Presidential campaigns, then and now

Kennedy, 1960:


Clinton, 2016:



Get off my damn lawn!

Spot the hummingbird!

Reader Andrei Volkov, who lives in Maryland, sent some hummingbird photos, two of which comprise a “spot the hummingbird” set. I’ll put up the first one now; given that it was taken in Maryland, this must surely be the ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummer that breeds in the state. Can you spot it in the photo below? I’d characterize this as of medium difficulty. (Click to enlarge).

I’ll give the answer at 11 a.m. Chicago time, and try to avoid giving the location in the comments below.


Readers’ wildlife photographs

We’re nearing the end of the photos that Benjamin Taylor sent from his trip to southern Africa last year, but they remain wonderful. Here are a few more (his captions are indented):

Red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) resting on the neck of a Namibian giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis angolensis):




John Harshman recently sent oxpecker photos as well (here).

Plains zebra (Equus quagga), Chobe National Park, Botswana:


African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus), Chobe National Park, Botswana:


The kori bustard (Ardeotis kori), the heaviest flying species of bird:


Silhouette of a marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer):


Sunset over the Chobe River:


 Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), Chobe National Park, Botswana:


African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana), Chobe National Park, Botswana:



Monday: Hili dialogue

It’s Monday again: the first Monday of Autumn in the Northern hemisphere and of Spring in the Southern. It’s National Key Lime Pie Day, a truly worthy American foodstuff named after the Florida Keys. But beware: most of the stuff you get in restaurants is made not with Key Limes—a very small lime 1-2 inches across, with a strong and tart flavor. The vast majority of “Key Lime” pies are made either with the larger and more familiar Persian limes, or with bottled juice duplicitously named “Key West” lime juice. A few years back, Key limes weren’t much grown commercially in the U.S., and I got my pie only at one place: Manny and Isa’s Restaurant in Islamorada, Florida, in the Keys, where the limes were grown behind the wonderful Cuban restaurant. Now the place is closed, but nowadays you can often find mesh bags of Key limes at your local grocery or produce store.  I urge you to try the stuff, but only if it’s real; otherwise make it yourself, as it’s not hard. Here’s a recipe, and you’ll need to make or buy a graham-cracker crust.  Seriously, you must try this pie before you die. As PuffHo would say, it’s a “genius pie””


On this day in 1960, Nixon and Kennedy engaged in the first televised Presidential debate in U.S. history. I was watching. And tonight we’ll see the same with Clinton vs. Trump. I’m not sure I’m going to watch this time, as I already know who I’m going to vote for and both candidates will irritate me. It’s possible that the debate could, as did the Nixon/Kennedy debate, have a decisive effect on the election.

Notables born on this day include T. S. Eliot (1888), George Gershwin (exactly 10 years later), Jack LaLanne (1914), and Olivia Newton-John (1948). Those who died on this day include Daniel Boone (1820), Levi Strauss (1902; in his honor I’m wearing his invention today), Bessie Smith (1937), and the ineffably handsome Paul Newman (2008). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is wondering what time it is, and you know what she means by “time”!

Hili: Sometimes it’s nice to sit on the verandah and muse.
A: What are you musing about?
Hili: I’m wondering what time it is.

In Polish:
Hili: Czasem miło jest posiedzieć na werandzie i porozmyślać.
Ja: A o czym rozmyślasz?
Hili: Zastanawiam się, która jest godzina.

Spot the lappet moth larva!

Well, the answer is here, so I just wanted you to see this. The caterpillar is, of course, a larva, and the lappet moth is Phyllodesma americana.

The adult, when resting on bark, is also cryptic. Note how the head is tucked down and hidden:lappetmothphyllodesmaamericana

Here’s another picture of the caterpillar; don’t ask me whether they can change colors (either within one period or depending on their habitat) or come in different colors”


h/t: Matthew

Scientific fame—Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin: the Wikipedia page hit data

JAC:  Last week my friend Andrew Berry, a lecturer at Harvard and expert on Darwin and, especially, Alfred Russel Wallace, was telling me about some interesting data he’d gleaned from Wikipedia about the two Fathers of Evolution. I suggested he write it up as a post for this site, and he kindly obliged:

Scientific Fame

Alfred Russel Wallace & Charles Darwin: the Wikipedia Page Hit Data

by Andrew Berry

Completely independently of Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection.  While Darwin was slowly grinding through the production of a major book on the subject – his summary of twenty years of thought and analysis – Wallace was in the field in Indonesia pondering similar issues.  The result of this academic convergent evolution was a famous and oft recounted episode in the history of science.

In 1858, Wallace sent an outline of his ideas to Darwin, who was duly shocked to find himself about to be scooped.  Darwin’s precedence was rescued, however, by the intervention by two friends, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, who arranged for a paper to be presented shortly afterwards at London’s Linnean Society, featuring Wallace’s manuscript and some hastily cobbled together material from Darwin.  The product was an unusual paper: it’s not strictly speaking a joint publication, but, rather, two independent statements in the same paper of the same idea.  Wallace, by now in New Guinea, knew nothing of these machinations, but was happy, retrospectively, to give them his blessing.  The idea, after all, had been published, and, also, his stock had just gone up in scientific circles now that he was associated with someone as esteemed and senior as Darwin.


The listing in table of contents of the Linnean Society’s journal of the Darwin-Wallace publication. Darwin appears as first author. Historical precedence (he came up with the theory first)? Alphabetical order? Or ranking by seniority (both in terms of age and scientific standing)?

Given this history, it’s perhaps surprising that Darwin is so much more famous today than Wallace.  Google “Evolution,” and it’s Darwin’s lugubrious bearded face that stares out at you from the search results, not Wallace’s rather less gloomy (but eventually equally bearded) visage.  In terms of posterity, Darwin has well and truly trumped eclipsed (what a pity it is to have to avoid perfectly good words because of their unspeakable newfound associations) Wallace.

Having said that, it’s not as though Wallace has altogether disappeared.  People know him as the “other guy.”  He lives on in footnotes of biology textbooks, and is often discussed in exactly the terms of this very issue: how come these days all the credit for evolution is laid at Darwin’s door with little or no mention of Wallace?  Indeed, Wallace is sometimes described as “Famous for not being famous.”

There are plenty of interesting (and contested) reasons for Wallace’s eclipse, and it’s not my intention to discuss them here.  What I want to do is introduce a very 21st century metric of fame in an attempt to quantify that eclipse.  Realizing, over years of writing and lecturing about Wallace, that I typically glibly asserted that, “Darwin is famous; Wallace isn’t,” I decided to try to back up that claim with some numbers.  And Wikipedia – so often the first stop online if you’re gathering information about topics that aren’t directly addressed by TMZ – is surely the place to look for those numbers.

For some time, an independent website aggregated Wikipedia page hit data, and presented results graphically.  (It no longer seems to be functional.  The latest data I could find on Darwin’s Wikipedia page was from January of this year.)  Here, for an arbitrary three month period in Fall ’14, are the data for Darwin:


Page hits by day for a 90 period in Fall ’14 for the Wikipedia page for Charles Darwin

Two things are immediately striking.  First, there is a consistent background pattern, but there are occasional departures from that: in this instance, Darwin apparently went viral on 3 Sept 2014.  Second, people are interested in Darwin only on weekdays.  There is a clear decline in Darwin page hits over weekends, suggesting that a lot of the traffic is driven by homework assignments (the same pattern does not obtain for less homework-y topics, like, for example, David Bowie).

Now let’s look at Wallace’s Wikipedia page hits over the same period:


Page hits by day for a 90 period in Fall ’14 for the Wikipedia page for Alfred Russel Wallace

It’s nice to see that Wallace is getting plenty of traffic – like Darwin, on a weekly cycle apparently driven by homework – but note the scales of the two graphs.  The y-axis for Darwin’s runs to 18,000; for Wallace’s, it runs to 1800.  There is more or less an order of magnitude difference in the rate of Wikipedia page visitation between Darwin and Wallace.  It is interesting to note too that, like Darwin, Wallace also has the potential to “go viral” (i.e., to have days on which his Wikipedia page’s hits vastly outnumber those on a typical day).  Like Darwin, curiously, the big viral day for Wallace was 3 September 2014.

What on earth happened on 3 September 2014?  Why would both pages show a spike? You can imagine that new scholarship on, say, Darwin could engender a Darwin-specific spike, without affecting the rate of flow to Wallace’s Wikipedia page.  But this event affected them both.

It took a bit of digging around, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve tracked down the cause of this joint spike.  On 31 August, a spoof news source published this story (it seems that the page is no longer up; this is a screen cap from earlier):


An impressively realistic fake news site reveals that Darwin and Wallace were gay lovers

Perhaps the website did too good a job of dressing up the story as real news: over that period, I received probably a dozen emails from friends, students, and colleagues drawing my attention to this (apparently) extraordinary development in the Darwin-Wallace story.  “OMG, Wallace was gay,” was the subject line of one of those emails.  Everyone writing to me was completely taken in (suggesting that perhaps we have some kind of innate yearning for more sexually interesting visions of history than the ones we’re accustomed to).  I’m guessing that it was this publication that caused the joint Darwin/Wallace Wikipedia traffic spike.  It occurred a few days after the story was first published: a period of latency during which the world of social media was gearing up to its fully exponential dissemination of the tale.

Even when bogus stories of long concealed gayness are driving interest in Darwin and Wallace, that same close-to-tenfold difference holds.  Darwin really is ten times more famous than Wallace.

Page hits for Darwin’s and Wallace’s Wikipedia pages over a 90 day period in Fall ’14, and on 3 September 2014:



Andrew Berry

Jordanian writer indicted and then assassinated for sharing cartoon depicting Allah

Several sources, including The Independent and Al Jazeera, report the death of Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar, shot to death outside a courtroom in Amman. Hattar had put the following cartoon on his Facebook page; he didn’t draw it or create it, but merely shared it. (Cartoon and translation from Elder of Ziyon; neither the Independent nor Al Jazeera had the guts to reprint it). Allah peeks into a tent where a bearded jihadist is carousing with two women, food, and wine:


 The translation:
In Green: In paradise…
Allah: “May your evening be joyous, Abu Saleh, do you need anything?”
Jihadist: “Yes Lord, bring me the glass of wine from other there and tell Jibril [the Angel Gabriel] to bring me some cashews. After that send me an eternal servant to clean the floor and take the empty plates with you.”
Jihadist continues: “Don’t forget to put a door on the tent so that you knock before you enter next time, your gloriousness.”
The cartoon was deemed offensive to Islam, though it showed not Muhammad but Allah, and Hattar, though he’d removed the cartoon, was charged with “inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islam.” (Hattar was a Christian.) Released on bail, he was returning to the courthouse when he was cut down with three shots. The assailant was arrested.  Al Jazeera gives a bit more background:

The backlash against Hattar was immediate with Jordanian social media users lambasting the writer for purposely causing offence to Muslims.

Social media users also called on the government to question and arrest Hattar, and some attacked him for being Christian and a secularist.

Attempting to explain his motive for sharing the cartoon, Hattar said that he did not intend to cause offence to Muslims and wanted the cartoon to “expose” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and the Muslim Brotherhood.

In another explanation, Hattar said that “as a non-believer” he respected “the believers who did not understand the satire behind the cartoon”.

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement in response to Hattar’s comments that called on the government to take strong measures against those who publish seditious material that undermined national unity.

Hattar was no angel, as he was a strong supporter of Syria’s murderous Assad regime, but nobody deserves to be killed for sharing a cartoon, especially one that mocks jihadists. The Jordanians who attacked him for that, and for being a Christian, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood who wants to stifle all criticism of their faith—are reprehensible.  And so, by the way, are the news outlets who, à la the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, refused to show exactly what incited the ire of Muslims.


Nahed Hattar

h/t: Malgorzata


Canada plans Ark Park!

O Canada! How could you do this? According to several Canadian news sites, including the National Post and the CBC, there’s going to be an Ark Park in Canada. Reader Bryce alerted me to this noxious development in an email:

I thought you might be interested, if you haven’t already gotten wind of the plans for a new ark park in my hometown of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Typically we don’t see the type of evangelism up here that you do down in the US, but it has become increasingly common, and Saskatchewan is on the more conservative end when it comes to Canadian provinces, much like its neighbor, Alberta, which has its own Creation Museum (sigh).  I thought this might be of interest, as was especially disconcerting to me, as I grew up and lived in Moose Jaw for 18 years.  It is also concerning that none of the “news” sites that reported on this mentioned anything about how the story is completely false.  It is complete pandering. ughh.

And, indeed, neither the Post nor the CBC mention the falsity of the Ark story. More details from the Post:

A Chinese businessman wants to build a biblical theme park in southern Saskatchewan with a massive replica of Noah’s ark complete with animal reproductions and a digital experience of the life of Jesus.

The yet-to-be-named park, which still needs some government approvals, would be next to a private cemetery south of Moose Jaw.

“I’m getting lots of people saying, ‘You’re putting an amusement park on your cemetery?’ Well, it’s nothing of the sort,” said Marc L’Hoir, manager of Sunset Cemetery, who is working on a plan with the developer.

“It’s going to be an educational process where people can come and learn about loving one another. And we need more of that in the world.”

L’Hoir said the owner of the cemetery and the adjoining land is friends with Sun Wenquing, who has already built a Bible-themed park in China.

Sun converted to Christianity from Buddhism in 2009 and has dedicated himself to the religion, said L’Hoir.

“This is part of his legacy he wants to leave behind, that he wants to spread that word.”

Sun told the China Christian Daily last year that it’s his dream to build an ark of the same size referenced in the Bible, which says Noah is warned about a great flood, builds a boat and loads it with two of each animal.

L’Hoir said the Saskatchewan replica would be three-storeys high, 23 metres wide and 135 metres long — nearly the length of a CFL football field. It would also contain a children’s playground.

He said workers from China would be brought in to build the park over four years at a cost of about $1.2 million. The China Christian Daily lists the cost at $40 million.

A tabernacle for worship has already been built in China and shipped to the Saskatchewan site for use in the park, said L’Hoir, who added he’s confident the project will be approved and construction of the ark can begin soon.

Here, courtesy of the Holy Bible Theme Park, are replicas of the Taberbacle and Ark of the Covenant. LOL, they look like they’re made out of Lego blocks!


According to Canadian law, the Hebrew must be supplemented with French letters of identical size


But perhaps this isn’t a done deal yet, for the developers, lying for Jesus, apparently misrepresented the nature of their park:

Mike Wirges, administrator of the Rural Municipality of Moose Jaw, said council approved the development earlier this week of a “passive park” with a walking path, statues and murals.

News that a giant ark was part of the plan came as a shock.

“Those plans were never presented to our municipality,” he said. “Had we known that there was certainly more to it, rest assured, we certainly would have done a little more investigation, hearings.”

Wirges said the ark will need further approvals from the rural municipality as well as the province, since it will be next to a highway. Because the spot is also close to an air-force base, there will also be height restrictions and approval may be needed from Nav Canada.

Here’s what the developers plan; the animals inside will, of course, include Canadian favorites like the beaver, moose, and polar bear:


Readers’ wildlife photographs

Today we have a passel of birds from reader Ed Kroc, whose notes are indented:

Here’s a batch of photos from San Diego taken this past summer. I was along the California coast for about a week in July collecting data on urban-nesting gulls, but of course I always try to make time for a few pictures! Western Gulls (Larus occidentalis) traditionally nest in large colonies on small offshore islands along the American Pacific coast. However, some gulls have moved their nesting sites into urban and semi-urban areas along the coast. This species hybridizes extensively with the resident Vancouver gull, the Glaucous-winged Gull (L. glaucescens), where their ranges overlap in WA and OR. The GW Gull seems to be far more comfortable in an urban environment than the WE Gull, but part of my current research is aimed at trying to better understand these differences.

The first photo shows a fine looking adult male Western Gull. Notice the very dark grey mantle and wings, much darker than the Glaucous-winged Gulls I’ve sent lots of pictures of. You can also see the distinctive bright orange orbital ring. This is the southern subspecies (L. o. wymani) which is a bit smaller and a lot darker than the nominate northern subspecies of WA, OR, and northern CA.

Next is a picture of a chick and parent at their nest site atop a nice hotel complex on San Diego’s harbour. The nest was on the roof of a two-storey flattop, with plenty of foliage around. The chick, who is about four weeks old in the picture, is playing with a bit of dried leaves. The father, as you can see, was alarmed at me as I stood underneath initially, but soon stopped and settled in for a brief nap. I haven’t studied it formally yet, but both this and the GWGull species seem to feel really threatened only when an observer is at or above eye-level with the nest. I was no more than a few feet linearly from the chicks, but I was on the ground below and neither parent minded me. Trying to observe nests 20 or more feet away from a bridge though often leads to dive-bombs and defensive poop-blasts. Data collection can be a messy business!
The final gull picture shows a family atop a small marina building, right on the harbour. These chicks are a bit older than the other ones, probably in their fifth week. You can see the parent on watch craning his/her head around the obstruction to check me out.  I didn’t stay long enough to provoke any defensive maneuvers!
After Laridae (Gulls) and Sternidae (Terns), my favourite family of bird is probably Pelecanidae, the Pelicans. They instantly and always put me in mind of their dinosaur ancestors and cousins. We never get pelicans up in BC, so I’m always thrilled to see them when I make it this far south.
These shots of Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) were taken at Shelter Island in San Diego. In the first shot, a pelican naps next to a Heermann’s Gull (Larus heermanni), a beautiful gull of the southern North American Pacific coast with a fascinating ecology of its own. I’ll save the facts for another time, but I will mention that these two species seem to get along quite remarkably. They often loaf together in very close proximity. Neither species gets along very well with the resident Western Gulls who tend to be too loud and pushy for their liking.


The final two showcases some of the unique beauty of the pelican. They have a gentle and wise look about them. In flight, I can’t help but think they would have fit right in 100 million years ago.



Sunday: Hili dialogue

If you’re not reading this on Sunday morning, September 25, 2016, then you’re in church and don’t belong here. If you’re here, remember that it’s National Food Service Workers Day, so give your waiter an extra large tip. On this day in history (1789), Congress passed first ten amendment to the U.S. Constitution, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights (including the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion). And, on September 25, 1942, the Swiss, to their eternal shame, issued a police order denying political asylum to those persecuted on the grounds of “race alone,” which they construed as including Jews. And so refugees from the Holocaust had nowhere to go.

Notables born on this day include Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866), my academic great-grandfather (mentor of Theosodius Dobzhansky, who mentored Richard Lewontin, who mentored me). Morgan was the first Nobel Laureate to win for research in genetics. Below is my genetics family tree (note the paucity of students I’ve had but the surfeit of grand-students, giving me high academic fitness). Click to enlarge:

William Faulkner was born on this day in 1897, as was Glenn Gould in 1932, Ian Tyson in 1933, Felicity Kendal in 1946, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 1969. Those who died on this day include Ring Lardner (1933), Emily Post (1960), George Plimpton (2003), and Andy Williams (2012). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is getting ready to grease the new day:

A: Are you sharpening your claws?
Hili: Yes, you can’t do anything properly without doing it first.
In Polish:
Ja: Ostrzysz pazurki?
Hili: Tak, bez tego nic się nie da porządnie zrobić.

Reader Randy Schenck from Iowa sent in a photo of his cat with an explanation:

Some will say this is simply a photo of a cat sitting on the dryer—nothing special here.  However, a closer look and explanation reveals that this is Emma the Heat-Seeking Cat, and the dryer is operating.  Therefore, Emma stations herself so her paw is in the seam between the dryer and door to catch the most heat.  On the floor in front of the refrigerator is another heat generator. In the dryer after cool-down is also a good location.


And, in Montreal, readers Claude and Anne-Marie just got a new puppy named Linux Bernie Cournoyer-Pelletier. Anne-Marie describes the German Shepherd/Schanuzer mix, who joins their present dog Ariel:
Linux-Bernie esq. is really cute, and a quick learner. He wants to know what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Ariel is as peaceful as usual and has welcomed Bernie gracefully into the family. He even brought him his favorite ball. Bernie watches Ariel carefully and imitates him. He will be a strong dog, and we hope that he will learn to be a peaceful warrior like Ariel.