The Princess

The Furry Princess, undoubtedly Poland’s most famous cat, is now four years old, with many years to go. I finally got some quality time with her, and here are some photos of my favorite felid.

Malgorzata squeezes a tube of Japanese “Cat’s snack” into her bowl. Hili eats it with relish (but no mustard):

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After the entrée came the plat du jour:

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She loves all her food:
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A formal portrait:

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And of course after dinner she wanted to go out, but, as felids do, she dithered at the door. (Why do cats do that?) A gentle nudge of Malgorzata’s foot on Hili’s butt accelerated the decision. She may be out on the tiles all night.

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I have landed!

Don’t expect much out of Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) today, as he got not a wink of sleep on the trip from Chicago to Poland. This was deliberate: I often stay up all night and all day after I arrive, counting on total exhaustion to reset my biological clock. And. . . it sometimes works. But right now I’m barely capable of an intelligible sentence, so enjoy this picture of Malgorzata’s cherry pie with a walnut crust, although you’ll enjoy the looking a lot less than I enjoyed the eating:

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p.s. Hili greatly enjoyed the Japanese “cat’s snack” sent by Hiroko–a kind of meat or fish goo that you squeeze out of a small foil tube. She liked it so much that she got another. (See Hili dialogue tomorrow.) I still maintain that this is the first time in the history of our planet that a cat in Poland ate treats sent by a person in Japan to a person in America.

Movies watched on plane (the selection was dire; this was the best I could do):

The Lobster (2016) Two thumbs up. An imaginative drama about a dystopian future in which all single people are taken to a hotel where they’re given 45 days to find a partner—or be turned into animals. I liked it a lot, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The Book Thief (2013). One thumb up, one down. A workmanlike recounting of an orphaned girl’s life in Nazi Germany, where she learns to read, becomes infatuated with books, and hides a Jewish refugee. It holds your attention, but is far too mawkish and manipulative of the viewer’s emotions. It’s not helped by repeated voiceovers from the Grim Reaper (no kidding!).

This is Where I Leave You (2014). 2/3 thumb up, 4/3 thumb down. With an all star cast in including Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Abigail Spencer, and Jason Bateman, the film manages to waste most of that talent (particularly Fey) by embroiling every character in an emotional roller-coaster (centered around a family reunion after the father’s death) accompanied by the emission of far too many bromides and tears. I did, however, discover a new inamorata in the form of Rose Byrne, who is unspeakably attractive and provided the best cameo of the lot.

Elon University students call for disinviting ideologically impure Pulitzer Prize winner

Elon University is a high-quality private college in Elon, North Carolina. It was founded as a Christian school but now is pretty much secular—one of those small and excellent liberal arts colleges that dot North Carolina—and whose state legislature is doing its best to destroy.

Kathleen Parker is a widely syndicated and conservative-leaning (but not batshit crazy conservative-leaning like Ann Coulter) columnist for the Washington Post. Her pieces (you can see a collection here) appear in over 400 newspapers, the widest syndication of any American columnist. In 2010, Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, a high honor. As Wikipedia notes, she’s “a consulting faculty member at the Buckley School of Public Speaking, a popular guest on cable and network news shows and a regular panelist on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and MSNBC’s “Hardball” with Chris Matthews” as well as “an entertaining speaker on politics and culture.”

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Kathleen Parker

You’d think, then, that the students of Elon University would be glad to get a chance to hear Parker speak. But you would be thinking wrong. Why? Because Parker is a conservative, doesn’t fall in line with Snowflake Ideology, and that doesn’t go down well on liberal campuses. In fact, the Elon administration did invite Parker to speak at its Baird Pulitzer Prize lecture this October. But some students struck back, trying to get the invitation rescinded. That, of course, is censorship.

As the Elon Local News reports (you can also find pieces on many right-wing but not left-wing sites), a student named Rebecca Nipper started a petition, soon signed by 300 Elon students and alums, calling Parker’s writings “dangerous”. Here’s a bit of Nipper’s Facebook post published at Campus Reform; I can’t find the petition letter anywhere.

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We learn a bit more about the objections to Parker from the Burlington North Carolina Times-News (my emphasis):

“Parker’s journalism is more than just her opinion,” the petition says, “it’s a consistent attack on all of the things Elon has been working towards – ending sexual assault, increasing diversity, and creating a safe and encouraging environment for all students regardless of gender, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation … It does not matter whether she intends to speak on any of the issues she writes so frequently about in her journalism, we as a university are praising Kathleen Parker for her opinions by bringing her to campus.

Praising her? What about just promoting discussion? And here we see the fallacious thinking behind these protests. If you consider inviting a speaker tantamount to praising her, or approving her opinions, then of course you can’t approve any speakers whose opinions aren’t in line with yours. Students would be better off if they regarded speaking events as educational opportunities rather than as the equivalent of honorary degrees. Even if you’re sure you’re not gong to agree with someone like Parker, hearing her make her case give you a chance to hone and sharpen your own opinions. After all, you must do more than hold them—you must defend them.

What we see here is no-platforming of Parker, regardless of what she wants to speak about.  If you’re familiar with the argot of Scientology, Nipper and her cronies are labeling Parker a Suppressive Person (“SP”), whose every word must be suppressed. Note as well that Parker’s presence creates an “unsafe space”—the usual blather that opinions which don’t jibe completely with those of the Regressive Left are dangerous and somehow promote an “unsafe” climate.

The Pendulum, an Elon student newspaper, gives more information, clarifying that much of the opposition to Parker’s talk derives from statements about gender that the students found problematic:

The petition, titled “A Request for the Removal of Baird Pulitzer Prize Speaker Kathleen Parker,” circulated on social media late last week. It cites segments from her book, “Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care,” and her columns as showing “undoubtable bias against women, sexual assault victims, and people of color.”

“A lot of people think we’re taking issue with her politics, her personal stances — that’s not it,” said Nipper, noting that she and others have read Parker’s book and dove into her Washington Post archives. “(Her book) perpetuates something that’s extremely dangerous and we’re actively fighting against. It’s something the administration has been truly working hard on.

“To have a speaker who actively supports that kind of thinking, brought in by the university as somebody who would speak to everybody, is detrimental and very dangerous.”

Translation: “Anyone who doesn’t agree with my opinion is dangerous.” Finally, the right-wing Campus Reform did get hold of Nipper’s petition, and found some problems with it:

The petition claims that Elon students have found “some very disturbing things” in Parker’s writing that made her unfit. The petition quotes several excerpts from her book to shed light on her allegedly dangerous rebuke of modern feminism.

They include “[a]llow me to translate. There’s no way to make men into women,” and “[t]he reality is that men have been screwed, and not in the way that they prefer.”

Hyperlinks in the Google Doc sent readers to two of Parker’s Washington Post columns, but were written in a way that confuses their actual title. A link to Parker’s “Unanswered questions in Trayvon Martin case” is hyperlinked under “Racial profiling is common sense.” The words “Women are using alcohol as a way to blame men for sexual assault” linked to “Sex after drinking and the war on women.

The Good News is that the University administration slapped the petition down like a buzzing mosquito.  Here’s a tweet from the head editor of the Pendulum, reporting the University’s response as issued by Dan Anderson, Elon’s Vice President of University Communications:

That’s a damn good response, and it should make Ms. Nipper reconsider her histrionic censorship. But it won’t. What will happen to people like her when they enter the real world? In my darkest moments, I imagine that someday they’ll be in charge. And if we get a country run by Pecksniffs like Nipper, I can’t see that it would be much less repressive than a country run by Donald Trump.

p.s. Parker will apparently be speaking at Elon on October 4.

Living in a post-fact world

by Grania

I was watching John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, and it made me laugh and cringe at the same time. It is all very well to snigger at wilful ignorance, but when it is fervently subscribed to by political leaders it can’t bode well for the country, or the world.

Watch this clip (starting at 5.50) in which the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives discusses violent crime rates in the United States. Newt Gingrich just flatly denies the evidence, dismissing it as “liberal statistics” (the data comes from the FBI) and then says while it may be “theoretically right, it’s not where human beings are”.

Leaving aside the special code word  “liberal” which his target audience can be relied on to understand to mean lies and/or stupidity; he is basically claiming that misconceptions are more valid than facts, and that correcting misconceptions is not something he is interested in doing.

I’m always left wondering whether such people are just cynical manipulators of those who believe in them; or whether they actually believe in their own stories.

 

Even if you are fed up with establishment politics, and I think that this is something that many Europeans share with their American counterparts; it ought to be a worry that a political party seems to be making up their own version of reality as they go along. It is even more worrying that many voters don’t seem to mind – and this isn’t only an American phenomenon: you can see this in the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote*. In an era where it has never been easier to find out the facts, it is peculiar that high numbers of potential voters have decided that the facts are whatever appeals most to their narrative. Are people disillusioned? Cynical? Nihilistic?

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*I’m not trying to argue that there weren’t legitimate reasons for having serious reservations about the EU, merely that much of the rhetoric surrounding the referendum had little to do with facts.

Friday: Hili Dialogue

By Grania

Morning all, I’m filling in for Jerry while he is on the last leg of his journey to Dobrzyń this morning.

Today is the end of the world if you are an Armageddon Conspiracy Theorist (a polar flip will destroy the world*); otherwise it is just another Friday (thank goodness) and also International Tiger Day, a day to raise awareness of the plight of this endangered species. The situation is now pretty dire, with estimates as bad as complete extinction of tigers in the wild within 5 years.

You can join the group raising awareness and funds on Facebook here.

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In Hili-World today, the feline princess encourages us to tackle difficult challenges speedily so that we can pursue our higher goals.

A: Hili, face the truth.
Hili: Done. Now I’m going back to sleep.

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In Polish

Ja: Hili, spójrz prawdzie w oczy.
Hili: Już spojrzałam, a teraz wracam do przerwanego snu.

Happy weekend to you all!

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*It won’t, that’s ridiculous. Here’s NASA on the subject.

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.

30K!

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!

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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:

Imagine

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:

Coffee
Cameras
Experimental Physics
Chess
Soap
Shampoo
Perfume/spirits
Irrigation
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
Anesthesia
Windmill
Treatment of Cowpox
Fountain pen
Numbering system
Algebra/Trigonometry
Modern Cryptology
3 course meal (soup, meat/fish, fruit/nuts)
Crystal glasses
Carpets
Checks
Gardens used for beauty and meditation instead of for herbs and kitchen.
University
Optics
Music
Toothbrush
Hospitals
Bathing
Quilting
Mariner’s Compass
Soft drinks
Pendulum
Braille
Cosmetics
Plastic surgery
Calligraphy
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.

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