I think they left something out. . . .

One sees this sign everywhere these days, but I don’t see the words, “. . unless you’re a Republican” on it. Those, I gather, are apparently okay to hate.

Here’s the duckling!

Did you spot it? Actually, all eight ducklings were in the lily pads, with Honey looking on from outside, but all I could see was the pads rustling. For a brief instant I got a glimpse of this little one (circled; click on screenshot to enlarge).

Sunday: Duck report

I was going to write another post today: about immigration, the Wall, and Andrew Sullivan, but I see people are busy crowing about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s demonization, which makes another post superfluous, and also makes me disheartened.

Let’s talk instead about DUCKS! Here’s today’s report on Anas platyrhynchos in Botany pond.  First, a video from Friday taken by Anna. She was standing on the far side of the pond with the family, and I came walking out of the building. Anna claims (and I believe her, of course) that when Honey saw me, she perked up, and then so did the ducklings. In other words, before I had said a word or whistled, and before I even was close to the ducks, Honey recognized me from at least thirty yards away as The Feeder. Judge for yourself below; you can hear Anna talking to the camera.

I think this is true because when I came out in the dawn this morning with the food, and was at the same place, with the family at the place below, they immediately all piled into the water and headed toward their feeding spot. My ducks know me!

Early morning feeding yesterday, with the family roaming on the grass. That’s when I can give them corn. Look at the size of those ducklings!

Bathtime after noon feeding. For some reason the ducklings love to splash about in this shallow cement circle (you can see the ramp I built earlier, now submerged). Perhaps it’s because they can actually stand up in some parts of the “tub”:

There’s turtle action too, of course—if you can call it “action”—but the hard freeze apparently killed off all the koi (goldfish) that were there last year. But there are a gazillion turtles, and their place in the ecosystem is to clean up any uneaten duck food. (Anna, who’s soft on turtles, actually feeds them.) Bathtime with reptiles and their avian relatives:

Bathtime is my favorite time. Dabbling, cleaning, swimming underwater and popping up, and sometimes “zooming”, when all the ducks, without any apparent cause, swim as fast as they can across the pond.

And some portraits of Ms. Honey:

Mit Kind. The youngsters are starting to approach the appearance of Mom. I wish I could tell male from female ducklings. I’d like to have a goodly proportion of females this year.


Spot the duckling!

Duckling in the lily pads! Can you spot it? (Click photo to enlarge.) Answer at 3 pm Chicago time.

Leftists gleeful after Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant because she works for Trump

You can sense the palpable glee at HuffPo as they put this story up, as if it was just the perfect thing to do to Trump’s press secretary (click on screenshot):

Here’s the story if you haven’t yet heard it:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was just sitting down to a farm-to-table meal at The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, Friday evening when, she said, the restaurant’s owner heard she was there ― and asked her to leave.

According to Sanders, who confirmed the story in a tweet after an image from the restaurant began circulating the internet, the restaurant owner objected to her work defending President Donald Trump, who has been under fire for an immigration policy widely decried as unnecessarily cruel.

“I politely left,” the press secretary said on Twitter.

“I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so,” she added.

The restaurant’s website appeared to crash Saturday as the story went viral, and phone calls by HuffPost could not make a connection.

Owner Stephanie Wilkinson told The Washington Post that one of the chefs had called her at home to tell her Sanders was sitting in the tiny restaurant, and that the staff had concerns. Wilkinson then drove over, huddled up with her staff and asked whether they would like Sanders to leave. They said yes.

“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” Wilkinson told the Post. “I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

She said the town largely opposed Trump and noted that several of her employees are gay. In her official capacity, Sanders has defended a wide array of the president’s controversial comments and actions, including his stance on LGBTQ issues.

Wilkinson felt justified in her action because Sanders is a public official, not a regular customer with whose politics she disagreed.

. . . The owner said she and Sanders stepped outside, where Wilkinson explained that her establishment has “certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion and cooperation.”

I wonder how many customers in conservative Lexington, Virginia have been served at that restaurant who agree with Sanders, but aren’t public officials—or are even bigger bigots. Just because Sanders makes her views public—or rather, constantly defends Trump’s odious views—does she not have the right to have a meal in a restaurant without getting heaved out? How many customers who are dishonest or not compassionate have been served in that restaurant? How many bigots and Republicans have tucked into their fried chicken at The Red Hen? My guess is: a LOT.

Don’t get me wrong: I despise Sanders, whose job I see is to lie to the press and public, and defend an indefensible Presidency. And I wouldn’t invite her to my home. But if she wants a quiet meal in a restaurant without a ridiculous display of virtue signaling by the owners, is she not entitled to it? In fact, by kicking her out, I suspect Wilkinson violated the law. This is not a wedding-cake-baking case where the baker is asked to perform an act that violates his religious beliefs, though we can discuss that, too.

But we are supposed to be better than this. We are supposed to treat our opponents with civility and not humiliate them in public. I’m sorry, but this really is a case of Trump Derangement Syndrome, where people become irrational because our President is irrational.

And here are some of the other gleeful liberals who rejoiced in Sanders’s humiliation in comments at HuffPo:





The comments go on and on, nearly all of them like this. I am ashamed of my political compadres.  Even if you take issue with the government’s defense of the bakers who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding (and I now think that the law should not allow bakers to refuse this kind of service), Sanders had no part in that case. Her sole crime is working for Trump. That’s something that no person with any progressive feelings should do, but we can’t keep demonizing our enemies and rejoicing in their mistreatment. We all know where that will lead in a few years.

Trumpites and left-wing sufferers from TDS have now tried to comment pro and con on the restaurant’s Yelp page to the extent that it’s been put on hold and monitored. This is where we are as a country.

Here’s Marc Radazza’s response to other people’s glee, and I agree with it (he’s a First Amendment attorney who writes at the site Popehat). (h/t: Grania)

Yeah, I don’t want to hear you whining when a right-wing restaurant owner kicks Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders out of their establishment because they favor more liberalized immigration or abortion laws! Can you imagine the furor that the Left would raise when the Right said, “These people deserve it because of their vile and immoral politics”?


Here we go again: El Al complies with the desire of Orthodox Jews to not sit next to women

The Haredim comprise a number of sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews who adhere strictly to a religious code of conduct. The Haredi code happens to prohibit tactile contact of any sort between men and women. And so it happens that Haredim often refuse to sit next to women on planes. They might accidentally touch them! And get cooties!

As a secular Jew, I am especially embarrassed and revulsed when Jews engage in this type of ridiculous behavior. But of course few religions are exempt from irrationality. I’ve posted before on men of the Haredim refusing to sit next to women on planes, and how the airlines (including El Al, the Israeli national carrier) try to accommodate them.

What those airlines should be doing is to either heave the buggers off the plane (calling security if they have to), or require the Haredim to purchase an empty seat next to them beforehand, or sit together. El Al’s refusal to do any of this has led to successful lawsuits, like the suit by Renee Rabinowitz against El Al last year. As I reported, Rabinowitz, who was unwillingly moved at the request of a Haredi man, won a suit that got her not only money, but a promise from El Al. As I noted at the time (my emphasis):

Rabinowitz asked for 50,000 shekels (about $14,000 US) in damages, and was represented by the Israeli Religious Action Center, a legal and reform organization run by progressive Jews. El Al defended itself by saying it wasn’t discriminating against women because it would also ask a man to move if seated next to an Orthodox woman who objected to male cooties. But that’s still gender discrimination, and the judge awarded Rabinowitz 6500 shekels ($1800). More important, because El Al was found to violate Israel anti-discrimination laws, the airline agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.

Well, here we go again: Reader Alex called my attention to this article on Ynet (click on screenshot).

A passenger, Khen Rotem, wrote about it on his Facebook page (in Hebrew); the partial translation is below (my emphasis again):

“The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women.”

Rotem said one of the Haredi men, “particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight.”

“The flight crew tries to resolve the matter, but it isn’t working. The flight attendants male [sic] way to the authoritative men on board—the customer service manager and someone who appeared to be the head of the crew—who try to resolve the crisis. The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The Haredim won’t blink first. One crew member threatens: ‘If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane now.'”

Eventually, Rotem wrote, “after many minutes of negotiations, the crew gave in. And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim.

“After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved.”

This infuriates me. It’s bad enough that the men won’t sit next to women, but it’s compounded when they won’t even talk to or look at female flight attendants. What Jewish law dictates that women shouldn’t be recognized as human beings?

The article notes that other Jews on the plane, including religious ones, were rightfully disgusted by the behavior of the Haredim, that the flight was delayed for an hour and a quarter by their behavior, and that the women who were displaced weren’t even offered upgrades. The least that should have been done is put those women in first class.

And El Al’s response to Rotem is hardly satisfactory:

“Hello Khen. We apologize if any inconvenience was caused. Any discrimination of passengers is strictly forbidden. El Al’s flight attendants do all they can to provide service to a wide variety of passengers and fulfill a variety of different requests, trying to assist as much as they can. All of this is done in order to take off on time and bring the passengers to their destination according to schedule.”

This masterpiece of equivocation violates El Al’s settlement with Renee Rabinowitz, and I’ve told El Al so in two ways, via Tweet . .

(feel free to tweet to El Al USA if you have a Twitter account).

. . . and by an email to El Al customer relations in New York (customer@elal.co.il):

Dear El Al airlines:

I have read in Ynet an article describing how, on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, a group of Haredi men refused to be seated next to women, and, ultimately, your staff accommodated these men by making women move. And you didn’t even offer to upgrade the women!

This is an unconscionable action on the part of your airline, which is complicit in sex discrimination. Not only that, but it violates what your airline promised when you were sued by Renee Rabinowitz, who was likewise forced to move. Besides having to pay 6500 shekels, your airline, because it was found to violate Israeli anti-discrimination laws, “ agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.”

Well, you did move seats based on a request that violates gender. The proper move on your part would have told the Haredim to either sit in their assigned seats or be kicked off the plane. Instead, you did your best to accommodate that sexist request, resulting in a flight delay of 1.25 hours.  Do you not know how to call security to have people removed from a plane?

I am appalled by the behavior of your airline and by the actions of your staff that allowed the Haredim to discriminate against women. I would like to know if you intend to do this again. Your response to Khen Rotem was a masterpiece of dissimulation, explaining that you try to “fulfill a variety of requests” and to “bring passengers to their destination according to schedule.” No you don’t; you broke the law and your own agreement, and enabled bias and discrimination against women. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

I would appreciate a response to this email.

Yours sincerely,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
The University of Chicago

They have received the email:

By all means write to the address above if you feel so inclined. I have a feeling that if many people write to El Al, they’ll start taking this seriously. You are free to use my own email as a template.



Readers’ wildlife videos

We have three videos today, and photos will resume tomorrow with a lovely post on owls from Bruce Lyon. But today we have some really nice videos. The first two are is from Stephen Barnard, who built a nest box, affixed to his garage, for a pair of American kestrels (Falco sparverius) to nest. They took him up on the offer, and there is at least one chick (there are likely more). That chick made its first appearance on video a few days ago, and here it is. Stephen’s notes are indented, and be sure to enlarge the first two Vimeo clips.

A kestrel chick takes a first look at the world outside the nest box.

Here’s a better closeup video shot a few hours later. The chick is curious, tracking birds and something on the ground, possibly a vole or another bird. (Brewer’s Blackbirds and Western Kingbirds, among other species, inhabit the space. Poor Boris [the male kestrel] is chased away by the blackbirds every time he brings a vole.) It looks to me like the chick is training its visual system. The curious head-bobbing is, I believe, for the same reason.

Look at the huge eyes!

Rick Longworth sent a video he took of one of my favorite mammals, the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). I had a pet skunk for about 6-7 years, and the descented creature was delightful. Don’t denigrate the skunk! Rick’s notes are indented:

Last week I happened to spot movement through my west window.  Black and white. They had to be striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis).  A mom and 8 kits!  I was able to film them as the mother led them on short trips in and out of their den. Up and down the bank.  I think she was looking for a new home but couldn’t decide where to go.  The youngsters found innumerable distractions along the way.  You can ID the mother by the bit of brown in the tail.

I told Rick I liked the video, having owned one of these gorgeous mammals, and he responded:

Glad you like it.  I was tempted to sneak over close and snip away some of the vegetation for a better view.  But I was a little nervous about upsetting the mom and getting “skunked” [sprayed with noxious fluid].

Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Ceiling Cat’s Day, when all cats rest (that’s actually every day): Sunday, June 24, 2018. It’s also National Pralines Day. (Shouldn’t that be “National Praline Day”, singular?) In Scotland it”s Bannockburn Day,  celebrating Scottish independence (see below).

The ducklings are fine and VERY big. They’re also ravenous and downed a huge breakfast, slurping noisily as they ingested their duck pellets and dried worms from the water. It will be warm and sunny in Chicago today; a good day to feed and photograph waterfowl.

On June 24, 1314, the Battle of Bannockburn was won by the Scottish forces headed by Robert the Bruce in the First War of Scottish Independence. Exactly 60 years later, the people of Aachen, Germany were afflicted by an outbreak of St. John’s Dance, which, according to Wikipedia, “caused people in the streets of Aachen to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse[d] from exhaustion.” But why? This phenomenon, which recurred through the Middle Ages in several places, has always fascinated me, but we still don’t know the explanation. The Wikipedia entry under “dancing mania” says this:

Numerous hypotheses have been proposed for the causes of dancing mania, and it remains unclear whether it was a real illness or a social phenomenon. One of the most prominent theories is that victims suffered from ergot poisoning, which was known as St. Anthony’s fire in the Middle Ages. During floods and damp periods, ergots were able to grow and affect rye and other crops. Ergotism can cause hallucinations and convulsions, but cannot account for the other strange behaviour most commonly identified with dancing mania. Other theories suggest that the symptoms were similar to encephalitis, epilepsy, and typhus, but as with ergotism, those conditions cannot account for all symptoms.

Numerous sources discuss how dancing mania, and tarantism, may have simply been the result of stress and tension caused by natural disasters around the time, such as plagues and floods. Hetherington and Munro describe dancing mania as a result of “shared stress”; people may have danced to relieve themselves of the stress and poverty of the day, and in so doing, attempted to become ecstatic and see visions. Another popular theory is that the outbreaks were all staged, and the appearance of strange behaviour was due to its unfamiliarity. Religious cults may have been acting out well-organised dances.

That would have been something to see!

On June 24, 1509, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were crowned King and Queen of England. She ruled until 1533, when she was deposed after Henry became enamored of Anne Boleyn.  On this day in 1880, the first performance of O Canada, the song that would become the national anthem of that country, took place at the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français. Let’s hear the anthem of our friendly neighbors to the North:

On this day in 1948, the Soviet Union started the Berlin Blockade, making transport of goods and travel between West Germany and East impossible. That, of course, instigated the Berlin Airlift.  Exactly two years later, apartheid was formalized in South Africa by passage of the Group Areas Act. And read about British Airways Flight 9, which lost power in all four engines after flying through a cloud of volcanic ash on this day in 1982. That scared the bejeesus out of all the passengers, most of whom thought they would die for sure. Fortunately, the engines were restarted and the plane landed safely. Here’s a brief video in which a passenger on that flight describes what happened:

Finally, on this day six years ago, the last known individual of the Galápagos turtle subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii, known as “Lonesome George“, died in captivity.  He was about 102.

Notables born on  this day include Henry Ward Beecher (1813), Ambrose Bierce (1842), Jack Dempsey (1895), Fred Hoyle (1915), Jeff Beck (1944), Robert Reich (1946), Mick Fleetwood (1947), and Lionel Messi (1987; NO GOOOOOOOOOOOAL!).  Those who died on this day include Grover Cleveland (1908), Stuart Davis (1964), Jackie Gleason (1987), Paul Winchell (2005), and Eli Wallach (2014).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili plays Robert Frost:

Hili: I’ve decided.
A: What did you decide?
Hili: That this is not the right path, let’s look for another one.
In Polish:
Hili: Podjęłam decyzję.
Ja: Jaką?
Hili: To nie jest właściwa ścieżka, szukamy innej.

A tweet I found: The BBC shows how there can be such a thing as being too “woke”. This is a funny take on a “cure from wokeness” seminar:

Tweets sent by Matthew: Ziya Tong shows a lit-up frog who’s ingested a firefly:

And Tong shows how a ladybird beetle follows a line:

Poor turtles!

I’ve seen rare blooms in Death Valley, California, and they’re stunning. Here’s one in the deserts of Utah:

Look at this insect!

That’s the chill White Basket Cat (Kagonekoshiro) harboring (and ignoring) a snail:

Aposematic coloration to the max:

Use this tweet for the link; it’s a great resource:

And I name this video Tweet of the Month:


Saturday: Duck report

I’ll start with a photo from yesterday morning when the ducks were huddled on the bank in the rain. I think it’s one of the best “brood” photos I have, mainly because of the duckling at upper left of the Duck Pile sticking its bill out (click to enlarge):

It’s stopped raining here (we had quite a deluge the other day), and although it’s a bit overcast, it’s warmed up and the duck islands are above water—though still muddy. Tomorrow and Monday will be sunny and warm, so everybody should be happy.

Here’s the pond in the early morning with the family swimming about. But they’re still resting on the bank, which is more dangerous than on the duck islands, and I wish they’d move back to them. I suspect they’re waiting for the mud to dry out.

I gave them extra food today because of the cold and rain, and they’re eating ravenously. Look at these ducklings: they’re getting so big that they’re sometimes hard to tell from Mom! There’s some dabbling going on here, too.

After breakfast they again had mandatory dabbling practice. Notice that their feathers are almost grown in.

Just to remind you how fast they’ve grown, this photo is from exactly a month ago. It’ll be at least another month till they can fly.

Before the mid-morning feeding, they were huddled on the bank again, though it’s no longer cold. As usual, Honey was watching over the gang, and standing between the Pile O’ Ducklings and the entry to the area—the place where a predator might come from. She clearly knows how to position herself to protect the four copies of her genome embodied in the ducklings:

Pile O’ Ducklings (yes, there are eight in there):

I was a bit worried because Honey was standing on one leg while watching them, and I thought she might be injured, though ducks do stand that way to warm up their feet. But then I looked at yesterday’s photo, in which she was also standing on one leg, and it was the other leg. Plus she seems to be walking fine.

Notice how well she balances:

My avian inamorata, Ms. Honey, Mother of the Year:


How pterosaurs flew

Matthew Cobb called this video to my attention, and I thought it was worth putting up.  Anhanguera is a genus of flying reptile that contains three described species. They were about 1.2 meters tall (four feet) with a 4.5-meter (15-foot) wingspan, and were heavy—weighing about 23 kg (50 pounds). They lived roughly 120 million years ago. Although Wikipedia describes them as fish-eaters, the New Dinosaurs site says this:

This is one flying reptile that you may not recognize from Anhanguera pictures. That’s because this pterosaur was discovered relatively recently – as compared to other flying reptiles – and doesn’t get the media attention that pterodactyls do. Which is quite a shame because this was one remarkable creature.

. . .  its wingspan was about 3 times larger than a Crowned Eagle and its weight was about 12 times heavier than a Red-tailed Hawk. It had crests not only on top of its beak but also on the bottom.

One of the most interesting facts about Anhanguera is that it had relatively weak legs. Which means that it probably spent the majority of its time flying. If it did spend any time whatsoever on the ground, then it most likely walked with a very unusual gait and probably was a little wobbly.

Most paleontologists believe that this pterosaur used its beak to scoop up fish, but it is also possible that it hunted for carrion from dead animals that it discovered on land as well. It may have also eaten a variety of different insects as well. Which means that it may have had one of the most diverse diets of any flying reptiles of its time.

We have much of the skeleton, and reconstructions vary in external appearance, because of course we don’t have feathers. Here are two:

Here are some bones used in the reconstruction of a specimen’s skeleton (species not clear), and below that is the holotype (original specimen) skull from  A. blittersdorffi:

Skull: (lower jaw missing); note the crest near the tip of the beak:


The cool part is the video below, which was made by London’s Natural History Museum. It doesn’t name the narrator, but it sure sounds like David Attenborough to me. The single-leap takeoff is amazing:

This animal is Anhanguera, one of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs. Pterosaurs lived alongside dinosaurs, but they formed a group of their own. Pterosaurs were evolutionary cousins of dinosaurs, and shared many features of their skeletons with them. But unlike their land-dwelling cousins, they took to the air. For the first time ever, we can watch how it might have flown. This animation was made for Hold the World, a virtual reality experience set behind-the-scenes at the Museum.

Notice that what supports the wing membrane is a single digit: the elongated fourth digit, shown below. The other digits were present, as they are in the reconstruction above, but are tiny. They may have helped the creature clamber about on the ground, as shown above, or they may have been relatively useless vestiges of ancestral fingers.