Science Cat!

I don’t follow anyone on Twi**er as I don’t have time, and use this site to convey my thoughts. But I found one site that’s almost worth following: Science Cat! Click on the screenshot to go there:


Two of the latest tweets:

Rabbits and cat living in harmony

Reader Brigette Zacharczenko, a grad student in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Connecticut at Storrs (she has an insect website), sent me some lovely photos (in an email titled “Some fluffy kitty belly for you to enjoy”) of her rabbits and new kitty that I’m posting with her permission. Her description is indented.

My fiance and I recently adopted a young cat we’ve named Milo. He’s a real charmer and I thought you’d enjoy some of these photos! We call him a cross between a ferret and a dinosaur, but we suspect he may actually be a Turkish Angora, at least in part.

Last photo is one of his encounters with my two rabbits, Rascal and Appledot. We were worried the cat may have a “killer instinct” and go after the rabbits. He’s only ever been an indoor cat, but you never know. Turns out, it’s the rabbits who are aggressive! Milo keeps trying to be friendly, approaching to sniff, rolling onto his back, mewing softly, and patting at them gently. Meanwhile the rabbits lunge, grunt, chase, and smack him around. To his credit, Milo handles it well, and isn’t terribly deterred. I’ve heard of other households with cats and rabbits who get along, and I’m hoping we get to that point too.
And she has a question:
I’d be interested in hearing if any of your other readers have cats and rabbits who get along, and what the adjustment process was like.

Trump says he’ll accept election results—if he wins

My CNN feed tells me that Trump has proven himself dumber than I thought by effectively mocking the democratic process:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says that he will accept the results of the general election next month — if he wins. [JAC: watch the video at the site to see some complete insanity.]

“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Delaware, Ohio, his first comment since the final presidential debate Wednesday.

After pausing for effect, he said, “… if I win.”

Trump was widely panned by Republicans and Democrats alike after the debate during which he refused to pledge to accept the results of the election, regardless of the winner.

After Election Day, nobody in this country will take Trump seriously any more.

The anti-Semitism of UNESCO

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem contains at once some of the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Besides being the historical site of the Jewish Second Temple (Herod’s Temple) and possibly other temples (confirmed by archaeological evidence), and the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, it’s reputed to contain the stone on which Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. (I am not, of course, saying I believe these myths, but the presence of early Jewish temples is undeniable.) This makes it special to Christians and Jews. It also has two very holy mosques, including the Dome of the Rock (deliberately built on the holy site of “earlier” religions, since Islam is the “final truth”), which contains the Isaac Stone (unviewable by Christians and Jews, who are denied access to the mosque. Since 1967, access of Jews and Christians to the Temple Mount has been severely restricted by the Israeli government, and Jews are not allowed to either wear religious garb on the Mount (save a yarmulke)  nor pray there. It is a contentious place where three religious groups vie for access, and where a resolution of the competing claims seems impossible.

Two days ago, the members of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, with 195 member countries) adopted, by an overwhelming “yes vs no” vote (with many nations abstaining), a resolution denying the connection between Judaism and the holy sites on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and basically designating it as a Muslim holy site alone (you can see the full resolution here).  This is what the Palestinians have been trying to accomplish for many years. The implication is that Jews (and Christians) should have no access to the Temple Mount or even the Western Wall.

As the New York Times reports (see also here, here, and here):

PARIS — UNESCO’s executive board on Tuesday approved a resolution that Israel says denies the deep historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem — and that has angered Israel’s government and many Jews around the world.

The resolution is not expected to have concrete impact on Jerusalem itself, but it aggravated diplomatic tensions around the city and within UNESCO, which is also facing a dispute between Japan and China that threatens funding.

It’s the latest of several measures at UNESCO over decades that Israelis see as evidence of ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters. Israel’s concern has mounted since UNESCO states admitted Palestine as a member in 2011.

The resolution, titled “Occupied Palestine,” lays out rules about the preservation of holy sites in Jerusalem, and uses only the Islamic name for a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims. The site includes the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray.

Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City as the Temple Mount. Muslims refer to it as al-Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary, and it includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The board adopted the resolution by consensus Tuesday at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. A draft form of the resolution had already been approved by a commission last week.

Here’s the vote. 24 nations, including many Muslim-majority countries, voted for the resolution, only six against (including the UK and US), and 26 countries abstained because they were too cowardly to take a stand.  The cowards include France, India, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.


Given the historical evidence, this kind of vote cannot be seen as anything other than either anti-Semitism or catering to Muslim desires to keep the peace (there’s not much difference there given that Jewish claims to the territory are rejected). But it goes along with the UN’s recent anti-Israel stand. As Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted (and I’m just quoting his quip, so don’t go off on the man for other things):

One more quote from 12 years ago:


h/t: Malgorzata

Question to women readers: have you been assaulted or violated?

One of the only good things that came out of Trump’s candidacy (for me) is my growing realization that women are groped or physically assaulted far more often than I would have thought.  I know about catcalling, as I’ve seen it often, but there’s been a spate of women reporting unwanted touching, fondling, or other kinds of physical assaults on their person.  Yesterday I asked one woman friend if she’d ever experienced anything like that.  She responded that she’d never been “groped” by a stranger, but that one of her supervisors at work asked her to tie his tie for a formal dinner, and then grabbed her breasts when she did so. In the state where this happened, that counts as fourth-degree sexual assault. (She didn’t report it.)

This kind of assault—for that’s what it is—is described by Freedom from Religion Foundation co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in an email from the FFRF called “Religious hypocrites grope for excuses for Donald Trump groping.” It doesn’t seem to be on the FFRF website, but was reproduced on Hemant Mehta’s site, The Friendly Atheist.

First Annie Laurie took a survey of her co-workers:

Motivated by the headlines, I conducted an informal poll at my workplace. I approached the 11 other women staffers who happened to be in our offices on Monday at the Freedom From Religion Foundation to ask about whether they’d ever experienced the kinds of gropes several women have testified they endured from Donald Trump.

Ten out of the 12 (including myself) have been groped or had similar unwanted experiences.* The two others had experienced sexual street harassment. One, a runner, said the intimidating catcalls and jeers are constant. I suspect this unscientific survey would be borne out as par for the course nationwide.

She then gives several of the women’s accounts, which are grim, and reports two times when she herself was groped. Annie Laurie then calls out the religious right for supporting Trump while defending “family values” and “morals”, and finally points out that the Bible sanctions sexual assault and abuse, and even the Old Testament God turns out to be a groper and an abuser:

The biblical deity repeatedly denounces women as filthy whores (Ezekiel 16:36-45, among ad nauseam references) and sexually vilifies them (see Proverbs throughout). Most shocking, the biblical deity sexually gropes and abuses women himself (Isaiah 3:16) or threatens to (“I myself will lift up your skirts over your face,” Jeremiah 13:26).

I’d like to take an informal poll like Annie Laurie’s, but among the women readers here. So I ask what she did: “Have you ever experienced the kind of groping some women said that they’d endured from Donald Trump?” If you want to give details, feel free to do so, and also weigh in if you haven’t been groped in this way so we can at least get an idea of the proportion of women who have ever been violated. (Yes, I know there’s sampling bias.)

If you’d like to post under a pseudonym but usually don’t, go ahead, as I’ll approve these “new” posts.

I’m asking because my informal poll was only one woman, but she reported a legal assault, and I have a feeling that this kind of stuff is pretty common.

Trump has lost. Can we move on now?

I didn’t watch the debate last night, keeping my record of avoiding political bombast intact while retaining my own equanimity. But by all accounts I’ve read, Trump not only didn’t evince any semblance of a Presidential (or even rational) demeanor, but rather refused to say he’d honor the results of the election, and claimed that millions (yes, millions) of people were registered to vote who weren’t qualified. He also continued to claim that he’d build The Wall at the Mexican border, and blamed the recent accusations of sexual assault against him on Hillary Clinton.

For several days Trump has, effectively, conceded defeat before the election, trying to find someone to blame for his impending loss. But his meltdown and striking decline in the polls is due solely to him.

So can we stop going after him all over social media and concentrate on a more important issue: the Senate, which has the power to ratify Supreme Court justices? Clinton will appoint at least one, and probably more since Ruth Bader Ginsburg will surely retire soon. This is the first chance in years we might have a liberal court. A Democratic Senate will also help break the legislative/executive logjam that occurred during the Obama Presidency, when nothing was done because Republicans have become the Party of Obstruction.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Keira McKenzie from Oz continues her series of gorgeous flower photographs, with lagniappe: a photo of Plushie, her beloved black cat. Keira’s captions are indented.

These images are the various presentations of what are known as Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cunifolia, not to be confused with columbines).  The backs of this tiny flower are more spectacular than their sweet little faces.





Fringe Lily (Thysanotus multiflorusthey have edible and apparently yummy roots).  A startling pink, I have seen photos of white ones.



This one is especially for you, Jerry.  Commonly known as a cats paw (Anigozanthos humilis), it is, quite obviously part of the kangaroo paw family, but it’s low growing and its colour is just gorgeous.


The common name for these are ‘pixie mops‘ (Petrophile linearis). the mages should be looked at in order. First, the cone, all fluffed up and getting ready to open,





Completely open with the tiny coloured flowers at the ends.  Such an astonishing flower.  Apparently some people call them ‘spider plants’ because of their appearance when they first open, and yes, it does look like one of those huge furry spiders with the big furry feet!


Blue devils (Eryngium pinnatifidum).  The bud:




Open.  The last image makes sense of the common name: ‘blue devils’.  Such an astonishing flower.


The miffed madam pictured is miffed because, having successfully lost her collar, i.d. tag and bell, and running nude for a night, I surprised her with new collar, bell and i.d. this afternoon.


Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on October 20, 2016: a day that promises to be overcast but not too cold (highs of 14°C, 58°F in Chicago). It’s National Brandied Fruit Day, but we can ignore that. For on this day in 1803, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson’s Big Buy from France. At a cool 828,000 square miles, the purchase nearly doubling the size of the U.S., and at a bargain price of only 4¢ per acre! It also included bits of what are now two provinces of Canada:


In 1973, this date saw an event I remember well, Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which he fired U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus as punishment for their own refusal to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Cox was finally fired by Robert Bork, who was later rejected by the Senate after Ronald Reagan proposed Bork as a nominee for the Supreme Court. Things didn’t look good for Nixon, then, and of course he eventually resigned.

Those born on this day include Patrick Mathew (1790), who came up with a rudimentary but largely ignored version of natural selection in the appendix of his book Naval Timber and Arboriculture; Arthur Rimbaud (1854); John Dewey (1859); Jelly Roll Morton (1885); Joyce Brothers (1927); Bobby Seale (1936); and Ken “Ark Park” Ham (1951). Those who died on this day include Eugene V. Debs (1926), Herbert Hoover (1964), Paul Dirac (1984, you can see one of his lectures on quantum mechanics here), and Paul Kurtz (2012). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Crooked Hili is once again lying about her motivations:

A: Hili, you are on my desk chair again.
Hili: I’m guarding it so Cyrus will not lie down here.
In Polish:
Ja: Hili, znowu jesteś na moim fotelu!
Hili: Pilnuję, żeby Cyrus się tu nie położył.

Reader Ed Suominen sent a photo titled “Who says cats are worthless?” This one, Ed’s own, is serving as an iPad stand:


And reader Taskin from Winnipeg sent a lovely picture of an imperious Gus with the caption:
“I have the most beautifully trained staff of any cat I know.”
Either that or Gus smells Autumn in the air…


FIRE gets huge Templeton grant

An old Jewish joke, which I’m allowed to tell because of my background, is this: “Jewish dilemma: free ham”.  But this dilemma is even bigger, at least for me. FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is an organization I’ve long admired, for its mission is to preserve free speech and civil liberties on American campuses. To that end it provides legal and advisory help for students, rates college campuses for their compliance with Constitutional free speech (the University of Chicago gets the highest rating), gives talks on campuses throughout the U.S., and helps file legal suits when freedom of expression is curtailed.  They do good stuff.

So imagine my shock when I saw this on their homepage today (click to go to article):


Templeton! And FIRE! Indeed, on the John Templeton Foundation website you can see the announcement of the grant to Robert Shibley (FIRE’s executive director) and Greg Lukianoff (FIRE’s President and CEO):


This is a big shot in the arm for a good but financially strapped organization (and of course I mean FIRE).  If I could find anything to carp about, it would be that the money is being used not for direct activism, but for surveying campus attitudes, so that in the end the money will produce a bunch of reports. As Templeton says:

These efforts will result in reports, articles, resources, events, activist networks, media, and more. In the end, FIRE aims to generate knowledge and spark activism, ultimately creating the momentum necessary to restore respect for free expression on campus.

And the FIRE site advertises the jobs created by the grant, which look a bit, well, academic-y:

With today’s announcement of SOAR, FIRE is also opening the job application process for nine new positions. FIRE is seeking energetic applicants who are entrepreneurial and passionate about its mission to fill the following positions by January 3, 2017:

Although I’d prefer more activism here, the grant does include an “outreach component” that will make FIRE’s mission and activities more widely known.

Whenever Templeton gives out a big grant like this, I ask myself, “What’s in it for the Foundation?” After all, their mission is ultimately to answer the “Big Questions”, melding the scientific with the numinous, and Big Questions are indeed identified in the Templeton announcement—but they’re purely secular ones. I hope I’m not so churlish that I won’t acknowledge it when Templeton money goes to good uses that don’t seem to promote their agenda of free-market capitalism and the empowerment of religion; and this appears to be one of those. But I’d prefer to congratulate the good folks at FIRE for getting the money, and I’ll still be keeping my eye on Templeton.

The University of Florida warns its students about their Halloween costumes.

It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means: the University Costume Police are getting ready to tell us all how we can and cannot dress. Here, from the Gator Times, is a notice from the University of Florida telling students they’d bloody well think hard about what they’re going to wear on Halloween, and should be careful about social media, too.  Note as well the generous availability of the Bias Education and Response team “to respond to any reported incidents of bias” and “to educated [read “‘indoctrinate’] those that were involved.”

h/t: Gregory