Goosed again!

It turns out that TSA Precheck Status doesn’t help you when you’re flying internationally, so I had to go through the entire screening process at O’Hare: shoes and belt off, computer and liquids out of laptop, and so on. And, as usual, the See You Naked Machine found those suspect Yellow Patches on me. But this time, instead of being confined to one of my buttocks, they were on my entire lower back, both buttocks, and rear thighs.

That, of course, ensured that I got a thorough groping: not just a double goosing, but a full rubdown of my thighs, front and back, all the way from the knees to the naughty bits. Oh, and a hand swab, too.

I am stymied about why my dorsal side sets of the detectors, and, of course, don’t like the gratuitous caresses at all.

So it goes. On to Poland.


A sort of landmark to me, though of course these figures are completely arbitrary and touting them is a bit pathetic. But I’m human! Anyway, since I don’t write here for money, I might as well write to catch people’s ears.

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My avatar is, of course, Princess Hili.

Although I don’t formally follow anyone (no time!), I do emit tw**ts that aren’t just links to this site, and do retw**t things that people send me.

Discussion: Democratic and Republican conventions, elections, etc.

As I said, I didn’t watch any of either the GOP or Democratic conventions: the only thing I’ve seen is Sarah Silverman’s speech to the Dems. I already know who I’m going to vote for (Clinton), and I am not happy about that choice—but it’s infinitely better than the alternative. (I’m traveling now, so am not going to argue with those readers who demand that I acknowledge Clinton’s wonderfulness.) I didn’t feel like hearing the inane blather of Trumpish Republicans, nor did I care to watch person after person boost the tepid enthusiasm of Democrats for Clinton. But I don’t fault those who did watch the conventions. To each their own.

This post is designed, as I’m on the road, to allow readers to discuss their take on the conventions, the elections, or anything else related to politics. And be nice: remember that the Roolz prohibit comments from calling each other names.

Talk in Poland

My arm was twisted by some genial Polish academics, so I’ll be giving one talk when I’m in Poland. Unless you’re in or near the ancient city of Poznań, you can ignore the rest of this.

The announcement in Polish is here, and here’s the relevant part of the English translation. (“UAM” stands for Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, where I’ll talk):

August 8, 2016, the Department of Biology, UAM will host Prof. Jerry Coyne, a world-renowned evolutionary biologist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. Prof. Coyne will give a lecture (in English) on Friday: “Evolution and atheism: the best of friends.” Welcome at the hour of 11.00 to the Small Hall of the Faculty of Biology, Adam Mickiewicz University, ul. Umultowska 89 in Poznan.

Poland, of course, is a very religious country, but I am assured by my hosts that a). I will not be shot, and b). I will get some good Polish food. What a twofer!


Do Muslim inventions and innovations validate or exculpate Islam?

I’ve noticed that all the clickbait sites are starting to converge on HuffPo, with headlines like “Ten genius hacks for discarded corncobs,” “KimK throws shade on TSwift,” “Amy Schumer has an important message for haters,” and so on. Looking at a piece on BuzzFeed (about cats, of course), I noticed that it was barely distinguishable from HuffPo. And, of course, all these sites are Authoritarian Left, which I find depressing. Better to read Quillette, which has substance, serious, non-kneejerk thought, and no fluff.

A reader called my attention to a similar piece on the website Good: “Islamophobe on Tumblr gets completely owned“, which is in the Authoritarian Left genre (viz., “owned”, meaning “demolished”), but also factually dubious. It begins with a provocative picture of the pre-9/11 World Trade Center, which would indeed be standing without Islamist terrorism. But it’s an image that I wouldn’t use because it does promote bigotry:


In that sense the meme is “Muslimophobic.” But to refute it, the author, Todd Perry, reproduced a list, posted by Tumblr user “whatpathall”, of the innovations in our world that wouldn’t exist without Muslims. That’s a decent tactic in principle, but oy, the things he lists! To wit:

Yes, lets imagine a world WITHOUT MUSLIMS, shall we?

Without Muslims you wouldn’t have:

Experimental Physics
Crank-shaft, internal combustion engine, valves, pistons
Combination locks
Architectural innovation (pointed arch -European Gothic cathedrals adopted this technique as it made the building much stronger, rose windows, dome buildings, round towers, etc.)
Surgical instruments
Treatment of Cowpox
Fountain pen
Numbering system
Modern Cryptology
3 course meal (soup, meat/fish, fruit/nuts)
Crystal glasses
Gardens used for beauty and meditation instead of for herbs and kitchen.
Mariner’s Compass
Soft drinks
Plastic surgery
Manufacturing of paper and cloth

I’m not going to examine every one of these claims, but there are three things wrong with such a list in principle. The two most important are these. First, Islamic doctrine had absolutely nothing to do with any such inventions or discoveries, and that’s the doctrine that the invidious meme above is directed at. Second, even if all these things did come from Muslims (they didn’t), that does nothing to buttress or validate the tenets of Islam, which are based on the fictitious story of a dictation by an angel (prompted by Allah) to an illiterate merchant.  So one can criticize Islamic doctrine, especially the hateful and xenophobic bits, and still recognize that Muslims made contributions to society. After all, many of us criticize Christianity and its subspecies Catholicism, but of course Christians have made tons of contributions to the world, few of which had anything to do with Christianity itself. And those contributions don’t do anything to establish the truth of Scripture.

Finally, of course, even if Muslims hadn’t invented some of this stuff, other people would have invented it anyway. Rarely are inventions one-off things that wouldn’t exist if their inventors hadn’t lived. That’s one of the points that Matt Ridley made in his new book The Evolution of Everything: How Ideas Emerge. (I criticized that book in the Times Literary Supplement, but some of Ridley’s claims, like the parallelism of inventions like the light bulb, were correct.) It’s just wrong to say that “If Muslims hadn’t existed, we wouldn’t have inventions X, Y, or Z.”

The list above is impressive, and indeed, lots of the stuff mentioned was either devised by Muslims (fountain pens) or promulgated by them after discovery by non-Muslims (coffee). But I was dubious about many of these claims, for we have to remember that Islam didn’t exist till the late sixth and early seventh centuries A.D. A few minutes on the Internet showed that the following items were almost certainly not devised by Muslims (I didn’t check everything, of course): numbering systems (devised by Greeks Romans, Egyptians, and, in our modern form, Hindus); toothbrushes (Chinese, Romans, Greeks); bathing (Greece, ancient India); Braille (invented by Louis Braille in the 19th century, though a blind 14th-century Muslim, Ali Ibn Ahmed Al Amidi, had a personal system for organizing his books); calligraphy (early Christians, ancient Chinese and Indians); manufacture of paper (Chinese), vaccination against cowpox (China and India, roughly 11th century), and so on. Readers are welcome to check other claims themselves. I’m pretty sure you’ll find many dubious ones.

But remember, even the true claims don’t do anything to validate the tenets of Islam or render them immune from criticism. What my rudimentary fact-checking shows is that the author didn’t do a very good job, and this article should never have been published.

But wait! There’s more! The Tumblr user added these:

It was a Muslim who realized that light ENTERS our eyes, unlike the Greeks who thought we EMITTED rays, and so invented a camera from this discovery.

It was a Muslim who first tried to FLY in 852, even though it is the Wright Brothers who have taken the credit.

It was a Muslim by the name of Jabir ibn Hayyan who was known as the founder of modern Chemistry. He transformed alchemy into chemistry. He invented: distillation, purification, oxidation, evaporation, and filtration. He also discovered sulfuric and nitric acid.

It is a Muslim, by the name of Al-Jazari who is known as the father of robotics.

It was a Muslim who was the architect for Henry V’s castle.

It was a Muslim who invented hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes, a technique still used today.

It was a Muslim who actually discovered inoculation, not Jenner and Pasteur to treat cowpox. The West just brought it over from Turkey

It was Muslims who contributed much to mathematics like Algebra and Trigonometry, which was imported over to Europe 300 years later to Fibonnaci and the rest.

It was Muslims who discovered that the Earth was round 500 years before Galileo did.

The list goes on…

Okay, I’m not going to check all of these. In fact I looked at just two that stood out: flying and the idea of a round earth. The claim that both came from Muslims is dead wrong.

Flight. “whatpath” is probably referring to Abba ibn Firnas, a Moorish Muslim about whom Wikipedia says this:

Some seven centuries after the death of Firnas, the Moroccan historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari (d. 1632) wrote a description of Firnas that included the following:

Among other very curious experiments which he made, one is his trying to fly. He covered himself with feathers for the purpose, attached a couple of wings to his body, and, getting on an eminence, flung himself down into the air, when according to the testimony of several trustworthy writers who witnessed the performance, he flew a considerable distance, as if he had been a bird, but, in alighting again on the place whence he had started, his back was very much hurt, for not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one.

Al-Maqqari is said to have used in his history works “many early sources no longer extant”, but in the case of Firnas, he does not cite his sources for the details of the reputed flight, though he does claim that one verse in a 9th-century Arab poem is actually an allusion to Firnas’s flight. The poem was written by Mu’min ibn Said, a court poet of Córdoba under Muhammad I (d. 886), who was acquainted with and usually critical of Ibn Firnas. The pertinent verse runs: “He flew faster than the phoenix in his flight when he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture.” No other surviving sources refer to the event.

It has been suggested that Ibn Firnas’s attempt at glider flight might have inspired the attempt by Eilmer of Malmesbury between 1000 and 1010 in England, but there is no evidence supporting this hypothesis.

If you want to take that as an antecedent to the Wright Brothers, be my guest!

Round earth: the roundness of the earth was in fact known to the ancient Greeks in the third century B.C., with the classic (and remarkably accurate) measurement of the Earth’s circumference made by Eratosthenes in Egypt. Islam did not exist then.

Again, readers are welcome to check the other claims for themselves. This is not, as I said, to denigrate the contributions made by ancient Islamic scholars, but to criticize the idea that those somehow validate Islamic beliefs or refute the claim that modern terrorism has been largely inspired by extremist Islam.

Readers’ wildlife photographs

I’m off to Poland, so if you have wildlife photos to send, please do it beginning Saturday, after I’m settled. Today we have some avifauna from reader Karen Bartelt.

High Cliff State Park, near Appleton, WI, has become a favorite place to visit.  We camped there for three days in late July. The first night, we heard noises resembling a hiss mixed with a screech.  It was dark, but I saw the outline of an owl.  The sound matched that of a northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), according to Cornell’s Merlin bird app.  Great, I thought.
The sounds persisted all night.  At first light, I found the owls.  Surprise—barred owls (Strix varia).  Barred owls live in our backyard, making the familiar “Who cooks for you?” call. [JAC: see below.]  I heard one last night, in fact.  I’ve never heard the hissy-screechy call before. [JAC: go here to hear that, clicking on the “fledgling begging call.”] However, a bit of extra research indicated that these were probably large juveniles, begging for food from their parents.  We only saw two of them, but other campers reported seeing three. The first two photos are at first light; the third was about 10am when the owl was napping closer to the ground. We were so fortunate to experience these birds because they were gone by that evening.
JAC: Here’s a video of a barred owl giving the “who cooks for you?” call, though it doesn’t sound much like that to me!

The other photos show a green heron (Butorides striatus) as it waits, pounces, comes up with a crayfish, and gulps it down.  We watched the bird for about 20 minutes.  It was very focused!

Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s Thursday, July 28, which makes it the day I fly to Poland. By this evening I’ll be heading east, hoping that I won’t be an honoree at another holiday today: World Hepatitis Day. Tomorrow’s Hili dialogue will be brought to you by Grania.

On this day in 1794, Robespierre was hoist by his own petard, which happened to be the guillotine. He was executed with two broken legs and a shattered jaw, the result of a suicide attempt. In 1821, Peru declared independence from Spain. On this day in 1973, the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, New York took place, reportedly the largest rock concert in history (600,000 hippies). I was there with two friends, and heard the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and the Band; it was a fantastic experience though I’m still sad that I didn’t make it to Woodstock.

Notables born on this day include Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844), Beatrix Potter (1866), Karl Popper (1902), and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929♥). Those who died on this day include (besides Robespierre), Johann Sebastian Bach (1750), Otto Hahn (1968), Roger Tory Peterson (1968), Francis Crick (2004), and Eileen Brennan (2013), who gave a great performance as the gruff but softhearted waitress Genevieve in The Last Picture Show. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is showing the usual cat ambivalence:

Hili: I don’t know whether or not to go for a walk with you.
A: Toss a coin.
Hili: It’s not a feline tradition.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie wiem, czy iść z wami na spacer?
Ja: Rzuć monetą.
Hili: To nie jest kocia tradycja.
I will see Hili tomorrow! And, as lagniappe, I have put below the World’s Cutest Kitten, which I named after seeing all 151,277,366 kitten pictures on the Internet:

Trump just lost any chance he had to be President

Donald Trump has recovered from many missteps, but he’s just made one that, I think, is fatal. I refer, of course, to his call that Russia should get hold of Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails and give them to the United States press. See below:

This is, of course, a call for either espionage or the handing over of material obtained already by espionage. And it’s unprecedented.

Now Trump, clueless and ignorant as he is, may be conflating Clinton’s personal-server emails with the Democratic National Committee emails released by Wikileaks, which were probably obtained by Russian hackers and perhaps by Russian government hackers. As his erstwhile ghostwriter says, Trump has zero attention span and may simply be confused.

Regardless, this is an extraordinarily stupid thing to say, and of course the Democrats will make bales of hay out of it tonight.  Even Mike Pence, Trump’s vice-presidential pick, said that releasing illegally obtained emails is a serious matter. Republicans, probably in a state of shock upon realizing who they’ve chosen, have said very little.

My take: although I’ve always thought that Trump wouldn’t win the Presidency, now I’m absolutely sure of it. He won’t recover from this one. Even if he’s leading in some polls, the Democrats will surely get a post-convention bounce.

And, if any of you still think Trump can or will win, please contact me, as I’m willing to bet you good money that he won’t. That’s a bet you can’t lose, because anybody reading this site will be glad to pay off a bet if Trump loses!

“I’ll follow the sun”

Reader Su called my attention to this lovely time-lapse video of cats following sunlight. Two hypotheses arise: 1. Cats like sitting in the sun, or 2. Cats require solar power to live. Which is it?

Unlike the music accompanying most cat videos, I like this music.

And if I’ve posted this before, which is entirely possible (the site started in January 2009), don’t remind me!

Book on bees of the world has a mimetic fly on the cover – update

Matthew Cobb, who does social media, called my attention to a post today by environmentalist and writer Brigid Strawbridge; it’s about a book on the world’s bees. Here it is. Notice anything strange? Hint: count the wings:


Bees, in the order Hymenoptera, have four wings, like this:


What we see above on the cover of Bees of the World, an authoritative reference book, is a  fly: a hoverfly—or “syrphid”—to be exact. Strawbridge’s post points this out, and explains why the authors might have made the error.

Hoverflies are in the order Diptera, which means “two wings”; and of course all flies, like the one on the cover, have two wings. I’m not sure how this slipped past the authors, but one reason is that these hoverflies are Batesian mimics: harmless flies that have evolved to resemble an insect (a bee in this case) avoided by predators.  Many species of syrphids, as Matthew Cobb pointed out in an earlier post, mimic bees and wasps. Here’s a big group of syrphids that are Batesian mimics. The one on the upper left is especially convincing. And, as Matthew pointed out, syrphids can mimic the behavior of hymenoptera as well, further deluding potential predators.


When Brigit pointed out the embarrassing cover illustration in her post, she added this:

However, the internet is awash with wonderful, well researched, articles about bees that have been illustrated with photographs of hoverflies.

She goes on to explain Batesian mimicry, but since I’ve done that here several times before, I’m sure you all understand it.

h/t: Michael

UPDATE: There’s undoubtedly a name for the taxonomic version of the well known phenomenon of someone complaining about a typo or some other error, and including an error of their own. We – and Brigit Strawbridge – are guilty of exactly this error. For, as pointed out in the comments below and on Twitter by Morgan Jackson, the fly on the cover of the Bee book is *not* a hoverfly. It’s a muscid, and is NOT a mimic, as close inspection reveals. Nostra culpa. That having been said, many media outlets do indeed illustrate articles about bees and wasps with pictures of hoverflies. And while that is annoying to taxonomists (almost as annoying as mixing up a muscid and a syrphid), and can be used to tut-tut at the ignorance of photo editors and journalists, it also underlines the fact that these are often amazing mimics, which can fool a lot of the people, a lot of the time. – MC, p.p. PCC(E)


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