Eagle gets a filet o’ fish

The CBC shows a cool video and a backstory:

A family out fishing last week caught more than salmon.

Ashton Phillips was on a fishing trip last Friday with his cousin and uncle in Kyuquot, B.C. on the northwest side of Vancouver Island when he captured a video of an eagle swooping down to grab a piece of salmon.

His group had pulled into a bay around noon to strip up a fresh piece of salmon for halibut fishing.

“As we were sitting there cutting pieces of salmon … I noticed there were a few eagles flying around,” said Phillips, who lives in Vancouver.

“I thought that was pretty cool because I hadn’t really been exposed to that too much.”

Phillips had his camera out to capture some of the scenery when out of nowhere, he saw a bird cut from the shore and head towards the boat — just in time for lunch.

See more at the CBC site at the link above.

h/t: Taskin

Congressional Budget Office TrumpCare cuts number of insured American by 22 million

The Congressional Budget Office is a nonpartisan outfit, and its prognostications are taken seriously. So when they analyzed the Senate’s GOP-inspired bill, and found that if it passes 22 million Americans will lose their health insurance, it doesn’t look good for the Republican Party. By cutting Medicaid, so the poor lose benefits, it will also reduce the budget, but I’d weigh sick and dead Americans more than the predicted $321 billion decrease in the deficit in the next decade.  After all, the Republicans could just decrease the deficit by increasing taxes on the grotesquely wealthy, or getting rid of the new tax breaks for the same group.

What a heartless party Republicans are! I’ve just learned that Senator Mitch “Let ’em Die” McConnell, lacking sufficient Republican votes to pass this odious bill, is postponing the Senate vote until after the July 4 holiday. In the meantime, I suppose, he’ll be maneuvering to get those four or five votes.

The only upside to this, and I’m not sure it is an upside, is that many people who voted for Trump will realize what they got, and how America’s marginalized people will lose in the end. But that’s not really an upside, because who wants to lose by getting sick or dying?

Medusa Magazine says it’s not a hoax

. . . but of course that means nothing, for if it were a hoax—and the evidence is strong on this one—they would resolutely deny it.  If they admitted it were a hoax, that hoax would be over for good, and there would be no point in continuing to add to the site.

A person at the New Zealand site Whale Oil  wrote Medusa, asking them if they were genuine, as if their answer would settle the issue. Part of Whale Oil‘s post:

I came across an online Feminist magazine called Medusa Magazine with the byline Feminist Revolution now. As I scanned the headlines I wondered if it was a satirical site as once before I fell for a poorly written piece of satire thinking that it was a genuine piece. I didn’t want to make the same mistake with this site so I e-mailed them to check.

They were kind enough to reply.


Medusa Magazine is a blog that espouses feminist ideology. We make no apologies for this, and we stand by everything we publish.
That being said, the views expressed in each article belong to the author(s) alone. We would however never have published any of the articles if we didn’t think they had any value to add to intellectual discourse. Even the articles that you describe as “over the top” have started a discussion and debate online about important issues that need to be discussed.
Say Hi to your readers from us.


The thing is*, is that they continue to publish articles, and they’re close enough to the real thing to fool some people. But I’ve decided that they’re too over-the-top to be real. And, as a reader pointed out (see link in first line), the domain is registered to someone who would be expected to satirize feminism.



*deliberate infelicity


Last night’s feed

(Trigger warning: MEAT)

My old friend Ivan from Berkeley came to Chicago for a meeting yesterday, and I offered to take him to a Chicago steak restaurant (he took me to many great places when I visited him two years ago during the Great Cross-Country Trip). My first choice, which was a BYOB (I prefer to bring a really good bottle and pay corkage than buy from an always-overpriced wine list), was full, so we went to a place I’ve been before: the Chicago Cut Steakhouse.

The restaurant is on the north side of the Chicago River, and is right along that river, so you can have your meat outside with a great view of the water and the center city. Walking from the train station to the restaurant, and over the LaSalle Street Bridge, you get a great view of Chicago and its splendid architecture:

Ivan cabbed in from O’Hare, and I met him at the place. Here he is:

And here he is in 1972 when we first met—as graduate students at Rockefeller University. This is my group of pals among the first-years.  I’m in the center and he’s on the right holding the guitar. 45 years have done a job on both of us. But we’re still here—and scarfing down steaks!

The appetizers: foie gras on buttered brioche toast for me, a salad (iceberg wedge salad, bacon lardon, and Maytag Bleu Cheese) for Ivan. This is not a place for vegetarians, though they do have, I’m told, good seafood:

Our steaks: we each had a big 35-day, dry-aged ribeye. Mine was rare, Ivan’s medium rare. This one’s MINE!:

The side dishes with the steak, which we shared, were sauteed mushrooms and truffled scalloped potatoes with cheese. The wine was a 2013 Guigal Gigondas, and was fine.

The sunset on the walk back to the train (taken with an iPhone). Chicago can be a lovely town when you’re enjoying its architecture with a belly full o’ beef:

Atheism grows in Australia; nonbelievers now outnumber Catholics

I woke up this morning to find at least 10 emails from people—largely Aussies, I think— informing me about the new census data on religious affiliation in Australia. (Thanks to all—there are too many to h/t!)  Australia seems a sensible country, and even though it has its share of religious extremists (it produced Ken Ham, for instance), I wasn’t surprised to see that, like Europe, Australia is undergoing secularization at a fast pace.

A pretty good summary of the data from the Australian Census of 2016 (apparently taken every five years) can be seen at news.com.au.  The question about religious affiliation is the only question on the census that’s optional, which suggests to me that the percentage of nonbelievers could be even higher, as those would seem to be the group least likely to declare their (non)belief (perhaps Muslims are in there, too).

The major findings are these:

  • Those people saying that they had “no religion” rose from 16% in 2001 to 22% in the last census to 29.6% now: nearly a doubling in the last 16 years. This may be a further underestimate, at the site reports that

“The religion question was controversial this year, with Australians warned not to mark “no religion” on the Census survey by those afraid the nation would become a “Muslim country”.”

  • The “no religionists” now outnumber Catholics: those believers comprise 25.3% in the last census but now dropped to 22.6%
  • Declared Christians (which include Catholics) have dropped from 88% in 1961 to 74% in 1991 to 51% now. That’s a substantial decrease.
  • Islam rose from 2.2% in 2011 to 2.5% now: 14% increase from its former numbers. Islam surpassed Buddhism as the largest non-Christian religion.

The data are in graphical form below

People’s declared religion. It looks as if the “nones” outnumber every given faith unless you lump Christian sects together:

The changes in affiliation over the last ten years:

And the raw numbers:

Here’s the summary and a statement from an Aussie atheist:

The results show Australia remains a predominantly religious country, with 60 per cent of people reporting a religious affiliation but the trend towards “no religion” has some calling for changes.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia said it was time to stop pandering to religious minorities and to take religion out of politics.

AFA president Kylie Sturgess said political, business and cultural leaders needed to listen to the non-religious when it came to public policy that’s based on evidence, not religious beliefs.

“This includes policy on abortion, marriage equality, voluntary euthanasia, religious education in state schools and anything else where religious beliefs hold undue influence,” she said.

She said certain religious groups seemed to get automatic consideration in the public policy sphere and to enjoy a privileged position that wasn’t afforded to other large groups, such as the non-religious.

“That has to stop. Politicians, business leaders and influencers take heed: this is an important milestone in Australia’s history. Those who marked down ‘No religion’ deserve much more recognition. We will be making our opinions known, and there’s power in numbers.”

In the West, it seems, and as I’ve always predicted, secularization is inevitable. Some day there will be more nonbelievers than believers in Australia. That will happen in America, too, but we won’t see it in our lifetime, or even in our children’s lifetime. The reasons? Read Steve Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Amy Alkon: Did a TSA agent commit sexual assault?

My friend Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess who writes books and a website about how to behave civilly (and is a big critic of the Ctrl-Left), once became uncivil, but properly so. As happened to me, she was groped by a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agent at LAX, the big airport in Los Angeles. But her groping was worse than mine, and bordered on sexual assault. It happened in 2011, but this kind of stuff is still happening, and we need to keep it in our thoughts. Amy described it in an article at the Orange County Register:

On March 31, 2011, at the TSA checkpoint in LAX’s Terminal 6, I found that I had no choice but to get the pat-down. Tears welled in my eyes – for how we’ve allowed the Constitution to be torn up at the airport door and because I was powerless to stop a total stranger from groping my breasts and genitals as a condition of normal, ordinary business travel.

I can hold back the tears … hang tough … but as I was made to “assume the position” on a rubber mat like a criminal, I thought fast. I decided that these TSA “officers” violating our Fourth Amendment rights, searching us without reasonable suspicion we’ve committed a crime, do not deserve our quiet compliance. I let the tears come. In fact, I sobbed my guts out as the agent groped me. And then it happened: She jammed the side of her latex-gloved hand up into my genitals. Four times, with only the fabric of my pants as a barrier. I was shocked – utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there.

There are more details on her website (her emphasis):

Basically, I felt it important to make a spectacle of what they are doing to us, to make it uncomfortable for them to violate us and our rights, so I let the tears come. In fact, I sobbed my guts out. Loudly. Very loudly. The entire time the woman was searching me.

Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault.

Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, “YOU RAPED ME.” And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.

Amy calls for every woman violated in this way—and yes, it was a violation—to protest and sob, hoping that tears would arouse the empathy latent in most human beings. But I suspect the TSA is biased against hiring human beings, since very rarely have I encountered an agent who, not drunk with their power, treated me civilly and kindly. I suspect, too, that they are looking for authoritarian personalities who enjoy bossing other people around.

Amy published what she recalled of name of the agent who searched her, but didn’t know for sure. This is, of course, public information: there’s no prohibition about accusing a TSA agent by name:

I forgot to post the TSA woman’s name when I wrote this last night. I think it might have been Thedala Magee. Or Magee Thedala. I was really upset, and neither name sounds like a typical American first name or last name, so I can’t remember if I wrote it down in the right order.

It turned down that the woman’s name was indeed Thedala Magee, and when Alkon’s column appeared, Magee promptly threatened Alkon with a lawsuit for telling her story and giving her name. Magee’s lawyer demanded $500,000 in damages! Alkon got Marc Randazza, a well known lawyer specializing in civil rights violations to write back, and, I guess, the threatened suit finally sputtered out. The story of the threat and Randazza’s response was is techdirt:

Your client aggressively pushed her fingers into my client’s vulva. I am certain that she did not expect to find a bomb there. She did this to humiliate my client, to punish her for exercising her rights, and to send a message to others who might do the same. It was absolutely a sexual assault, perpetrated in order to exercise power over the victim. We agree with Ms. Alkon’s characterization of this crime as “rape,” and so would any reasonable juror.

Furthermore, even if your client did not actually sexually assault my client, Ms. Alkon’s statements to and about Ms. Magee would still be protected by the First Amendment. The word “rape” itself has been the subject of defamation cases by far more sympathetic Plaintiffs than your client. In Gold v. Harrison, 962 P.2d 353 (Haw. 1998), cert denied, 526 U.S. 1018 (1999), the Hawaii Supreme Court held that a defendant’s characterization of his neighbors seeking an easement in his backyard as “raping [the defendant]”was not defamatory. This speech was protected as rhetorical hyperbole. Of course, we need not seek out Hawaii case law in order to debunk your unsupportable claims. Rhetorical hyperbole has a strong history of favorable treatment in defamation actions. See Greenbelt Cooperative Pub. Ass’n v. Bresler, 398 U.S. 6, 14 (1970). This doctrine acknowledges our First Amendment right to express ourselves, even when employing literary license. Accordingly, even if your client’s actions were not “rape,”Ms. Alkon had every right to characterize them as such.

No free woman should endure what your client did to Ms. Alkon. Fortunately, Ms. Alkon is capable of recognizing injustice, and for the good of us all, she had the courage to speak out on this matter of public concern of the highest order. After Magee’s assault on Ms. Alkon’s vagina and dignity, Ms. Alkon exercised her First Amendment right to recount this incident to others in person and through her blog. This was not only her right — it was her responsibility.

It’s now six years later, and what has the TSA done? Have they foiled any terrorist plots with their screening, or detected any weapons or bombs that terrorists were trying to smuggle onto planes? Not that I know of; for there is not a single report of this. Now the TSA might respond that this is because they are so good at detecting bombs and weapons that no terrorist would even try. But that’s bogus, as TSA has failed test after test when the government did undercover operations seeing if TSA agents could detect planted bombs and weapons in luggage. As CNN reported two years ago, TSA screeners failed to detect 95% of undercover bombs and weapons: 67 out of 70. That record surely wouldn’t deter a committed terrorist. And, as KTRK Houston reported in April of this year, many of the agents are likely to be high:

Nationwide, 858 TSA workers tested positive for drugs or alcohol between 2010 and 2016, according to federal records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

What do we do about this? Well, the reactive stance of the TSA is just dumb: first it was liquids, then shoes off (which doesn’t occur in many countries), and now they’re proposing to ban carryon laptops, which angers me as I use mine to work on planes. And it angers me, too, to see old ladies in wheelchairs getting patdowns and full inspections.  Plus there’s the general groping: as I’ve reported here, I’ve had my rump palpated several times by the TSA, and I don’t like it one bit. But if you object, they simply treat you more roughly. These people aren’t professionals; they’re authoritarian bullies.

In the absence of any way to judge the effectiveness of this “security theater”, the TSA can do any damn thing it wants, making it more and more onerous to fly. Now I don’t mind a little security, but isn’t there some way to empirically test whether all these draconian measures and gropings actually work?

h/t: Grania

Readers’ wildlife photos (and a video)

Bruce Lyon, a biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, always has wonderful bird photos and natural history tidbits based on his work. Today we have A Tale of Coots or Coot Fight Club. We even have one video! Bruce’s words are indented:

I have studied American coots (Fulica americana) on and off over the past three decades in central British Columbia, Canada and thought I would share some photos and biology. Coots look a bit like ducks but they are actually rails. Dirt common (in western North America) and even considered pests (e.g., when hundreds live on a golf course and poop all over the greens), coots are the Rodney Dangerfields of the bird world—like the comedian, they don’t get no respect! Their name is even an insult. Reputation aside, coots are really interesting in terms of their family life and reproductive tactics.

Below: An American coot swimming on its territory. Note the demonic red eye. A couple of other unrelated groups of diving birds have red eyes (loons, many grebes)—I have no idea if this signifies something interesting.

Below: Ideal coot breeding habitat: one of several wetlands where I studied coots near Williams Lake and Riske Creek BC. Coots need bulrushes (reeds) for nesting cover but happily use the dead stems from the previous year, like the ones shown here, so they do not have to delay nesting to wait for new growth. These wetlands have extremely high densities of coots—ten times higher than predicted for a bird of this body size, based on a comparative study of territory size for birds generally.

Below: Coots are fiercely territorial and have ferocious fights with each other. Interestingly, most fights involve immediate neighbors rather than territorial birds trying to keep birds without territories from usurping their territory. Coots apparently forgot to read the textbooks and do not heed the ‘dear enemy effect’, whereby two neighboring territorial animals become less aggressive to each other once territorial borders are well-established. These fights are frequent and occur throughout the breeding season. With all of these fights it’s kind of like watching a hockey game.

Below: The fights are serious and not just ritualized displays—coot talons are large and very sharp and their strong legs result in kicks with a punch. Check out the talons on the birds below. Fights to the death have been reported in the literature. I have never seen a lethal fight but saw a few fights where I thought one bird might drown another. We sometimes find blood on eggs when we check nests and suspect that birds have returned from a fight and bled on the eggs when they incubate. The first time I removed a coot from one of my traps I made the mistake of using my bare hands and paid for this dearly with very badly raked hands.

Below: Both members of the pair fight and it seems that males mostly fight males, and females fight females. Sometimes the whole family gets involved. I recall a memorable scene where the four adults from two adjacent territories were fighting while the kids from the two families sat on the sidelines peeping away (which I anthropomorphically interpreted as cheering their parents on).

Below: When coots are done fighting, they almost always have a little peace ceremony that seems to signal that the fighting is over for the time being. Hockey has its face-offs—coots have their ass-offs™ (not the official name but ‘paired display’ seems boring). [JAC: LOL!] In the display the birds show each other their rear ends, which are adorned with two distinctive white patches (white flags?) and they raise their wings up as well, perhaps to accentuate the white patches. These displays were really helpful for our study because they occur precisely at the territory border—in the photo below the territory border threads the two pairs. The displays allow us to mark the territory borders (with flagging tape on nearest reeds) and later estimate territory size. Most territories hug the shoreline and we measured territory size as the length of shoreline defended. Of all the numerous things we measured about the birds, territory size is the only measure that reliably correlates with reproductive success—the bigger the territory, the more kids produced. This makes sense because the families get all of their food from their territories and bigger territories means more food. This pattern may also explain why coots fight so much—they are fighting to maintain their territory size and ultimately maximize their reproductive success.

Below: A video clip showing the display at the end of a fight (I missed the fight itself). The display often involves a fair amount of pirouetting—repeated spinning around to display the butt and then turning away. The particularly interaction in the video involved two pairs that had their broods close to the territory border. Note the chick begging while its parent interacts with its neighbor.

Below: A coot with a neck collar engraved with a unique number for identifying this individual bird—meet Lucky the coot. I needed to be able to follow known individuals and since coot legs are mostly hidden in the water because they swim so much colored leg bands were not an option so I went with collars. I trapped birds at their nests at night to measure them and attach their collars.

I made the collars myself and I believe I am the only person who ever used them on coots (they are normally used on waterfowl). Therefore, when I walked into the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge in California a few years ago and saw a stuffed coot with a yellow neck collar sitting on the refuge biologist’s desk I instantly recognized one of ‘my’ birds. I had banded the bird in BC and after the breeding season it migrated to the Central Valley of California where it was promptly shot, stuffed and given as a gift to the refuge biologist. Not the happy animal reunion one is used to in the movies. I guess that coot should be named Unlucky.

Below: We use floating blinds resembling muskrat houses to observe coot families. A plywood disk (table) attached to a truck inner tube forms the base, PVC piping makes a dome frame that is covered with a camo fabric cover and then the entire contraption is covered with dried marsh-like vegetation (Cabelas sells panels of dried vegetation for duck hunters to make blinds). We sit on a seat in the blind and sometimes spend 8-10 hours a day sitting in the blinds making observations. The blinds work well and we are sometimes just a few feet from a coot family. In fact, the camouflage is so good that a bald eagle once perched on a blind with a person inside. The blinds are also great for photography and I am often able to get close to various nice marsh birds (a future posting!). The blinds are also great for the occasional practical joke. A cyclist drove by one of wetlands and stopped and stared at the blind I was in. I rocked the blind back and forth and his eyes just about popped out of his head. I repeated the rocking several times and he looked increasingly puzzled and eventually rode off. Perhaps he thought the muskrats were going crazy inside the house.

Below: A typical coot nest hidden in the reeds. Coot nests typically have a ramp down to the water, shown here coming off the front of the nest. The ramps make it easier for the birds to walk up to the nest.

Below: Coot chick are cute and fluffy at hatch. They leave the nest within a day of hatching and follow their parents around the territory while the parents forage. We give each chick a ‘nape tag’ with a unique color combination that allows us to tell the chicks within the brood apart. Nape tags consist of colored beads on a tiny safety pin that is attached to a tiny flap of skin on the back of neck. When we attach the tags the chicks show no signs of distress and there is never any blood so we do not have concerns about the tags harming the chicks.

Below: Coot chicks are fed by their parents: here a parent offers an aquatic insect to its chick. Parental food is essential for the first ten days of life—without it, a chick will perish. The chicks are fed mostly aquatic insect larvae—damselflies, dragonflies and caddisflies, which have to be shaken out of their protective houses before they can be fed to the chick. Note the extraordinary appearance of this newly hatched chick—orange plumes, modified facial plumes that look like beads of wax, blue eyebrows that reflect mostly in the ultraviolet wavelengths, and a bald top of the head (pate) that can change color fairly quickly. Much more to follow on these colors in a later post.

Below: A parent goes below to look for food while its chicks bob on the surface. I suspect that the reason the chicks do not feed themselves is that they are too buoyant to swim under water to search for the food, and they may also lack the experience. When the chicks get a bit older they start to feed themselves by pecking small bits of food off the surface and reeds.


In which the University of Chicago becomes Evergreen State College

I can’t even. . . . 

More information is here.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Good morning! As I type this, it’s the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m., Tuesday June 27, 2017 (I suppose for atheists it’s always an ungodly hour!) Foodimentary tells me it’s National Orange Blossom Day, without explanation, though they could have mentioned that an Orange Blossom is the name of a cocktail made with gin, orange liqueur, orange juice, grenadine, and lime juice. I’ve never had one. In Germany it’s Seven Sleepers’ Day, which is sort of like Groundhog Day without the groundhog.

On this day in 1844, Joseph Smith, the charlatan and con man who founded the Mormon Church, was killed by an angry mob at Carthage, Illinois. On June 28, 1905, the famous mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin occurred—one of the events in the run-up to the Russian Revolution. In 1950, America decided to send troops to fight in the Korean War, a war that never officially ended (there’s a “truce”). Will Trump start Korean War II? Finally, on this day in 2007, Tony Blair resigned as the Britsh Prime Minister, a position he’d held for a decade.

Notables born on this day include Emma Goldman (1869), Helen Keller (1890; it’s Helen Keller Day in the U.S.), and Isabelle Adjani (1955). Those who died on this day include the great mountaineer Hermann Buhl (1957, the first man to summit Nanga Parbat after standing alone and upright all night on a ledge 8000 meters high; he died in an avalanche on Chogolisa four years later), and Jack Lemmon (2001). It was not a banner day for the death of famous people, but here’s a famous photo of Hermann Buhl right after his ascent of Nanga Parbat, showing the first stages of frostbite on his face:

and here is Nanga Parbat in Pakistan (8126 m). You can see a 90-minute German film of that expedition here.

 Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is referring to my piece on this site about the origin of domestic cats, which Malgorzata translated into Polish at Listy,

Hili: My ancestors lived in Egypt.
A: How do you know?
Hili: New research says so.
In Polish
Hili: Moi przodkowie mieszkali w Egipcie.
Ja: Skąd wiesz?
Hili: Najnowsze badania na to wskazują.

And on the site of his future home near Dobrzyn, tabby Leon is plotting his adventures:

Hmm, where have not I been yet today?

Finally, Matthew found a tw**t purporting to show the world’s first cat video. It’s BOXING CATS, pummeling each other at Thomas Edison’s studio. Why did the harbinger of all cat videos have to involve pugnacious felines?

Amazing whale breach

by Matthew Cobb

Astonishing – and scary – footage…

I have never seen a whale (or indeed any cetacean) outside of a zoo (and I feel bad about seeing them, because they shouldn’t be there). Post your encounters with your favourite cetaceans in the comments!