Weekend reading

Saturday is a slow day (it’s supposed to be my day off, but that never happens), and so I’ll reserve anything substantive for the rest of the week. But there are two items I recommend reading today—actually three, but I’ll save the other for tomorrow. The first is Andrew Sullivan’s weekly “Interesting Times” column in New York Magazine (click on screenshot below). He always has one long segment and two short ones. The former is about the difference between conservatives and reactionaries (who are extreme conservatives), while the other two are on a previous column comparing Trump’s America to Imperial Rome and on the unholy Trump/Netanyahu alliance.

While I usually agree with what Sullivan says, I think he goes a bit wrong on the Israel segment, faulting it for not wanting a two-state solution (he doesn’t seem to know that the Palestinians want it even less!), and calling Israel an “apartheid state”. The latter is an uncharacteristic act of Sullivan buying into anti-Israel propaganda as well as his failure to both understand apartheid and to realize that the Palestinian territories are far more of an apartheid state. But I digress: his main piece is what I want to discuss here. In the spectrum from reactionaries to conservatives, Sullivan finds himself firmly ensconced in the latter camp.

I’m not exactly sure why Sullivan still considers himself a conservative, unless it’s because, as he says, he wants the pace of social change to go slowly as people’s minds are changed gradually, rather than being imposed from the top, as “The Squad” and candidates like Elizabeth Warren apparently want. And he argues that reactionary politics simply drives centrists to the Right and turns right-wingers into extremists.

Here’s his distinction:

And that’s why I often listen to him [Michael Anton, a reactionary]. He reminds me why I’m a conservative, why the distinction between a reactionary and a conservative is an important one in this particular moment, and how the left unwittingly is becoming reactionism’s most potent enabler.

A conservative who becomes fixated on the contemporary left’s attempt to transform traditional society, and who views its zeal in remaking America as an existential crisis, can decide that in this war, there can be no neutrality or passivity or compromise. It is not enough to resist, slow, query, or even mock the nostrums of the left; it is essential that they be attacked — and forcefully. If the left is engaged in a project of social engineering, the right should do the same: abandon liberal democratic moderation and join the fray.

More about the divide, and where Sullivan sees himself:

This, it strikes me, is one core divide on the right: between those who see the social, cultural, and demographic changes of the last few decades as requiring an assault and reversal, and those who seek to reform its excesses, manage its unintended consequences, but otherwise live with it. Anton is a reactionary; I’m a conservative. I’m older than Anton but am obviously far more comfortable in a multicultural world, and see many of the changes of the last few decades as welcome and overdue: the triumph of women in education and the workplace; the integration of gays and lesbians; the emergence of a thriving black middle class; the relaxation of sexual repression; the growing interdependence of Western democracies; the pushback against male sexual harassment and assault.

Yes, a conservative is worried about the scale and pace of change, its unintended consequences, and its excesses, but he’s still comfortable with change. Nothing is ever fixed. No nation stays the same. Culture mutates and mashes things up. And in America, change has always been a motor engine in a restless continent.

To me, this doesn’t sound like a conservative but a centrist, and I’m not sure why those who favor progressive social change, but gradually, are conservatives. Well, Sullivan gets the right to use his own personal pronoun, and so be it. But I do agree with him when he argues that the denial of plain facts by the Left is going to do us in. It will surely contribute to that, but I’m hoping that if Trump is counting on a victory borne on wheels of a strong economy, he’ll lose. Regardless, Sullivan gives punch after punch to the Authoritarian Left, and I think most of them land hard:

Many leftists somehow believe that sustained indoctrination will work in abolishing human nature, and when it doesn’t, because it can’t, they demonize those who have failed the various tests of PC purity as inherently wicked. In the end, the alienated and despised see no reason not to gravitate to ever-more extreme positions. They support people and ideas simply because they piss off their indoctrinators. And, in the end, they reelect Trump. None of this is necessary. You can be in favor of women’s equality without buying into the toxicity of men; you can support legal immigration if the government gets serious about stopping illegal immigration; you can be inclusive of trans people without abolishing the bimodality of human sex and gender; you can support criminal-justice reform without believing — as the New York Times now apparently does — that America is an inherently racist invention, founded in 1619 and not 1775.

Moderate change within existing structures wins converts and creates conservatives, willing to defend incremental liberal advances. Radical change bent on transforming human nature generates resistance and creates reactionaries. Leftists have to decide at some point: Do they want to push more conservatives into Michael Anton’s reactionary camp or more reactionaries into the conservative one? And begin to ponder their own role in bringing this extreme reactionism into the mainstream.

The second piece is a NYT op-ed by Yale Law Professor Peter Shuck, who specializes in “law and public policy; tort law; immigration, citizenship, and refugee law; groups, diversity, and law; and administrative law.” Click on the screenshot to read it:

I’m recommending it because I agree with his premise: immigration has become a big issue in the 2020 campaign, and if Democrats don’t come up with a sensible immigration plan, they’re cooked (or so I think). That involves admitting that not all people who claim to be refugees are refugees (many are here for economic gain, which doesn’t qualify as for refugee status), and taking concrete steps so that Democrats can’t be characterized as The Party of Open Borders.  That said, the policy must be humane, must not involve separating children and parents, and must have a speeded-up way to adjudicate claims. But I’ll let Shuck speak:

First, the issue:

Before Mr. Trump’s campaign, immigration was fairly low on voters’ lists of their top issues. Since Mr. Trump’s election, this has changed strikingly: In a Gallup poll of registered voters taken days before the 2018 midterms, immigration tied with the economy as the “most” or an “extremely” important issue, at 78 percent, just below health care. The concern is bipartisan — 74 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners ranked it similarly near the top.

Mr. Trump understands that these voters represent a ripe target for fearmongering and for extremist policies that play off that fear. At heart, voters have legitimate concerns about undocumented immigration and the possibility of ever-larger numbers of people attempting to cross the southern border. But Democrats’ leading candidates have responded defensively, with rhetoric and policy ideas that are sometimes extreme and incoherent in the opposite direction.

Now you can say that immigration isn’t really a problem, and we shouldn’t formulate policy driven by Trump’s agenda. But even Democrats are concerned about immigration, and failure to address it sensibly is almost a guarantee (barring economic meltdown) that Trump will be re-elected—a nightmare for all of us. (In my heart, I’m hoping he won’t run, but that seems unlikely.)

Then some (and only some) of Shuck’s recommendations:

For the most part. . . Democratic candidates appear unwilling to make the hard choices that a difficult situation like the one along the border demands. For example, facilities on the American side are inadequate to house all the people seeking asylum; it makes sense, then, to house them on the Mexican side, so long as the United States, along with human rights groups, ensures that the applicants have safe, decent housing conditions and due process in immigration court. But most of the candidates reject that option out of hand — even though we know that a vast majority of asylum claims will be rejected.

Their unrealistic position seems to imply that most people who arrive at the border asking for asylum have a valid claim. But as much as we can sympathize with their plight, the poverty and generalized fear of violence that most at the border hope to escape do not qualify them for asylum under American or international law. “Membership in a particular social group” (the legal category they invoke) is sometimes interpreted to cover fear of targeted gang violence and domestic violence. But courts traditionally have rejected this reading, because such fears are so common and are not tied to a qualifying “particular social group.” Democrats should propose more rigorous criteria for adjudicating such claims, rather than just pretend that the law means something it mostly doesn’t.

It is the oft-heard Democratic claim that all refugees need to be let in, and the equating of economically-driven migrants with “real” refugees, that make Democrats sound unconvincing to many Americans. The public is not that credulous.

Another remedy:

Democrats should also endorse much stronger interior enforcement, although it is more socially disruptive than border control: Roughly half of the 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in America entered illegally, and the other half overstayed their visas and melted into the population. President Barack Obama took interior enforcement seriously, and Democrats today should not apologize for his actions, deriding him as “deporter in chief” — as they too often do on the stump and the debate stage.

And three more:

Democrats rightly favor legal status for millions of the undocumented, especially the Dreamers and many of their parents (Mr. Trump favored this, then reneged). Congress should extend this status to other longtime-resident, law-abiding undocumented people. The easiest fix would legalize all long-term, continuously resident applicants who can show good moral character — easy because a statutory remedy dating to 1929 uses a very old eligibility cutoff; it cries out for updating to include those who arrived before, say, 2009.

The United States should also welcome many more new immigrants than the 1.1 million we now admit annually. Democrats should call for an end to the misbegotten “diversity lottery,” which eats up 50,000 precious visas each year, and instead use those visas for a pilot program for a points-based system like Canada’s (which proportionately admits many more immigrants than we do).

Democrats should call for a return to the norm for refugee admissions of roughly 75,000 to 85,000 a year, from the shamefully low 22,000 admitted per year under Mr. Trump. They should also support some conservatives’ proposals to modernize the larger system, such as reforming the clotted approval process for admitting temporary farmworkers and H-1Bs, and reassessing the troubled investor visa program.

Feel free to agree or disagree. For the most part I agree. 

 

A new movie on free will

The new movie Free Will Documentary—presumably an interim title—won’t be released until next year, but I’m looking forward to it eagerly. And that’s not just because I was interviewed for it, but because it touches on a topic dear to my heart, because the four filmmakers (Mike Walsh, Jeremy Levy, Mitch Joseph, and Edward Tasick) are professionals who had educated themselves deeply about the controversy before they picked up their cameras, and because I want to hear what the interviewees have to say about it.  I believe I was filmed dilating on the topic for over two hours, and they used one quote from me in the blurb, and give “teaser” videos from other people (see below).

You can read about the film and its mission here. It seems to be an open-minded presentation of all points of view, which is good: it acquaints viewers with the controversy and helps them achieve a point of view. The mission statement:

Amazingly, there’s never been a major documentary dedicated entirely to the free will debate, despite the importance that the concept has to our sense of identity, and the numerous books written on the topic in recent years. “Free will” seems to be a trending subject that everyone now has an opinion on.

That’s where we come in. 

Having studied the subject matter for years we will offer what is perhaps a unique perspective. So we’re gathering the best minds available on every side of the issue—libertarians, determinists, compatibilists, theists and non-theists alike—to offer the best arguments from each side. The mission will be to educate the viewer on all aspects of free will, the arguments, and the evidence, so that they will be able to approach the subject matter with a level of reasoning far beyond a lay person’s understanding. In a sense, we want to change the cultural zeitgeist on its understanding of free will.

Participants include Gregg Caruso, Dan Dennett, Dan Barker, Derek Pereboom, Robert Kane, Massimo Pigliucci, Coleman Hughes, Nitin Ron, and me, as well as voices from the past (Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein) and—something that should be fun—interviews with people in Times Square about whether they believed in free will.

There are some short videos on their site, and I’ll show three: my intellectual opponent Dan “I’m Not Through With You Yet” Dennett, some interviews in Times Square, and a quote from Einstein with a blurb by producer and writer Mitch Joseph.

Here Dan explains why compatibilism is the most popular view of philosophers: some notion of free will is necessary for people “to live civilized lives in close quarters.”

Surprisingly, several of the people interviewed on the street don’t accept free will:

Einstein was right, of course. . .

 

And the film has an Instagram Page.

I’ll keep you updated as the film’s release approaches. Apparently it’s “feature length”, which means more than an hour. Now I don’t know how much this topic will interest a public weaned on Batman and Mad Max films, as it’s really an intellectual voyage, and how many movies are there like that?  But if any film like that has a chance, this one does. (There seems to have been an Italian movie about the topic two years ago, but I haven’t seen it.) I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the filmmakers’ questions when they interviewed me. They had done months and years of groundwork.

Some self aggrandizement:

 

h/t: Paul

Caturday felid trifecta: Bobkittens steals mom’s food; a bottle maze for a cat; the cat man of Aleppo;

Here’s a lovely three-minute National Geographic video of a mother bobcat training her kittens to hunt.  Note that mom gives the kitten a sharp “thwack” after the food is stolen.  I wonder if the “merry-go-round” behavior of mom is some sort of pre-giving ritual.

 

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Here’a a tuxedo moggie navigating a maze made from water bottles (the staff clearly has too much time on its hands!).  Level 2 is easier than Level 1, and the cat cheats five times!

 

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I’ve featured the Cat Man of Aleppo before: a nice guy who took care of the strays thrust into a human conflict. Now, in this new article in the Guardian (click on screenshot), you’ll see photos of how Mohammad Aljaleel has set up a clinic and a shelter for the strays he rescues from the rubble.

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Some photos:

h/t: Michael, Ginger K,

Readers’ wildlife videos

We have a real treat for you today: four great animal videos taken by reader Rick Longworth. His captions are indented.

About 30 young Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) crossed the Snake River accompanied by adults. They are not able to fly yet (early June), but they are approaching adult size. One young one panics when a motorboat passes, and becomes separated from the group.  Unable to fly, he kicks for all he’s worth. All ends well as the boat moves away and the juvie rejoins his troop.

A rabbit’s day is full of activity.  I’m not certain of the species, but it could be a desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), also known as Audubon’s cottontail. It is a New World cottontail rabbit, and a member of the family Leporidae .(Scene 1, testing the taste of beet greens – not so great.  Scene 2, Magpies are the local pests.  Scene 3, helping to maintain the lawn.

In March I filmed a pair of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) performing a duet near the house.  The female is larger than the male which presumably allows the two to target different sized pray for more efficient utilization of the local food supply.  The female has a higher pitched hoot than the male.  They’ve stayed in the areas all summer, but I have not found their nest nor have I seen any young. Mallard ducks can be heard in the background voicing their alarm call.

The black chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri) at my feeder are determined to feed no matter what the weather, including winds at 15 mph gusting to 20.  One male seemed not to solve the riddle of which feeder to approach.  It chose the upwind end which required it to fly backward or sideways.  In the video, the wind is from the left.  Another male and a female had no such difficulty.  Those two were filmed in slo-mo.

 

Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Saturday, August 17, 2019, National Vanilla Custard Day. This is the harbinger of a bland and unappealing day. On the bright side, it’s International Homeless Animals’ Day (adopt one now, please) and World Honeybee Day.

It’s also National Black Cat Appreciation Day, and to help you appreciate it are the black cats of two readers, with Alcestic Jerry (recumbent) and Octavia Sadie (sitting up). Their staff is Gethyn and Laurie, and the sisters were rescued as kittens from a market and adopted out by Feline Friends London, our Official Website Charity®.  In fact, they were adopted exactly six months ago today. At first they were wild and fearful, but now they’re part of the family, even rolling upside down for tummy rubs.

Stuff that happened on August 17 includes:

  • 1498 – Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, becomes the first person in history to resign the cardinalate; later that same day, King Louis XII of France names him Duke of Valentinois.
  • 1585 – A first group of colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh under the charge of Ralph Lane lands in the New World to create Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of present-day North Carolina.
  • 1798 – The Vietnamese Catholics report a Marian apparition in Quảng Trị, an event which is called Our Lady of La Vang.

A Marian apparition is, of course, a vision of the Virgin Mary, like Bernadette’s vision at Lourdes or the one in Fatima, Portugal. But why is it always Mary and never Jesus?

  • 1862 – American Civil War: Major General J. E. B. Stuart is assigned command of all the cavalry of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
  • 1896 – Bridget Driscoll became the first recorded case of a pedestrian killed in a collision with a motor car in the United Kingdom.

The car that struck Driscoll, doing a demonstration on the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, was going only 4 miles per hour. Nevertheless, she died. Here she is (circled):

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And, for your delectation, here’s the short Fantasmagorie, in which a character in pantaloons has many adventures.

  • 1915 – Jewish American Leo Frank is lynched in Marietta, Georgia after a 13-year-old girl is murdered.

Lynching of white men in the South (Frank owned a pencil factory in Atlanta) was a rarity, and Frank appears to be the only Jew in American history ever lynched. If you want to see a photo of his hanging body, there’s one at the link. Most later analyses exculpated Frank and concluded that the likely murderer was the factory’s janitor, but of course Frank was Jewish. Here’s his photo:

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Other stuff that happened on this day:

  • 1943 – World War II: The Royal Air Force begins Operation Hydra, the first air raid of the Operation Crossbow strategic bombing campaign against Germany’s V-weapon program.
  • 1945 – Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaim the independence of Indonesia, igniting the Indonesian National Revolution against the Dutch Empire.
  • 1945 – The novella Animal Farm by George Orwell is first published.
  • 1998 – Lewinsky scandal: US President Bill Clinton admits in taped testimony that he had an “improper physical relationship” with White House intern Monica Lewinsky; later that same day he admits before the nation that he “misled people” about the relationship.

Of course, a few months earlier he had denied it, as shown in this video:

  • 2005 – The first forced evacuation of settlers, as part of Israeli disengagement from Gaza, starts.
  • 2008 – American swimmer Michael Phelps becomes the first person to win eight gold medals at one Olympic Games.
  • 2017 – Barcelona attacks: A van is driven into pedestrians in La Rambla, killing 14 and injuring at least 100.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1887 – Marcus Garvey, Jamaican journalist and activist, founded Black Star Line (d. 1940)

The Line, intended to transport African-Americans, was plagued by mismanagement and bad ships. Garvey wound up being convicted for mail fraud and, deported to Jamaica, died in 1940.

  • 1893 – Mae West, American actress, playwright, and screenwriter (d. 1980)
  • 1913 – Mark Felt, American lawyer and agent, 2nd Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (d. 2008)

Felt, of course, turned out to be “Deep Throat” in the Watergate affair, helping bring down Richard Nixon. I see him as a hero.

  • 1929 – Francis Gary Powers, American captain and pilot (d. 1977)
  • 1932 – V. S. Naipaul, Trinidadian-English novelist and essayist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2018)
  • 1943 – Robert De Niro, American actor, entrepreneur, director, and producer
  • 1960 – Sean Penn, American actor, director, and political activist

Notables who expired on August 17 were few; they include:

  • 1786 – Frederick the Great, Prussian king (b. 1712)
  • 1850 – José de San Martín, Argentinian general and politician, 1st President of Peru (b. 1778)
  • 1973 – Conrad Aiken, American novelist, short story writer, critic, and poet (b. 1889)
  • 1987 – Rudolf Hess, German soldier and politician (b. 1894)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has more science questions:

Hili: How do spiders select a place for a spiderweb?
A: You will have to talk to a spider about it.

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In Polish:

Hili: Jak pająki wybierają miejsce na pajęczynę?
Ja: O tym musisz porozmawiać z pająkiem.

Reader Keira McKenzie sent a great cat meme:

Su sent this wonderful artwork from You Need More ART in Your Life: “A mother wrench feeding her young.”

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Also from Su:

Here’s a tweet Grania sent me on January 3 of this year, saying “Here: you will enjoy this.” It’s from the fake DPRK News site. And yes, I did enjoy it:

Reader Thomas sent this tweet with a poignant conversation between Anderson Cooper and Steven Colbert. You may know that Colbert lost his dad and two brothers in a plane crash when he as ten: that’s the incident to which he refers. Although he’s a Catholic (which mystifies me in a man so smart and thoughtful), at the beginning he sounds like a Buddhist.

Nilou once again demonstrates how wicked and sly birds can be:

Two cat tweets from Heather Hastie, who got them from Ann German. I believe that’s John Lennon in the photo:

I love this ad:

And two tweets from Matthew Cobb, who has the weight of the world (Brexit, Trump, global warming, etc.) on his shoulders. This tweet has apparently added to it.

But here’s something that cheered him up:

 

Media distorts Tlaib decision to not visit Israel after all

I’ve now watched two national news programs, with both reporting on Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s decision not to visit her aged grandmother in Israel after all.

You probably know the details. Originally Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were going to visit Israel (“Palestine,” they called it, in the usual let’s-get-rid-of-Israel way), and Israel said okay. After a tweet from Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew the invitation. Tlaib and Omar became martyrs to the Woke, and many (including me) said that Israel’s withdrawal of the invitation was a mistake.

But then Israel agreed to let Tlaib visit her grandmother on the West Bank, so long as she abided by Israel’s law that visitors must not promote the BDS program. Tlaib agreed to that in writing. So the visit was on. (Omar was still banned.)

But then Tlaib got a bunch of criticism from Palestinians and critics of Israel, all saying that she had caved in to Israel’s unreasonable demands—demands she had agreed to in writing. And so, more concerned about demonizing Israel than visiting her grandmother (“perhaps for the last time”, she said), she decided not to go after all.

That’s all well and good. The problem is that, at least in the two national news shows I’ve heard, her withdrawal was characterized as “Tlaib refuses to meet Israel’s onerous demands.” The same distortion was evident (of course) in HuffPost’s reporting of the incident:

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said Friday that she will not visit her grandmother in the West Bank, after the Israeli government reversed a prior decision barring her from the country.

In a statement, she accused officials of “racist treatment” and of seeking to “silence” her voice. She said she won’t go to Israel “under these oppressive conditions.”

. . .Tlaib, whose family is from Palestine, later wrote to Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, to say she’d like to visit her grandmother, who is in her 90s.

“This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Tlaib wrote in the letter.

Early Friday, Deri announced that Tlaib would be allowed to visit on humanitarian grounds, provided that she would “accept all the demands of Israel to respect the restrictions imposed on her in the visit, and she also promised not to advance boycotts against Israel during her visit.”

In response to her cancellation, Deri accused Tlaib of making “a provocative request.”

Here’s the sick part: nowhere does HuffPost (or the news stations) report that Tlaib AGREED to the Israeli conditions, and canceled her trip only after she got criticized by her pro-Palestinian allies. This is grossly distorted reporting designed to make Tlaib look good and Israel look bad.

Look at the HuffPost headline:

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At least the New York Times got it right.  These distortions—always to the detriment of Israel—are pervasive in even the mainstream liberal media, and they add up not to objective reporting but to an ideological agenda.

Tlaib agreed, and then changed her mind. The cancelation of her trip is due not to Israel’s onerous demands, but to Tlaib’s realization that she had screwed up and angered her allies.

As Tlaib said of her gran, “this could be my last opportunity to see her.” How sad that, as Israel’s interior minister tweeted:

And that is absolutely true.

 

Photographs of readers

As part of our continuing series (and I invite you to send in one picture of yourself, preferably doing something interesting or characteristic of your life), we have two photos of reader Geoff Toscano, which I’ve put up because there are two bikes involved. Geoff’s notes:

Here’s a couple of pictures of me combining my favourite hobbies, travelling and motorcycling. This first is on a Yamaha FJR1300 in the Pyrenees.

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This second is on a Triumph Rocket in the Alps, Italy I think. Its 2.3 litre engine makes it the world’s largest production motorcycle, though it’s now even bigger at 2.5 litres.

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Another anti-Semitic comment

It never fails: whenever I write about Israel, no matter what I say, I get some anti-Semitic comments or emails. (Note that my post this morning was critical of Israel and Netanyahu).

Here’s a comment from “opplevesannheten“, whose email address I’ve mercifully omitted, though he/she has a website that would have appeared in the comment had I allowed it to go through. (The person is, of course, now banned). I’ve linked to the website, which is inactive.

This comment was intended for posting on the “Tarring Steve Pinker and others with Jeffrey Epstein” post from July 12.

TO PINKER:
So you’re going to play the victim card?
How about: 1) You act like a creep / I doubt anyone would willingly sleep with you 2) You & Epstein are both part of the same super special atheistic group with special DNA and “higher IQs” 3) You flew on Epstein’s Lolita Express…
You can try to keep distancing yourself from your super special club, but people are waking up to the fact that your “tribe” 1) runs the pornography industry 2) runs the US war industry 3) disproportionately molests children 4) owns the entire mainstream media 5) runs Hollywood 6) supports Israel above the US.
Your whole premise is promoting the idea that everything is getting better – and for people to trust you (the authority) instead of their own senses. Right now our own senses show us that you were riding on Epstein’s “Lolita Express” *after* he was already convicted (the first time).
Your Ivey league institutions cannot protect you when they’re crumbling under the weight of your lies.

Note the personal insults and, especially, the claim about our “tribe” (Jews, of course) who not only runs the world, but is a disproportionate molester of children (where did that data come from?). Now THAT is classic Jew-hatred.

As for the comment on Steve’s sex life, I’ll just note that he has not been celibate.

Now this dude (I’m betting there’s a Y chromosome in his genome) might be drunk, just a troll, or a true anti-Semite. I’m betting on #3.

Gay penguins? Not so fast.

Two male King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) at the Berlin Zoo have adopted an egg rejected by a female penguin, and the world has gone crazy. Why? Well, for one reason, it’s because Skip and Ping are perceived as “gay penguins”, since they’re a same-sex couple. Here’s the New York Times article about it:

The story of Skip and Ping from the NYT:

The zoo knew they were a couple when they arrived from Hamburg this year, and it became clear within weeks that they wanted to start a family, he said.

“It is very common that two penguins of the same sex come together. I don’t think it is the majority of penguins, but it is not rare either,” Mr. Jäger said on Tuesday. “We are sure they would be good parents because they were so nice to their stone.” [Before they got an egg they brooded a stone.]

So the zookeepers decided to give Skip — short for Skipper — and Ping a shot at fatherhood after a 22-year-old female, called The Orange because of the color of her wings, laid an egg in July. She had never hatched a chick of her own.

“We just had to put the egg in front of one of them, and he knew just what to do,” Mr. Jäger said. “He took his beak and put the egg on his feet and then put his stomach over it, which is the normal thing penguins do.”

And if you Google “gay penguins”, you’ll see a bazillion articles that characterize the couple that way, although biologists would use “same-sex couple”. Here’s a screenshot of just a few the many pages you get when you do a Google image search for “gay penguins:

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I think one of the reason people like this so much is because it seems to vindicates the fact that gay couples or gay behavior is fine in humans—because it occurs in nature. And of course same-sex coupling does occur in nature, but should we anthropomorphize it by calling it “gay”? In fact, gay humans are fine, but not because there are “gay penguins.”

First of all, we’re not at all sure that same-sex couples in animals are analogous to same-sex couples in humans. Some of them might well be, and that would be if “gay” animals were like gay humans in having an ineluctable attraction to couple and pair with members of the same sex. We’re not at all sure, for instance, that animals who form same-sex couples have that feeling (and how could we know?), and I doubt that these male penguins are sexually attracted to each other. In other cases, animals might pair up with others because, even though they’re “straight”, those feelings spill over onto whoever is available, which might be members of the same sex. In jails, for instance, males and females might engage in same-sex relationships, but not because they’re “gay” in the conventional way, but because that is the only outlet they have for their heterosexual urges. The fact is, in most animals we just don’t know.

But the animals, by analogy with humans, are nevertheless deemed “gay”, and without any qualifications. The New York Times says this explicitly, and implies that this somehow vindicates homosexuality in humans (look at the first sentence, which implies that heterosexuality might be some kind of “hangup”):

Homosexuality has been observed in a number of species of animals, who tend to have fewer hangups than humans. But gay penguins seem to be unusually prominent in the world of animal homosexuality.

There have been same-sex penguin couples at many zoos, including the Central Park Zoo in New York, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium in Australia and regional zoos or aquariums in Denmarkand Ireland.

And then there is the London Zoo, which in June celebrated Pride month — and its six gay Humboldt penguins — with a banner in the penguin exhibit that said “Some penguins are gay, get over it.”

If there are any other gay animals at the Berlin zoo, the zookeepers said they had not made themselves publicly known.

“We don’t know if there are any other gay animals in this zoo,” Mr. Jäger said. “There may be.”

What I mostly object to here is not same-sex coupling in any species, but the use of phenomena in nature to justify human behavior, using traits like same-sex coupling. This is what we call “the naturalistic fallacy”: what is natural is good. Or, in this case, what is natural in nature is natural—and good—in humans.

I have no prejudice against gay humans, and have always promoted equal treatment and rights for gay couples, including marriage and everything that goes for heterosexual couples. We just shouldn’t say that because animals have same-sex behavior, it’s exactly the same thing in humans, and is therefore acceptable and moral. No, it’s moral because there is no good reason to keep people apart, or to discriminate against them, if they happen to be of the same sex. (Religionists may feel otherwise, but they’re wrong.)

We shouldn’t base our moral judgments on what we see in other species. For if we go that route, then we can justify all kinds of behavior as “natural”: the killing of your new spouse’s children (lions do it), xenophobia and carnage against other groups (chimps do it), or rape (ducks and bedbugs engage in forced copulation that can kill females).

How we regard human behavior should be based on our tendencies to be rational, humane, and empathic. It should not be based on weak or unsupported analogies with penguins like Skip and Ping. Maybe they really do have the same feelings for each other as do human gay couples, but we just don’t know.

The big story here, to the media, was not same-sex rearing of an egg, which after all is not that rare, but “gay penguins”. And such unsupported comparisons not only give people false ideas of what animals are feeling, but, as in the case of other “natural” (but more odious) behaviors, could lead to justifying traits that we don’t like at all.

Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib refused entry to Israel (they relent a bit on Tlaib)

As you probably know, “progressive” Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were refused entry to Israel by the government because they are vocal supporters of the BDS movement, whose aim (though downplayed) is to eliminate the state of Israel by promulgating the “right of return” that will create a single Arab-majority state. Since yesterday, Israel has changed its mind a bit: Tlaib has been allowed entry to visit her family as a special “humanitarian request”. (However, as the AP just reported, Tlaib has decided not to visit her grandmother after all, even after promising not to advocate boycotts during her visit. But now she argues that “she wouldn’t allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to ‘bow down to their oppressive & racist policies’.” This change of mind is truly bizarre, and suggests that her mission wasn’t to see her grandmother after all.)

 

Here are the two articles:

I can understand the Israeli government’s decision, though I disagree with it. Tlaib and Omar had one purpose in going to Israel: to do down the country, buttress the Palestinian campaign against Israel, and broadcast their criticisms of Israel widely. This was not a “fact finding mission” as neither Tlaib nor Omar had scheduled any meetings with Israeli officials—only, as far as I know, with officials of the Palestinian Authority. Their visit was framed as “visiting Palestine” not “visiting Israel,” already a sign that they don’t recognize the state of Israel. And their visit was, according to the New York Times, underwritten by MIFTAH, an organization that has praised suicide bombers and  promulgated the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel.

You would be foolish to think that their visit had any purpose other than to inflame Palestinian hatred of Israel—giving it the imprimatur of two members of Congress—and to inflame America and the world (through their post-visit propaganda) against Israel. This is on top of the violence currently going on, with three Israelis civilians attacked by knife- or car-wielding Palestinian terrorists in the last few days over the Temple Mount visitation.

By letting Tlaib and Omar in, Israel was certain to have become the object of a big propaganda campaign by these women. This resembles the propaganda campaign of Womens March leader Tamika Mallory, an anti-Semite who visited Israel last year, apparently to deflect attention from her cozying up to bigot Louis Farrakhan by “fact-finding” and then demonizing Israel onsite, as recounted in this Haaretz article (click on the screenshot):

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And, of course, Israel has the right to bar them, as they regularly bar advocates of BDS on the grounds that the organization is anti-Israel (and, I think, anti-Semitic). Other countries bar inflammatory speakers regularly.

But it’s one thing to have a right to bar people, and another thing to exercise that right. In this case I think Netanyahu made a mistake, though of course this is a judgment call about which I don’t feel strongly. First, his decision to bar Omar and Tlaib came after Trump called for the action, on Twitter of course. If Netanyahu was indeed influenced by Trump, that’s a bad move, for it makes the Israeli Prime Minister look as if he’s in the pocket of Trump—as may well be the case given the shaky Democratic support for Israel. More seriously, it makes Israel look afraid of criticism. Now Tlaib and Omar have criticized Israel plenty from their home in the U.S., but (to me at least), it makes Israel look stronger and more magnanimous if it lets Omar and Tlaib visit, even knowing the propaganda consequences. It is, I suppose, a matter of “optics.” But it’s also a matter of principle—of freedom of speech.

Israel also, of course, had to weigh the possibility that the visit might incite more attacks on Israelis. Propaganda is one thing, lives another.  But I doubt that would happen, at least in the First Amendment sense of Tlaib and Omar “inciting imminent violence”. (Israel would of course have every right to expel Tlaib and Omar if they did call for violence against Israel once in the country.) As anti-Semitic as these two women are, they’re not stupid enough to call for violence.

In other words, to me this is a free-speech issue—the willingness of a country to allow people to visit who they know will criticize it severely once “on the ground.”

But of course Israel couldn’t have won this one. Letting Omar and Tlaib in will inflame tensions in the region and lead to more anti-Israel propaganda. On the other hand, barring them will, as it has already, lead to the Left criticizing Israel for cowardice, as the New York Times did yesterday in an op-ed written by the entire editorial board.

Even columnist Bari Weiss criticized Netanyahu for apparently caving in to Trump’s tweets. As she writes in today’s op-ed, in a piece I agree with:

Consider who came out strengthened from this episode.

The obvious winner is Donald Trump, of course, who tweeted after Israel announced its flip-flop that “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” Here, nakedly expressed, was his actual goal: Not to protect an American ally from politicians traveling in bad faith, but to yoke mainstream Democrats to their political fringe, as he has been doing, very effectively, for weeks.

Joining him in the winners’ circle are Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib. Say Israel had allowed them, per the original plan, to visit. The upshot would have been a week of bad headlines. But Israel has gotten that tenfold anyway, and the congresswomen managed to come out looking like martyrs.

The losers? Pretty much everyone else.

First, the Democrats, who now have even less motivation to marginalize their anti-Israel fringe and, when they eventually come to power, little incentive to stick their necks out for the Jewish state.

Second, American Jews. It’s a rare day when Jewish conservatives call me to swear about Bibi. More than one did so on Thursday. Meantime, many mainstream American Jewish organizations, including Aipac, the pro-Israel lobbying group, and the American Jewish Committee, issued rare statements criticizing Israel.

Which brings us to the biggest loser of all: The Jewish state. What happened Thursday is going to do so much long-term damage to the bipartisan commitment to Israel. The country has become a partisan wedge in American politics — and that ultimately hurts Israel itself.

The U.S. would look bad if it barred strong critics of America from visiting. Israel isn’t the U.S., of course, as it’s engaged in a bloody conflict with Palestine. But unless Tlaib and Omar were going to incite more violence, barring them was a mistake. As Weiss says, “Israel has gotten [bad headlines’ tenfold anyway.”