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!”

Steve Martin’s “King Tut” routine offends Reed College students

If you’re a Saturday Night Live fan, you’ll surely remember the old King Tut routine of Steve Martin. In case you don’t, here it is, about forty years old now:

According to both New Jersey 101.5 and The Atlantic, the video was somehow played in class as a joke at Reed College in Oregon. BIG mistake! The group Reedies against Racism (RAR), which is famous for disrupting the Humanities 101 course, calling it racist and an enabler of white supremacy, took huge offense at the video. As The Atlantic reports (my emphasis):

At Reed College, a small liberal-arts school in Portland, Oregon, a 39-year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. In the classic Steve Martin skit, he performs a goofy song, “King Tut,” meant to satirize a Tutankhamun exhibit touring the U.S. and to criticize the commercialization of Egyptian culture. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist. All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed.

But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance. She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers—many of whom are African American—“is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.”

RAR needs to get a grip. If you can get this offended by an innocuous comedy routine, seeing ancient Egyptian clothing as “racist” and the gold face of the saxophone player, clearly meant to represent the gold “death mask” of Tut and other Pharaohs, as “blackface”, you’ve lost the plot. The “activism” of RAR, though of course driven by motivations we all agree with—the elimination of racist bigotry—seems limited to scrutinizing everything in their school for possible offense and then calling it out. Seriously, is equating gold face paint to “blackface” a way to expunge racism from America?

Watch the video (it’s only 3 minutes) and judge for yourself.

h/t: Tom


Friday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Hola from Puebla, Mexico, where the weather is predicted to be full-on sunny for the three more days I’ll be here, with highs between 72 and 78° F  (22-26°C). Posting will be light today as I’ve a lot to see and do.  There are old friends here—I rode in from the airport with Robyn Blumer and Steve Pinker—and it turned into a discussion about ways of knowing and moral realism. That’s the view that there are objective moral truths, to which Steve apparently assents, but I’m not yet convinced.

It’s Viernes, November 17, 2017, and today’s holiday is a good one: National Baklava Day, honoring what I think is the best pastry on this planet. It’s also International Students’ Day, which originally commemorated the Nazis’ takeover of Czech Universities and the deportation of students to concentration camps. This happened on November 17, 1939, and is described this way by Wikipedia

Nine Czech students are executed as a response to anti-Nazi demonstrations prompted by the death of Jan Opletal.  All Czech universities are shut down and more than 1,200 students sent to concentration camps. Since this event, International Students’ Day is celebrated in many countries, especially in the Czech Republic.

On this day in 1558, Queen Mary I of England died was succeeded by her half sister Elizabeth I, thus starting the Elizabethan Era. In 1603, Walter Raleigh went on trial for treason, was imprisoned for 13 years, and then was freed. He went on an expedition, returned to England, was tried again for having attacked a Spanish colony in South America, and was beheaded in 1618.  On November 17, 1869, the Suez Canal was officially opened. On this day in 1947, American scientists John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain observed the operation of a transistor-like device; the rest is history (and a Nobel Prize, along with one for William Shockley). On this day in 1970, Lt. William Calley went on trial for his role in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. He was sentenced to life imprisonment (nobody else was tried despite many American soldiers participating), but served only 3½ years of house arrest. He was last reported working at a jewelry store in Georgia.

On this day in 1973, Richard Nixon told these Big Lies to a roomful of reporters. Ah, I remember this well . .

Notables born on November 17 include Eugene Wigner (1902), Shelby Foote (1916, one of the great talking heads of Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary, the greatest documentary ever put on American television), Rock Hudson (1925), Gordon Lightfoot (1938), Martin Scorsese (1942), Lorne Michaes (1944), and Daisy Fuentes and Sophie Marceau (both 1966). Those who fell asleep on this day include Mary I of England (1558; see above), Catherine the Great of Russia (1793, and it did not involve a horse), and Doris Lessing (2013). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has become a feline philosopher:

A: What are you doing over there?
Hili: That’s exactly what I’m wondering about: What am I doing here?
 In Polish:
Ja: Co tam robisz?
Hili: To jest właśnie to nad czym się zastanawiam, co ja tu robię?

Leon’s still prowling the forests around Wloclawek:

Leon: Look out! I’m flying!

Here’s a tweet sent by Matthew Cobb; it’s worth getting all muddy for a big tasty fish!

And a few I stole from Heather Hastie. To my mind this is the Doors’ best song:

Water voles (Microtus or Arvicola):

As Heather says, this is one of the great animal videos of all time:

And two kitties:

Do not fat shame the cat!

I have landed. . . to find quantum quackery

. . . in Houston, that is. The George Bush airport is HUGE and not pleasant. Next I have a 2-hour flight to Puebla.

I have no time for posting, but here’s something to examine very critically. The famed physicist Roger Penrose, over at the Daily Galaxy, says he has a reliable physical mechanism for producing a soul. Have a look at the piece and then have at it. I’m told by a friend that this stuff is all over social media, since it has the imprimatur of a genuine Famous Scientist.

One quote:

While scientists are still in heated debates about what exactly consciousness is, the University of Arizona’s Stuart Hameroff and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose conclude that it is information stored at a quantum level. Penrose agrees –he and his team have found evidence that “protein-based microtubules—a structural component of human cells—carry quantum information— information stored at a sub-atomic level.”

Penrose argues that if a person temporarily dies, this quantum information is released from the microtubules and into the universe. However, if they are resuscitated the quantum information is channeled back into the microtubules and that is what sparks a near death experience. “If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul.

Not only that, but others (who are unnamed) agree:

Researchers from the renowned Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich are in agreement with Penrose that the physical universe that we live in is only our perception and once our physical bodies die, there is an infinite beyond. Some believe that consciousness travels to parallel universes after death.

Well, all I can say is that there is no evidence I’m aware of that quantum-mechanical phenomena operate in the brain, much less that they play a role in consciousness and memory. And even if they did, how does any “information” in the brain stay together as a coherent unit after death? In what form does it exist? (It can’t be particles or forces, as Sean Carroll has shown.)  And how does it get into another body?

Oy gewalt! How does a renowned physicist who did important work get involved with this stuff? But I’m just a poor country biologist. I wish I had Sean Carroll here behind this sign. . .