Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

First a video from reader Rick Longworth, who added these notes: “This spider had just finished molting and was resting under its discarded exoskeleton. The whole process took about 30 minutes of drying as the sun was setting. The tight new outfit she’s wearing gets a bit of scratching at the base of the legs. The light color, I suspect will gradually darken.”

I’m not sure what species this is, but I’m sure readers can help:

And some golden ants and other insects (as well as ant-mimicking jumping spiders) from reader Tony Eales in Oz. His notes are indented:

I recently came across a nest of Polyrhachis rufifemur, which is a spectacular golden species of Tropical Spiny Ant. That lead me to this paper on the golden ant mimicry complex. Over the years I have managed to photograph several instances of this mimicry in ants, wasps, bugs and spiders. Here are a few examples.

JAC: I suspect this is an example of a Müllerian mimicry ring, in which a number of dangerous or toxic species mimic each other, although some of the mimics could be Batesian, meaning that they are harmless and enjoy protection by mimicking a dangerous model. The gold color is, to my knowledge, almost unique as a form of warning coloration, and some of these insects (particularly in the very last photo) are spectacular.)

A velvet ant (Bothriomutilla sp.), which is a wingless female wasp in the family Mutillidae:

A couple of Lygaeid Seed Bugs Daerlac sp.:

Some ant-mimicking jumping spiders Myrmarachne sp.

And ants from diverse families in the genera CamponotusDolichoderusMyrmecia and Polyrhachis (in order):

Looking at the paper, I’ve still got a long way to go to get all the species in this mimicry ring.

Monday: Hili dialogue

Well, here we are at Monday again: July 23, 2018, and it’s National Vanilla Ice Cream Day. I have a half gallon of Breyer’s Vanilla in my freezer (actually the container is not as large since ice cream companies sneakily colluded to reduce the size of their cartons). But that treat is destined to lie atop a piece of Costco Apple Pie—one of the great triumphs of mass merchandising. It’s also a Rastafarian holiday: the birthday of Haile Selassie (1892).

On this day in 1829, the American William Austin Burt patented the typographer, one precursor of the typewriter. Here’s what it looked like—you moved a lever that made an inked letter contact the paper. At first it was far more cumbersome and slower than simply writing:

On July 23, 1840, the Act of Union of united Upper and Lower Canada to create the Province of Canada. On this day in 1914, according to Wikipedia, “Austria-Hungary issues a series of demands in an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia demanding Serbia to allow the Austrians to determine who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Serbia accepts all but one of those demands and Austria declares war on July 28.” That was the beginning of the First World War. On July 23, 1942, the Nazis opened the Treblinka extermination camp, which ultimately killed more Jews (700,000-900,000) than any camp other than Auschwitz. Exactly a year later, the Rayleigh bath chair murder occurred in Rayleigh, England. This is a bizarre one; read about it at the link. Finally, on July 23, 1972, the U.S. launched Landsat 1, the first satellite designed to orbit the Earth to collect data on our planet, including information about agricultural and forestry resources, geology, pollution, and weather.

Notables born on this day include Haile Selassie (1892; see above), Arthur Treacher (1894; actor and later purveyor of execrable fish and chips), Pee Wee Reese (1918), Don Drysdale (1936), Justice Anthony Kennedy (1936), Theo Van Gogh (1957, stabbed to death 2004), Woody Harrelson (1961) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967). Don Drysdale still holds a major league baseball record (two, actually); can you name them? Pee Wee Reese, besides being a superb shortstop, is to be lauded for defending the hiring of Jackie Robinson, the first black to enter Major League Baseball. When the other Brooklyn Dodger players threatened to quit when Robinson was hired, Reese, a popular player, refused to go along, defusing the revolt.

Those who died on July 23 include Domenico Scarlatti (1757), Ulysses S. Grant (1885), D. W. Griffith (1948), Donald Barthelme (1989), Eudora Welty (2001), Daniel Schorr (2010), Amy Winehouse (2011), and Sally Ride (2012). Here’s Amy singing one of my favorite songs at the Isle of Wight, four years before she died:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is being domineering:

Hili: A horrible mess on this table.
A: That’s inevitable when you’re baking a cheesecake.
Hili: And who needs it?
In Polish:
Hili: Straszny bałagan na tym stole.
Ja: Tak to jest przy robieniu sernika.
Hili: I komu to potrzebne?
First, a truefact cartoon from reader Su:

A tweet from reader Gethyn; be sure to watch the video:

From Heather Hastie. Here’s an Überkatze:

. . . and a loving lion.

Tweets from Matthew. Here’s a predatory fly that mimics a bumblebee:

Another spectacular fly. Look at those patterns!

Matthew’s apparently following the Tour de France, and here’s some nice country that the cyclists traverse. Clicking on the tweet below will take you to the original with the video:

The discovery of a 45 million year old skull weathering out of the ground:

A goat following its drill sergeant’s orders. “I can’t hear you, goat!”:

From Grania; this is my favorite tweet of the month:

How Gary Larson contributed to paleontological jargon:

More on the excavation in Ireland:

A jailbreaking kitty:

I supposed this was a drive-in waitress delivering food to a car, but it’s not. I don’t know what it is; but it’s truly impressive:



Keenan Malik’s blog also banned in Pakistan with the help of WordPress

As you may recall, WordPress, the organization that hosts this site, got complaints from the Pakistani government that some of my posts were offensive because they hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Those posts were were ones showing Jesus and Mo cartoons, which satirize Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike. WordPress decided to cooperate with Pakistan by simply blocking my entire website from being viewed in that country, a move that, in view of WordPress’s avowed commitment to free speech, made me upset and angry.

Now Kenan Malik, a British writer and broadcaster of Indian descent, has experienced the same banning by proxy. As he describes on his own website, Pandaemonium (Malik’s words are indented):

This week WordPress received an email from the  ‘Web Analysis Team’ of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)  ‘The webpages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan’, it read. What particularly seemed to concern the PTA were my articles about Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine targeted by Islamist gunmen in a machinegun attack that left 12 people dead in January 2015. These articles, and the images from the magazine that I have published (in particular the one above), are, according to the PTA, ‘in violation of Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and Section 19 of Constitution of Pakistan’. It ordered WordPress to block access to my website in Pakistan in order ‘to contribute towards maintaining peace and harmony in the world’. Which is why readers in Pakistan can no longer access Pandaemonium.

After criticizing those members of the writer’s organization PEN who protested its award “Freedom of Expression Courage Award” to Charlie Hebdo, Malik delves into the larger issue of the Left’s complicity in such censorship. This includes some liberals’ misguided damning of Charlie Hebdo as “racist”:

What the Pakistani action does do is provide a new perspective on the attitudes of many Western liberals towards Charlie Hebdo. When the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked in 2015, many liberals in the West were reluctant to offer their solidarity. As I observed in the immediate aftermath of the attack (in one of the articles that caused offence to the PTA), ‘hardly had news begun filtering out about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, than there were those suggesting that the magazine was a ‘racist institution’ and that the cartoonists, if not deserving what they got, had nevertheless brought it on themselves through their incessant attacks on Islam’.  ‘Those who claim that it is ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ to mock the Prophet Muhammad’, I added, ‘appear to imagine, with the racists, that all Muslims are reactionaries. It is here that leftwing ‘anti-racism’ joins hands with rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry.’

. . . In countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, writers and cartoonists constantly risk their lives facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms. They constantly challenge the kind of censorship imposed by the PTA. They are the people whom many Western liberals betray in their refusal to support free speech and in their insistence that to mock Muhammad or to champion blasphemy is to be ‘racist’.

Such liberal critics would no doubt object to Pakistan’s decision to censor ‘blasphemous’ websites. But it’s worth asking: is there really that great a distance between their refusal to support Charlie Hebdo and the Pakistani authorities’ takedown of websites that do demonstrate solidarity?


7 year old can’t compete in chess championship because Tunisia prohibits Israeli players

If you think Israel is an “apartheid state,” then what is Tunisia? For that country has just banned a 7 year old schoolgirl and chess champion, Liel Levitan, from competing in an International Chess Championship (presumably the competition for juniors), because she’s Israeli. And her dream is to become a world champion.

“Just a few months ago, a World Chess Championship was due to take place in Saudi Arabia,” chess player Lior Aizenberg told Hadashot news. “It was clear to everyone that outstanding Israeli chess players would not be able to participate.”

Aizenberg has instead founded the World Alternative Championship, which takes place in Israel and extends competition invitations to players from across Europe and the Arab world.

Liel has also been invited to compete at the competition, which counts outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky and American pro-Israel group Stand With Us among its supporters.

“The time has come to put an end to discrimination against Israelis in chess, in sports and in every field,” said Aizenberg.

The International Judo Federation on Friday stripped the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia from hosting two international tournaments due to their failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes.

The decision to suspend the tournaments came after organizers at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.

Yep, the Saudis won’t allow Israeli athletes to compete on the adult level, either. What the hell is up with FIDE, the International Chess Federation? They shouldn’t allow any competitions in countries that ban players on the basis of their nationality. And the fact that Israel is hosting a World Alternative Championship open to all, regardless of nationality, shows the mendacity of those who call Israel an “apartheid state.” Can there be any explanation for such banning except anti-Semitism? Why aren’t Saudi players banned, since that country is far more oppressive than Israel? Can North Koreans play in Tunisia? Maybe there aren’t players from the DPRK, but I bet they’d be allowed to compete. It all stinks to high heaven.

Liel Levitan, banned from Tunisia

h/t: Orli

A thought

I’ve probably lived at least two-thirds of my life, and as I progress toward extinction I realize that while it’s easy to read books and gain scientific knowledge about the universe, one part of our cosmos is impossible to master completely: how to deal with other people. Humans are so multifarious in their behavior, so complex and so different from each other, that treating them well and with empathy demands the skill of experienced therapists but not their emotional disengagement from their patients. After all, subjectivity is part of our emotional connection with others.

I think that I’ve improved at these skills as I grow older, because they come only with experience. We see what works and what doesn’t, and form general rules that have to be modified with each person we encounter. And so, though I think I’ve largely filled the well of my knowledge about biology, I’ll never stop learning about how to deal with people.

The sad part is that because that learning comes only with long experience, you become wisest about human interactions when you reach your dotage. At that point, you’re in a race between increased understanding of human behavior and feelings on the one hand, and on the other the curmudgeonly behavior, or even senility, that comes with age. What a pity that when we finally master the skills of social interaction, we’re almost too old to use them!


The New Yorker goes after Pinker and his progressivism

UPDATE:  I forgot to add this picture of the plaque adorning the building where the New Yorker was founded. Check out the last sentence!




Not long ago the New Yorker had an article about free speech whose message, at least to me, was that we have to ratchet back on the First Amendment protections traditionally (and now consistently) construed by American courts. A few readers disagreed, but rereading the article I decided that while the magazine played lip service to free speech, the article had a weaselly way of pretending to be evenhanded while conveying its real message that it’s time to reassess the legal protections of speech in America. In the interest of social justice, it said, we should have a hard look at how the First Amendment is applied, and think about making changes. (See a similar sentiment in an earlier piece in the magazine.)

This same pretense of evenhandedness is on view in an article in the July 23 article of the magazine by Joshua Rothman, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below. 

Rothman’s article is largely about Steve Pinker’s last two books, Better Angels and Enlightenment Now, and about the books’ thesis that in almost every measure we can take of human well being, both material and moral, the world is getting better. Steve adduces copious data to support this, and then at the end considers two looming threats that may undo us: nuclear war and global warming. Pinker takes these seriously and offers some tentative solutions, especially to global warming, the most serious threat.

Now The New Yorker has long had an anti-science and anti-progressivist bent, although it does present “science” in the form of articles about medicine or the environment. But in general the magazine likes to tout “other ways of knowing” beyond science and empiricism. And of course they’re accommodationist and soft on faith (see here, for instance), though occasionally an atheistic piece slips in.

I’m not sure where this anti-science bent comes from: perhaps because the New Yorker wants to cater to a wide audience, and even the more learned audience for this magazine is largely of the humanities bent, and therefore glad to hear science done down. It is, after all, those versed in and wedded to the humanities who tout the false promise of “other ways of knowing.”

A lot of this anti-science criticism has been aimed at Steve Pinker. (Full disclosure: he’s a friend and I am largely on his side because I agree with his analyses.) I have read every popular book Pinker has written, and the New Yorker has, I recall, trashed him four times in a row before the article above. To wit: in Luke Menand’s review of The Blank Slate, Joan Acocella’s review of the American Heritage Dictionary Fifth Edition (for which Pinker wrote the essay on usage), Elizabeth Kolbert’s review of The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Nathan Heller’s review of The Sense of Style. I suspect that this anti-Pinkerism is due to Pinker’s work being deeply infused with science, which the magazine doesn’t like because they prefer the humanities. In fact, I’m not sure that the magazine has any respect for the ability of science to find truth about the universe any better than do, say, literature and art.

And now they’ve trashed Pinker for the fifth time in a row. Rothman analyzes the progressivist thesis of Enlightenment Now, but does it in the same sleazy way the magazine went after free speech: by lamely presenting a liberal thesis in a seemingly open-handed way, but then repeatedly undercutting it with caveats. At the end of Rothman’s piece, one gets the feeling that Pinker was simply misguided, and measuring the wrong things.

You can read the piece for yourself, but I’ll give a few quotes to show you how Rothman tries to undermine progressivism. The criticisms fall under the bold headings below, which are mine. Rothman’s quotes are indented.

Progressivism hasn’t done much for spirituality. The article doesn’t define spirituality, but Pinker’s thesis was that both material well being and human well being have increased over the last few centuries. Here’s how Rothman goes after that, even claiming that pessimism is an admirable spiritual trait:

Today, we tend to conceive the credo of social responsibility as an ethical idea, justifiable on secular grounds. Still, it remains tied to an inner, devotional imperative. We know that we accomplish little by reading the news, and sense that our infinite, tragic news feeds distort, rather than enhance, our picture of reality. Still, it feels wrong to outsource the work of salvation to Bill and Melinda Gates, and presumptuous to trust too much in the power of good works. Pessimism can be a form of penance, and of spiritual humility in a humanist age. [JAC: Note the Deepity in that last sentence. And I’d call this a “scientific” age instead of a “humanist” one, though humanism includes science.]

Pinker urges us to overcome these cultural, psychological, political, and spiritual biases, and to take a more objective view of the world. But human beings are not objective creatures.

Umm. . . . this is, pure and simple, a dissing of how “salvation” can’t be left to empiricists. But Bill Gates and philanthropists and scientists have done far more to improve people’s material well being than, say, the humanities. And that material well being, says Pinker, has made people happier: the happiest countries in the world are, in general, those that are materially better off. What, then, does “salvation” mean? I suspect to Rothman it means those numinous and very real feelings we get from good art and literature. But that’s not Pinker’s thesis. As for me, I’d rather have done without all the painting of the last fifty years than all the science of the last fifty years.

And what the bloody hell does Rothman mean by saying that “humans beings are not objective creatures”? That’s true, of course, but we are, by and large, objective when we do the kind of empirical work, including science, that has led to humanity’s progress. It’s as if Rothman is claiming that we can’t make real progress using objective methods.

Human happiness hasn’t improved as fast as material and moral progress. This may be true, but happiness is correlated with the kind of progress that Pinker describes. Rothman calls for a more “nuanced” approach, slipping in some weaselly caveats:

 When social scientists write about life expectancy, educational attainment, nutrition, crime, and the other issues Pinker addresses, they often use the abbreviation Q.O.L., for “quality of life.” They use S.W.B. to refer to “subjective well-being”—the more elusive phenomenon of happiness, fulfillment, or life satisfaction. In “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles’s media tycoon enjoys high Q.O.L. and low S.W.B. He is healthy, wealthy, and unhappy. The question is whether what befalls individuals might also befall societies. If so, life could be getting much better objectively, on the social scale, without getting all that much better subjectively, on the individual scale.

Seriously, what is important here?  We are getting healthier, less likely to be killed in accidents or by our fellows, we live longer, have better food, treat other humans better, and our kids are getting better educations. Just how much does it matter whether we feel happier? Just ask yourself this: would you prefer to have lived before antibiotics were discovered, say in 1920? If you value your life, the answer should be “no.” When I ask audiences how many of them would be dead without antibiotics, about 30% raise their hands. And I’m not even mentioning vaccinations.

Rothman continues:

. . . .. The annual World Happiness Report combines data from Gallup opinion surveys with economic and sociological studies; it finds that, in general, citizens of high-Q.O.L. countries (Finland, Norway, Canada, Germany) report higher levels of S.W.B. than citizens of low-Q.O.L. countries (Venezuela, Chad, Laos, Iraq). Look closely, though, and the story is more nuanced. Although economics shapes S.W.B., so do social and political factors: despite immense economic growth, Chinese citizens are no happier today than they were in 1990 (fraying social ties, created by rural-to-urban migration, may be to blame), while in many Latin-American countries people report higher S.W.B. than their otherwise low Q.O.L. predicts.

. . . .From all this data, the picture is one of large-scale predictability and small-scale volatility. Thanks to broad improvements in quality of life, today’s children are likelier to be happier than their grandparents were. But within any shorter span of time—a decade, a generation, an electoral cycle—there’s no guarantee that S.W.B. won’t decline even as Q.O.L. continues to rise.

But Pinker is concerned with large-scale predictability: in terms of morality and every objective measure of human well being, the world is improving. Minor setbacks may occur (and Pinker admits that) but so what? This kind of kvetching is what the New Yorker calls “nuance”.

And here’s the kind of pickiness that Rothman uses to go after the thesis of material progress, with which he grudgingly agrees:

Although food quality may have been worse in 1967, the pleasure of today’s better meals is intrinsically fleeting. More people survive heart attacks than in the past, but the relief of surviving wears off as one returns to the daily grind.

The set-point theory is dispiriting, since it implies limits to how happy progress can make us, but it also suggests that progress is more widespread than we feel it to be. This last conclusion, though, makes sense only if we define “progress” in a certain way. “Imagine Seema, an illiterate woman in a poor country who is village-bound, has lost half her children to disease, and will die at fifty, as do most of the people she knows,” Pinker writes:

Now imagine Sally, an educated person in a rich country who has visited several cities and national parks, has seen her children grow up, and will live to eighty, but is stuck in the lower middle class. It’s conceivable that Sally, demoralized by the conspicuous wealth she will never attain, is not particularly happy, and she might even be unhappier than Seema, who is grateful for small mercies. Yet it would be mad to suppose that Sally is not better off.

Pinker is right: Sally is better off. To say so, however, is to acknowledge that we can be better off without feeling that way. . .

To Rothman (and this is characteristic of the New Yorker), what really matters is not whether we’re better off than before, but whether we feel better off. (The “set-point theory” hypothesizes that despite our own increase in well-being, we adjust to progress, take it for granted, and don’t feel any better off than before. Now we can cure infections with antibiotics, but we don’t feel better, says the theory, because we’re now used to having them.) But just because we don’t think about all the medicines that can help keep us healthy and alive, that doesn’t mean that we’re not better off. We may take them for granted, but that’s infinitely preferable to their not existing!

We’re doomed anyway, outgrowing our resources and likely to be done in by climate change.  Here Rothman just throws the science aside to bloviate:

[Charles] Mann thinks the wizard–prophet distinction reflects a fundamental biological reality. If bacteria are left to grow in a petri dish, they’ll multiply quickly, then consume all their resources and die. The same goes for all species adaptive enough to flourish unconstrained. At first, “the world is their petri dish,” Mann writes. “Their populations grow at a terrific rate; they take over large areas, engulfing their environment. . . . Then they hit a barrier. They drown in their own wastes. They starve from lack of food.” A biologist tells Mann that “it is the fate of every successful species to wipe itself out.”

That’s just nonsense. The dinosaurs did not wipe themselves out. Passenger pigeons did not wipe themselves out. The 98% of marine species that died in the end-Permian extinction did not wipe themselves out. Rothman is apparently completely ignorant of the fact that the vast majority of extinctions, which are indeed the fate of most species, are caused not by overuse of resources, but by external factors: predation, disease, climate change, and, in the case of dinosaurs, an asteroid strike.

Pretty language can be used to undercut Pinker’s thesis. New Yorker writers often have a penchant for couching pedestrian or even misleading ideas in lovely prose, hiding their intellectual emptiness. Here are two examples at the end of Rothman’s piece:

Both wizards and prophets hope that we can break this pattern. Wizards exhort us to “soar beyond natural constraints” using technology. (Think of Elon Musk, with his solar roof tiles and spaceships.) Prophets implore us to reach, through conservation and political reform, a “steady-state accommodation” with nature. (“What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources,” the activist Naomi Klein writes.) Both sides agree that progress of a general sort isn’t enough: unless we adopt a decisive and coherent survival strategy, we’ll become victims of our own success. “The Wizard and the Prophet” provides an unsettling coda to “Enlightenment Now.” Pinker could be right in the short term but wrong in the long term. Maybe the world is getting better, but not better enough, or in the right ways.

Not better enough? What is the sweating author trying to say? Is it that we haven’t yet solved the problem of climate change? That’s true, and it may do us in, but it isn’t as if Pinker didn’t consider it: it occupies a large section at the end of Enlightenment Now. You may disagree with Pinker’s analysis or his optimism, but you can’t accuse him of not discussing apocalyptic changes that could do us all in.

And here’s Rothman’s ending: a typical New Yorker Deepity:

Problems and progress are inextricable, and the history of improvement is also the history of problem-discovery. Diagnosis, of course, is an art in itself; it’s possible to misunderstand problems, or to overstate them, and, in doing so, to make them worse. But a world in which no one complained—in which we only celebrated how good we have it—would be a world that never improved. The spirit of progress is also the spirit of discontent.

Yes, of course progress is achieved when people are “dissatisfied”—when they see room for improvement. But that says absolutely nothing about Pinker’s main thesis, that the world is getting better morally and materially. Here Rothman conflates a “problem”, like the mistreatment of women and gays, with a negation of Pinker’s data showing that human well being has gotten better over time. But nobody, least of all Pinker, says that the world has reached its acme of progress. So Rothman ends his article by making the trivial assertion that “We don’t make progress unless we can see problems to fix.” And that simply isn’t a critique of Pinker’s thesis. It’s just a dumb tautology.

This is the fifth time in a row that the New Yorker has criticized Pinker’s books, and each critique was by a different author. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think it’s a sign of how much the New Yorker dislikes science and empricism. After all, nearly all of Pinker’s books are based on real data.


Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader John Collins is, I believe, a first-time contributor. Here’s some nice

 A few weeks ago I visited the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast in the UK. These islands are of international importance for their breeding sea bird populations. I took some photos from the boat when and where landing is prohibited not that landing would be feasible in many cases. The rest of the photos are on Inner Farne which is the island we were allowed to land on. You have to wear a hat because the arctic terns are very protective of their eggs and chicks and will swoop and peck at your head. I went to the island almost 15 years ago with my partner and her children and they dismissed the idea of wearing hats. After the terns had drawn blood from three of them they began to reconsider.

Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea):

Actic tern with chick:

Common murres (Uria aalge) and a razorbill (Alca torda):

Common murres and razorbills:

The sheer number of birds is breathtaking along with noise and smells from the guano. Inner Farne had a small religious community in medieval times and they brought rabbits to the island. We saw a few rabbits but life must be hard because puffins will eject them from their burrows and take over. There are thousands of [Atlantic] puffins (Fratercula arctica)on the island and it is honeycombed with burrows.

Black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) and common murres:


The islands are part of the Whin Sill which is a volcanic intrusion that stretches across a large part of northern Britain. Dolerite is very hard and resists erosion which gives rugged crags that the Roman Wall and three castles, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Lindisfarne, used to their advantage.

European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) with chicks:

Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) bulls:

I know you like ducks so I’ve included a photo of eider ducks (Somateria mollissima) that I took at Seahouses before the boat trip to the Farnes. The little balls are the chicks dabbling for food.

Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Ceiling Cat’s Day: Sunday, July 22, 2018, and National Penuche Day. What is penuche? It’s a fudge-like candy made without chocolate but with brown sugar, butter, and milk. I’d eat it. It’s also Pi Approximation Day, which, according to Wikipedia, is observed on July 22 (22/7 in the day/month format), since the fraction 22/7 is a common approximation of π, which is accurate to two decimal places and dates from Archimedes.”

On July 22, 1298, William Wallace and his Scotsmen were defeated by the forces of King Edward 1 of England in the Battle of Falkirk.  In 1793, Alexander MacKenzie, reaching the Pacific Ocean, became the first known person to completely traverse North America. This preceded the journey of Lewis and Clark by twelve years.  On July 22, 1793, during the Battle of Santa Cruze de Tenerife, Admiral Nelson was wounded, leading to the amputation of his arm. 96 years later, again according to Wikipedia, “Katharine Lee Bates writes America the Beautiful after admiring the view from the top of Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs, Colorado. If you’re not an American (we all know the song), here’s a Ray Charles version:

On July 22, 1942, the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began. You know where they went. Finally on July 22, 2011, there were two terror attacks in Norway committed by  Anders Behring Breivik: the first a bomb attack in Oslo that killed 8 people and injured 209. In the second, Breivik attacked a youth camp on the island of Utøya, killing 69. He’s serving 21 years in prison, the maximum sentence in Norway, but that can be extended by five-year increments if he’s found (as is likely) to be unsuitable for release.

Notables born on this day include the Nobel Laureate and biochemist Selman Waksman (1888; my aunt worked for him as a secretary), Stephen Vincent Benét (1898), Bob Dole (1923; he’s 95 today), Tom Robbins (1932), Alex Trebek (1940), Peter Habeler (1942), Don Henley (1947), and Willem Dafoe (1955).  Those who died on July 22 include Flo Ziegfeld (1932), John Dillinger (1934; gunned down by The Law), Carl Sandburg (1967) and Illinois Jacquet (2004).

Don Henley, of course, did many great songs with the Eagles, but this solo song, about a man remembering his wild youth, especially resonates with this aging professor. “Boys of Summer” was released in 1984. It’s a great example of good ’80s rock:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili professes a general anxiety, but I suspect she’s worried about her food. Note that she’s especially cute today.

Hili: I’m more and more anxious.
A: About what?
Hili: About the future of the world.
In Polish:
Hili: Narasta we mnie niepokój.
Ja: Na jaki temat?
Hili: O przyszłość świata.

Here’s a tweet from Grania (once called “Miss Grania” by her South African students in KwaZulu-Natal):

Some tweets from Matthew, the first showing an otter teaching its unwilling babies to swim:

I believe these are prairie dogs, with one using ASL (animal sign language):

Learn your collective animal names. For cats it’s a “clowder”:

Lovely pictures of Saturn’s moon Titan, which has a diameter 40% that of Earth:

Now this would be something to see!

Hildegard Von Bingen was a German nun with a scientific bent, but also a visionary/spiritual one, both seen in this drawing of hers:


Look at that yawn!

An amazing species of Chinese drama:

A lovely bird (Ptilinopus porphyreus) from Indonesia:

I’m not a big cricket fan but I know we have fans reading here. Perhaps someone can identify this incident and the match:

A cat on a hot stone floor:

The fallout from Trump’s stupid statement continues:

Tweets from Heather Hastie; the problem of sleeping with cats:

This is truly bizarre:

Heather notes about this one: “I don’t care what USians seem to think of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. I think the former is great and I’ve never understood why the latter was lionized.” And yes, Carter is the very model of a modern ex-President.

Manchester University students deface mural containing Kipling poem on grounds that he was a colonialist and racist

According to several sources, including the BBC, the Manchester Evening News and The National, students at Manchester University, which is where Matthew Cobb teaches (he IS NOT TO BLAME) decided to paint over a mural that displayed a poem by Rudyard Kipling, replacing it with a poem by Maya Angelou.

The defacing was done by leaders of the student union, who apparently didn’t consult either the University or their own constituents. The BBC reports:

The protest was an attempt to reclaim history by those who have been “oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day,” according to Sara Khan, the liberation and access officer at the student union.

In a Facebook post, the student official said Kipling’s works “sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and dehumanise people of colour”.

And here’s a statement by one of the miscreants, (a “liberation and access officer” of the student union!), explaining why they had to exercise this censorship:

Sara Khan, a liberation and access officer at the union, said students defaced Kipling’s poem as he ‘stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment and human rights’.

“A failure to consult students during the process of adding art to the newly renovated SU building resulted in Rudyard Kipling’s work being painted on the first floor last week,” she said in a post on her Facebook profile.

“We, as an exec team, believe that Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights – the things that we, as an SU, stand for.

“Well-known as author of the racist poem “The White Man’s Burden”, and a plethora of other work that sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and de-humanise people of colour, it is deeply inappropriate to promote the work of Kipling in our SU, which is named after prominent South African anti-Apartheid activist, Steve Biko.

“As a statement on the reclamation of history by those who have been oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day, we replaced his words with those of the legendary Maya Angelou, a black female poet and civil rights activist.”

A proud student showing the poster before (right) and after (left). Note the cat-ate-the-canary expression on the her face. To me it says, “Look how virtuous I am!”

Now everything is wrong about this: the tactics, the motivation, and the poem they chose to censor. Tactically, they needed permission from both the University and the Student Union members to do this. They didn’t get either, but acted on their own. The motivation is that a bunch of spoiled and entitled brats decided that any work by a long-dead person who was in favor of colonialism, and saw whites as superior (I don’t know how much of the latter is true of Kipling), deserved to have every one of his works despoiled and effaced. 

Now one would be hard pressed to find a nineteenth-century Brit who didn’t harbor some strains of colonialism and/or racism. The moral improvement of society that attenuated these beliefs started later. The same oppressive attitudes were by men towards women, and by nearly everyone toward gays. To find an author of that period who can be seen as morally pure by the lights of the Regressive Left would be nearly impossible.

Further, there was simply no debate whether artists holding views considered inappropriate today deserved to have all of their work censored and painted over. After all, the poem was not a racist one (I put it below): it’s clear it was simply posted as a kind of inspiration for students. There might have been more justification for painting over Kipling’s 1899 poem, “The White Man’s Burden“—a call for the U.S. to dominate the Philippines—but few people in their right minds would post that poem today as any form of public approbation. (It could justifiably be taught as a historical relic.)

At any rate, the poem the students painted over was “If”, and it might be familiar:

“If” by Rudyard Kipling (1895)

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

We should call out these students, and this behavior, for what they are: the actions of benighted social justice warriors who think that they have not only the key to the truth, but the absolute right to rewrite history. Shades of Soviet Russia! And what should be censored next: the “Just So Stories” of Kipling, the Declaration of Independence (drafted by a slaveholder), and all the speeches of Winston Churchill (a colonialist)? The view that we should write out of history anyone in the past who expressed views that we find repugnant today is one of the most odious and censorious strains of Control Leftism.

But there are those who agree with the censors; here’s one of them, Titania McGrath, who identifies herself as “Activist. Healer. Radical intersectionist poet.” (It has not escaped my notice that she might be a troll. But satire and social-justice warriorism are hard to tell apart.)

Another of her views:

Caturday felids: History and housecats; cats scatter before an earthquake; cat upstages scholar

It’s Caturday, though I don’t know how many people actually look at the cat stuff. Nevertheless, I persist. First, a tweet as lagniappe:


From The History Guy, we have a five-minute history of housecats, which might not have much new for the readers here.


From The Laughing Squid (and many other places), we have a clowder of cats reacting to an earthquake, possibly detecting it before humans. Now there’s no way they can detect an incipient earthquake before there’s motion in the ground, but they may be more sensitive to that than are humans. The notes for the video:

Just ahead of a earthquake that took place on June 18, 2018 in Wakayama, Wakayama in the Kansai region of Japan, a number of the sleeping adopatable cats who live at the CAT Café CATchy suddenly went on full alert, aimlessly scattering their furry selves all over the café in search of another place to be before the ground started shaking. Luckily the quake was short and not intense, measuring a three out of seven on the Shindo seismic scale. All of the resident felines were safe, particularly the ones who never bothered to move in the first place.

They start getting agitated about three seconds in, and the earthquake begins eight seconds later.


Entertainment Weekly has a video of a historian being upstaged by a housecat. He carries on gamely. The notes:

Political scientist Jerzy Targlaski was chatting about Poland’s Supreme Court for a Dutch news program called Nieuwsuur when his attention-seeking cat Lisio crawled up him and began roaming around on his shoulders.

Targlaski gamely carried on during the interview, occasionally removing his cat’s tail from blocking his face.

According to CBS News, the moment was apparently cut from the show’s eventual broadcast but since journalist Rudy Bouma shared the outtake video on Twitter on Saturday and its gone viral, the incident’s been likely viewed by many more people around the world than would have seen the edited program. “Jerzy Targlaski remained completely unruffled during our interview when this happened,” Bouma wrote.

This is hilarious:

As the BBC notes, Targlaski seems to be a cat lover. Here’s another tweet from another time (different tie):

h/t: Tom, Laurie, Moto