Spot the reptile!

I’m having my biannual tooth cleaning this morning, so posting will be light until later. Instead of readers’ wildlife, then, I’ll post something sent by Matthew Cobb, who actually reads Twi**er.  Here’s a tw**t in which a reptile is hidden; I’ve extracted the picture and put it below in larger format. Can you spot the reptile? If so, what is it?  Don’t read the comments if you want to find it yourself. (The answer hasn’t yet been posted on Twi**er, but we’re promised a reveal.)

h/t: Matthew Cobb



Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s Thursday, December 8, 2016, and that means it’s National Brownie Day—a perennially favorite treat, at least in America (I haven’t seen them nearly as ubiquitous in, say, the UK). It’s also Finnish Music Day, honoring the birthday of composer Jean Silbelius (1865-1957).  I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of his work, for I’m a classical-music ignoramus.

Wikipedia lists this as happening for the first time in 1660: “A woman (either Margaret Hughes or Anne Marshall) appears on an English public stage for the first time, in the role of Desdemona in a production of Shakespeare’s play Othello.” On this day in 1941, Roosevelt gave his “day of infamy” speech to Congress, immediately after which the U.S. declared war on Japan. On this day in 1980, we lost John Lennon, murdered by Mark David Chapman in New York. Hard to believe he’s been gone 36 years! My theory has always been that Ringo will be the last Beatle to die.

Notables born on this day include Mary, Queen of Scots (1542), Jean Sibelius (see above), James Thurber (1894), Lee J. Cobb (1911), Lucian Freud (1922), one of the few living painters whose work I like, Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925),  Jim Morrison (1943, died 1971), Gregg Allman (1947), and Ann Coulter (1961, ↓). Those who died on this day include John Lennon (see above), Marty Robbins (1982), William Shawn (1992), and Martha Tilton (2006). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn,

Hili: It’s essential to have a clear division of labor.
A: What do you suggest?
Hili: You discuss and I will pronounce who is right.
In Polish:
Hili: Konieczny jest wyraźny podział ról.
Ja: Co proponujesz?
Hili: Wy dyskutujcie, a ja będę orzekać kto ma rację.




A rock-climbing cat

This free-climbing moggie shows a lot of talent, including upper body strength. Clearly there are some climbs a human makes that a cat can’t, given their disparities in size, but I wonder if there are some climbs a cat can make but a trained rock-climber can’t.

h/t: Grania

Heather Hastie on North Korea, China, and Donald Trump

Over at her site Heather’s Homilies, reader Heather Hastie has a long (4000-word) but thoughtful, informative, and well-researched post on the issue of North Korea, the ineffectiveness of sanctions against that state (the world’s most repressive, in my view), and the need for the U.S. to keep good relations with China, our one go-between with North Korea. As you probably know, even before he becomes President, Donald Trump is already mucking about in international politics by cozying up to Taiwan and angering China. He’s a loose cannon. While Heather thinks the moral thing to do is to side with Taiwan against China, she emphasizes that things are more complicated than that.

At any rate, I recommend you visit her site and read the post: “The North Korea problem and why we need China“.


Glasgow archaeology students told to skip lectures if they’re triggered by the sight of bones

We all know about academic “trigger warnings”: advance advice to students that they may encounter things in a lecture or course that disturb them. I’m not opposed to such warnings in toto (I’d tell students, for example, if I were going to show gruesome photos or videos in class), but I don’t think that these warnings should allow students to avoid necessary course material, for exposure to a distressing but common situations is the way to get over it. Proper warnings allow students to prepare for things that they find disturbing.

Now, though, those triggering issues are said to include “bones”. As the Oct. 25 issue of The Times (UK) reports:

You may think that it comes with the territory, but archaeology students have been given permission to walk out of lectures if they feel they may be traumatised by the sight of skeletons.

Tony Pollard, a professor of conflict history at the University of Glasgow who co-presents the BBC TV series Two Men in a Trench, said that he issues “trigger warnings” before displaying images of human remains in lectures.

He dismissed suggestions that students were being mollycoddled and insisted that it would be irresponsible not to give individuals the chance to opt out of seeing graphic images.

. . . Writing in The Conversation journal, Professor Pollard said: “Some of the material I refer to in my classes is disturbing, with images of the dead appearing regularly.

“Students are a diverse group and some of them might have suffered domestic abuse, violent attack or trauma in war. In these cases, such exposure might trigger flashbacks or aggravate recently suppressed trauma.

“It is only common sense to provide these individuals, and those who just can’t stomach images of dead bodies in shallow graves, with the option to walk out of the classroom.”

Professor Pollard added that as a student he had been disturbed by graphic images from the First World War. “I think back to the mass graves of Australian soldiers buried by the Germans at Fromelles in 1916. Although the remains were skeletal they were still upsetting, with many of them exhibiting the trauma caused by a machinegun burst or grenade blast,” he said.

“This doesn’t make me or my students a wuss or mean they need to man up. It makes me a human being and one sensitive enough to deal with the remains of the dead in a professional and respectful manner.”

It looks as if the Times’ assertion that it’s the “sight of skeletons” that is the stimulus may not be correct, for the images from World War I may include dead bodies, not just bones (see the Times’s headline below).  And I agree with Professor Pollard on one count: it’s fine to give advance warnings that bodies (although perhaps not bones) will be shown. I dissent, however, on issues like “eating and drinking”, as “triggering” subjects have expanded to include nearly everything. And I disagree that students should be allowed to walk out. If they’re warned in advance, and have an aversion to the sight, they should be given independent counseling to deal with the issue. But on no account should they be able to walk out of an entire lecture that includes the disturbing images. If that’s the case, they should be told in the first class so they can drop the course.


A misleading headline? It may be more than bones that is worrying students.

h/t: Gregory

Templeton-funded study shows that avoiding spiritual struggles worsens mental health

A new paper by Carmen Oemig Dworsky et al. in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science (reference below; only abstract available though I’ve got the whole paper) deals with the effects of spiritual struggle and its avoidance on people’s mental health. It’s a long read, but in short the authors surveyed 307 people (recruited from Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” work database) who were self-described as experiencing spiritual struggles. They were then surveyed for indices of mental health (anxiety and depression) and for their levels of “experiential avoidance” (EA), which the authors define as  “efforts to escape or avoid unwanted internal experience, even when efforts to do so are harmful or contrary to personal goals.”

Science Daily, which, as its wont, basically regurgitated Case Western Reserve University’s press release, gives a summary. The upshot, as the paper summarizes below, is that those undergoing spiritual struggles show poorer mental health if they’re also showing EA, avoiding dealing with the struggles:

The present study examined the relations between experiential avoidance and mental health in a sample of people experiencing spiritual struggles. The first hypothesis predicted that experiential avoidance (EA) would be negatively associated with indices of psychological, physical, and spiritual mental health. Consistent with the prediction, general EA was associated with poorer mental health in all areas. With respect to avoidance tied specifically to the struggle, similar findings emerged. It was also hypothesized that the relationships between spiritual struggles and poorer mental health would be stronger among people with higher than lower levels of experiential avoidance. Some support was found for the prediction that higher levels of experiential avoidance exacerbate the relation between spiritual struggles and adverse symptoms. These findings were particularly robust for the measure of struggle-specific experiential avoidance.

The paper concludes that therapists should help people recognize and embrace their spiritual struggles. Senior author Julie Exline explains in the press release, adding other implications of the paper (my emphasis):

An unwillingness to accept spiritual struggle could contribute to major social ills, leading to lost opportunities to engage with people of different faith beliefs and backgrounds and come to view them as threatening.

“This avoidance may lead to the rejection of whole groups of people based on their religious differences or perceived incongruence between, for example, their sexuality or gender-based identity and religious teachings,” Exline said.

Mental health providers may find it useful to help clients with spiritual struggles face their difficulties in a more proactive way.

“People seem to be more emotionally healthy if they’re able to accept troubling thoughts,” Exline said. “Looking at spiritual doubts in an objective way seems to help. You may or may not work through them, but at least you can tolerate having them.”

Avoidance itself is not a problem; rather, the behavior can become problematic when escaping becomes harmful or contrary to personal goals and sets a rigid pattern of experiencing and responding to the world.

“Regular spiritual avoidance can make it difficult to identify, work toward or experience the qualities that lend a sense of purpose to life,” she said.

Using emotional and cognitive energy to push thoughts away will not stop them from continuing to intrude over time.

“Continually being re-visited by these thoughts can create strains on emotional health, especially if a person sees this kind of questioning as morally unacceptable and dangerous,” Exline said.

One problem with this study, not mentioned by the authors in the “limitations, implications, and future directions” section of the paper, is that it deals solely with spiritual struggles. What they really need is a control group—people experiencing other struggles (perhaps relationship or job struggles)—to see if EA has the same effect there. It’s not clear why the emphasis is on spirituality.  Further, the conclusion about how EA could exacerbate interfaith disharmony and rejection of gays seems unwarranted by the data themselves.

Now, who do you think supported this research? Yep, you guessed it:


Templeton works in mysterious ways, so I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide how the study fits into Templeton’s agenda, which is to promote harmony between science and faith, as well as to show that science gives evidence for the divine.


Dworsky, C. K. O., K. I. Pargament, S. Wong and J. Exline. 2016. Suppressing spiritual struggles: the role of experiential avoidance in mental health. J. Contextual Behav. Sci. 5: 258-265

Google Doodle honors first measurement of the speed of light

Somehow I missed this anniversary, and the Google Doodle shown below isn’t visible from the U.S. Here’s the skinny from CNet:

While my car has trouble going over 65 mph, the speed of light is much faster — approximately 186,282 miles per second. How do we know that? Well, we can all thank Danish astronomer Olaus Roemer.

To honor Roemer and the 340th anniversary of the determination of the speed of light, Google made a Doodle.

Roemer determined the speed of light in 1676 by observing the planet Jupiter eclipsing its moon Io 140 times. His measurements were taken from Copenhagen while his peer Giovanni Domenico Cassini took measurements of the same eclipses in Paris. Roemer compared the results to determine the speed of light.

In the Google Doodle, you see Roemer repeatedly and thoughtfully pacing back and forth after viewing his telescope. This simple illustration shows just how much detail and thoughtfulness Google applies to its Doodles.

340th_anniversary_of_the_determination_of_the_speed_of_light_5651280530767872_hp2x-0There’s more on this experiment on a Wikipedia page, which describes the method—a very clever one. It’s based on the assumptions that the period of revolution of Jupiter’s moon Io around its planet would be constant, but that as the Earth moved farther from Jupiter over a period of time, the time that Io appeared to us from behind its planet would be greater because light would take longer to travel to Earth. By measuring the time differential over many revolutions of Io, Rømer calculated that the speed of light was 220,000 kilometres per second. That’s pretty accurate: about 26% lower than the true value of 299,792 km/s. His observations were controversial, but the order-of-magnitude accuracy was supported by other astronomical observations, and then refined to the present value by experiments involving measurements solely on Earth:

More data, and why we’re celebrating on this date, comes from Wikipedia (my emphasis):

On 22 August 1676, Rømer made an announcement to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris that he would be changing the basis of calculation for his tables of eclipses of Io. He may also have stated the reason:[note 4]

This second inequality appears to be due to light taking some time to reach us from the satellite; light seems to take about ten to eleven minutes [to cross] a distance equal to the half-diameter of the terrestrial orbit.

Most importantly, Rømer announced the prediction that the emergence of Io on 16 November 1676 would be observed about ten minutes later than would have been calculated by the previous method. There is no record of any observation of an emergence of Io on 16 November, but an emergence was observed on 9 November. With this experimental evidence in hand, Rømer explained his new method of calculation to the Royal Academy of Sciences on 22 November.

The original record of the meeting of the Royal Academy of Sciences has been lost, but Rømer’s presentation was recorded as a news report in the Journal des sçavans on 7 December. This anonymous report was translated into English and published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in London on 25 July 1677.

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ the holidays

The new Jesus and Mo strip, called “merry”, deals with the unwarranted fear of persecution of Christians in the UK. Given Trump’s election, we’ll see a greater hegemony of Christianity in the U.S. as well, but given our increasing secularization, somehow I don’t think Christian complaints will abate.


Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have some photos from the Galápagos, taken by reader Karen Bartelt (see her earlier photos of giant tortoises).

Some miscellaneous photos from the Galapagos

First three are Sally Lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus).  Pic 1 molting, pic 2 reproducing, pic 3 hanging out – all shot on Fernandina:
Red billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) nesting and flying – Genovesa:

Galapagos short-eared owl (Aseo flammeaus galapagoensis) – Genovesa.  It was first hiding in a rock outcropping, but later came out into the sun.

IMHO, Genovesa is the best island for wildlife!

JAC: This owl is an endemic, and as the Galapagos Conservation Trust notes:
The Galapagos short-eared owl has developed a unique hunting behaviour on Genovesa island, at a colony of storm petrels. The petrels nest deep in tunnels in the lava rock, usually out of reach of the owls. However the owls have learnt to stalk nearby, watching the petrels as they enter and leave the tunnels. The owls then wait close by for the petrel to leave the tunnel and catch them unawares. Another technique they use is to hide in the entrance of the tunnel to grab a petrel as it flies in.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning; it’s December 7, 2016, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. As President Franklin Roosevelt said on the day after, in a speech to Congress, it was “a day which shall live in infamy.”  (See below.) It’s thus “Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day”. And on this day occurred an event I didn’t know about; as Wikipedia says, it was the day when “The Great Storm of 1703, the greatest windstorm ever recorded in the southern part of Great Britain, [made] landfall. Winds gust up to 120 mph, and 9,000 people die.” The Church of England, as these organizations so often do, declared that this disaster was God’s retributions for the sins of England’s people. On this day in 1963, television had its first instant replay in a sporting event: the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.  Otherwise, this isn’t a notable day in history.

Here’s the typescript of Roosevelt’s speech to Congress on December 8, 1941. Note how he changed the first sentence: from “a day that will live in world history” to “a day which will live in infamy”, coining a phrase that’s with us still. An hour after Roosevelt delivered this speech, the Congress declared war on Japan:


Notables born on this day include Theodor Schwann (1810), Noam Chomsky (1928), Harry Chapin (1942, died 1981), and Larry Bird (1956). Those who died on this day include 2,403 Americans in the Pearl Harbor attack, Robert Graves (1985), Wolfgang Pauli (1993), and Jeane Kirkpatrick (1996, remember her?) Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is showing a kitten-like wonder at the world:

Hili: There is something astonishing in the fact…
A: Which fact?
Hili: Actually, all of them.

In Polish:
Hili: Jest coś zdumiewającego w fakcie…
Ja: W którym?
Hili: Właściwie w każdym.

From snowy Montreal, Anne-Marie’s new puppy (!) Linux Bernie (I suggested the “Bernie” bit) has had his first taste of snow—literally. Look at that furry muzzle!


Further west in Canada they had a blizzard, and Gus, in Winnipeg, looked on from his warm perch on the Katzenbaum:


Finally, a dog-shaming meme from reader S. Clark, who said he had “no choice but to send it to me”. A good determinist!