New Chrome extension replaces pictures of Donald Trump with kittens

According to Cheezburger’s Fail Blog, there’s a new extension for the Chrome browser that replaces pictures of Donald Trump with pictures of kittens. Here’s an example:

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-2-34-33-pmYou can supposedly download the extension here, and 8 people have given it four stars. The rationale?:


Now I’m a bit wary of this. How does it identify pictures of Trump? What if it sometimes worked in reverse, replacing photos of kittens with photos of Trump? That would devastate me.  But if anybody wants to try it, and report back, I’d be delighted.  After all, my modus operandus for Facebook friends who posted endlessly about Trump was to add a cute kitten to the comments section.

Adam Fisher: The “diversity” trope neglects class

Jacobin Magazine bills itself as a left-wing site with a socialist slant, so you can’t write off this piece, by Adam Fisher, as expressing the biases of a right-wing writer. I can’t find much about an “Adam Fisher” on the Internet, but that’s not surprising given his subject: his upbringing in a small and impoverished town in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. His piece, “The blind spots of liberalism“, grew out of his hardscrabble upbringing, going to school in a trailer and coming home to a table devoid of food. The town, once engaged in mining and lumbering, was left behind when those industries petered out. In his town, people worried about one thing: where their next paycheck was coming from, or, if they were getting one, how long it would last.

Fisher uses this town as an emblem of the kind of people who voted for Trump, people who, he says, weren’t racists or sexists, but living in fear and poverty. A snippet (my emphasis):

Mine was the kind of town that a classless identity politics forgets. The kind of town where being male or white or Christian wasn’t synonymous with having decent housing, proper medical care, or a steady job.

Politicians are remarkably adept at pitting the economically disenfranchised against the racially or sexually marginalized.

Fear of hitting a glass ceiling is set against the fear of having one’s wages stolen. Fear of never being able to love the way one wants to love is set against the fear of losing one’s job and being out on the street.

At times, liberal forms of identity politics can fall into this trap. The reactionary that blames the plight of workers on the breakdown of traditional marriage and porous borders has more in common with the liberal pundit who blames racism and homophobia on the ignorance of white workers than either would like to admit.

But it was not white working-class people who drafted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994. It was not struggling rural workers who sold this bill to the public by labeling young black men “super predators.”

The people in my small town did not own the private prisons that paid inmates $0.23 to 1.15 an hour, nor did they own the companies (like Whole Foods) that exploited prison labor. They were, however, hurt by the downward pressure that such labor schemes placed on workers’ wages.

Inevitably, the blind spots of classless identity politics benefit elites.

In one rarified area, the wage gap has apparently vanished: chief executive officers of America’s richest companies. But this means very little to, say, women in traditionally feminized occupations like nursing and home health care work. A $15 minimum wage would be a more significant win for feminism than gender parity for CEOs. 

Similarly, in my childhood town, glass ceilings and the shattering of them didn’t improve the lives of those just trying to pick themselves up off the floor.” The Yahoo CEO’s gender, or the US president’s race, had very little impact on the average citizen’s life. It wasn’t of much consequence to them if a prominent CNN anchor was gay, or if a black woman was a media mogul, or if a past Olympian had gender reassignment surgery.

However, it did matter if their standard of living was simultaneously decreasing and the precarity of their job was endangering their children’s future.

I had no idea that Whole Foods employed prison labor to make some of its products, but the link seems kosher, though the practice stopped in April of this year. But really, the sanctimonious Whole Foods?

In the rest of the article, Fisher doesn’t so much oppose identity politics as to say that class should be added as one “identity”. Indeed, if we’re going to consider those who are marginalized, then there’s a very good case that this should include the working class as a whole, regardless of pigmentation. As determinists, we know that such folks didn’t choose to be poor: the combination of their genes and environment made them wind up that way. Nor does this determinism mean they’re beyond help, because my own determined impulses are prompting me to convince you of Fisher’s thesis.

“Diversity” is now a euphemism for two things only: increasing the variance within a group in skin pigmentation and gender. And certainly everyone should, from birth, have the opportunity to succeed regardless of ethnicity or gender, though we have to make sure that all those opportunities are equal from the outset.

But how about the poor? Should they be preferentially recruited as college students, professors, or employees in general? Well, financial need is irrelevant for acceptance in some “need-blind” colleges, but those white students like Fisher, who went to a lousy school in a dirt-poor town, are disadvantaged from the beginning.  Should we have affirmative action for poor white people who, like many blacks, are disadvantaged in this way? If not, why not? Isn’t that also a kind of diversity we need? After all, the rich and poor are different from you and me.

Well, regardless of considerations about affirmative action, which is not Fisher’s focus, we need to realize that class may be just as important as race or gender in politics. We know this because it was class divides among Americans that led to the election of Donald Trump. Yes, you can say that those people were ignorant, not knowing where their real interests lay (and, given Trump’s cabinet, it seems likely they’ll eventually realize that), but they weren’t racist or sexist. They ignored the odious side of Trump (actually, the odious 99.5%), because for them Hillary Clinton symbolized someone who, while taking loads of dosh from Wall Street, would ignore their plight.

For those who write these people off as misogynist Nazis, here’s how Fisher finishes his piece:

Since I lived there, the population of my childhood town has nearly doubled, fueled in part by telecommuting and cash migrating from Silicon Valley. Median income has risen to $47,000, but the median home price fell 43 percent between 2003 and 2013. The school has moved to more appropriate permanent buildings.

This November, the town (and 362 other Placer County, California precincts not unlike it) voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 51.1 percent to 39.5 percent.

But it’s hard to blame sexism or racism for Clinton’s loss.

On Election Day, the people of Placer County also voted for Kamala Harris, a black woman, to be their US senator. Her vote share? 63 percent. And her vote tally? 16,178 more than Clinton’s.

Somehow, as progressives (and mostly Democrats), we need to stop demonizing the working classes and find a platform that offers them substantive hope. And it’s not just to help elect someone like Clinton, either. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Guardian asks scientists to choose their best reads of the year

I’ve already mentioned somewhere that the New York Times‘s list of 2016’s 100 notable books had about 2 or 3 science books, and its shortened list of the 10 best books had no science books. Given the “two cultures”, one would expect more.

Our own Matthew Cobb noticed the same issue with the Guardian’s 110-best list (chosen by writers) , and tw**ted about it, showing that the proportion of science books was even lower than in the New York Times‘s list.

Well, the Guardian has taken steps to repair the situation, surveying 11 scientists and asking them what were there favorite reads of 2016 (“Favourite reads of 2016—as chosen by scientists“).

Here’s the intro to the Guardian piece, citing our already-famous Dr. Cobb and even showing his tw**t (click on screenshot to go to article):


The books chosen weren’t all published this year, and they include both fiction and nonfiction, so they serve as a cross-section of what scientists are reading. Most of the books, though, are nonfiction, with most of these at least tangentially about science, but Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon is also there.

The upshot: as I always maintain, scientists who read have a much more balanced selection, at least with respect to the Two Cultures, than do nonscientists. In other words, scientists know a lot more about the products of the humanities than scholars of the humanities know about the products of science. This is a sad situation, for in many ways science is more thrilling than fiction—because it’s real—and because all of us academic scientists are teachers who want others to be stimulated by our fields.

Feathered dinosaur tail in amber!

In a market in Myanmar, the Chinese scientist Xing Lida, shown in the picture below, found a piece of amber about the size of a dried apricot, and it had an inclusion. The seller, thinking the inclusion was a piece of plant, raised the price, for biological items in amber dramatically increase its value. Still, Xing bought the piece at a relatively low price, for the seller didn’t realize that the inclusion was not a plant, but part of a theropod dinosaur! And so it was: part of the theropod’s tail, which was sprinkled with feathers. The specimen turned out to be from the mid-Cretaceous, about 99 million years old. It’s a remarkable piece:


The specimen: a bit of theropod dinosaur tail with very clear feathers


Ryan McKellar and Xing Lida (discoverer of the specimen) with some amber from the site. Photo from CNN.

That specimen tells us something about the nature and evolution of dinosaur feathers, which evolved long before the feathers were used for flight in the birds that evolved from theropods. The function of these feather rudiments still isn’t known, but they were likely to be for thermoregulation and could also have served as ornamentation. (Sexual selection is probably ruled out since there doesn’t seem to have been sexual dimorphism in the feathers.)

The paper, by Lida Xing et al. (reference below, along with link that may or may not allow you to get the full pdf), is the first to describe not only feathers in amber, but also mummified skin and skeleton.  It apparently belonged to a non-avian coelurosaur, the group of feathered dinosaurs from which birds are descended (not all paleontologists and ornithologists agree about that scenario, though most do). Based on the tail, the animal was very small: a CNN report on the finding says the specimen could fit in the palm of your hand, and was about the size of a sparrow. Can you imagine a dinosaur that small?

The remarkably preserved feathers were examined with phase-contrast X-ray scanning (right below), which showed a paired series of feathers along the midline of the dorsal (top) part of the tail (the bottom is sparsely feathered). Some color can be discerned, suggesting the dinosaur was white and chestnut brown, also like a sparrow. In B, below, you can see some of the vertebrae; there are eight full ones and part of a ninth—a remarkably large section of tail, and showing that the bird was indeed small. (All photo captions are from the original paper.)


Photomicrographs and SR X-Ray μCT Reconstructions of DIP-V-15103 (A) Dorsolateral overview. (B) Ventrolateral overview with decay products (bubbles in foreground, staining to lower right). (C) Caudal exposure of tail showing darker dorsal plumage (top), milky amber, and exposed carbon film around vertebrae (center). (D–H) Reconstructions focusing on dorsolateral, detailed dorsal, ventrolateral, detailed ventral, and detailed lateral aspects of tail, respectively. Arrowheads in (A) and (D) mark rachis of feather featured in Figure 4A. Asterisks in (A) and (C) indicate carbonized film (soft tissue) exposure. Arrows in (B) and (E)–(G) indicate shared landmark, plus bubbles exaggerating rachis dimensions; brackets in (G) and (H) delineate two vertebrae with clear transverse expansion and curvature of tail at articulation. Abbreviations for feather rachises: d, dorsal; dl, dorsalmost lateral; vl, ventralmost lateral; v, ventral. Scale bars, 5 mm in (A), (B), (D), and (F) and 2 mm in (C), (E), (G), and (H).

For reference: here are the parts of a modern bird feather; the important parts are the rachis, or main shaft, the barbs, branches off the shaft, and barbules, the smaller branches off the barbs bearing hooks that hold the barbules together—like Velcro—into a single apparatus.


Parts of a feather: 1. Vane,  2. Rachis, 3. Barb, 4. Afterfeather, Hollow shaft, calamus

This picture shows a series of rachis-like structures that splay out from a single place, and each of those is covered with branches, which the authors interpret as barbules:


Photomicrographs of DIP-V-15103 Plumage (A) Pale ventral feather in transmitted light (arrow indicates rachis apex). (B) Dark-field image of (A), highlighting structure and visible color. (C) Dark dorsal feather in transmitted light, apex toward bottom of image. (D) Base of ventral feather (arrow) with weakly developed rachis. (E) Pigment distribution and microstructure of barbules in (C), with white lines pointing to pigmented regions of barbules. (F–H) Barbule structure variation and pigmentation, among barbs, and ‘rachis’ with rachidial barbules (near arrows); images from apical, mid-feather, and basal positions respectively. Scale bars, 1 mm in (A), 0.5 mm in (B)–(E), and 0.25 mm in (F)–(H). See also Figure S4.

Below is a close-up of the feather, which shows a “weakly-developed” rachis off of which ramify alternately-placed barbs, themselves bearing barbules.  According to the authors, this supports one of two alternative forms of feather development proposed by evolutionists, with both shown in the bottom part of the figure below. In one scenario (top), the barbs ramify from a developmental focus, then coming to branch directly opposite each other off a rachis, withe the barbules evolving later, becoming asymmetrical to form a flying surface.

The second scenario, which the authors say this specimen supports, is the development of barbules on the barbs before one of them (I think) evolves into a rachis with alternatingly-oriented barbs (that’s this specimen, circled in the figure as an intermediate). Then the barbs evolutionarily move to positions opposite each other on the rachis. Thus, this intermediate supports the bottom evolutionary scenario.

I have to admit that I’m not familiar with the controversy about feather development, and if there are facts to add here I’ll leave them to more knowledgable readers.


DIP-V-15103 Structural Overview and Feather Evolutionary-Developmental Model Fit (A and B) Overview of largest and most planar feather on tail (dorsal series, anterior end), with matching interpretive diagram of barbs and barbules. Barbules are omitted on upper side and on one barb section (near black arrow) to show rachidial barbules and structure; white arrow indicates follicle. (C) Evolutionary-developmental model and placement of new amber specimen. Brown denotes calamus, blue denotes barb ramus, red denotes barbule, and purple denotes rachis [as in 5, 12]. Scale bars, 1 mm in (A) and (B).

Finally,  you might say, “Well, this may not be the developmental pathway for modern bird feathers, but only for the lineage that contained this species.” But that’s unlikely since paleontologists and developmental biologists tell us that feathers evolved only once, so this specimen does have a bearing on feather evolution. (By the way, the supposedly unique evolution of human intelligence is often used by theologians to claim that that our intelligence, with the ability to apprehend the divine, must have itself been promoted by God. But feathers and elephant trunks are evolutionary one-offs, too! Could it be that God is a bird?)


Thoth, an Ibis God of ancient Egypt.

h/t: Nicole Reggia ♥


Xing, L., R. C. McKellar, X. Xu, G. Li, M. Bai, W. S. I. V. Persons, T. Miyashita, M. J. Benton, J. Zhang, A. P. Wolfe, Q. Yi, K. Tseng, H. Ran, and P. J. Currie. A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber. Current Biology. 26, 1–9 December 19, 2016

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have an assortment of photos and videos from four readers. First, a video sent by Stephen Barnard on Monday:

A snow storm came through yesterday. I did a quick edit of some timelapse footage.

He asks us to “spot the mallards” in this video; click on the word “vimeo” at the lower right to go to the full-sized clip.

Reader David Fuqua sent duck photos with these notes:

Here are pictures of a Bufflehead duck (Bucephala albeola[top]) and a Ringed-Neck ducks (Aythya collaris [bottom]) taken recently in Arkansas, where they will winter. Both species are diving ducks.



Reader Simon Lawson sent a butterfly that’s hit on an ingenious form of camouflage:

Here’s another moth pic from Borneo.  This one is not as spectacularly pretty (or as large) as the Atlas moth I sent previously, but a favourite of mine nonetheless. It seems to have hit on a different solution to camouflage. No need to blend in by mimicking particular colors and patterns of tree trunks when all you need to do is make at least part of your wings translucent!  It looks slightly incongruous on the blue-painted house wall, but I suspect it would be hard to pick up on  a natural surface.  I have no idea what species this may be, but possibly a geometrid. [JAC: readers should weigh in below if they know.]


Finally, snakes from Garry VanGelderen in Ontario:

Since you are looking for more wildlife shots, I offer this one: garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) peeking out from behind our brick facade. There is a bit of a gap between the bricks and the insulation. They like to hide there and come out when the sun warms the bricks.



Friday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on a chilly December 9 (Chicago temperatures -4°C, 25°F), with Arctic cold and snow approaching my town this weekend. It’s National Pastries Day, and I have one cupcake waiting for me at work (note added in proof: it’s now in my alimentary canal). There’s an unusual holiday in Sweden and Finland today; as Wikipedia notes: “Anna’s Day marks the day to start the preparation process of the lutefisk to be consumed on Christmas Eve, as well as a Swedish name day, celebrating all people named Anna.” I like the idea of name days (where’s “Jerry’s Day”?), and wonder if every day of the year is a name day in Sweden. But about that lutefisk: from what I know of it, I’d rather be named Anna than eat that lye-soaked pottage. Here’s a novice tasting the stuff for the first time; the best he can say is, “It’s not like I”m going to fall over and die.” Then he goes off camera and appears to vomit.

I mark with sadness yesterday’s death of John Glenn, war hero (in two wars), test pilot, astronaut, Senator  (he was the main author of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978), ambassador for space, and, according to all save Tom Wolfe, a genuinely nice guy, never pulling rank. At the age of 77, he went up in space again, still approaching the adventure with childlike wonder.  When I was a kid I had an autographed photo of all 7 Mercury astronauts (unfortunately, that photo vanished), and he was the last to die.


On this day in 1905, France passed a law providing for the separation of church and state. And, exactly thirty years later, the first Heisman Trophy, for achievement in collegiate football, was awarded to Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago Maroons. We’ll never see the likes of that again at my school; we have no athletic scholarships and a noncompetitive team. On December 9, 1961, Tanganyika gained independence from Britain, and, on this day in 1979, the final eradication of smallpox was proclaimed: a huge achievement for scientists, epidemiologists, and field workers. (No credit to prayer or religion here.) The disease has not reappeared, though frozen viruses reside, I believe, in two locations.

Notables born on this day include John Milton (1608), Margaret Hamilton (1902; you’ll know her as The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz), Kirk Douglas (1916; he’s 100 today, and still with us!), Judi Dench (1934), and Donny Osmond (1957). Those who died on this day include Edith Sitwell (1964) and Mary Leakey (1996), Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, while Cyrus goes after his ball, Hili pursues mice and birds, but Cyrus, ever protective of his little friend, warns her about predators of cats:

Hili: You can play with the ball and I will catch something.
A: Be careful not to get caught yourself.
In Polish:
Hili: Wy bawcie się piłką, a ja sobie coś złapię
Ja: Uważaj, żeby ciebie nie złapali.

Finally, have two GIFs of foxes hunting for prey under the snow. They hear the rodent under several feet of snow, and, with the help of the earth’s magnetic field, dive on the (usually) right spot. Those pounces are generally toward the northeast; read about their remarkable snow-hunting ability here.



Hips don’t lie: Fat squirrel stuck in manhole cover rescued; then eats more

I’m going to shamelessly steal this entire story from the BBC site because it’s so damn funny. Click on the headline to go to it, but the entire text is below:


A red squirrel who got stuck halfway through a manhole cover thanks to his curvy hips is recovering after a lengthy rescue operation in Munich.

Initial attempts to free the animal by slathering him in olive oil failed, with his huge behind preventing him from squeezing his way out.

He was finally freed after animal rescue services lifted off the cover and eased his head through the hole.

Locals have nicknamed the squirrel “Olivio” after his oily encounter.

After the ordeal on Friday, an exhausted Olivio was wrapped in a warm towel and fed glucose, local media report.

Staff at a local animal shelter say Olivio is recovering well and has now moved on to a diet of Christmas nuts.

“He was almost dead,” Sabine Gallenberger from the Squirrel Protection Association told German media.

“Now he is eating a lot and sleeps all the time.”

The BBC was unable to verify the size of Olivio’s behind.


That last line is a classic.

Here’s the original headline from the German paper online, with the lovely German word for squirrel (click on screenshot to go to story auf Deutsch):


My translation:

Hips too wide

Squirrel stuck fast in manhole cover

Olivio can no longer free himself from the hole

h/t: Michael

Brain Pickings’ choice of best science books of 2016

The good news is that somebody’s put together a list of “The greatest science books of 2016.” The bad news is that it’s Maria Popova of Brain Pickings.  Don’t get me wrong: her suggestions seem pretty good, comporting with what I’ve heard about the books—or, in the case of Sean Carroll’s book, with what I’ve read in the book—and Popova works hard to put together her site. I’m just not a fan—and I may be being a curmudgeon—because Popova seems like Krista Tippett for Intellectuals: all too often she puts out feel-good, self-helpy stuff with words of philosophy to console you.  And I really dislike Popova’s pretense that she doesn’t take money for advertising. She used to trumpet that long and loud, proclaiming that she was supported solely by donations from readers, and then was called out because it was discovered that, without telling anyone, she got tons of dosh from sites like Amazon as kickbacks for linking her site to theirs.

That story is on GigaomI won’t repeat it except to show one of the tw**ts from Mathew Ingram, a writer at Fortune, calling Popova out—and her lame response.

Well, go over to the donation page and see if you can find the “note” about commissions. Here’s what you see at the top, where Popova asks readers for money and saying the blog is “ad free”.


Do you see any note about commissions? Well,





     scroll. . .

and you’ll see this, in tiny gray type at the bottom of a big bunch of blank space:

Enlarged: Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated.

I wonder what that fraction is? It could be 3/1, which is, after all, a fraction, and Popova ain’t telling. I call the hiding of that announcement blatantly dishonest.

But that aside, here’s Popova’s list (she also has summaries and excerpts) of the best science books, and excuse my digression (I’m not including Popova’s links):

  • Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin
  • Time Travel: A History by James Gleick
  • Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time by Marc Wittmann
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi
  • The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time by Maria Konnikova
  • The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond
  • The Big Picture:On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself  by Sean Carroll (Official Website Physicist™)
  • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben
  • Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell by Alexandra Horowitz (seriously???)
  • I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
  • Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
  • For younger readers: Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignatofsky

I’ve read only one of these: Sean Carroll’s book, which I liked, but I also intend to read Kalinithi’s book, the autobiography of a surgeon who got terminal cancer (he’s now dead). It’s supposed to be excellent.

h/t: Barry

Here’s the reptile! (It’s a gecko)

Earlier today I put up a tw**t from Ollie Wearn that had this picture in it. Your job was to find the reptile. Did you? Here it is:


And enlargements from Ollie’s recent tweet:



Yes, folks, it’s a leaf-tailed gecko in the genus Uroplatus, and one cryptic mother! Members of this genus are some of the most remarkable mimics I’ve seen; Wikipedia describes their camouflage:

All Uroplatus species have highly cryptic colouration, which acts as camouflage, most being grayish-brown to black or greenish-brown with various markings resembling tree bark. There are two variations of this camouflage: leaf form, and bark form. The leaf form is present in only four described species, U. phantasticus, U. ebenaui, U. finiavana, and U. malama, which are also the smallest species. All other forms blend in well with tree bark upon which they rest during the day. Some of these tree bark forms have developed a flap of skin, running the length of the body, known as a “dermal flap”, which they lay against the tree during the day, scattering shadows, and making their outline practically invisible.

Here’s a bark form–really hard to see! Note the dermal flap (if you can see it):


And another. This species is a remarkable mimic:


And, just for fun, here’s the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, with the lovely name Uroplatus phantasticus, from Madagascar. It seems to occur in a variety of forms and colors, which makes me wonder whether it’s a single variable species or several species that are undescribed:


Here’s a video showing several species of the genus:

As the old saying goes, “Natural selection is cleverer than you are.”

Jeff Tayler back in the saddle again: criticizes the “first hijabi” trope

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know of my frequent and splenetic posts about “The first hijabi  [Muslim wearer of the hijab, or headscarf] to do Y,” where Y represents various forms of athletics, ballet, contestants in beauty pageants, news anchors and so on (see, for instance, here, here, here, and here).  This ridiculous glorification of a scrap of cloth is found among many Western white feminists, most vocally among the privileged white editors of The Huffington Post. And you’ll know my objection to this glorification. While I agree that women shouldn’t be banned from wearing hijabs, or reviled because of them, I don’t think they should be celebrated for wearing them, either. My reasons are several.

First, the hijab is a garment of modesty, worn by many Muslim women to protect their hair from the prying eyes of men. The assumption here is that if a man glimpses a woman’s hair, he’ll turn into an uncontrollable bag of testosterone and possibly attack the immodest woman. This idea that men must be prevented at all costs from seeing bits of women, and that women are responsible for snuffing this incipient lust, reaches its apogee in the burqa, which, worn with a face covering, turns the woman into a shapeless sack of cloth.

Further, some hijabis are engaged in activities incommensurate with the religious reason for wearing the cloth. Look at this hijabi, for instance, a Cover Girl Ambassador celebrated by PuffHo as a “fearless dreamer”. I may be wrong, but I don’t think she’s trying to hide her beauty, since her makeup must have been laid on with a trowel.


And the loud acclaim for the hijab- and burquini -(full body bathing costume) wearing contestant in the Miss Minnesota pageant? What is that about? How does parading your assets on stage comport with modesty?

Futher, what about celebrating non-hijabi Muslim women who have achieved good things? Well, that doesn’t often happen, even when the press knows about it. No, it’s the religious headscarf that’s being celebrated, not the Islamic breakthrough women who, bravely, refuse to hide their faces and hair. This leads me to believe that many of those celebrating the hijab are actually applauding their own perceived open-mindedness, by supporting Women of Color. But why does the celebration vanish when the Woman of Color doesn’t wear a scrap of cloth on her head? Because the hijab stands for Islam; and that is is not to be celebrated. In fact, no religion should be celebrated, since the vast majority of them are based on fairy tales, wish-thinking and engage in various forms of oppression based on warped views of what the deity wants. Islam is one of the worst, what with its mandates to kill infidels and apostates, and its demonization of gays and pervasive misogyny. Why on earth should we applaud such a faith?

Finally, we must remember that in many places in the world the hijab is required, and in many others might as well be because of familial and social pressures to conform to religious dictates. That’s even true in the U.S., where in some Muslim schools girls as young as 5 are forced to wear the hijab. What kind of “choice” is that? At the very least, I think, those women who do wear hijab without any social pressure to do so should speak out against the fate of their sisters in Afghanistan and Iran, who have no such choices.

All this I’ve said before, but Jeff Tayler says it better, more eloquently, and with more data in a new article in the upcoming website Quillette: “The hijab and the regressive left’s absurd campaign to betray freethinking women“. Tayler used to write antitheistic pieces for Salon, but no longer (I suspect they didn’t want more God-bashing on their site!). Fortunately, Quillette has taken on the contributing editor of the Atlantic, where I look forward to some good old religion-bashing in the future.

Jeff gives some of the same examples I cite above, and more as well, and then sets out the problem:

Headlines proclaiming such “firsts” — performed by Muslim women living, nota bene, in the United States and Canada — have appeared often in the press over the past couple of years. Surely by now you’ve seen them.  The associated coverage is frequently gushing, but when it is not, it is not probing, and certainly not critical.  It is, in fact, part and parcel of the regressive left’s insidious attempt at brainwashing well-meaning liberals into lauding what should be, in our increasingly diverse societies, at best a neutral fact: freedom of speech means freedom of religion.  Women should be free to dress as they please.  Some Muslim women wear hijabs and are the first to do so in various endeavors.

By no means does freedom of religion, however, confer on religion or religious customs exemptions from criticism, satire, or even derision.

. . .Hence, few spectacles are more puzzling, disturbing, hypocritical, and potentially damaging to women’s rights — and therefore to human progress as a whole — than the de facto campaign in some purportedly liberal press outlets to normalize the hijab and portray it as a hallmark of feminist pride and dignity, and not as a sartorial artifact of a misogynistic, seventh-century ideology, forced upon its wearers by law in some countries and by hidebound cultural norms and community and familial pressure, even violence, elsewhere.

And the consequences, limned by Tayler’s dry wit:

The Huffington Post also apprised us of the case of the fourteen-year-old Stephanie Kurlow, an Australian who converted to Islam at age ten, and her hopes of being the first hijabi ballerina.  Young Kurlow tried to crowd-fund her dance school tuition, but eventually, Swedish tennis legend Björn Borg (who professed to be “really moved” by her story) stepped in, and his organization offered to foot the bill.  Upon learning this, Kurlow declared that she sought to “bring the world together by becoming the very first hijab-wearing ballerina” and wanted to “encourage everyone to join together no matter what faith, race or colour” and thereby “leave [sic] in a world with greater acceptance.”

How Kurlow intends to “bring everyone together” by espousing a faith mandating everlasting hellfire for non-Muslims — still the majority of humans on this planet — and death for apostates and gays, is anyone’s guess.  Nevertheless, Bjorg’s marketing director swooned over her.  “The strength and the courage that it takes for [a] 14-year-old to not give up in a situation like this, to see possibilities where others see problems, is exceptional.”  (Italics mine.)

Noor Tagouri is a hijabi news anchor who appeared (clothed, of course) in Playboy. And she’s said some bizarre things. Tayler again:

 The headline for the Huffington Post article about her states, without intimations of satire, that “Noor Tagouri Makes a Forceful Case for Modesty.”  Again, by appearing in Playboy.

(Google Tagouri and you will find quite a few photos showcasing boldly — that is,immodestly — her model-level looks on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  You will also come across a saccharine Hollywood Life piece about her career, which leaves readers no doubt about how she has leveraged her faith to make a name for herself.)

The Huffington Post also publishes, without commentary but with typos, Tagouri’s assertion that she believes “in rebellion as a form of honestly [sic] . . . .  To be our most authentic self is to rebellious [sic].”  Wait – to be one’s most “authentic self” as a twenty-first-century American woman means adopting a 1,400-year-old religion that demand wives submit to their husbands (even abusive husbands), sets outinegalitarian inheritance rights for women, permits taking captive women as sex slaves, and even sanctions the savage butchery that is female genital mutilation?  No one at the Huffington Post thought to ask her such impertinent questions.

Finally, on the Miss Minnesota beauty pageant contestant, Halmia Aden (she didn’t win):

Most recently, Halima Aden, a nineteen-year-old Somali-American teen from Minnesota, won attention for a two-for-one: for being, again according to the Huffington Post (notice a pattern?), the “first ever contestant . . . to wear a hijab and a burkini” in, of all things, the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.  A tweet reproduced shows a video of Aden, thus attired, swinging her hips – modestly? – as “contestant number one” on the catwalk in the swimsuit competition.  Emblazoned above her Huffington Post accolade in hot pink letters is PAVING THE WAY.

One wonders, paving the way to what? to the dawn of Islamic theocracy in Minneapolis?  To the shaming of non-hijabi Muslim women across the land?  To the shaming of uncovered nonbelieving women in general?  A hijab- and burkini-bound beauty contestant “paves the way” to nowhere I would want to go.  And hey, aren’t beauty pageants something to which we progressives should object?  In any case, a shame-based retrograde view of the female body (as nothing but a provoker of male lust) forms the core of modesty dress codes, be they Islamic, Christian, or Jewish.  Such codes implicitly brand the women who choose not to comply as impious sluts inferior to the Righteous Ones strutting about in their ostentatiously self-segregating getup.

There’s a lot more, so go read Tayler’s piece. The solution? In my view here’s what we should be doing:

  • Stop celebrating Muslims unless they achieve something in the face of discrimination. They’re a religion, not a race, and their religion is often vile, even when held by Western Muslims.
  • Hold Muslims accountable for their beliefs. Before osculating those beliefs, ascertain what they are: see if they think apostates should be killed, gays demonized, and women oppressed. See if they endorse a literal reading of the Qur’an. If they do, ask them about the horrible bits of the Qur’an (and hadith) that, for many Muslims around the world, promote bigotry, oppression, and immorality.
  • Ask hijabis why they’re wearing the garment, and if they had a choice to do so. If they say they did, but they wear glamorous clothes and makeup, ask if they really are trying to be modest. Then ask if they think veiling should be mandatory in some Middle Eastern countries.
  • If a hijabi says she wears the garment for modesty, ask her why women and not men are responsible for curbing the lusts of men.
  • Stop celebrating women who achieve something while wearing the hijab by concentrating on the hijab. By all means celebrate Muslims for overcoming obstacles (see point 1), but not for wearing a headscarf. That’s like celebrating an achieving Jewish male who wears a yarmulke for wearing the yarmulke. Remember, in the U.S. per capita rates of hate crimes are still twice as high against Jews as against Muslims. Why don’t we see “first American yarmulkabi bobsledder in the Olympics” articles? What about the Sikhs? “Paving the Way: First turbani in the Mr. Universe Contest”.

It’s time for this nonsense to stop. But it won’t so long as PuffHo and other regressive leftists thoughtlessly worship a symbol of women’s oppression.