Another Jerry the Cat

I have to admit it: in lieu of having children, I’ve opted for having people name their cats “Jerry”, although I will never corrupt the process by offering payment. But there are now five cats in the world named after me. To wit:

  1. Gayle Ferguson’s long-haired orange cat, now adopted out to a loving home in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  2. Robin Cornwell’s black cat
  3. Mr. Das’s cat named Jerry (It was a stray in Bangalore, India, and I shamelessly suggested the naming. Mr. Das said that a cat couldn’t be named Jerry if it was a female, as this one was, but I countered–and won–by showing him a photo of Jerry Hall on the Internet.)
  4. The visiting tuxedo cat who lives next door to Theo (the espresso-drinking cat) and his staff.

And now there is number 5: a beautiful Bengal kitten bred by Anthony Hutcherson, a professional Bengal breeder. I first met Anthony at the Great New Yorker Cats versus Dog Debate in October of 2014; he was on Team Cat and brought two of his Bengals. During the two-hour debate one of the cats sat on my lap for a long time, and I fell in love with these gorgeous animals. I still hope to get one. Here’s a picture I took of Anthony in the Green Room before the debate:


Look at those CATS!

I was amazed that any cat would sit placidly on a lap in a strange place in front of a noisy crowd, but both cats did. They’re clearly bred for their personality as well as their looks. (You can read a New Yorker piece about Anthony and his fellow Bengalophiles here, and read about Anthony’s Jungletrax Cattery here, with the available cats here).

At any rate, some day I hope to get a Bengal kitten, and I’ll get it from Anthony, who’s kindly offered me one. (Joyce Carol Oates, another participant on Team Cat, got a lovely Bengal from Anthony last year.) But in the meantime, there is now Jerry the Cat #5, Anthony’s new kitten named after me.

Here he is; isn’t he a beaut?

Jerry the Cat Anthony Hutcherson

Grania says that I can’t have this one because it would be hubris to own a cat named after myself.😦

Hillary Clinton and the Citizens United decision

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided one of the most contentious cases of our era: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. By a vote split sharply along ideological lines (5-4, with Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in favor; and liberals Stevens, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Breyer dissenting), the Court decided that putting limits on corporations donating money to political campaigns—or doing their own political advertising—violated the First Amendment right of free speech.

The reasons why the liberals were against it was because the money of corporations could tilt the election process, favoring the elections of those candidates whose views favored corporations. That, in turn, could influence candidates (or politicians running for re-election) to adopt views congenial to corporations, and possibly vote in favor of bills that benefited the rich donors. That’s fundamentally anti-democratic, giving some people (or corporations, now construed as “people”) a disproportionate influence.

The Citizens United ruling (which I oppose, as I don’t think corporations are people, and believe that there should be spending limits), explicitly discussed the issue of whether this could corrupt the political system, or even create the appearance of corruptionand the majority opinion, written by Kennedy, said this:

While a single Bellotti footnote purported to leave the question open, 435 U. S., at 788, n. 26, this Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

The court’s own decision along ideological lines was mirrored by the public. Conservatives, who of course favor corporate influence, liked the decision, while liberals (including President Obama and the New York Times) excoriated it, arguing that it would terminally corrupt our democratic government. The liberal view was that in a democracy, corporate spending, because of its potential to swing elections, could buy political influence. And clearly they think it can, for why else would corporations and bodies like the National Rifle Association donate money to politicians with consonant views? Now you can say that this is only meant to keep already-elected politicians with congenial views in power, but, donations are made well before election time, and to candidates who aren’t yet in power.

Indeed, Hillary Clinton herself  (along with Bernie Sanders) said that a “litmus test” for any proposed Supreme Court justice should be his/her opposition to the Citizens United decision.

So here’s my question. When I decried the Clinton Foundation’s taking of big sums of money from countries like Saudi Arabia, and corporations, and criticized Hillary’s enormous personal gains from making speeches to Wall Street bankers, I was told that there was no problem because it was never PROVEN that Hillary was corrupted or changed her views based on this money. (Remember, too, that many of us lauded Bernie Sanders for funding his candidacy with small donations just because this seemed more fair, more democratic).

I don’t get the fact that people who cried foul when the Citizens United decision came down are now saying there’s nothing wrong with both Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation taking money from corporations and foreign governments. Granted, funding an election isn’t identical to funding a charity, but in both cases there is the possibility of buying influence. Face it: did the Saudi donations of $10-$25 million to the Clinton Foundation come from a pure altruism on the part of that repressive government, or did they hope for some accommodation from the Clintons?

“Hope” is the operative word here. As we all know, it’s nearly impossible to prove that a donation influences a politician’s views, and they’ll always deny it. It is the possibility of that influence, the possibility of corruption by money, that the laws were meant to prevent—the laws overturned in the Citizens United decision. Liberals opposed that for this reason: what hope does the average and impecunious citizen have of influencing politicians, compared to the oil-rich Saudis or the Wall Street banks?

You might say that influencing an election is one thing, but influencing a future president by donating to her family’s Foundation is another, and the possibility of influence doesn’t exist in the latter case. I don’t agree, and that’s why I said that the Clinton Foundation should be a “blind charity”, or shut down, until no Clinton remains in political office. And no Clinton, including Chelsea, should be on the board of directors. It’s family, Jake!

I see it as hypocritical for liberals to disagree with the conservative court in the Citizens United decision (“no possibility of corruption or the appearance of corruption,” as they said), and yet use that same rationale to excuse Hillary Clinton’s personal gains from speeches to corporations, acquisition of corporate and foreign money to her family Foundation, and her shameless courting of Wall Street, which has now donated about $5 million to her candidacy. (Do you think they might be trying to buy influence?)

It’s almost impossible to detect corruption or influence peddling once it’s occurred, so we need to have laws and regulations to prevent the possibility of corruption. I am not saying Hillary Clinton has been corrupted or influenced by money. I don’t know that. And you don’t know otherwise. But she certainly has done very little to reduce the possibility of corruption in her case, which she could have done. But she has done little because she cares more about winning than about winning with a clean and ethical campaign. The other Democratic candidate, who felt differently, is now gone.


p.s. Need I say again that I’m voting for her and not for Trump? I just don’t want to write the usual tirades against the odious Donald, which you can read everywhere else on the liberal parts of the Internet. And besides, almost no readers of this site, as far as I know, like Trump, so what’s the point?


Here are the moths!

This morning I posted Mark Sturtevant’s photo of two underwing moths hiding on a dead tree? That was a hard one—at least if you aimed to find both moths. Here’s the reveal, which shows how effective the camouflage is. (Most predators are probably birds, who have both keen vision and, like us, color vision.). Click to enlarge.


The “ask me anything” post

I didn’t have the slightest notion that so many readers (over 200) would weigh in on the “ask me anything” post of a few days ago. I think I’ve answered almost every question, excepting those that other readers answered before me. I’ll try to make it an annual event. If you asked a question there and I didn’t answer it, feel free to repeat it in this thread, but please, no new questions. 

As for “boxers vs briefs” (nobody seemed to think that “commando” was an option), I’ll leave that to the readers’ imaginations. That is in fact the first question I asked Richard Dawkins when I interviewed him at Northwestern, but I told him I was only joking.

Tom Wolfe discusses his new book on NPR, claiming that humans “didn’t evolve from animals”; NPR doesn’t challenge that

This weekend, National Public Radio (NPR) host Scott Simon interviewed renowned author Tom Wolfe about Wolfe’s new book The Kingdom of Speech. You can hear the five-minute interview here. I just now listened to it, but several exercised readers emailed me yesterday complaining about Wolfe’s criticisms of evolution—criticisms that weren’t called out by Simon.

Let me begin by saying I had no idea Wolfe had jumped the rails this way. I hugely admired The Right Stuff, which is one of the classics of modern nonfiction/journalism. And his earlier books, like Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Cathers, as well as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, were not only absorbing portraits of the Sixties, but pioneered what is now known as New Journalism. His two books on art and architecture I found thin, and I haven’t read any of his fiction. But in none of this was there any hint of the kind of anti-science attitude apparently evinced in The Kingdom of Speech.

I’ll have more to say about the book later this week, but its thesis is that language is not in any way a product of biological evolution and, moreover, that humans didn’t even evolve! Wolfe’s alternate theory is apparently that language came about as a mnemonic device to help us remember things, sort of like the mnemonics medical students use to memorize the order of cranial nerves: “On Old Olympus’ Tip-most Top, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops.”

As I said, I’ll go into more detail about Wolfe’s thesis within the week, but some of its more ridiculous claims can be heard in the interview. The surprising thing is that host Scott Simon sat back amiably, letting Wolfe say the most outrageous things about linguistics and evolution without challenging him. Wolfe’s quotes are indented below:

“It’s misleading to say that human being evolved from animals, and actually, nobody knows whether they did or not. There are very few physical signs except the general resemblance between apes and humans.”

. . . “It’s time for people interested in evolution to say ‘The theory of evolution applies only to animals.'”

This is pure untrammeled hogwash. All rational people—I used to include Wolfe in that group—accept the mountainous evidence that human beings evolved not just from animals, but from other apes. Indeed, we are animals, Mr. Wolfe, and if we didn’t evolve from other animals, just how did we get here?

And what about the fossil evidence: that sequence of fossils, beginning about five million years ago, showing a modern-human-like creature evolving through a branching tree from early primates that had much smaller brains, and were barely bipedal? The fossils alone refute Wolfe’s claim.

But of course there is plenty of other evidence (documented in Why Evolution is True) of our common ancestry with other animals, both living and extinct. This includes the presence of “dead genes” in the human genome: nonfunctional bits of DNA that are the vestigial remnants of genes present in our ancestors, and still active in some of our relatives. Humans, for instance, have three genes for egg yolk proteins: all are nonfunctional, but all are functional in our relatives like birds and reptiles. How do you explain that, Mr. Wolfe? What about our nonfunctional olfactory-receptor genes, or our dead gene for synthesizing Vitamin C? I would love to confront Wolfe with that data. How does he explain it?

There’s more: the identical position of dead retroviruses in the same genomic position in humans and our closest relatives. The only explanation for that is that the viral DNA was inherited from common ancestors that got infected. The evidence goes on and on, far beyond what I can say here.

In fact, I’m not sure that Wolfe has any biological knowledge of the evidence for human evolution. If he does, he doesn’t mention it. More inexcusable is Scott Simon’s failure to call Wolfe out on his ignorant assertions. In fact, Simon only asks one timorous question about whether Wolfe’s views that humans didn’t evolve might give fodder for creationists. Wolfe says no:

“I wouldn’t think so, because there’s not a shred of whatever that depends at all on faith, on belief in an extraterrestrial power. In fact, I hate people who go around saying they’re atheists, but I’m an atheist.”

I’m not sure what that’s about, but the book, and Wolfe’s earlier approbation of Intelligent Design, has already been touted by creationists (see here and here for blurbs about the book and Wolfe’s antievolution views from The Discovery Institute.)

Because Wolfe’s book doesn’t talk about “faith” or “extraterrestrials”, he says, it won’t be mentioned by creationists. That shows he knows nothing about creationism, for the only fodder they need is someone famous saying that Darwin’s theories are wrong. The ID people, in fact, would prefer that Wolfe not mention religion, because they disingenuously pretend that Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion. In this way Wolfe and his book provide plenty of ammunition for modern creationists.

Wolfe briefly describes his thesis, that “language had “nothing to do with the theory of evolution”. Yet we have plenty of evidence that language in humans does have some evolutionary basis, and I’ll talk about that in a few days. Clearly language is heavily influenced by culture as well: if it wasn’t, everybody would speak the same language. But there is substantial morphological, behavioral, and neurological evidence that the ability to use semantic language, which is something unique to humans, is based on our genes, and probably evolved by natural selection.

Wolfe’s alternative “mnemonic” theory has its own problems, for the claim that language is a way to help us remember the names of things leaves no space for its primary function: communication with others.

It’s shameful that NPR is, in effect, promoting creationism and a shoddy theory of language. Granted, they’re not a big venue for investigative journalism, but at the very least Scott Simon should have asked Wolfe to a). clarify his theory of where language comes from, b). confront and discuss the massive evidence that humans evolved from other animals—indeed, other primates, and c). explain where humans came from if God didn’t make us—as Wolfe said, he’s an atheist—and yet we didn’t evolve.

So, NPR, it’s time to give some real balance to Wolfe’s nonsense. I’ll be glad to discuss the book, which I have read, if Mr. Simon wants to give me a call. This is not just their choice: it’s their responsibility to present the views of someone—it doesn’t have to be me—who can address Wolfe’s foolish claims. It’s like uncritically presenting the views of flat-Earthers without refutation.

By the way, I’ve read somewhere that Wolfe gets roughly $6 and $7 million as an advance for his latest books. No wonder he can afford his New York townhouse!

The Kingdom of Speech is published by Little, Brown and Company, with formal release in two days. Click on the screenshot to see its Amazon site. And stay tuned.


The Religion O’ Love

Reader jsp sent the latest strip from Pearls Before Swine, which takes on religion—doubtlessly one much in the news. Click to enlarge.

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

Spot the moth(S)!

We have another visual stumper today, and this is a hard one. It comes from reader Mark Sturtevant. First his notes and the picture, and I’ll give the reveal later:

A funny thing happened when I was preparing this picture. I found a large underwing moth [Catocala sp.] on a dead tree trunk, and immediately set about taking pictures. One picture was taken at a distance so that the readers of WEIT might enjoy trying to find it. That moth is actually not too hard to find, but when I was preparing the picture to be sent to you I found a second underwing moth in the picture!  I was at this tree for nearly an hour (there was a huge syrphid fly that also needed its picture taken), and I had no idea that the second moth was there. I am still pretty giggly about it.

Anyway, the readers will know what to do. But that 2nd one…. Let’s say your readers might go through a pot of tea before they find it. Good luck!

I’ll put up the reveal at about 1 pm Chicago time, just to give you plenty of time to spot the two moths.

Although these moths have brightly marked hindwings, they’re always covered by the highly cryptic forewings when the moths are hiding (they probably evolved to startle predators). You can see some photos of underwing moths here.

Oh, and try not to give away the locations of the moths in the comments. But if you found both, feel free to proclaim your perspicacity!

And click (twice if you want to eliminate the overlapping text) to enlarge.


Readers’ wildlife photographs

Reader Michael Glenister sent some wildlife vacation snaps. His captions are indented:

I just got back from a 2 week road trip from Vancouver to Drumheller with my kids.  So here are a few photos of for your perusal:
From Manning Park: ground squirrels, the second being very laid back:
A mule deer [Odocoileus hemionus]:
Moving on to the Kelowna Kangaroo Farm, a large lichen [JAC: looks like a coral fugus to me; can readers ID?]:
Feeding the capybara [Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris]:
The sugar glider [Petaurus breviceps] decided to climb into my camera case:
Albino wallaby with joey [reader ID?]:

Sunday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Happy Sunday: August 28, 2016.  In the U.S. we have two bogus but proclaimed holidays: National Red Wine Day and National Cherry Turnover Day. I’ll be drinking the red, as usual, but since I’m not in Dobrzyn, I won’t get one of these (they are good, and strawberry turnovers are even better):


On this day in 1845, the first issue of Scientific American was published. Unless I miss my guess, it won’t be long until we see the last one. And on this day in 1955, Emmett Till was brutally lynched in Mississippi by two white men, reportedly for whistling at or flirting with a white woman. Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi but was from Chicago, almost certainly not prepared for Southern attitudes toward blacks. His mutilated body was returned here. And the body was horribly battered—the killers had bashed in his face and gouged out his eyes before shooting him and dumping his body in a river—and the stench could reportedly be detected two blocks away. His Chicago funeral was remarkable for what his mother did: she insisted on an open casket so that everyone at the public funeral could see what had been done to her son. The casket picture was published in Jet, a nationally circulated black magazine. (You can see a photo of Till in the casket here, but be aware that it’s really disturbing.) The open-casket funeral became a national rallying cry for blacks, and Emmett Till remains a horrible symbol of the segregationist South.  It also caused national revulsion and sympathy for the victim of segregation, and helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Act nine years later. The two killers were tried and found “not guilty” by an all-white jury (typical!) after just an hour’s deliberation. In a subsequent interview in Look magazine, the killers admitted that they had indeed murdered Till, and showed no remorse. They couldn’t be tried again because of America’s double-jeopardy laws. Do read the story at Wikipedia; it’s a grim reminder of what racism can do.

Notables born on this day include Bruno Bettelheim (1903), and deaths on this day included, besides Emmett Till, Max Shulman (1988). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, there are still many unpicked cherries (you can see below that they’re ripe), and Hili muses about the theological significance of the fruit:

Hili: Were there cherries in the Garden of Eden?
Cyrus: I don’t know but I doubt it.
Hili: I’m sceptical as well.

In Polish:
Hili: Czy w raju były wiśnie?
Ja: Nie wiem, ale wątpię.
Hili: Ja też jestem sceptyczna.
Leon is still vacationing in Southern Poland, and has a dilemma:

Leon: And now I don’t know which is better: the heat or the icy stream?


A nice cuppa chai (चाय)

“Chai” is the Hindi word for tea, and you’d better learn it if you’re going to India. It’s the national drink, though in South India coffee takes precedence, and can be terrific.

Chai is variable, of course, but my favorite is the kind served on trains, which used to come in one-use unglazed pottery cups that would impart an earthy flavor to the drinks. The cups were disposable and biodegradable, and also a symbol of the kind of hand labor that Gandhi favored with his “spinning wheel” campaign. Sadly, they’re being replaced with plastic cups that are NOT biodegradable, and so the train tracks are littered with plastic. On the other hand, the cups were earthenware because labor is cheap in India; a pottery cup of chai would cost at most a dime.

At any rate, chai is always made with milk and sugar (and, if you’re lucky, cardamom, cloves, and ginger); it’s a restorative drink, and, since the tea is powdered or cheap, it’s not a connoisseur’s drink.

But some people, like this chai seller in Madurai, take great pride in how they prepare chai. A true Tea Man prides himself on the Long Pour, which mixes the milk and tea and also froths the milk. That pour is essential.

Now this is a cuppa!

This guy is really good at the obligatory Long Pour, and adds a full twist for 9.5 out of 10.

And here it is in Delhi. This is so evocative for me. And how can you not enjoy the tea even more when watching it made is such a show? I’m sure this guy is locally famous—look at the customers. I think I heard “do (pronounced ‘dough’) rupee” as a price, which is “two rupees”: about 3 American cents.

If you want to make good chai at home, this video will show you how.


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