So while I budgeted a good three-hour layover in Houston, including the purchase of much-needed noms (I skipped dinner last night because of our early departure), I have now only 45 minutes till we board for Chicago. I guess I don’t need to eat anyway.

I don’t mind being examined, but I don’t understand why my bags were singled out—twice. Further, why did they have only one customs agent in Houston to handle such a long line of arrivals?

But the good news is that nobody touched my buttocks.

And some lagniappe below: two photos of the “goodies bar” at the meeting, full of snacks, chocolates, and fancy delicacies, including jars of mixed Nutella and chocolate (lower right). There was also a coffee bar, a pastry bar, a buffet, and a tequila bar. But more on that, including pictures, and on the various talks I heard, after I get back to Chicago. Since I’m flying business class. I’m going to cadge as many noms as I can.

Oy, am I hungry!

Monday: Hili dialogue

By the time you read this, on Monday, November 20, 2017, I’ll be heading to the Puebla airport for a flight to Houston, then back to Chicago. It was a great meeting, and at the last minute Andrés Roemer, organizer of the conference, suggested, to leaven the talks with more interaction, that I replace my lecture with a conversation. Since I wasn’t keen anyway on delivering a ten-minute talk on “ways of knowing” with any hope of getting my points across, I immediately agreed, for I love the spontaneous give-and-take of conversation as opposed to the dogmatism of a lecture. I was, however, a bit nervous about giving a last-minute presentation to an audience of several thousand. Fortunately, Andrés suggested I talk discuss whatever I wanted to lecture about with Isabel Behncke, a Chilean primatologist who studies bonobos (see her TED talk on bonobos here).

Isabel and I had about 20 minutes to organize a “conversation”, so Isabel and I (who had never met before) planned our discussion right up to the time we went onstage, even in the makeup room. It turned out that she was a great interviewer, asked very good questions, and I managed, to my surprise, to say everything I wanted to say in the planned talk simply by answering Isabel’s questions. From now on I’m favoring a conversational rather than a lecture format. I think the audience likes it better, too, or at least they seemed to.

Here we are talking about our incipient discussion as Isabel was getting made up (men aren’t offered the option of makeup; is that sexist?)

Our conversation, I’m told, will soon be posted on YouTube, as well as a short interview with yours truly on Facebook, which I’ll mention when they’re available.

Below: Isabel on right, another attendee, Davin, on the left, after the two discussants had downed several post-discussion tequilas and I, at least, was pleasantly borracho. (I don’t ever drink before a talk.) Isabel is holding a caricature drawn by the same guy who did mine, also including a monkey but adding a big gorilla.

It’s National Peanut Butter Fudge Day, which is okay, but I prefer chocolate. Here in Mexico, it’s National Revolution Day, marking the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz in 1910.

On November 10, 1789, New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights, which of course includes my favorite Amendment, the First.  On this day in 1805, Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, opened in Vienna. Exactly 15 years later, this happened (from Wikipedia):

An 80-ton sperm whale attacks the Essex (a whaling ship from Nantucket, Massachusetts) 2,000 miles from the western coast of South America. (Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick is in part inspired by this story.)

On this day in 1945, the Nuremberg trials began, with 24 Nazi war criminals in the dock. All but five were convicted. Finally, on November 20, 1985, Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released, though I’ve never used anything but a Mac.

Notables born on this day include Karl von Frisch (1886), Robert F. Kennedy (1925) and Duane Allman (1946, died in a motorcycle accident in 1971). Those who became bereft of life include Leo Tolstoy (1910), Trofim Lysenko (1976),  Giorgio de Chirico (1978; cat painting not found), and Charles Manson (2017).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is showing signs of her book reading:

Hili: Logic is like a tongue.
A: In what sense?
Hili: It’s taking care of the hygiene of thoughts.
In Polish:
Hili: Logika jest jak język.
Ja: W jakim sensie?
Hili: Dba o higienę myśli.

Some tweets sent by Matthew Cobb. The tag a cat should leave with its “gift”:

Neandertal character studies. Matthew also recommends Björklund’s Facebook page.

This is likely an adult because some species of pygmy possum in Australia do indeed weigh 10 grams (a third of an ounce) when full grown:

and a cat bicycling in its dreams (be sure to watch the video):

And watch this preview of the “Insecta” movie:

Charles Manson died

Charles Manson, the most hated and feared criminal of our time, who, curiously, attracted many followers, died yesterday of “natural causes” at age 83. If you’ve followed the news, this was almost inevitable, for he’d been hospitalized since November 15 and reported on the brink of death. He died at Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, California after transfer from the California State Prison in Corcoran.

As you’ll know, and I remember well, in 1969 Manson masterminded (but did not participate in) two killings: the “Tate murders” and “LaBianca murders” over two nights in Los Angeles. He was later revealed as the instigator by a prison slip of the tongue by one of the “Manson family”, Susan Atkins. Manson was convicted and sentenced to death in 1971, but that was commuted to life in prison (with the possibility of parole!) in 1972. He never got parole, of course, and spent the next 46 years in jail, largely isolated from other inmates. Given the crimes he’d committed when younger, he’d spent about two thirds of his life in jail.

He was of course mentally ill, but sufficiently charismatic to not only build up his “family”, but order them to kill people, ostensibly to ignite a race war in the U.S.

Here’s a mugshot taken in 1969; it’s perhaps the most famous photo of Manson because of those eyes:

And another shot from six years ago with a swastika tattooed on his forehead:

Here’s perhaps the most famous of four interviews of Manson. In this 45-minute clip, aired in 1986, Manson was interviewed by Charlie Rose. As I recall, in his subsequent interviews his behavior became crazier and crazier.

There’s not much more to say about the man once his crimes and mental illness have been recounted. How he became a godlike figure and attracted the love and fealty of others I’ll leave to the psychologists.

Sunday: Hili dialogue

Good morning; it’s another warm and sunny day in lovely Puebla Mexico: November 19, 2017. I’m speaking today, but for only 10 minutes. But I’ll have plenty of fuel in my belly! It’s National Macchiato Day, and maybe I’ll have one this morning at the Green Room coffee bar. It’s also an official UN observance day, National Toilet Day. Be sure to use your toilet, and be thankful you have one!

It’s likely that I’ll be able to post only the Hili dialogue this morning (and maybe tomorrow), as I’m off early and then must be at the venue all day. Tomorrow I leave for my flight at 5:40 a.m. Bear with me until I return to Chicago and can post properly.

On this day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at a dedication ceremony for the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On November 19, 1959, the Ford Motor Company discontinued the unpopular Edsel, which remains (though decreasingly so as the Millennials forget about that car), the poster child for a bad idea. It was the front grill, which looked like a sucking mouth and turned people off:

On this day in 1969, the Brazilian football player Pelé scored his 1,000th goal.  On November 19, 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives began impeachment hearings against President Bill Clinton for lying to investigators during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Notables born on November 19 include James A. Garfield (1831), Tommy Dorsey (1905), Indira Gandhi (1917), Ann Curry (1956), Meg Ryan (1961), and Jodie Foster (1962). Those who joined the Choir Invisible on this day include The Man in the Iron Mask (1703), Franz Schubert (1828), Emma Lazarus (1867), Joe Hill (1915), and Frederick Sanger (2013).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is too busy nomming to go for walkies:

A: Let’s go for a walk.
Hili: Wait, breakfast is the most important meal before the second breakfast.
In Polish:
Ja: Chodź, idziemy na spacer.
Hili: Poczekaj, śniadanie jest najważniejszym posiłkiem przed drugim śniadaniem.

Here are some tweets from Matthew Cobb; the first two show predation (or scavenging):

Nature red in tooth; not a pretty picture but intriguing; I’m pretty sure the hyenas didn’t kill the lioness but scavenged her carcass:

Matthew says, “This is a sad story but a nice drawing”:

Matthew’s comment on this: “Fishfly? Never heard of it. Ross is a greta invert biologist who has posted on WEIT.” I haven’t heard of it either.

And a deer inadvertently decorated for the holidays;

Finally, Grania, who’s been AWOL, sent this tw**t with the note “Here’s a happy ending for you.” Indeed! Be sure to watch the video and turn the sound up to hear the adorable squeaks.

Aztecs and caricatures

I’ve just returned from a huge comida of goat stew (mole de caderas, a seasonal Puebla speciality), chalupas, mollejas, and guajolotes at an out of the way, very local, and fantastic restaurant, and oy, am I full! Pictures will be forthcoming, but not now as I have little time and uploading pictures is slow. Instead, in a bit of solipsism, I’ll put up two caricatures of me and a bit of cultural appropriation.

On this trip I’m paired with evolutionary psychologist David Buss (U. Texas Austin), both of us excellently hosted by local resident Juan. At the venue this morning, we came across two Aztec warriors, whom I assumed were either part of the entertainment or the atmosphere. We didn’t actually ask to pose with them, but I did take their picture and they invited us to join in a photo. So here we are, with David and I appropriating the warriors’ conch shell and club.

I just know that somebody is gonna be upset by these photos, but too bad.

The Green Room, where they have live feed from the auditorium, is the place to watch the talks, as the theater is packed and the aisles are narrow, but the Green Room has a good view of the talks, all the visiting speakers, people running the conference, visitors like the governor of Puebla, tons of fantastic food and drink (including a tequila bar), and weird things happening all the time. One of the latter was the appearance of artists who walked around doing caricatures of the speakers and guests, and then giving them to the subjects. So now I have two caricatures of me, which I show solipsistically. They’re mine now, and I love them.

The first artist, who I’m told is quite well known for illustrating political figures in magazines and newspapers:

et moi (I love the monkey):

Another artist, who drew me completely without my knowledge:

And his work. Note the big schnoz; as my dad (who also was well endowed in the proboscis department) once told me, “Jerry, if I had a nose full of nickels I’d be a millionaire.”


Religion tickles everything

I’m sure I’ve posted at least one clip showing the American Charismatic Christian preacher Kenneth E. Hagin (1917-2003). Born in Texas, he preached in that state and later in Oklahoma.  Wikipedia describes his conversion:

Kenneth E. Hagin was born in McKinney, Texas, the son of Lillie Viola Drake Hagin and Jess Hagin. According to Hagin’s testimony, he was born with a deformed heart and what was believed to be an incurable blood disease. He was not expected to live and at age 15 became paralyzed and bedridden. In April 1933 he converted to Christianity. During a dramatic conversion experience, he reported dying, due to the deformed heart, three times in 10 minutes, each time seeing the horrors of hell and then returning to life. He remained paralyzed after his conversion. On August 8, 1934, he says he was raised from his deathbed by a revelation of “faith in God’s Word” after reading Mark 11:22-23.

Apparently, as this video shows, he was only partly paralyzed, for he could walk, though with some support. What’s striking about this is how his mere presence, though suggestion, could drive his flock into a frenzy. Apparently normal and well dressed people would, with a glance or a touch, be transformed into dancing and laughing maniacs.  I worry about them soiling their Sunday best clothing by rolling around on the floor.

I’d recommend watching the whole thing; it’s instructive!

One thing we can be sure of: this isn’t Sophisticated Theology™.

Puebla: Arrival and breakfast

All the conference participants are staying in Puebla’s Hotel Camino Real, which is very nice—stupendous when you include the breakfast. But more on that in a second. I have to note that Puebla, with 3 million inhabitants, is Mexico’s fourth largest city, and a famous colonial town with a lovely old cathedral.

When we arrived Thursday at the small Puebla airport on a 75-seater jet from Houston, and after an interminable wait to get through customs, we were met by the always-efficient staff of the Cuidad de Las Ideas conference, which is always organized like clockwork.  On the other side of Customs I was given a large paddle with my name on it so I could be collected and directed to the van that took us to the hotel. When I got to my room, I couldn’t resist a selfie:

The view from my room, with some of the surrounding mountains in the distance (there’s a big volcano in the other direction which I believe I posted the last time I went to Puebla).

And my room: comfortable and well appointed:

But what is spectacular here is the breakfast. In fact, I’ve never had a better hotel breakfast in my life. Besides Yankee food like an omelet bar, where they make omelets to your specifications, and bacon, there’s a full complement of Mexican food. And of course I ate the local stuff, but even there were too many different things to sample! There were trays of homemade tamales, heated dishes of birria (goat stew), trays of tortillas, and more stuff that I didn’t photograph because I was shy. But I did take a few snaps, some of which are out of focus because of low light and a 1/5 second shutter speed.

Chilaquiles, my favorite Mexican breakfast dish. It’s made from fried tortillas which are then stewed with chicken, onions, cheese, mole, and hot sauce. I could eat this stuff forever:

The makings of fajitas, which I believe is a Tex-Mex dish:

I’m not sure what this is. Readers?

Chuletas, Mexican pork chops in sauce:

Mexican scrambled eggs with nopales, or cactus:


Birria (goat):

Platanos (fried bananas) on one side, fat sausages on the other. I took the platanos:

I don’t know what “tutties” are, and I didn’t try them, nor can I find them on the Internet. A Mexican reader’s help is needed!

The black bean station with queso fresco (fresh cheese) and tortilla chips:

Mexican breakfast pastries. I am quite fond of the soft, sweet rolls in the foreground, which went well with the strong house coffee:

Jugos, or fruit juices, are varied. On Friday I had the one on the right, which turned out to be grapefruit juice. Tomorrow I’ll try the jugo verde. The best juice, however, was in the speaker’s Green Room: a mixture of pineapple and lemon. The Green Room was stocked with the most amazing variety of foods I’ve ever seen at such an event, and I’ll have photos of that tomorrow.

Update: This morning’s (Saturday’s) breakfast with the jugo verde, which had a pleasant herbaceous flavor, though I still don’t know what’s in it. My well-filled plate:

And fruit with tamale containing cornmeal and raisins:

Pinkah eating breakfast (he spoke Friday morning and then flew off to a meeting in Chicago):

Caturday felid trifecta: chimera cat, a GOOD cat artist, and Maru kneads a pizza

Venus is famous for being a “split face” chimera cat with different-colored eyes, but here’s a new and similar cat described by Bored Panda. Meet the lovely Quimera, who has her own Instagram page.

As a geneticist, I should know the cause of this, but I’m not sure. It could either be differential turning on of X-chromosome linked coat-color (and eye color) genes on one side of the body (this is what causes “split calicos”). Or it could be a true chimera, in which two embryos fuse into a single embryo early in development. That chimera can develop into a normal cat that has different genetic constitutions on the two sides—as different as siblings. That’s much rarer, but DNA testing could resolve this, and it wouldn’t cost that much. Inquiring minds want to know! An article in the New Republic suggests, not very clearly, that this involves coordinated inactivation of the X chromosome, the first hypothesis.


I’ve long complained that many artists, even in fairly modern times, seem to have trouble painting cats, especially when they try to be realistic. Reader Roger Latour, however, sent me an email noting that I had missed a good cat artist, Charles van den Eycken (1859-1923), a Belgian painter. As Roger noted, “Maybe I missed it if you posted anything from that artist. He was a cat painting specialist. I was unaware of that historical genre. A Google Image search shows out quite a lot of cat canvases! I did not know of him and I just found this image, the mom seems quite anthropomorphised, but here it is”:

Here’s one more, but click on the search image page above. His cats certainly are realistic.


Finally, we have the world’s most famous cat, Maru, who is shown here kneading a toy pizza. He’s previously kneaded a toy breadstick as well. Unfortunately, the realism is diminished since Maru kneads the finished product rather than the dough. I wonder if anybody has ever eaten bread, biscuits, or pizza genuinely kneaded in statu nascendi by a cat.


Saturday: Hili dialogue

Good morning from sunny and warm Puebla, Mexico. It’s Saturday, November 18, 2017. It’s National Apple Cider Day, but I’m in Mexico and will have a libation made from the heart of the blue agave (they have a free tequila bar in the speakers’ Green Room, but more on that later!). It’s also “Married to a Scorpio Support Day,” one of many humorous days created by actor Thomas Roy.

I’ll have a post on breakfast food this morning, but reports on the talks at the Cidudad de Las Ideas meeting (and more food) will  come later. Posting will be light for the next couple days as the meetings last all day.

We have a Google Doodle in Mexico today, honoring the birthday in 1917 of Pedro Infante, a famous Mexican actor and singer. He died at just 39 while piloting a converted bomber that crashed in San Diego (aviation was one of his hobbies). Click on the screenshot below to go to the Doodle, which shows six aspects of his life:

On November 18, 1872, suffragette Susan B. Anthony and 14 of her women activists were arrested for voting in the U.S. Presidential election of 1872.  On this day in 1883, U.S. and Canadian railroads agreed on the five standard continental time zones, standardizing what had been a confusing farrago of local times.  On this day in 1928, Walt Disney’s studios released the famous animated cartoon Steamboat Willie, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon.  It features Mickey and his squeeze Minnie, and today is considered by the Disney corporation to be Mickey Mouse’s birthday.

Here’s the cartoon: Minnie shows up at 3:04:

On this day in 1963, the first push-button telephone went into service. On November 18, 1978, the infamous murder-suicide of the Peoples Temple followers took place, when 918 people (including over 270 children) died from drinking cyanide-containing Kool-Aid. Finally on this day in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled, in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, that the ban on same-sex marriage was illegal, making the state the first in the U.S. to recognize a right of same-sex marriage.

Notables born on this day include Louis Daguerre (1787), Asa Gray (1810, an early supporter of Darwin, but also an accommodationist), W. S. Gilbert (1836), and Chloë Sevigny (1974). Those who crossed the Styx on this day include Robin Hood (1247 in one version), Chester A. Arthur (1886), Marcel Proust (1922), Niels Bohr (1962), Jim Jones (1978; see above), Cab Calloway (1994), Paul Bowles (1999), and Doug Sahm (1999).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is showing her powers of olfaction. I asked about whose urine Hili was sniffing, and got this reply from Malgorzata:

Most probably it’s not human but some bigger wild cat. Once, many years ago, we had an animal in the garden which really looked like a little lynx! I have no idea what it was. And, of course, I have no idea what animal left the scent Hili thought belonged to a “higher being”. Hili does not think that humans are higher beings. They belong in the servant class.

A: What does it smell of?
Hili: I don’t know, it smells like urine of a higher being.
In Polish:
Ja: Czym to pachnie?
Hili: Nie wiem, pachnie jak mocz istoty wyższej.

Here’s a picture of Chicago at sunset I took from my crib a day before I left town. I hear it’s snowed there now, but I haven’t checked.


A tweet from Heather Hastie. We’ve had whip scorpions on this site before, but I never mentioned that they’re water repellant (I didn’t know!):

. . . and perhaps my favorite bird in the world, one that I’ll likely never see in the feathers:

A tweet from reader Jiten reminds us that winter is coming in the northern hemisphere, so help out those cold strays!

Finally, a lovely tweet from Canadian science presenter Ziya Tong. Look how gently the cat pets the bird!

Day 3: HuffPo ignores story of its own sexual harassment

Once again, HuffPo, while calling out all kinds of sexual harassment and assault on its sexual harassment page, ignores Tuesday’s Gizmodo story that Arianna Huffington ignored such harassment at her own venue, transferring a harasser to India. If you want to hold their feet to the fire, just ask them about the Gizmodo story on some of their posts on sexual harassment, and then wait to see if your comment is removed.

I made one yesterday, but haven’t checked if they removed it.  They’re instantiating the cry of the Regressive Leftist: “It’s okay when we behave this way!”