Is the religiosity of the Right driving the secularization of the Left?

In this piece from last Wednesday, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux in Five Thirty Eight (henceforth “538”) discusses the increasing religious nonbelief of liberals, as opposed to that of conservatives or moderates. (Click on screenshot to read.)

There’s little doubt that liberals are losing their faith (or not taking up faith) at a higher rate than are other political groups, as you can see from this graph:

And, as a group, the more liberal you are, the more likely you are to be a “none”: those people unaffiliated with a religion or church. (Note: nones can believe in God, though many don’t.) As 538 notes:

As recently as the early 1990s, less than 10 percent of Americans lacked a formal religious affiliation, and liberals weren’t all that much likelier to be nonreligious than the public overall. Today, however, nearly one in four Americans are religiously unaffiliated. That includes almost 40 percent of liberals — up from 12 percent in 1990, according to the 2018 General Social Survey. The share of conservatives and moderates who have no religion, meanwhile, has risen less dramatically.

Other statistics quoted by Thomson-DeVeaux:

  • ” . . . since 1990, the share of liberals who never attend religious services has tripled. And they’re less likely to believe in God: The percentage of liberals who say they know God exists fell from 53 percent in 1991 to 36 percent in 2018.”
  • “. . . views about religion and its role in American society have become increasingly polarized. According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of liberals who believe that churches and religious organizations positively contribute to society dropped from nearly half (49 percent) in 2010 to only one-third (33 percent) today. And according to 2016 data from the Voter Study Group, only 11 percent of people who are very liberal say that being Christian is at least fairly important to what it means to be American — compared to 69 percent of people who identify as very conservative.”

This difference, and the trend, are facts that have been documented before. There are two questions, however: why the connection between political ideology and religiosity?, and “why are liberals becoming secular faster than those adhering to other ideologies?” While Thomson-DeVeaux doesn’t answer the former, I’m not sure that her answer to the latter question is correct.

What’s her explanation? That as the Right becomes increasingly religious, and its political stands increasingly bound up with Christian dictates, it’s driving people (especially young people) to the Left. And that may be true, at least in part. But the evidence adduced by 538 to support this claim isn’t very convincing. Here it is:

1.)  Thomson-DeVeaux says this:

For one thing, the timing made sense. In the 1990s, white evangelical Protestants were becoming more politically powerful and visible within conservative politics. As white evangelical Protestants became an increasingly important constituency for the GOP, the Christian conservative political agenda — focused primarily on issues of sexual morality, including opposition to gay marriage and abortion — became an integral part of the the party’s pitch to voters, but it was still framed as part of an existential struggle to protect the country’s religious foundation from incursions by the secular left. Hout and Fischer argued that the Christian right hadn’t just roused religious voters from their political slumber — left-leaning people with weaker religious ties also started opting out of religion because they disliked Christian conservatives’ social agenda.

Yes, but a temporal correlation is not a causation. Perhaps the causes were reversed: the Right became more Christianized as a reaction to what they saw as an increasing secularization of America—a trend that is pervasive not just in the U.S. but in the West as a whole. I think secularization is inevitable given the rise of science, the spread of education, and the lack of evidence for religious claims that, in earlier times, seemed to be the only explanations for phenomena now seen to be purely naturalistic.

2.) More from the article:

But within the past few years, [Michele] Margolis and several other prominent political scientists have concluded that politics is a driving factor behind the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. For one thing, several studies that followed respondents over time showed that it wasn’t that people were generally becoming more secular, and then gravitating toward liberal politics because it fit with their new religious identity. People’s political identities remained constant as their religious affiliation shifted.

Yes, but the question is why their religious affiliation has shifted. Young people throughout the West are becoming more secular, and it can’t always be in reaction to Right-wing religiosity.  As The Washington Post reported in 2016, exactly 0% of young Icelanders believe that God created the Earth, and the secularization of that nation is increasing very quickly:

But this can’t be due to a reaction against the Right, as Icelandic politics are in general progressive, and I could find no evidence that the more conservative politicians are increasingly embracing religion. I think it’s far more likely that Bjarni Jonsson is correct when he says:

“Secularization [in Iceland] has occurred very quickly, especially among younger people,” said Bjarni Jonsson, the managing director of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, an atheist nongovernmental organization. “With increased education and broad-mindedness, change can occur quickly.”

3.) Finally, here’s the only “telling” evidence supporting 538’s hypothesis:

Other research showed that the blend of religious activism and Republican politics likely played a significant role in increasing the number of religiously unaffiliated people. One study, for instance, found that something as simple as reading a news story about a Republican who spoke in a church could actually prompt some Democrats to say they were nonreligious. “It’s like an allergic reaction to the mixture of Republican politics and religion,” said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame and one of the study’s co-authors.

The first paper (pdf here)says this:

Rising none rates are more common in Republican states in this period [2000-2010]. Moreover, when the Christian Right comes into more public conflict, such as over same-sex marriage bans, the rate of religious nones climbs.

So yes, the greater the religiosity of a state, the faster the rise of the nones, but while this provides a modicum of support for Thomson-DeVeaux’s hypothesis, it doesn’t explain why the rise of secularism is higher among liberals than among more conservative groups. (I’m not rejecting her hypothesis, but arguing that the evidence is not very strong, and there could be other factors as well.

As for reading the news story—a classical undergraduate psychological “prompting” experiment—this is a short-term effect, and I’m wary of what this kind of study means. After all, one such study showed that after reading a “no free will” prompt, undergraduates cheated more often in an immediate psychological test. That led the authors, and many others, to claim that promulgating the doctrine of determinism would lead to society’s downfall. But at least two attempts to replicate that study, using identical methods, gave no result, and another study gave the opposite result. And really, is an effect that lasts ten minutes going to last a lifetime?

So while Thomson-DeVeaux might be partially correct in her “liberals become secular as conservatives cling to God” hypothesis, it’s likely not as simple as that.

The article concludes by suggesting that, in fact, this religious polarization of the electorate is a bad thing for Democrats, as it hurts that party’s need to collect religious voters, and also tends to polarize politics as a whole:

The political implications of this shift are already evident. As more liberals become nonreligious, the Democratic Party’s base is growing more secular, complicating the party’s efforts at reaching more religious voters.

. . . But [David] Campbell warned that this shift is already reducing churches’ ability to bring a diverse array of people together and break down partisan barriers. That, in his view, threatens to further undermine trust in religious groups and make our politics more and more divisive. “We have very few institutions left in the country where people who have different political views come together,” he said. “Worship was one of those — and without it, the list is smaller and smaller.”

My feeling about that: meh.  The Democrats are hardly touting their secularism and/or atheism; in fact, given the bad odor attached to nonbelievers in this country, Dems tend to avoid saying anything about their faith unless they’re already religious, like Pete Buttigieg.

Do we really want to pretend to believe in God so that we can herd believers into the Democratic party, or to reduce the polarization of American politics? We can for sure become more conciliatory, treating our opponents with more politeness and seeking consensus on issues that don’t involve religion. And we don’t have to proclaim our atheism when it’s not relevant. But we are nonbelievers and nones, and we’ve become that way not just because Republicans embrace superstitions, but because there’s no evidence for those superstitions.

h/t: Barry



Readers’ wildlife photos

Send those photos in, folks! I can always use more.

Reader Ralph Burgess sent some swell photos from Kruger National Park, a place I hope to visit one day. His notes are indented below:

As requested, a selection here, all from the past couple of weeks in Kruger NP.  I’ve eschewed the more conventional iconic shots of lion, elephant, buffalo – I think these are some more interesting ones.

Tawny Eagles (Aquila rapax).  I initially saw just the bird on the left munching on a kill, right at the limit of my lens.  Just as my aging eyes managed to get him in focus, a second eagle came in to try to steal his lunch, and he launched.
Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus). These stunning birds are common in Kruger.
Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta).  As I mentioned, I’d like to make a case for you to elevate the Spotted Hyena to honorary cat status. They are phylogenetically closer to cats than dogs, although some elements of morphology and niche are convergent with canines.  Their traditional negative reputation in both African and Western culture is undeserved.  They were notably curious and endearing animals when encountered in Kruger.  They are highly intelligent with complex social structure.  They are not primarily scavengers, and certainly not cowardly – they will try to fight off lions to protect their own kills.  The mother in the first picture had raised several litters in a culvert, pups of various ages were present.  The second picture shows an elder sibling playing at being a parent, grabbing his straying baby brother by the scruff of the neck to bring him back to safety.  The last Hyena picture shows a different animal with a fresh impala kill.

White-backed vultures (Gyps africanus). There was a lot more going on here than just the traditional vulture silhouette photo.   There was a snoozing pride of lions hidden close in the grass, probably protecting a recent kill, since the birds were actively moving from perch to perch trying for the best spot to monitor them.   I caught a moment when several birds were in flight switching position.   And I like the way the dry grass looks like the fires of hell beneath them.
Kruger is probably the best place in the world for leopard (Panthera pardus) sightings.  The first is a male spraying.  The second shows a smaller female trying to stop her impala kill falling out of the tree.

Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus), two modes of transport.  The first shows a miserable juvenile clinging on in the rain.  The second shows a baby small enough to ride underneath, with en route refreshments conveniently located.   

Sunday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

We have but one more day until summer goes away: it’s now Sunday, September 22, 2019, and National Ice Cream Cone Day. It’s also Daughter’s Day (note misplaced apostrophe: we’re not celebrating a single daughter), National Hobbit Day (although The Hobbit was first published on September 21), National Girls’ Night In Day, and National Elephant Appreciation Day (though there are no wild elephants in the U.S.)

Today’s Google Doodle is a gif that, if you click on it, goes to a number of sites about Junko Tabei, a Japanese woman and the first of her sex to climb Mount Everest, accomplishing the feat in 1975. But she also climbed the “Seven Summits”: the highest mountain on each continent, shown in this animation.

Here she is in action:


Stuff that happened on September 22 includes:

As Wikipedia notes, Jonson got off easy:

Tried on a charge of manslaughter, Jonson pleaded guilty but was released by benefit of clergy, a legal ploy through which he gained leniency by reciting a brief bible verse (the neck-verse), forfeiting his ‘goods and chattels’ and being branded on his left thumb.

  • 1692 – The last hanging of those convicted of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials; others are all eventually released.
  • 1823 – Joseph Smith claims to have found the golden plates after being directed by God through the Angel Moroni to the place where they were buried.
  • 1888 – The first issue of National Geographic Magazine is published.
  • 1896 – Queen Victoria surpasses her grandfather King George III as the longest reigning monarch in British history.
  • 1927 – Jack Dempsey loses the “Long Count” boxing match to Gene Tunney.

Tunney eventually won, though he might have lost had Dempsey been aware of the rule to go to a neutral corner after a knockdown. Here’s a video of the infamous “long count” (supposed to be ten seconds):

  • 1975 – Sara Jane Moore tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford, but is foiled by the Secret Service.
  • 1979 – A bright flash, resembling the detonation of a nuclear weapon, is observed near the Prince Edward Islands. Its cause is never determined.
  • 1980 – Iraq invades Iran.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1515 – Anne of Cleves (d. 1557)
  • 1791 – Michael Faraday, English physicist and chemist (d. 1867)
  • 1901 – Nadezhda Alliluyeva, second wife of Joseph Stalin (d. 1932)
  • 1902 – John Houseman, Romanian-American actor and producer (d. 1988)

Housemen, born in Romania and originally named Jacques Haussmann, acquired his English accent through education. He’s perhaps most famous for the role of the stern law professor Charles W. Kingsfield in the movie The Paper Chase (1973), also starring Timothy Bottoms and Lindsay Wagner. My favorite scene is in the trailer below, where, at Harvard Law School,  Kingsfield gives Hart a dime and tells him to call his mother. (Go here for a real law professor’s take on the accuracy of the movie.)

  • 1932 – Ingemar Johansson, Swedish boxer (d. 2009)
  • 1956 – Debby Boone, American singer, actress, and author
  • 1958 – Andrea Bocelli, Italian singer-songwriter and producer
  • 1959 – Saul Perlmutter, American astrophysicist, astronomer, and academic, Nobel Prize Laureate

“Time to Say Goodbye” (“Con ti partirò“) is Bocelli’s most famous song, and, as one of the best-selling songs of all time, has become somewhat of a cliché. But I still love it, and here’s his rendition (another famous rendition is a duet with Sarah Brightman, a great version of which you can hear here):

Those who bought the farm on September 22 include:

  • 1554 – Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, Spanish explorer (b. 1510)
  • 1776 – Nathan Hale, American soldier (b. 1755)
  • 1777 – John Bartram, American botanist and explorer (b. 1699)
  • 1828 – Shaka Zulu, Zulu chieftain and monarch of the Zulu Kingdom (b. 1787)
  • 1961 – Marion Davies, American actress and comedian (b. 1897)
  • 2001 – Isaac Stern, Polish-Ukrainian violinist and conductor (b. 1920)
  • 2010 – Eddie Fisher, American singer (b. 1928)
  • 2015 – Yogi Berra, American baseball player, coach, and manager (b. 1925)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is investigating a vole hole:

Hili: This black hole is swallowing everything.
A: You are exaggerating.
Hili: Well, everything that’s interesting.
In Polish:
Hili: Ta czarna dziura pochłania wszystko.
Ja: Przesadzasz.
Hili: Wszystko to, co jest interesujące.

And in Wloclawek, Leon, riding on Elzibeta’s shoulders, doesn’t say a word. I had to make up the Leon monologue.

Leon: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Malgorzata’s translation: Jeśli widziałem dalej, to dlatego, że stałem na ramionach olbrzymów.

From Amazing Things, a cryptic Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa). Photo: @AlanMurphyphotography. Since I can’t imagine much preys on these creatures, perhaps the crypsis hides it from prey.

Another owl from Amazing Things; it’s the Pic of the day by: @Elena Mikhaylova. I love this photo:

From Stash Krod. There’s one design flaw with this apparatus. . .

I will put up, over the next few weeks, tweets that Grania herself tweeted. First, Grania’s header:

Then, the last thing she posted:

From gravelinspector:

Two tweets from Heather Hastie:

Her caption: “Just for the pleasure of hearing a cat purr”:

Tweets from Matthew. Guess what this first one is? A SPIDER!

Matthew says, “Big snake!” Indeed. Go to the story to read about the snake, a green anaconda, and I’ve put the video below:

From Wikipedia:
The green anaconda[Eunectes murinus] is the world’s heaviest and one of the world’s longest snakes, coming to 5.21 m (17.1 ft) long. More typical mature specimens reportedly can range up to 5 m (16.4 ft), with the females, around a mean length of 4.6 m (15.1 ft), being generally much larger in adulthood than the males, which average around 3 m (9.8 ft).  Weights are less well studied, though reportedly range from 30 to 70 kg (66 to 154 lb) in a typical adult.


Photos of readers

Send your photos, in please (2 max); I have a decent number but there are a lot of subscribers.

Today’s reader is Loren Parfitt from Vancouver, and his notes are indented (cat photo is lagniappe):

I have been following your blog since 2014.  I am an atheist, likely for my whole life (haha I cant remember all the way back).  I love cats and kiteboarding.  I live in Squamish, BC Canada, which is a small town north of Vancouver.  It is a pretty amazing spot surrounded by nature.  We regularly see bears, eagles, seals and sea lions.  This year I had the pleasure to see a couple of Orcas while on the water kiting!  It was a little nerve-racking but an incredible experience.

Here is a picture from the King of the Air competition that I went to in Cape Town in February.  It was an incredible event in a beautiful spot. [JAC: Loren is in foreground; it’s a selfie]

Here is a picture of me kiting at the Squamish spit,  an old river training dyke that we use as our launching spot for the Squamish Windsports Society.  As you can see the spot is surrounded by mountains, which makes for a gorgeous backdrop.  Because the ocean temperature is colder than the land in the summer, we get wind almost every day.  The chief (granite monolith to the right in the picture below) and another mountain range to the left (which you can’t see) create a Venturi effect that guarantees strong winds most sunny days.
I kite every day I can in the summer time, so I end up spending a lot of my time at this spot.
PS Here is my cat Goku.  He is a silver tabby that I got from the SPCA in 2012. [JAC: Look at that fur!]


Postmodernism explained—and criticized

The title of this 2017 article in Areo by Helen Pluckrose (also editor of the site) pulls no punches, and the piece is well worth reading—unlike the tedious and impenetrable lucubrations of the postmodernists themselves. Pluckrose not only explained postmodernism clearly—well, as clearly as one can—but also outlined the dangers it poses to academic education in sciences and humanities, to society at large, and then suggested a way to combat it. Click the screenshot to read:

I’ll give just three quotes (indented) from Helen on the topics above, but I recommend you read the whole thing. The headers are mine, and any comments of mine are flush left.

What is the gist of postmodernism?

Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida are just three of the “founding fathers” of postmodernism but their ideas share common themes with other influential “theorists” and were taken up by later postmodernists who applied them to an increasingly diverse range of disciplines within the social sciences and humanities. We’ve seen that this includes an intense sensitivity to language on the level of the word and a feeling that what the speaker means is less important than how it is received, no matter how radical the interpretation. Shared humanity and individuality are essentially illusions and people are propagators or victims of discourses depending on their social position; a position which is dependent on identity far more than their individual engagement with society. Morality is culturally relative, as is reality itself. Empirical evidence is suspect and so are any culturally dominant ideas including science, reason, and universal liberalism. These are Enlightenment values which are naïve, totalizing and oppressive, and there is a moral necessity to smash them. Far more important is the lived experience, narratives and beliefs of “marginalized” groups all of which are equally “true” but must now be privileged over Enlightenment values to reverse an oppressive, unjust and entirely arbitrary social construction of reality, morality and knowledge.

What are the dangers of postmodernism to science education? (Helen says, correctly, that science will go on, practiced in the future as it has been in the past, but how it is seen by people will be severely corroded by postmodernism.)

How much of a threat is postmodernism to science? There are certainly some external attacks. In the recent protests against a talk given by Charles Murray at Middlebury, the protesters chanted, as one,

“Science has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state. In this world today, there is little that is true ‘fact.’”[9]

When the organizers of the March for Science tweeted:

“colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues,”[10]

many scientists immediately criticized this politicization of science and derailment of the focus on preservation of science to intersectional ideology. In South Africa, the #ScienceMustFall and #DecolonizeScience progressive student movement announced that science was only one way of knowing that people had been taught to accept. They suggested witchcraft as one alternative. [11]

I remember the first quote, which made me cringe, and is one of the reasons I was not a big fan of the March for Science, which appears, by the way, to have accomplished nothing.  The issues mentioned are political and moral issues, not scientific ones in the sense that they cannot be decided by empirical observation. That doesn’t mean they’re not important issues—just not scientific issues, though they can be informed by empirical study. As for “other ways of knowing”, I discuss that at length in Chapter 4 of Faith Versus Fact, and conclude that there are no valid ways of knowing other than the empirical approach that I call “science construed broadly.” Certainly witchcraft, revelation, religion, art, and “feelings” are not ways of knowing.

What are the dangers of postmodernism to the humanities? 

The social sciences and humanities, however, are in danger of changing out of all recognition. Some disciplines within the social sciences already have. Cultural anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and gender studies, for example, have succumbed almost entirely not only to moral relativism but epistemic relativism. English (literature) too, in my experience, is teaching a thoroughly postmodern orthodoxy. Philosophy, as we have seen, is divided. So is history.

Empirical historians are often criticized by the postmodernists among us for claiming to know what really happened in the past. Christopher Butler recalls Diane Purkiss’ accusation that Keith Thomas was enabling a myth that grounded men’s historical identity in “the powerlessness and speechlessness of women” when he provided evidence that accused witches were usually powerless beggar women. Presumably, he should have claimed, against the evidence, that they were wealthy women or better still, men. As Butler says,

“It seems as though Thomas’s empirical claims here have simply run foul of Purkiss’s rival organizing principle for historical narrative – that it should be used to support contemporary notions of female empowerment” (p36)

I encountered the same problem when trying to write about race and gender at the turn of the seventeenth century. I’d argued that Shakespeare’s audience’s would not have found Desdemona’s attraction to Black Othello, who was Christian and a soldier for Venice, so difficult to understand because prejudice against skin color did not become prevalent until a little later in the seventeenth century when the Atlantic Slave Trade gained steam, and that religious and national differences were far more profound before that. I was told this was problematic by an eminent professor and asked how Black communities in contemporary America would feel about my claim. If today’s African Americans felt badly about it, it was implied, it either could not have been true in the seventeenth century or it is morally wrong to mention it.

What are the dangers of postmodernism to society? Pluckrose floats the idea that if there is no such thing as “objective fact”, a view originated by Leftist philosophers, it can be (and has been) adopted by the Right as well.

The dangers of postmodernism are not limited to pockets of society which center around academia and Social Justice, however. Relativist ideas, sensitivity to language and focus on identity over humanity or individuality have gained dominance in wider society. It is much easier to say what you feel than rigorously examine the evidence. The freedom to “interpret” reality according to one’s own values feeds into the very human tendency towards confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.

It has become commonplace to note that the far-Right is now using identity politics and epistemic relativism in a very similar way to the postmodern-Left. Of course, elements of the far-Right have always been divisive on the grounds of race, gender and sexuality and prone to irrational and anti-science views but postmodernism has produced a culture more widely receptive to this. Kenan Malik describes this shift,

“When I suggested earlier that the idea of ‘alternative facts’ draws upon ‘a set of concepts that in recent decades have been used by radicals’, I was not suggesting that Kellyanne Conway, or Steve Bannon, still less Donald Trump, have been reading up on Foucault or Baudrillard… It is rather that sections of academia and of the left have in recent decades helped create a culture in which relativized views of facts and knowledge seem untroubling, and hence made it easier for the reactionary right not just to re-appropriate but also to promote reactionary ideas.”[12]

What is to be done?

In order to regain credibility, the Left needs to recover a strong, coherent and reasonable liberalism. To do this, we need to out-discourse the postmodern-Left. We need to meet their oppositions, divisions and hierarchies with universal principles of freedom, equality and justice. There must be a consistency of liberal principles in opposition to all attempts to evaluate or limit people by race, gender or sexuality. We must address concerns about immigration, globalism and authoritarian identity politics currently empowering the far-Right rather than calling people who express them “racist,” “sexist” or “homophobic” and accusing them of wanting to commit verbal violence. We can do this whilst continuing to oppose authoritarian factions of the Right who genuinely are racist, sexist and homophobic, but can now hide behind a façade of reasonable opposition to the postmodern-Left.

Our current crisis is not one of Left versus Right but of consistency, reason, humility and universal liberalism versus inconsistency, irrationalism, zealous certainty and tribal authoritarianism. The future of freedom, equality and justice looks equally bleak whether the postmodern Left or the post-truth Right wins this current war. Those of us who value liberal democracy and the fruits of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution and modernity itself must provide a better option.

Although Pluckrose’s essay was written 2½ years ago, it sounds as if were written yesterday.

For further reading, I’d recommend these four books (click to get Amazon links), all of them strong critiques of postmodernism and its antiscientific tenor:

and this book by Gross and Levitt: the first shot across the bow of postmodernism:

h/t: Douglas (for the “Pomo Way” photo


Caturday felid trifecta: Mother cat carries food to her one surviving kitten; rude cats; cheetahs vs. lions: one roars, the other meows and chirps (and lagniappe)

We have four items today, including lagniappe.  The first video is of a feral mother cat carrying off a bag of food provided by kindly humans. Watch where she takes it.

If this doesn’t make you tear up, you’re made of stone. What a lovely story!


From BuzzFeed, we have a selection of rude cats. I’ll show just a few.


From the Treehugger site, we get a useful lesson on why cheetahs can’t roar but some other big cats can:

Tigers, leopards, and jaguars all roar too. As members of the genus Panthera, not only are they totally fierce creatures, but the epihyal bone in the voice box is replaced by a ligament, explains BBC Wildlife Magazine. “This can be stretched, creating a larger sound-producing passage and thus a wider range of pitch. The more the ligament extends, the lower the sound generated when air passes across the vocal cords. In addition, the cords are large, unbroken and fleshy, which produces deeper sounds.”

In fact, one study found that a tiger’s roar has the power to paralyze animals that hears it, including human with experience around tigers.

And then there’s the cheetah.

Listen to the King of the Jungle (well, the savannah) sound off:

Weighing in at up to 150 pounds, cheetahs are the world’s fastest land mammal. They can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles an hour in only three seconds, striking prey in the blink of an eye. But fearsome as they may be, there is something they can’t do: Roar. Nope, cheetahs meow like a housecat. And, unlike their roaring cousins, cheetahs also have the ability to purr. Listen here:

BBC explains that the bones of the cheetah’s voice box comprise a fixed structure, with divided vocal cords that vibrate with both inhaling and exhaling. “This structure is the same for all the ‘small’ cats. While this design enables these cats to purr continuously, it limits the range of other sounds and prevents them from being able to roar.” Awww.

Cheetahs have also perfected the chirrup – a bird-like chirp they often use to locate one another.



Lagniappe: Not an ideal way to transport a kitten, but still better than nothing:

h/t: Michael, Merilee, Su

Watch Bill Maher’s show while you can

This, sent by reader Michael, is a video of Bill Maher’s show last night, featuring Andrew Sullivan and Sarah Haider, as well as Samantha Power, Timothy Naftali and Heather McGhee Watch it while you can, because these things are taken down soon. I haven’t even watched it in my rush to make it available here.

Haider is the special guest, and appears at 31:32.

I’ve now watched it. It’s a good show overall: there’s discussion of Justin Trudeau’s blackface, NZ prime minister Jacinda Arden’s unwise donning of a hijab after the Christchurch mosque massacre, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and much more.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

I thought it was the first day of Autumn, but that’s actually on Sunday, and today is just September 21, 2019. It’s National Pecan Cookie Day, but there are also tons of holidays today, including:

Batman Day
Big Whopper Liar Day (are you supposed to pretend you ate a Big Whopper?)
International Red Panda Day
International Eat An Apple Day
National Chai Day (cultural appropriation)
National Gymnastics Day
Responsible Dog Ownership Day
Thank a Police Officer Day (you won’t be seeing much of that on campuses)
and others.

Wikipedia also notes, “In the popular 1978 song “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, the date of September 21 is mentioned in the lyric “Do you remember the 21st night of September?” This reference has gained popularity on the internet due to the song’s spread as an internet meme.”  I don’t remember seeing that.

There’s a new Google Doodle today, one that celebrates the PRETZEL, in turn marking the beginning of Oktoberfest. When you click on it, or on the screenshot below, you go to a movie that shows pretzel-making making. From 9 to 5 Google:

Today’s Doodle, freshly baked by Esther’s German Bakery, celebrates the one and only pretzel—one of the world’s most versatile and beloved foods! As Oktoberfest, the Bavarian fall festival, begins today, Brotfrauen (or bread ladies) will be carrying baskets of chewy Brezeln through Bierhallen (massive tents) in Germany, the center of Oktoberfest revelry.

With help from a local bakery, the Google homepage has been taken over by pretzel dough carefully crafted to spell out “Google.” Each letter piece is then baked, garnished with salt, and a bowl of butter is added to form the second “o.” The end result makes for an appetizing presentation that leaves you craving a warm pretzel to begin your own Oktoberfest celebration.

Click below. I do love me a soft German-style pretzel with mustard.

Stuff that happened on September 21 includes:

  • 1780 – American Revolutionary War: Benedict Arnold gives the British the plans to West Point.
  • 1921 – A storage silo in Oppau, Germany, explodes, killing 500–600 people.

Read about that explosion, which was huge and horrific (click on “explodes”).

  • 1937 – J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is published.

A first edition and first printing of this book, signed by Tolkien himself, will run you a cool $65,000:

  • 1949 – The People’s Republic of China is proclaimed.
  • 1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor is unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate as the first female Supreme Court justice.
  • 1996 – The Defense of Marriage Act is passed by the United States Congress.
  • 2003 – The Galileo spacecraft is terminated by sending it into Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1866 – H. G. Wells, English novelist, historian, and critic (d. 1946)
  • 1874 – Gustav Holst, English composer and educator (d. 1934)
  • 1912 – Chuck Jones, American animator, producer, and screenwriter (d. 2002)
  • 1924 – Hermann Buhl, Austrian mountaineer (d. 1957)
  • 1934 – Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter and poet (d. 2016)
  • 1940 – Bill Kurtis, American journalist and producer
  • 1950 – Bill Murray, American actor, comedian, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1967 – Faith Hill, American singer-songwriter, producer, and actress

Here’s Faith Hill and Carlos Santana performing Hill’s big crossover hit, “Breathe,” which hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April of 2000:

Those who died on September 21 include:

  • 1832 – Walter Scott, Scottish novelist, playwright, and poet (b. 1771)
  • 1860 – Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher and author (b. 1788)
  • 1904 – Chief Joseph, American tribal leader (b. 1840)
  • 1974 – Walter Brennan, American actor (b. 1894)
  • 1998 – Florence Griffith Joyner, American sprinter (b. 1959)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is outside remarking on the plants:

Hili: And what did this plant grew up here for?
A: It wanted to conquer the world.
In Polish:
Hili: I po co ta roślinka tu wyrosła?
Ja: Chciała podbić świat.

From Merilee: Note the caption: “Please read instructions before assembling your cat.”

From Jesus of the Day via Diana MacPherson:

Cat lessons from Jesus of the Day:

Sadly, we have run out of tweets that Grania sent me. There will be no more.

Two tweets from Nilou. This is from Antarctica. Do you know what it is?

And Andrew Yang boogying. I still don’t have a warm feeling towards this Democrat:

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. They’re going to have to start locking the bathroom door here. What a pain!

real catwalk. The moggie is wearing a one-piece fur tuxedo styled by Karl Lagerfeld:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one is simultaneously sweet and hilarious. The “other” Brian Cox teaching a toddler Hamlet’s soliloquy:

A lovely bird giving a distress display:

This is really, really sad. A quote from the Guardian article:

Hasankeyf is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on Earth, dating as far back as 12,000 years and containing thousands of caves, churches and tombs.

But this jewel of human history will soon be lost; most of the settlement is about to be flooded as part of the highly controversial Ilisu dam project.

And the first crossword editorial I’ve ever seen:



Sarah Haider and Andrew Sullivan on Bill Maher’s show tonight

From an email from the Ex-Muslims of North America:

And from Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine column today (which you should read):

See you tonight on Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO at 10 p.m. ET. And, of course, next Friday.

If I got HBO I’d surely watch this (though I don’t stay up that late!). But I will post any clips that appear on YouTube.

Photos of readers

Do send in one or two (no more) pictures of yourself engaged in some interesting or characteristic activity so that people can put a face to the name.

Today’s reader photo is from Liz Strahle, who says this:

Here are a couple of pictures of my sisters, nieces, and me. I love both of these pictures. My older sister, Jenn, is on the left, I am in the middle, and my younger sister, MaryKate, is on the right for both pictures. My nieces are all my older sister’s. I have a brother also but he is not pictured.