The TSA gooses me again!

Not only is my plane two hours late, so I have to cool my heels for four hours in the desolate International Terminal of O’Hare, but, though clean as a whistle, I was grabbed by TSA after the Full Body Scan and given the Goosing Treatment. That meant a preliminary explanation by the agent about how he was going to palpate my buttocks with the back of his hands, and then the full Buttock Groping and the up-and-down-the-leg treatment as well. This time it was even more embarrassing than my previous goosing incidents (I declined the search in a private room). And, of course, they found nothing: I had neither a wallet nor anything else in my pockets.

Oh, and they decided to swab my hands, too.

I have no metal implants or anything else suspicious. Why you do this to me, TSA?


I got both!

Racism, sexism, and bigotry at historically Jewish fraternity at University of Chicago

Well, much as I’d like it to have been otherwise, students at my own school have engaged in some racist and bigoted behavior, and the culprits, according to BuzzFeed, The Daily News, and many other sources, was a historically Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi. At the University of Chicago, fraternities aren’t formally a part of the school’s social system, as they’re organized and maintained privately, but this still reflect poorly on the school—especially on the fraternity.

It’s not clear how pervasive the toxic culture was in AEPi, but one of the “brothers,” fed up with it, leaked several emails, sent between 2011 and 2015, to BuzzFeed. They show, among other things:

  • A general denigration of Palestine and Palestinians, including calling the vacant lot next to the fraternity house “Palestine.”
  • General bigotry against Muslims, calling one Muslim student a “terrorist” and saying that explosives were fixtures of Islamic culture.
  • Racism, including watching a blacksploitation film and eating fried chicken on Martin Luther King Day. (I also patronize that venue, Harold’s, for its great chicken, but this seems to be a deliberately racist gesture). The word “nigger” was used liberally, and blacks were discussed using the code word “community members.”
  • Widespread viewing of women solely as sexual objects, including a “constitution” about how to treat women (i.e., how to bed them).

You can see lots of the emails at BuzzFeed.

The University of Chicago can’t do much about this, as AEPi is not affiliated with them (even if they were, our speech code probably wouldn’t allow the students to be penalized), but Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen condemned the emails as offensive and inconsistent with the university’s values. And the Executive Board of the national AEPi organization promises an investigation, issuing a statement that “The current Executive Board is doing everything in its power to investigate and confront the individuals of the fraternity who sent these emails.We whole-heartedly condemn this behavior and reaffirm that there is no place for these hateful and bigoted sentiments in our fraternity.”

As a historically denigrated and marginalized group, Jews should know better than this. Long-time recipients of bigotry and hatred must do their best to avoid dishing that out to other groups, for living well (i.e., in a spirit of tolerance) is the best revenge.

Maurice White, 1941-2016, and Cynthia Robinson, 1944-2015

by Greg Mayer

It’s been a bad few months for musicians: David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and now Maurice White, the influential, productive, and popular performer, writer, and producer, have died. And I must add to this sad list Cynthia Robinson, the iconic trumpeter of Sly and the Family Stone, who passed away in late November. As the Righteous Brothers sang, “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”

While working with musicians as diverse as Barbra Streisand and The Tubes, White’s lasting reputation will rest most firmly on his co-founding of the seminal funk and soul band Earth, Wind and Fire. Combining the voices of Maurice White and Philip Bailey, with rhythm, harmony, and a large horn section, Earth, Wind and Fire had funk, soul, psychedelia, jazz and a touch of big band. They could be mellow as in “That’s the Way of the World”, or urgent, as in “Shining Star”. They scored hits from the 70s through the 80’s, and continue to tour successfully to this day, though Maurice had stepped back from performing due to Parkinson’s disease. Of late, they often toured with another band with a big horn section, Chicago, the two bands practically forming a small orchestra when they play each other’s music together (I saw them in Milwaukee a few years ago).

Here’s “Boogie Wonderland”, featuring a lot of screen time for Maurice, and the elaborate showmanship and costuming featuring the Neo-Egyptian styling that the band favored at the time.

It is a sign of the wide popularity and respect in which White and Earth, Wind and Fire were held that, when I attended a concert at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City in the 70s, featuring, of all people, the Outlaws and the Doobie Brothers, the warm-up music played over the speaker system for the crowd was Earth, Wind and Fire. Here’s one of the songs played at the Stadium:

And Cynthia Robinson was an early and key member of Sly and the Family Stone, practically the ur-band of funk. Sly Stone deliberately set out to create a band with musicians who were black and white, male and female, which, as the New York Times put it, along with “its hippie style, made it a living poster for the ideals of the counterculture.” Robinson was the trumpeter in the horn section, and also provided occasional, but crucial, vocals. In the clip below, from the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, the band begins with “Everyday People”, then moves to “Dance to the Music”, featuring Cynthia’s vocals on both tunes; at about 2:50, “Dance to the Music” begins with her best known line. There are many recordings of “Dance to the Music” online but this clip, an extended version, shows her on camera as it begins (as well as showing her on “Everyday People”).

As Cynthia commanded us, “Get up, and dance to the music!”

OMG, more atheism in the New York Times: Susan Jacoby on “God Bless America!”

Can it be that the New York Times is finally recognizing that, yes, godlessness is an acceptable view in America? Perhaps, for they’ve published some atheist pieces lately, and the latest is Susan Jacoby’s “Sick and Tired of ‘God Bless America’” which is in this week’s Sunday Review section. Her pro-atheist-and-secularist piece is headed by the strange photo below. Did Jesus write that himself? If so, it’s Proof of Heaven!


Kissimmee, Fla., 2012. Credit Alec Soth/Magnum Photos

Jacoby argues four points. I agree in principle with all of them, but I think it’s naive to ask for the first three right now.

a. There should be more nonreligious candidates; all of the ones we have pander to faith—even Democrats.

Hillary Clinton repeatedly refers to her Methodist upbringing, and even Bernie Sanders — a cultural Jew not known to belong to a synagogue — squirms when asked whether he believes in God. When Jimmy Kimmel posed the question, Mr. Sanders replied in a fog of words at odds with his usual blunt style: “I am who I am. And what I believe in and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.” He once referred to a “belief in God” that requires him to follow the Golden Rule — a quote his supporters seem to trot out whenever someone suggests he’s an atheist or agnostic.

Yes, but Sanders is canny. A candidate who openly espouses nonbelief is a candidate who will lose, so I don’t have tremendous objections to Sanders’ waffling. We all know what he is. Remember, the latest Pew statistics show that half of Americans would be less likely to vote for an atheist for President and only 6% more likely. Nonbelief is the biggest liability a candidate can have:


So I think it’s premature for Jacoby to ask for candidates to be honest if they’re nonbelievers.

b. Candidates should woo the nonbelievers, as our number is substantial.

Yes, America is still a predominantly Christian nation, but evangelical Christians (including multiple Protestant denominations), at 25.4 percent, are the only group larger than those who don’t belong to any church. At 22.8 percent, according to Pew, the unchurched make up a larger group than Catholics, any single Protestant denomination and small minorities of Jews, Muslims and Hindus.

. . . Secularists remain politically weak in part because of the reluctance of many, especially the young, to become “joiners.” Rejection of labels may be one reason so many of the religiously unaffiliated prefer to check “nothing in particular” rather than the atheist or agnostic box.

True, but among the 22.8% of “nones” we find that just 4% of Americans describe themselves as “agnostics” and only 3.1% as “atheists.” Most of the “nones” seem to be either god-believers who haven’t found an established church, or those people who are “spiritual” and have a “belief in belief.” Courting that small 7% of voters risks alienating the much larger number of people who are watching what you say, and will suspect you of perfidious atheism! Even emphasizing that church and state should be kept separate risks losing some of your Democratic voters: you’ll never hear Sanders or Clinton taking even that moderate (and Constitutional!) stand.

c. Nonbelievers should ally themselves with liberal religious people, for we have common causes.

I suppose I must be a “soft” atheist for believing that there is a huge political upside to ad hoc coalitions with liberal religious groups.

Freedom of conscience for all — which exists only in secular democracies — should be at the top of the list of shared concerns. Candidates who rightly denounce the persecution of Christians by radical Islamists should be ashamed of themselves for not expressing equal indignation at the persecution of freethinkers and atheists, as well as dissenting Muslims and small religious sects, not only by terrorists but also by theocracies like Saudi Arabia. With liberal religious allies, it would be easier for secularists to hold candidates to account when they talk as if freedom of conscience is a human right only for the religious.

Even more critical is the necessity of reclaiming the language of religious freedom from the far right. As defined by many pandering politicians, “religious freedom” is in danger of becoming code for accepting public money while imposing faith-based values on others.

Anyone who dismisses the importance of taking back this language should consider the gravity of the mistake made by supporters of legal abortion when they allowed the anti-abortion movement to claim the term “pro-life” after Roe v. Wade.

I agree in principle, but how many candidates are going to publicly call for an end to persecution of nonbelievers, especially by “allies” like Saudi Arabia? Even Obama can’t bring himself to do that. While he and other speak of a need for “human rights,” they’re rarely explicit about the persecution of infidels and apostates. As for language, yes, I agree, but it’s more important to argue for abortion itself than about the terms people use. The reason Americans are becoming more abortion-friendly has nothing to do with language and everything to do with the arc of the moral universe.

As I said, I agree with Jacoby’s sentiments, but I think it’s a bit naive to begin publicly arguing that American should curb its bias against nonbelief and secularism. And I’m not sure how valuable it will be to ally ourselves with the faithful over secularist causes. By all means we should work with the faithful who favor abortion, gay marriage, and other progressive causes, and we should certainly stand with religious people who are in favor of secularism. But the latter are few.

My solution is to keep publicly espousing nonbelief, criticizing faith, and pointing out (as Jacoby has) the unconscionable osculation of faith by politicians.  Once nonbelief has reached a certain critical threshold, it will automatically behoove candidates to take it into account. But we’re not there yet. I will take the liberty of adding my own prescription, which is mine. It’s coming now. . . here it is (it’s mine):

Reporters should start asking politicians tough questions about their faith. If they say they place God over the Constitution (as Cruz has), ask them to clarify that. What if God asks them to do something against the Constitution? If politicans claim that they take orders or political advice from God, ask them what that advice is.  Ask them what they think about teaching evolution in public schools, about the problem of climate change, or about the the growing number of nonbelievers in America. Reporters should do their jobs!

 So I do agree with Jacoby when she says this:

Secularists must hold candidates to account when they insult secular values, whether that means challenging them in town hall meetings or withholding donations. Why, for example, would any secular Republican (yes, there are some) think of supporting the many Republican politicians who have denied the scientific validity of evolution? Politicians will continue to ignore secular Americans until they are convinced that there is a price to be paid for doing so.

It’s just that reporters have more of an opportunity and license to do this than does the average citizen.

d. Politicians should stop bringing up God all the time. Here I’m completely on board with Jacoby:

“God bless America” has become the standard ending of every major political speech. Just once in my life, I would like the chance to vote for a presidential candidate who ends his or her appeals with Thomas Paine’s observation that “the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.”

Remember: the use of “God bless America” to end a speech is a new phenomenon, for it wasn’t used until Nixon said it in 1973 when giving a speech from the White House about Watergate—not an auspicious beginning. And it didn’t become omnipresent until Reagan started using it. It’s time to retire that trite and useless phrase. Why should God bless America more than any other land—even if He does exist? And if he does exist, why are we so special? It’s like asking God to bless the Denver Broncos in the Superbowl.

And, for grins:

h/t: Greg Mayer, Blue

Caturday felid trifecta: Adventure cats, station cat gets promoted; and cat gloves for your smartphone

We will keep up with the Caturday felids while I’m on my trip, or so I hope. A week from today is my free day in London, and I have to decide which museum—and which pub—to visit.

First, meet Gandalf, a fluffy gray cat who happens to be a rescue cat, taken from a pet shop in Seoul, South Korea that was closing. Yahoo News reports on Gandalf, who now travels the world with his leash and his staff:

“He was 5 weeks old with a respiratory infection and the sweetest little face!” his owners, who now live in northern California, wrote to ABC News.

Coming up with the cat’s creative name was a no-brainer.

“We are avid ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans and when we saw his cute little beard we knew his name was Gandalf. He was born a Gandalf,” they explained.

From the moment they rescued Gandalf he “always wanted to go with us to places so we decided to try the leash and see if he would like it,” his owners said. “He didn’t mind at all!”

Gandalf, 2, couldn’t get enough of all the new scenery.


“Gandalf was so impressed by all the wide open spaces and landscapes in the U.S. that we wanted to show him more,” they recalled. “We decided to do a road trip back to our home state of California and show Gandalf historic sites and national parks along the way!”


The couple has captured Gandalf’s purr-fect adventures across multiple states and countries on his Instagram account, where he’s amassed more than 14,000 followers.


“The Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Redwoods of Mendocino County have been his favorite locations so far,” his owners wrote.

. . . He’s loved his time in northern California, but the happy family will soon be moving to New Zealand.

Maybe I’ll meet him there, along with Jerry Coyne the Cat!

“Gandalf is looking forward to learning some more of northern California’s history and hopes to visit a few more national parks before he moves across the Pacific to New Zealand,” they said.


You can see more photos of Gandalf here, and here’s a video:

A Daily Mail article gives information and photos of other traveling cats, and there’s a new site, Adventure Cats, that tells you how to prepare your cat for traveling adventures and what you’ll need to take your moggie along to the backcountry.


Love Meow reports on Felix, a lovely female tuxedo cat who lives in the Huddersfield Railway Station in West Yorkshire, England, She was brought there to catch mice, but has just been promoted. Five years in, “Felix is now Senior Pest Controller and even has earned her very own visibility jacket and name tag.”


“She was a few weeks old when she came to the station. Donated by a colleague,” Huddersfield Railway Station told Love Meow.

“Her daily duties include begging for food from passengers and colleagues. Patrolling the platforms, occasionally making an appearance in the concourse. And chasing off the odd rodent. She has been known to wander down to Dominos Pizza when bored.”

Look at that magnificent ruff!

Here she is with her name tag and “visibility jacket”:


If you’re at the station, look her up, preferably take pictures, and report back to me. In the meantime, you can check out Felix’s own Facebook Page.


Finally, Bored Panda tells us about some special smartphone gloves with an ailurophilic flair. They’re Japanese, and the advertising video is below:

Designed by Felissimo and YOU+MORE, the gloves are made from a suede-like material and have a fluffy inside, as well as conductive pads on the thumb and index finger that let you text in the coldest winter.

You can choose from 3 different kitties for US$36 (4,295 yen).

More info: Felissimo | YOU+MORE (h/t: rocketnews24, designtaxi)

I’ll take a pass on these, but they’re very kawaii. While looking at these, I also found a very strange Japanese video, clearly from a television show, whose content baffles me. But I’m sure we have at least one reader who can tell us what’s going on here:

h/t: Ginger K.. Lauren, Heather Hasie

Readers’ wildlife photographs

After today there may not be any photographs for a week or so, for while I’ll bring them with me to the UK, I may not have time to post them. Posting in general will also be light. As Maru says, “I do my best.”

Today we have another sequence of birds nomming mammals, but this time it’s bald eagles, with the photos sent by reader Jacob Harrington. His notes:

These pictures were taken with a motion sensor camera (field cam) at my parent’s apple orchard near Hayward, WI in March of 2012. Every winter/spring my father gathers fresh roadkill (whitetail deer) and places them in one of the fields where the deer are clearly visible to the eagles overhead. After about 10-15 years of this ‘feeding’, we believe the eagles have remembered this specific migratory route in the hills of northwest Wisconsin where they gather along the perimeter of the field in the tall oaks. As many as 20 bald eagles have perched along the tree line taking turns feeding on the deer!




My father has his bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He has worked with the Fish & Wildlife Service in Alaska. He has worked for the DNR in Wisconsin. According to the Department of the Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, 50 CFR Part 22 (Protection of Eagles; Definition of “Disturb”). Rules & Regulations state “ Disturb means to agitate, or bother a bald or golden eagle to the degree that interferes with or interrupts normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering habits, causing injury, death, or nest abandonment. So we understand the “feeding” to be ethical and true to spirit of providing some token of gratitude.








Friday: Hili dialogue

I’m off this afternoon to England, and for those of you going to the Oxford or London events, I’ll see you there. On this day in 1944, plutonium was first produced at the Hanford nuclear facility in the state of Washington, later to be used in the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. On November 6, 1999, Australia voted to keep the Head of Commonwealth (i.e., the Queen) as their head of state. That amazes me still. Why, Aussies? On this day in 1854, John Philip Sousa was born, as was Edsel Ford in 1943 and Sally Field in 1946. And, in 1893, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died on this day, as did Maxim of Bulgaria in 2012. Finally, it’s International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict; did you know that? Clearly it’s not an exciting day in history. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is being lazier than her staff, both of whom are down with bad colds but are nevertheless working.

A: Hili, get up. It’s 8 o’clock.
Hili: Can’t I sleep a bit longer even on Sunday?
A: It’s Saturday.
Hili: What’s the difference?


In Polish:

Ja: Hili, wstawaj, ósma godzina.
Hili: Nawet w niedzielę nie można sobie dłużej pospać.
Ja: Jest sobota.
Hili: A co za różnica?
As lagniappe for National Squirrel Appreciation month, here’s a melanistic fox squirrel (Sicurus niger) from reader Randy Schenck in Iowa:
FOX SQUIRREL 5 Feb. 16 001

A tight landing at Princess Juliana International Airport

This airport, right past the beach on the island of St. Maarten, is notorious for having little leeway for landing. Locals and tourists gather on Maho beach to watch the fun. The plane is a PAWA Dominicana flight, and an McDonnell Douglas 83 plane; the landing was on January 6 of this year.

Not all the landings are that close, but people have been hurt by jetblasts from airplanes taking off:

The odious National Prayer Breakfast: Obama asserts that “Faith is the great cure for fear”

Do you have two hours and a lot of antacids? Then by all means torture yourself by watching a bunch of politicians pander to religion in the latest National Prayer Breakfast, which took place yesterday. You can skip the first 37 minutes as nothing happens: it’s just people coming in and sitting down. Then it’s introduced with an explicitly Christian purpose (they mention Jesus, and later note that the purpose of the breakfast is to “lift up the nation with Jesus”).

This is part of the description of this event from Wikipedia:

The National Prayer Breakfast is a yearly event held in Washington, D.C., on the first Thursday of February each year. The founder of this event was Abraham Vereide. The event—which is actually a series of meetings, luncheons, and dinners—has taken place since 1953 and has been held at least since the 1980s at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue NW.

The breakfast, held in the Hilton’s International Ballroom, is typically attended by some 3,500 guests, including international invitees from over 100 countries. The National Prayer Breakfast is hosted by members of the United States Congress and is organized on their behalf by The Fellowship Foundation, a Christian organization. Initially called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, the name was changed in 1970 to the National Prayer Breakfast.

It is designed to be a forum for the political, social, and business elite to assemble and build relationships. Since the inception of the National Prayer Breakfast, several U.S. states and cities and other countries have established their own annual prayer breakfast events.

Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in the annual event.

While it may not be sponsored by the government, it certainly has the imprimatur of the government, and it shouldn’t be taking place. You can bet your tuchus that Founding Fathers like George Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Ben Franklin, and so on wouldn’t have anything to do with this. Remember that they refused to open the Constitutional Convention in 1787 with any prayer!

If you want to see our esteemed President pander to faith, start watching at 1 hour and 49 minutes in and stop at 2:16:15: about 27 minutes. If that’s too much (and it was too much for me), read the transcript of his remarks here.

If faith is the great cure for fear, it’s also a great instigator of fear, both as a motivator of religiously-based violence and as a promoter of persistent fear about going to hell, something that plagues many Catholics.

Here’s the woodpecker!

Did you spot the spotted woodpecker? Here it is:


And the guy holding the cat was the famous underground cartoonist R. Crumb.


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