Trump defends Roy Moore

Even Republicans have distanced themselves from the hyperconservative creationist Alabaman Roy Moore, now accused of sexual assault and harassment, and previously infamous for installing the Ten Commandments in front of the Alabama Supreme Court and having been removed from a state Supreme Court judgeship not once, but twice. As you probably know, he’s now running as a Republican for Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat. The Republicans have run away from Moore faster than if he were a skunk with his rear pointed at them, and even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has floated the possibility of expelling Moore from the Senate for immorality and unfitness for office were Moore to be elected.

When someone’s seen by Republicans as a a discredit to their own party, you know he’s a disaster. Yet, according to CNN, Trump has just “all but endorsed” Moore:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended embattled Alabama Republican Roy Moore, all but endorsing the Senate candidate who has been accused of sexual assault.

“He denies it. Look, he denies it,” Trump said of Moore. “If you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours. He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And look, you have to look at him also.”
Several women have come forward and accused Moore of pursuing romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, and several others also have accused him of assault.

. . . “We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones. I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on military,” Trump said. “I can tell you for a fact we do not need somebody who’s going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad for the military, bad for the Second Amendment.”

Trump on Tuesday left the door open to campaigning with Moore.

“I’ll be letting you know next week,” he said, when asked whether he will campaign with Moore.

Trump repeatedly emphasized that Jones has denied the allegations brought against him.

Trump declined to say whether he believed Moore’s denials, but when asked he again pointed to the denials.

“Well, he denies. I mean, he denies. I mean, Roy Moore denies it. And by the way, it is a total denial. And I do have to say 40 years is a long time. He’s run eight races and this has never come up. Forty years is a long time,” Trump said, pointing to the amount of time that has passed since the alleged behavior.

And indeed, Moore does deny it, so I, at least, wouldn’t immediately pronounce him guilty of the initial count, and can’t really rule him unfit for having asked out women of legal age when he was older. But I believe that other allegations of sexual assault have come forth since I’ve been in Mexico and without the American news.

Regardless, though, even if he’s completely innocent of the accusations, he’s still unfit to serve. The man is simply a brainless ball of right-wing ideology marinated in evangelical Christianity. It’s a recipe for disaster, even for Republicans. If  Trump had any brains (a debatable issue), he wouldn’t endorse or campaign for Moore. But who has ever praised the neuronal complement of The Donald? So while the Republicans are destroying themselves through a lack of cohesion and an inability to get anything done, even with a Republican legislature, President, and Supreme Court, the Democrats have a chance to pull together. Sadly, we’re just as riven by identity politics as the GOP is by various degrees of cluelessness and stupidity.

Where is our candidate: the Democrat who can win in 2020?

A lunch in Puebla

One day during the meeting, my affable host Juan Matienzo offered to take me out for a typical Puebla lunch.  There was, he said, a special goat dish served only in November, made with goats that had been taken on long hikes (I don’t know what that does to the meat). I instantly acceded, of course, and we drove off to a remote region of town to try this delicacy.

Welcome to El Burladero, which I believe refers to the wooden barrier around the edge of a bull ring where the banderilleras and matador stand when not engaged with a bull (yes, there are still cruel bullfights in Mexico).

One wouldn’t know, from this unprepossessing facade, of the culinary delights within.  First, you park in a courtyard. . .

. . . and then enter the bullfight-themed restaurant, which has been there for decades. The restaurant was almost empty as we were there at 2 p.m., which apparently is early for lunch in Mexico. Most Mexicans, I’m told, have a reasonable breakfast in the morning, then the big meal of the day (comida) at about 2:30-3:30 pm, and a lighter dinner at about 9 p.m. When we had finished our meal, the restaurant was full, and everyone was eating the same thing: a tureen of stewed goat (see below).

We were handed menus and, as one should, I told Juan that he should do all the ordering as he was a local and had been there several times before.  So here’s my report on the meal. Juan ordered, and I sat back to await the viands. The first dish, one of three appetizers, was chalupas, small corn tortillas with green or red sauce and shredded chicken.

Then  guajolotes (“turkey”), a small sandwich made with turkey, guacamole, crema, and other stuff that I didn’t notice while I was wolfing it down:

Third appetizer: mollejas, deep-fried chicken gizzards served with guacamole, lime, and various salsas. You make your own nosh by mixing these ingredients in a fresh, warm tortilla.

Then the pièce de résistancemole de caderas, made from the hip of one of those hiking goats, stewed in a thick and savory broth. It was a huge hunk of meat which you could put into tortillas or simply fork off the bone. Then you’d drink the soup, which was incredibly luscious, meaty, and savory. It was a spectacular dish:

Here’s Juan with his portion. I believe these are from the hips of the goat, but perhaps a local can enlighten us:

During lunch the tiny but friendly owner, Don Onésimo, came by several times, as Juan told him I was from America and had come to eat his food. He seemed pleased, and even more so when I told him I greatly enjoyed his meal. We posed together under a bull’s head. This owner has managed the restaurant for 53 years, and had another restaurant before that!

I found a video made by the restaurant with bullfighting music, prominently featuring the goat, which is what the restaurant is known for. But they also show the chalupas and other dishes.


Many thanks to Juan not only for taking me here for lunch, but for his attentive hosting throughout the meeting. Muchas gracias, amigo!

Here’s the snow leopard!

Did you spot it? I’ve made a reveal from the photo Matthew sent:

National Geographic touts Jesus again

I’ve often complained about National Geographic‘s recent trend towards osculating religion, extolling the virtues and verities of faiths without questioning them in the least (see here. here, here and here, for instance). This is clearly an editorial decision, perhaps exacerbated after the magazine was purchased by Rupert Murdoch.

What bothers me about all this is the totally uncritical acceptance of the claims of religion, which is just not proper for a magazine dedicated to the natural world. It’s not just that National Geographic shows how religious people behave throughout the world, which is within the magazine’s remit, but that it not only celebrates faith but takes the truth claims of religions like Christianity for granted. But if Jesus was just a myth, or a rabbi with no divine origin, then Christianity can hardly have a firm basis. But you’ll never see National Geographic examining with a cold eye the historical evidence for the existence of a Jesus-person, for that evidence is very, very thin. That wouldn’t be a way to sell magazines.

Here’s the latest issue demonstrating the credulous acceptance of the truth claims coming from revelation and scripture. “The real Jesus” is the title article, and you can see from that and the subtitle that there’s not a scintilla of doubt that Jesus really existed.  “What Archaeology Reveals about His Life,” they say breathlessly, as if there were any evidence.

Below is the magazine’s summary.  As you can see, there’s more than just an article on “the real Jesus,” but also an “editorial” by the Editor in Chief that accepts and extols Jesus, a piece by the archaeology editor and a writer about how Jesus’s life fits into the archaeological data, interviews with those two authors, and added Jesus Features to enhance your experience and strengthen your faith.

Can we expect articles like “The real Muhammad?” and “The real Vishnu?”

Reader Gary F, who read this article, sent his take, which I quote with permission:

The article begins with a visit to the archaeologist and Catholic priest Eugenio Alliata as an authority.  Then it goes on to point out the importance of Christianity and thus Christ, by the great number of Christian believers in the world, and wastes no time dismissing the skeptics who argue that Jesus didn’t exist. The author clearly has a great sympathy for the spirituality of Christianity, visiting the holy sites with great reverence and awe.  The only substance seems to be the discovery of archeological sites of the sort mentioned in the Gospels, thus adding to credibility of the Gospels, thus adding to the awe and reverence.  It is also argued that we shouldn’t expect to find much about one person living at that time so long ago, being careful to set a low burden of proof. (Apparently God didn’t want to establish the truth about his greatest message.) The last sentences, after the author visits a holy site and is inspired [JAC’s emphasis]:
“At this moment I realize that to sincere believers, the scholars’ quest for the historical, non-supernatural Jesus is of little consequence.  That quest will be endless, full of shifting theories, unanswerable questions, irreconcilable facts.  But for true believers, their faith in the life, death and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough.”

The Editor in Chief’s column ends with:  “…sites that are monuments of archaeological significance as well as vibrant centers of pilgrimage and faith.  How gratifying, in this season of goodwill, to see the scientific and spiritual coexist.”

Ugh!  But you have already mentioned the decline of the magazine several times on WEIT.

Look at the bit in bold. It basically says, “Christians don’t need no stinking evidence, for their evidence comes from faith alone.” What a dire and miserable attitude to foist on readers of a magazine about the world! And, of course, it’s a slap in the face to those Sophisticated Theologians™ who claim that faith is more than “belief without evidence”.

It’s a good thing I don’t have a subscription, as I would have canceled it a long time ago.


Does hate have a home?

I’ve heard that, since Trump’s election, signs like these have sprouted all over the U.S. (a reader pointed this out the other day):

Now I understand the reasons for these signs: they’re addressing hatred towards groups of people, like Muslims, gays, African-Americans, and so on. (I doubt, however, that they mean that there’s no hatred of Nazis!) The signs are expressions  of welcome, which is great, and I expect that few readers would disagree with the reference to groups of people. I wouldn’t necessarily agree if the reference is to ideologies, though.  Could hate for the Republican Party have a home here?)

What I’m writing about, though, is the general use of the word “hater” or “hate” as terms of disapprobation. If you criticize someone’s behavior or beliefs, for instance, you’re written off as a “hater,” even if your emotions match the Oxford English Dictionary‘s definition given below (from the U of C online version):

Given that definition, yes, there are people and ideologies I hate, for I feel an intense dislike towards them. I won’t name them (two exceptions below), as I don’t want to get into arguments about individuals.

Some people, however, say its always wrong to hate. After all, you can make an argument based on determinism—to which I adhere—that nobody can freely choose how to behave, so empathy rather than hatred is the appropriate emotion. On the other hand, strong dislike is a motivator for many people to change. If you observe that many reasonable people hate your beliefs or behavior, that could be a factor leading your behavior to change, even under determinism. Or, if you’re a devout Christian, you might have the view of “hate the sin but love the sinner”, so that you dislike some behaviors but never any people.

So my question is twofold:

a. Do you feel it’s wrong to hate people or beliefs or systems of belief? If so, which ones? I’ve already said that I think it’s proper and not unseemly to hate all three, in the sense of feeling very intense dislike.

b. If you wish, tell us what you do hate. To give one example of beliefs I hate and someone I hate, it’s militant Islamism for the former and Donald Trump for the latter.

As your reward for answering these questions, here’s Hitchens on hatred (hint: he’s for it, and I remember that he said somewhere else that an example of a person he hated was Henry Kissinger):

Wildlife photos: Spot the snow leopard

This is from Matthew, of course, who originated the “spot the” series.  Here we have a hidden snow leopard (Panthera uncia) amidst a group of Siberian ibex (Capra siberica). Can you spot it? Answer later on today.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Good morning on Tuesday, November 21, 2017. I am back in Chicago for about three weeks until the three-week Jerry Coyne ” Ganapati All India Tour” takes place, but I’ll need the rest. Today is National Cranberry Day, a food once eaten only on Thanksgiving but now the basis of a tasty beverage. It’s also a UN holiday: World Television Day.

Oh, and I want to recommend a movie I watcned on the Houston-Chicago leg of my flight: “Fences” (2016), a terrific saga of a black family in 1950s Pittsburgh, with the screenplay by August Wilson (who first wrote it as a Pulitzer-Prize winning play) and directed by and starring Denzel Washington as the hard-ass paterfamilias and Viola Davis as his wife. The film got a 94% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars (Davis won in the last category). What stood out for me in the screenplay was the superb dialogue. It is a Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) Movie Recommendation™. I’d never even heard of it until I saw it on the entertainment menu on my flight.

On this day in 1676, the Danish astronomer Ole Rømer gave the first quantitative measurements of the speed of light, which was about 75% of the correct value. On November 21, 1877, Thomas Edison announced the invention of the phonograph. In 1905, Einstein’s paper giving the famous formula, E = mc², was published in the journal Annalen der Physik. I seem to remember digging out that paper and showing the formula, which wasn’t exactly E = mc² but a verbal equivalent, but I can’t be arsed to look up my post. On this day in 1920 it was “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin, an event orchestrated by Michael Collins’s IRA that wound up killing 32 people. In 1953, the British Natural History Museum formally announced that the Piltdown Man skull was a hoax. On this day in 1977, according to Wikipedia, “Minister of Internal Affairs Allan Highet announces that the national anthems of New Zealand shall be the traditional anthem “God Save the Queen” and “God Defend New Zealand”. I guess He did, on both counts. Is there any other country with two national anthems?

The Piltdown Man hoax was debunked by scientists, but is still used by creationists to demonstrate how “science can be fooled”. If you want to see a decent documentary on it, and the persistent question “who perpetrated this hoax?”, see this 43-minute job:

Notables born on this day include Voltaire (1694), René Magritte (1898), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902), Coleman Hawkins (1904), Stan Musial (1920; I once saw him play), Dr. John (1940), Goldie Hawn (1945), and Björk (1965). Deaths were sparese on this day: those who died on November 21 include physics Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam (1998).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has abandoned philosophy to return to her most important concern:

A: Why did you close your eyes?
Hili: I’m imagining what I’m going to see on this plate when I open them.
In Polish:
Ja: Czemu masz zamknięte oczy?
Hili: Wyobrażam sobie co zobaczę na tym talerzu jak je otworzę.

It’s turned cold around Dobrzyn, and even Leon, who hikes in the snow, finds it too chilly for his liking:

Leon: I think it’s too cold for walks.

It’s snowy in Winnipeg, too, but Gus is cozy resting on what he believes is a new cat bed. His staff writes:
It’s a good thing Gus reads so many languages. Otherwise he might not have known this was a cat bed. 🙂
Reader Phil sent this comic strip from Poorly Drawn Lines, adding, “Two of your favourite subjects, cats and cultural appropriation.” Indeed!
 And Matthew sent a tweet honoring one of my genetics heroes, the preternaturally bright Calvin Bridges:

The tweet below highlights an unusual fly (Matthew loves dipterans) that makes its living in and around the salty Mono Lake in California. Part of the summary from Science follows:

And while all the flies have a water-repelling waxy coat, only the alkali fly’s coat can repel Mono Lake water, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These adaptations have enabled the insect to feast with no competition on the lake’s algae. And that has enabled other life—like migrating birds—to live around the lake, as they feast on the flies.

One more from Matthew showing an otter’s defensive maneuver:

Here’s a tweet forwarded by reader Barry:

Finally, a tweet I stole from Heather Hastie, showing a lovely communion between a girl and her kitty:

I hate TSA and customs

Well, I wasn’t groped this time, but it was still a nightmare getting into my own country. The flight from Puebla to Houston was fine: I got to the airport early (about 6:00 am) and had breakfast with two physicists, Mario Livio and Adam Riess  (yes, a Nobelist at the impossibly young age of 41) and then got to sit at the gate with Robyn Blumner (Pres. and CEO of the Center for Inquiry and head of the Dawkins Foundation) and Julia Sweeney (the author and comedian formerly known as Pat). Richard is writing a new book, but I don’t think I can divulge it here.

At the meeting I collected a lot of signatures for the copy of Faith versus Fact that will be auctioned off on eBay in a year or so when I’ve gotten every well known atheist and scientist I know to sign it. My haul this time included the signatures (and a statement) from  Steve Pinker, Robyn, two Nobel Laureates, including Riess, and Julia.  We already have James Randi, Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sean Carroll, Maryam Namazie, Lawrence Krauss and a ton of other people. Sam Harris, as always, is the most elusive quarry, but I’ll see him in Chicago in February.  I hope another rich person buys it when it’s done, as the proceeds will go to charity. (A similar version of WEIT, with fewer signatures but artistically illuminated by Kelly Houle, sold on eBay for $10,500.)

Other good news: I wasn’t groped anywhere.

That was the good part. The bad part is that when clearing customs in Houston, I waited over an hour in a slowly-moving line, only at the end to have the passport-checker decide that I needed to go downstairs into Luggage Hell for a “bag check”. I was minutely questioned and my bags examined and X-rayed before I had to leave the terminal, re-enter and then go through security. And even though I had TSA “Pre-Check”, they decided to examine my bags all over again and swab them for explosives.  So while I budgeted a good three-hour layover in Houston, including the purchase of much-needed noms (I skipped dinner last night because of our early departure), I have now only 45 minutes till we board for Chicago. I guess I don’t need to eat anyway.

I don’t mind being examined, but I don’t understand why my bags were singled out—twice. Further, why did they have only one customs agent in Houston to handle such a long line of arrivals?

But the good news is that nobody touched my buttocks.

And some lagniappe below: two photos of the “goodies bar” at the meeting, full of snacks, chocolates, and fancy delicacies, including jars of mixed Nutella and chocolate (lower right). There was also a coffee bar, a pastry bar, a buffet, and a tequila bar. But more on that, including pictures, and on the various talks I heard, after I get back to Chicago. Since I’m flying business class. I’m going to cadge as many noms as I can.

Oy, am I hungry!

Monday: Hili dialogue

By the time you read this, on Monday, November 20, 2017, I’ll be heading to the Puebla airport for a flight to Houston, then back to Chicago. It was a great meeting, and at the last minute Andrés Roemer, organizer of the conference, suggested, to leaven the talks with more interaction, that I replace my lecture with a conversation. Since I wasn’t keen anyway on delivering a ten-minute talk on “ways of knowing” with any hope of getting my points across, I immediately agreed, for I love the spontaneous give-and-take of conversation as opposed to the dogmatism of a lecture. I was, however, a bit nervous about giving a last-minute presentation to an audience of several thousand. Fortunately, Andrés suggested I talk discuss whatever I wanted to lecture about with Isabel Behncke, a Chilean primatologist who studies bonobos (see her TED talk on bonobos here).

Isabel and I had about 20 minutes to organize a “conversation”, so Isabel and I (who had never met before) planned our discussion right up to the time we went onstage, even in the makeup room. It turned out that she was a great interviewer, asked very good questions, and I managed, to my surprise, to say everything I wanted to say in the planned talk simply by answering Isabel’s questions. From now on I’m favoring a conversational rather than a lecture format. I think the audience likes it better, too, or at least they seemed to.

Here we are talking about our incipient discussion as Isabel was getting made up (men aren’t offered the option of makeup; is that sexist?)

Our conversation, I’m told, will soon be posted on YouTube, as well as a short interview with yours truly on Facebook, which I’ll mention when they’re available.

Below: Isabel on right, another attendee, Davin, on the left, after the two discussants had downed several post-discussion tequilas and I, at least, was pleasantly borracho. (I don’t ever drink before a talk.) Isabel is holding a caricature drawn by the same guy who did mine, also including a monkey but adding a big gorilla.

It’s National Peanut Butter Fudge Day, which is okay, but I prefer chocolate. Here in Mexico, it’s National Revolution Day, marking the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz in 1910.

On November 10, 1789, New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights, which of course includes my favorite Amendment, the First.  On this day in 1805, Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, opened in Vienna. Exactly 15 years later, this happened (from Wikipedia):

An 80-ton sperm whale attacks the Essex (a whaling ship from Nantucket, Massachusetts) 2,000 miles from the western coast of South America. (Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick is in part inspired by this story.)

On this day in 1945, the Nuremberg trials began, with 24 Nazi war criminals in the dock. All but five were convicted. Finally, on November 20, 1985, Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released, though I’ve never used anything but a Mac.

Notables born on this day include Karl von Frisch (1886), Robert F. Kennedy (1925) and Duane Allman (1946, died in a motorcycle accident in 1971). Those who became bereft of life include Leo Tolstoy (1910), Trofim Lysenko (1976),  Giorgio de Chirico (1978; cat painting not found), and Charles Manson (2017).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is showing signs of her book reading:

Hili: Logic is like a tongue.
A: In what sense?
Hili: It’s taking care of the hygiene of thoughts.
In Polish:
Hili: Logika jest jak język.
Ja: W jakim sensie?
Hili: Dba o higienę myśli.

Some tweets sent by Matthew Cobb. The tag a cat should leave with its “gift”:

Neandertal character studies. Matthew also recommends Björklund’s Facebook page.

This is likely an adult because some species of pygmy possum in Australia do indeed weigh 10 grams (a third of an ounce) when full grown:

and a cat bicycling in its dreams (be sure to watch the video):

And watch this preview of the “Insecta” movie:

Charles Manson died

Charles Manson, the most hated and feared criminal of our time, who, curiously, attracted many followers, died yesterday of “natural causes” at age 83. If you’ve followed the news, this was almost inevitable, for he’d been hospitalized since November 15 and reported on the brink of death. He died at Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, California after transfer from the California State Prison in Corcoran.

As you’ll know, and I remember well, in 1969 Manson masterminded (but did not participate in) two killings: the “Tate murders” and “LaBianca murders” over two nights in Los Angeles. He was later revealed as the instigator by a prison slip of the tongue by one of the “Manson family”, Susan Atkins. Manson was convicted and sentenced to death in 1971, but that was commuted to life in prison (with the possibility of parole!) in 1972. He never got parole, of course, and spent the next 46 years in jail, largely isolated from other inmates. Given the crimes he’d committed when younger, he’d spent about two thirds of his life in jail.

He was of course mentally ill, but sufficiently charismatic to not only build up his “family”, but order them to kill people, ostensibly to ignite a race war in the U.S.

Here’s a mugshot taken in 1969; it’s perhaps the most famous photo of Manson because of those eyes:

And another shot from six years ago with a swastika tattooed on his forehead:

Here’s perhaps the most famous of four interviews of Manson. In this 45-minute clip, aired in 1986, Manson was interviewed by Charlie Rose. As I recall, in his subsequent interviews his behavior became crazier and crazier.

There’s not much more to say about the man once his crimes and mental illness have been recounted. How he became a godlike figure and attracted the love and fealty of others I’ll leave to the psychologists.