Readers’ wildlife photographs

The readers came through with more photos for me, so please hold off with further photo contributions until after New Year when I return. Today’s arthropod photo odyssey comes from reader Mark Sturtevant, whose words are indented.

The first two pictures are of one of the large jumping spiders that I can generally pick up from my shed. This is the tan jumperPlatycryptus undatus. The name refers to the flattened shape which allows it to hide under things. These spiders are fairly mellow for a Salticid, and so are pretty easy to catch and work with.


The next two pictures are of another common jumping spider with a decidedly different personality. This is of course the bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax), a species that is pretty familiar to anyone in the U.S. This handsome male was living in a watering can on our front porch, and it would always dash into the spout when I would try to retrieve it for pictures. As is typical of its kind, it was not in the least interested in sitting still, but the ‘ol give-them-a-fly trick works every time.

Temporarily moving on to a different spider family, we see in the next picture a rather warty looking crab spider. This looks to be in the genus Xysticus, according to overall appearance, proportions of the legs, and various features of the carapace and front legs that are shown and described in the amazing web site known as BugGuide.

More jumping spiders are in the next two pictures. This lovely but very small species is Tutelina elegans. I had seen a couple of these in the early summer in my #2 favorite park. This is a female, and I’m on the lookout for a male which is shown in the link.


The next two pictures are of luna moth caterpillars (Actias luna). The story behind this is that we have a local ‘nature’ store that sometimes has batches of caterpillars of various kinds for the kiddies (and for me, of course). It’s from here that I got my start raising Saturniids. Last summer they had a large batch of young luna moth caterpillars, and so I bought some. This species is very easy to raise, but these were being fed on hickory leaves which is not a tree that I have used before. So I scouted around and found a nice neighbor with a hickory tree and she let me drop by regularly to gather fresh leaves for my brood. In these pictures I was trying to record the fact that these juicy little (well, not so little) gummy worms are fairly translucent. When slightly backlit with the sun one can see their slowly pulsing gut. I don’t think I succeeded showing that here, but the colors are still pretty striking.

The larvae made their cocoons at about mid-summer, but unfortunately they all eclosed to adults while I was dragged away on a vacation. They were then in the care of a friend, but when I returned, the moths, which do not feed, had all eclosed and were either too old or too dead to photograph. I will have to try again some other time, as I’ve never photographed the adults of this species. 

Finally, I add a weird Hemipteran which is a long-necked seed bug (Myodocha annulicornis). These insects are common pests on strawberries.


Tuesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on a very cold Tuesday, December 12, 2017: the temperature in Chicago right now is 18° F  (-8° C). It’s National Cocoa Day, and I think I may make myself a warming mug of hot chocolate. It’s also Kanji Day in Japan, in which a Japanese character (a written one, not a person) will be chosen to symbolize the day.

I’m quite busy finishing up preparations and talks for India, so this may be today’s only post. Like Maru, I do my best.

On December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the United States Constitution (you may remember that Delaware, the first, ratified it five days before). On this day in 1901, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal—the letter “S” in Morse Code.  Exactly a decade later, Delhi replaced Calcutta as the capital of India. On this day in 1941, Hitler “declared the imminent extinction of the Jews” at the Reich Chancellery. As usual, there were no official records of this, but Joseph Goebbels recorded Hitler’s declaration in his diary:

Bezüglich der Judenfrage ist der Führer entschlossen, reinen Tisch zu machen. Er hat den Juden prophezeit, daß, wenn sie noch einmal einen Weltkrieg herbeiführen würden, sie dabei ihre Vernichtung erleben würden. Das ist keine Phrase gewesen. Der Weltkrieg ist da, die Vernichtung des Judentums muß die notwendige Folge sein.

Regarding the Jewish Question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that, if they yet again brought about a world war, they would experience their own annihilation. That was not just a phrase. The world war is here, and the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary consequence.

On December 12, 1963, Kenya gained independence from the UK, and in 1991 the Russian Federation became independent from the USSR. Finally, on a day that will live in infamy—December 12, 2000—the U.S—Supreme court released its decision in the case of Bush v. Gore. Voting along ideological lines, the court allowed Katherine Harris’s Florida vote certification to stand, making Bush the President.

Notables born on this day include Gustave Flaubert (1821), Edvard Munch (1863), Edward G. Robinson (1893), Frank Sinatra (1915), Buford Pusser (1915), Connie Francis (1938), Dionne Warwick (1940), Dickey Betts (1943), Jennifer Connelly (1970), and Mayim Bialik (1975).

In honor of Dionne Warwick’s birthday, here she is with Whitney Houston, singing the hit “That’s what friends are for,” written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. Note that Bacharach is at the piano:

And in honor of Munch, here’s his drawing “Die Katze” (The Cat):

Those who died on this day include Robert Browning (1889), Tallulah Bankhead (1968), Mo Udall (1998), Joseph Heller (1999), and Ike Turner (2007).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is, as usual, kvetching about the paucity of noms:

Hili: Providence didn’t provide.
A: Oh, I’m sorry.
 In Polish:
Hili: Opatrzność nie zaopatrzyła.
Ja: O przepraszam.

Speaking of cats and providence, here’s a cartoon about cat religion from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin, sent by reader Diane G.:

Most of the tweets below were found by the ever reliable Matthew Cobb. Be sure to watch the video.

A fox noms Frosty’s nose:

Reader Charleen sent a d*g trying to annoy a sleeping cat. The d*g finally gets what he deserves.

Christian Alexa!

This isn’t real, but just wait a few years. . . . .

h/t: Vernon

Duhhh. . . . Guardian touts a “new” finding that thylacines are more closely related to kangaroos than to dingos

Below is the headline of a new science piece in the Guardian (click on screenshot to read it), reporting on a paper that was just published in Nature. I haven’t read that paper, so I won’t comment on it; rather, I’ll comment on the science writing, which in this case is abysmal. It’s sensationalistic, misleading, and, sadly, the scientists whose work is reported appear complicit in the sensationalism.

But what’s a thylacine? It’s a fascinating creature: a carnivorous Australian/Tasmanian marsupial (Thylacinus cynocephalus) that looked like a dog. It’s been called the “Tasmanian wolf” or, because it was striped on the back, the “Tasmanian tiger.” The species lived until recently, going extinct in Australia about 2000 years ago (sightings are reported in the 1830s, though), and on Tasmania until 1930, when the last known one was shot. (Sightings are still reported there, but none have been credible.) Here are two from a Washington, D.C. zoo in 1906:

Why did they go extinct? Certainly hunting was a major factor, but others that have been suggested are disease, habitat loss, and competition with dingos. Dingos are the descendants of wild canids introduced into Australia, and are, unlike thylacines, placental mammals. The physical resemblance between the thylacine and a canid is an independent evolution of form, or an evolutionary convergence. 

There are two results given the headline: “genetic weakness” of the thylacine and “the closer relationship of the thylacine to kangaroos than dingos”. We’ll take these in order.

First, the “weakness”, which I take to mean “lack of genetic variation”, which could make a species more susceptible to extinction because it can’t evolve in a way that would help it cope to new environments or conditions like disease. (Evolution requires genetic variation.) The paper reports a genomic sequencing of a preserved, 106-year old thylacine. Since I haven’t read the paper, the lack of variation in the species would have to have been deduced by finding that this individual was largely invariant in its genome: that both copies of every gene were more similar than in other species.  But earlier work in 2012, based on several thylacines, already told us that they were largely invariant in their mitochondrial DNA. So this conclusion isn’t new.

Did the thylacine go extinct because it was genetically depauperate, though? We have no idea, and the Guardian even suggests it didn’t:

“But what we found is that the population declined about 70,000 years ago, long before it was isolated meaning it probably had more to do with changes in the climate back then.”

While overhunting was “without doubt” responsible for the animal’s extinction in 1936, Pask said its genetic weakness would have made it more susceptible to disease had it survived.

Yes, and if my aunt had testes she’d be my uncle. What we have here is pure speculation. It does appear that thylacines were genetically depauperate, but whether that played a role in their extinction is unknown. After all, they were shot willy-nilly.

But the worst part is the second “conclusion”: the breathless report that thylacines are more closely related to kangaroos than to dingos, with a quote from associate professor Andrew Pask from the University of Melbourne (my emphasis):

The researchers also found that despite its similarities to the Australian dingo, the thylacine’s DNA actually has more in common with the kangaroo.

Scientists consider the thylacine and the dingo as one of the best examples of what’s known as “convergent evolution”, the process where organisms that are not closely related independently evolve to look the same as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

Because of their hunting technique and diet of fresh meat, their skulls and body shape became similar despite the Tasmanian tiger’s DNA having more in common with a kangaroo.

Pask said the genome showed the Tasmanian tiger was an “unbelievable” example of convergent evolution, because it proved how distant the two species were.

“Their similarities are absolutely astounding because they haven’t shared a common ancestor since the Jurassic period, 160m years ago,” he said.

For crying out loud, WE ALREADY KNEW THIS! Thylacines are marsupials, like kangaroos, and dingos are placentals, like dogs and most other mammals we know. They belong to different infraclasses of mammals (the next level below the class Mammalia), and their ancestors separated about 159 million years ago. In contrast, the thylacine and kangaroo last shared a common ancestor about 62 million years ago. We’ve known that this is a case of convergent evolution for decades, and no biologist would be surprised at the subheadline above. They’d say, like Greg, Matthew, and I did, “Yeah, so?”

You can attribute that subheadline, perhaps, to a nonbiologist interested in writing clickbait, but it appears that Dr. Pask is guilty for fostering some of this hype, for he knows full well that the relatedness and time data have been around for years.

As Greg said when we were discussing this piece (it was sent by Matthew Cobb), “Any scientist who can pretend, in order to garner press attention, that it’s a novel discovery that Tasmanian tigers are indeed marsupials should be shunned as a publicity-seeking charlatan.”


The date from hell

Imagine going out on a first date and being mercilessly grilled and hectored about whether your views conform to Regressive Leftism.  Of course partners on any first dates vet each other from the outset, but it’s usually far more subtle than the strategy recommended by Lara Witt in her Everyday Feminism piece “10 things every intersectional feminist should ask on a first date” (first published at Wear Your Voice).  I won’t go into all the details, but she recommends to all woke peeps asking their dates (whether or not that date is of your gender or not) ten questions. If any of the answers aren’t right, you should ditch them.

Here’s how she starts the article (notice that the very first words give her “identity”), and then a list of the questions (all come with her explanations, but I’ve put down only the stuff for question #1). Take my word for it, these aren’t just things to suss out about your date, they are things you should explicitly ask about. 

As a queer femme of color, I keep close relationships with people who go beyond allyship; they’re true accomplices in the fight against white supremacy, queerphobia, and misogyny. If you’re not going to support marginalized folks, then we can’t be friends, let alone date. The personal is political.

Beyond the lovely cushioning, happiness and support that we receive from our platonic relationships (which are, in all honesty, soul-feeding and essential), feminists also date! But there are questions we have to ask before we get close to someone.

The following list of questions is applicable to all relationships — certainly not just cisgender, heterosexual ones:

  1. Do you believe that Black Lives Matter?
    Yes? Wonderful. Let’s start here. There are three categories that are non-negotiables for me: an understanding of race, class, and gender. Not everyone understands how these three can be insidious, systemic and intertwined, but anyone who doesn’t take the time to learn how systemic racism works isn’t going to care about how racism affects me or people who are darker-skinned than I am.I don’t want to have to have laborious discussions where I have to prove to someone that white privilege or non-black privilege exists. If they are willing to learn and listen and make the space to decenter their whiteness (if they are white), that’s a good place to start.
  2. What are your thoughts on gender and sexual orientation?
  3. How do you work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in your life?
  4. What are your thoughts on sex work?
  5. Are you a supporter of the BDS movement?
  6. What is your understanding of settler colonialism and indigenous rights?
  7. Do you think capitalism is exploitative?
  8. Can any human be illegal?
  9. Do you support Muslim Americans and non-Muslim people from Islamic countries?
  10. Does your allyship include disabled folks?

This is truly the date from hell. In fact, I’d run away about two or three questions in.

Witt used to write for Teen Vogue and Feministing, a slightly more mature version of Everyday Feminism. As for being “of color,” well, her mother is half-Kenyan and half Indian, and her father is white, and she explained at Feministing why she hates whiteness (note her privilege):

On paper I am a minority, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that when you see me. I come from a upper middle class family, I grew up in Switzerland, I got to travel a lot and I speak fluent english and french. In person, I can perform whiteness. I portray European-ness. But I know nothing else.

For years I have struggled with my mixed ethnicity because I don’t feel either Kenyan or Indian at all. I visited Kenya multiple times, my mother regularly made us chapati and biryani and painted our hands with henna. But at school I hung out with my friends of whom 80% were white. I could eat hundreds of chapatis, but that didn’t make me feel more Indian. I could spend time with a Maasai tribe and bead colorful necklaces for tourists, but that didn’t make me feel more Kenyan.

I have struggled with my ethnicity because although on paper I am a minority, I wasn’t taught that I was. I wasn’t taught my mother’s cultures. I don’t know how to speak swahili or punjabi. This means that I cannot communicate with my grandmother and some of my relatives. I know little about being Kenyan or Indian, I have little in common with the maternal side of my family. My mother made me white, she denied me half of who I am.

This is a rupture of my identity. I only know my whiteness and I feel guilty about this. I hate that I can only perform whiteness.

She’s clearly twisted up with confusion and hatred, which is why she tweeted this In March:

Apparently her white husband (a male?) is an exception:

Witt’s Twitter feed is a compendium of Regressive Leftism. All I can say is that I’m glad I don’t have to deal with people like this. But apparently she doesn’t want to deal with people like me.

My nightmare is that some day a sizable number of Americans will be like this. I’m all for progressivism and anti-racism, but not when it’s as full of hatred as Witt is.

In an article on race and medicine, New York Times does its best to ignore and denigrate race

Furthering my claim that the New York Times is becoming more regressive in its Leftism, we have a long article in the science section on race and medicine. The thing is, the author of the piece does his very best to pretend that there’s no such thing as “race”, even while investigating—and buttressing, to some extent—the connection between race (or ethnicity, if you will) and illness.  But the ideological petticoat of author Moses Velasquez-Manoff shows throughout, particularly at the end. Valasquez-Manoff, a science writer, lacks science degrees, which may explain his cluelessness about how scientists conceive of “race,” but, given that I tried to explain it to him in a long phone interview, I doubt it.

I’ve explained my take on “race” many times before, and you can search for it on this site. (If you want just one article, go here, which summarizes and glosses a like-minded piece from Quillette by Bo Winegard, Ben Winegard, and Brian Boutwell). Like virtually all geneticists, I don’t see a finite and absolutely discrete number of easily identifiable “races”—that’s a strawman that people like Velasquez-Manoff attack. Maybe the general public thinks this, but Velasquez-Manoff is talking to scientists and about accepted science here.  “Race” (or “ethnicity”, if you like that word better) is simply a term for human “ecotypes”: groups of different evolutionary ancestry that have evolved different traits.

Like many animal species, humans, especially during our evolution after we left Africa, were divided into relatively discrete groups that were geographically isolated from other groups. In the absence of frequent migration between areas (such as we have now), these groups differentiated genetically, and generally along lines of geography. (Barriers like oceans and mountains are formidable obstacles to inter-group mating!) That differentiation was due to either divergent forms of natural or sexual selection, or to random genetic drift.

You can see these differences using either DNA sequencing or morphology (physical traits). Although, as is well known, there is more genetic differentiation among individuals among one ethnic group or population than among different groups, you can nevertheless pick out these groups by using combinations of genes, for differences at one gene tend to be correlated with differences in other genes. So, for example, we can see clustering of genes among people from the Americas, Oceania, native Australians, Europe/Middle East, and East Asia, and this clustering enables their recognition as groups that evolved semi-independently.

The Winegard et al. paper gives several examples of how “ethnicity” is correlated with genetic clustering; here’s one quote:

Empirical studies bear this logic out. The geneticist Hua Tang and her colleagues, for instance, found that self-reported ethnicity corresponded almost perfectly with genetic clusters from 326 microsatellite markers  (a microsatellite marker is a piece of repetitive DNA in which a series of DNA base pairs are repeated). Other studies have demonstrated even more power to identify people’s ancestry accurately. These studies illustrate that, whatever the meaning of the claim that there is much more variation within than among races, researchers can, if they use the appropriate procedures, distinguish human ancestral groups from each other with remarkable accuracy. The significance of these genetic differences among groups is entirely an empirical question.

And my own words, which quote the Tang et al. paper:

Here’s a quote from the abstract of the Tang et al. paper, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, an excellent journal. The article is free online:

Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity. On the other hand, we detected only modest genetic differentiation between different current geographic locales within each race/ethnicity group. Thus, ancient geographic ancestry, which is highly correlated with self-identified race/ethnicity—as opposed to current residence—is the major determinant of genetic structure in the U.S. population.

Despite the clear evidence that human populations are genetically different and differentiable—although the presence of clusters within clusters precludes us from picking out discrete “races” having sharp boundaries—ideologues pretend that these differences don’t exist or aren’t meaningful. That’s because they fear that recognizing different groups will lead to discrimination against those groups, for the very same reason that biological ideologues won’t consider the possibility that there are genetically based differences between the behavior and neurology of men and women. Recognizing differences, they fear, will lead to institutionalizing bigotry based on those differences: to racism and sexism. The article by Winegard et al. dismantles this idea handily. The truth is the truth, regardless of whether it fits your ideological biases. And we can and should promote equality on moral rather than biological grounds.

But Velasquez-Manoff doesn’t like the idea of race, and so when he’s trying to discuss whether we should base some medical decisions or treatment on ancestry or ethnic background, he gets all antsy. You can read the article for yourself:

Here are a few quotes from the piece that shows the author’s lack of understanding of a more sophisticated concept of “race”, and his attempt to dismiss the importance of geographic differences between human populations:

Professor Yudell belongs to a growing chorus of scholars and researchers who argue that in science at least, we need to push past the race concept and, where possible, scrap it entirely. Professor Yudell and others contend that instead of talking about race, we should talk about ancestry (which, unlike “race,” refers to one’s genetic heritage, not innate qualities); or the specific gene variants that, like the sickle cell trait, affect disease risk; or environmental factors like poverty or diet that affect some groups more than others.

Ummm. . . race and ancestry are pretty much the same thing, and if genetic differences aren’t innate qualities, I don’t know what they are. What Velasquez-Manoff means by “innate qualities” is probably stuff like IQ or behavior, controversial topics about which we have little firm knowledge with respect to ancestry. What we’re talking about here are genetic differences that may have an effect on the incidence of diseases like sickle-cell anemia and Tay-Sachs, (Valasquez-Manoff’s tortuous attempt to avoid concluding that sickle-cell anemia is more frequent in populations descended from West Africa then from other populations is amusing.)

Here’s more:

What’s new today is that modern genetic science has revealed just how arbitrary the old race categories — Negroid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid and so on — really are. Yes, there is variation in the human family, but there are few sharp divides where one set of traits ends and another begins. Rather, traits exist in gradients, reaching high frequency in some populations and lower frequency in others. As the geneticist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania reminded me, human beings are too young as a species, too promiscuous and full of wanderlust, always moving and mixing, for the kind of separation and differentiation that would cause true speciation to have occurred.

Well, these categories are not completely arbitrary: they just don’t pick out the totality of genetically recognizable groups. And yes, there aren’t sharp divides between groups and traits (or genes), for we see groupings within groupings—exactly what you’d expect if humans formed populations that were semi-isolated after they left Africa.  And who on earth even claims that there are “true species” in humans? No scientist I know! We’re not reproductively incompatible or isolated, which is the criterion for true species. We simply differ in our traits and genes, which is what we call “subspecies” or “ecotypes.” Remember, genetic differences among ethnic groups are correlated, for groups became genetically differentiated as semi-isolated populations.

Velasquez-Manoff prefers medical diagnostics based on genes rather than ancestry, apparently not realizing that these are correlated. Yes, we’d like to know everyone’s full DNA sequence for the best medical treatment, but sometimes an ancestry-based approach is better, simply because some diseases are clearly correlated with ancestry (and I recognize that there’s a conflating issue of culture, which isn’t genetic), and because in most cases we don’t know which genes are involved in disease and which variants are associated with which conditions. So these paragraphs, for instance, are confused:

The takeaway from studies like this is that rather than relying on race, doctors should focus on the genes important to whatever puzzle they face — an approach often called “precision” or “personalized” medicine. The idea is that tailoring treatment to the patient’s genotype, not to skin color or hair texture, would improve outcomes.

Consider the case of kidney disease. Scientists have found that African-Americans fare worse than whites when it comes to this illness. The assumption had long been that some environmental factor explained the difference. But in recent years, scientists have linked certain variants of a gene called APOL1 to worse kidney-related outcomes. Those variants are enriched in people of African ancestry. Girish N. Nadkarni, a kidney specialist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, explained to me that scientists think this may be because those variants protect against the sleeping sickness endemic to some parts of Africa.

Yes, it would be good to have the APOL1 genotype of all patients, but look: here the author admits that there are genetic differences between groups that correlate with their ancestry. They just don’t show a perfect correlation. Further, there may be other genetic differences between groups beyond APOL1 that affect kidney disease, but we don’t yet know about them, and so might be able to use self-identified ancestry as a correlate of those unknown differences. This is why my own doctor, Alex Lickerman, uses “race” as a guide to diagnosing prostate cancer. He’s quoted in the article:

Alex Lickerman, founder of ImagineMD, a medical concierge service in Chicago, cites the example of prostate cancer. For unclear reasons, African-Americans have a higher risk than whites. One test for the cancer, which looks at prostate-specific antigen, is controversial because it can yield false positives. Some recommend against using it at all.

But Dr. Lickerman says that merely being aware that African-Americans have a higher disease risk impels him to order the test more often for African-American patients. To his mind, the elevated risk of cancer outweighs the risk of a false positive. “Race is a crude marker, but it’s a usable marker,” he said. In that respect, it is no different from other factors doctors consider, most of which are based on imperfect studies of limited size and scope, and need to be weighed carefully.

Note that Lickerman recognizes race as a sign of ancestry that is correlated with genetic differences—and the genes for prostate cancer probably haven’t all been identified. It’s better in this case to partly base tests on race than to do nothing in the absence of genotypic data. What Lickerman is doing here, which seems sensible, involves recognizing the reality of “race”.

When discussing the higher incidence of hypertension in African-Americans than in white Americans, Velasquez implicates racism. He doesn’t seem to recognize two things: that hypertension in American blacks might be due to other cultural differences, like diet, or that it might be due to an interaction between evolved black/white genetic differences with factors like diet. The author simply wants to flaunt his virtue by singling out racism as the likely cause:

African-Americans, who on average have about 20 percent European ancestry, suffer from high blood pressure more often than whites do. Some studies indicate that among African-Americans, the darker one’s skin, the greater the risk of high blood pressure. The pattern could indicate that African ancestry is responsible.

Yet Africans in Africa don’t generally have high blood pressure. So some argue that the experience of having dark skin in the United States — of experiencing racism — is what’s raising blood pressure. In this case, Dr. Burchard says, even though race is a social construct, the best way to talk about the associated disease risk may be to use the labels, since the societal baggage that comes with them may be causing the problem.

Note that Velasquez-Manoff fails to present alternative but even more credible hypotheses (I don’t think that experiencing racism is a more likely explanation for hypertension than is diet, for instance). At any rate, he fails to lay out both genetic and interactive explanations. And the notion that “race is a social construct” is simply ridiculous. If it were, Lickerman’s ministrations would be futile. If race were purely a social construct, ancestry and ethnicity wouldn’t be correlated with any biological factors.

Of course we’d like to have the DNA profile of all patients, but we’d also like more research on exactly which genes are associated with disease. Such genes, though, may be hard to identify because they have tiny effects. In the meantime, there are occasions, as with sickle-cell anemia and prostate cancer, that ethnicity, or “race”, or “self-identified race”, can be used meaningfully in a medical way. And that, of course, means that ethnicity is not a “social construct”, for it has biological meaning. That’s the point that the Winegard et al. article tries to make.

Velasquez-Manoff’s virtue signaling and distaste for any concept of race is most evident in his last paragraph:

Science seeks to categorize nature, to sort it into discrete groupings to better understand it. That is one way to comprehend the race concept: as an honest scientific attempt at understanding human variation. The problem is, the concept is imprecise. It has repeatedly slid toward pseudoscience and has become a major divider of humanity. Now, at a time when we desperately need ways to come together, there are scientists — intellectual descendants of the very people who helped give us the race concept—who want to retire it.

It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t like race because it “divides humanity.”  Well, it partitions humanity on the basis of genetic difference, but that’s not what he means. He means that genetic differences cause friction between people. The solution to that is not to pretend that the genetic differences don’t exist, but to stop them from creating bigotry and hatred.

And if you want, discard the word “race”—but let’s keep “ancestry,” shall we?. No biggie, since “ancestry” is a term that enlightened biologists see as closely associated with “race”. Should we retire the concept of “ancestry”, too? If so, then why does Velasquez-Manoff mention it repeatedly?

I have to say that when I talked to Velasquez-Manoff and tried to tell him about the more modern concept of “fuzzy” race that encompasses a variety of nested populations that differ genetically, I could sense that he didn’t like what I was saying. And at the time I got a bad feeling about what he was going to write, as I could sense him ignoring what I was trying to tell him. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that he was determined at the outset to downplay the significance of genetic differences between ethnic groups. And that is surely reflected in his piece, which I found notably unenlightening and genetically ignorant, even if it was politically correct.

Canada: Higher rate of hate crimes against Jews than against Muslims and blacks

Elder of Ziyon posted the recent data on hate crimes in Canada, with the data come from the Canadian government itself: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

First, the graph, which just gives raw numbers of hate crimes for various groups over the last three years (data below):

Except for 2016, the numbers are highest for blacks, but these figures haven’t been adjusted for population size. As Elders of Ziyon notes:

In 2016, there were more anti-Jewish hate crimes than even anti-Black hate crimes in Canada, which is almost certainly unprecedented.

Anti-Jewish crimes always are the most prominent compared to crimes against other religious groups (anti-Muslim crimes actually went down while anti-Jewish crimes went up.)

But to have antisemitic hate crimes outpace even racist crimes is extremely worrisome.

There are some 380,000 Jews in Canada and nearly twice that many Blacks. There are over a million Muslims, meaning that Jews are about six times as likely to be victims of hate crimes than Muslims.

Now Wikipedia gives a Canadian population of 1,198,540 blacks and, for 2013, 1,153,677 Muslims—surely higher now. The actual per capita rates of hate crime per year in 2016, using these population figures and the raw data below, are these:

Jews:         0.121%
Blacks:       0.018%
Muslims:     0.012%

These data suggest that the rate of hate crimes against Jews is 6.7 times higher than for blacks and more than ten times higher than for Muslims.

Even if you assume 500,00 Jews in Canada, the upper limit given by Wikipedia, the per capita rate for Jews is still 0.04%—more than twice the per capita rate for blacks and more than three times the per capita rate for Muslims.

Here are the raw data:

Now I don’t closely follow Canadian politics, but I bet a lot more press is given to hate crimes against Muslims than against either Jews or blacks—but I might be wrong. The higher per capita rate for Jews than Muslims also holds in the U.S., but you wouldn’t know that from most of the liberal media. And that reminds me of a joke:

A guy walks into a bar and notices a man talking to the bartender down at the other end. The guy does a double take because the man talking to the bartender really resembles Hitler.

So the guy goes up to the man and says “Excuse me, but did anybody ever tell you that you look like Hitler?”

The man replies, “Oh, but I am  Hitler. I have been reincarnated and I am back on Earth to kill 10 million Jews and 33 geese!”

“Oh, my God! That’s terrible! But why 33 geese?”

Hitler then turns to the bartender and says “See? I told you nobody cares about the Jews.”


h/t: Orli

Readers’ wildlife photos

Get any photos you have to me by Thursday, please!  Today’s set is by Joe Dickinson from the Galápagos. If you haven’t gone there, I recommend it very highly. When I went a few years back, I thought, as a jaded evolutionist, it wouldn’t be all that exciting. Boy, was I wrong!

Joe’s notes are indented:

Here are some file photos from a Galapagos trip about ten years ago.  There are many more that I can send when/if you need them.

This is a land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus).  Much like Darwin, I failed to keep track of which “specimens” (i.e., photos) are from which island, so I can’t specify subspecies.

A pair of magnificent frigate birds (Fregata magnificens), the male with throat pouch pretty much inflated.

Here are some waved albatross (Phoebastria irroataengaging in a mating ritual.  It is my understanding that this often is rather like a “renewal of vows” between an already pair-bonded couple.  Is the third bird a “witness”?

The iconic blue footed booby (Sula nebouxii).

A pair of Nazca booby (Sula granti).

A young, very sandy, Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki).

The colorful Sally lightfoot crab (Grapsus grapsus).

An American oystercatcher (Heamatopus palliatus).

Another young sea lion.

A lava lizard (Microlophus ?).  Again, failure to keep track of the island makes identification to species impossible (for me).

The unique and famous marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus).

And two more sea lions.  I think of them as brothers, but have no evidence for that proposal.


Suicide bomber sets off explosives at Port Authority bus terminal in New York City

This just happened, and is reported briefly by many venues, including NBC News.

An explosion occurred during the Monday morning rush hour near New York City’s Port Authority, police said.

One suspect is in custody following the incident at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, a senior NYPD official said.

The suspect sustained a minor injury but it was not immediately clear if anyone else was wounded, police said.

Emergency vehicles rushed to the scene, causing major evacuations in the massive transit hub.

The Fire Department of New York City said they received a call about the explosion at 7:19 a.m. ET.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is the nation’s largest bus terminal and about 230,000 passengers pass through it on a weekday, its website says.

President Donald Trump was briefed on the incident, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

The New York Post reports that it was a suicide bombing and that the suspect was injured but was apprehended and is alive. No reports yet on whether others were killed or hurt.

A suicide bomber set off a device at the Port Authority bus terminal Monday morning, law enforcement sources said.

The suspected bomber – who had wires attached to him – was armed with a pipe bomb and a battery pack, sources said.

He was taken into custody after the device partially detonated inside the passageway to the N, Q and R trains, according to sources.

There was at least one injury and the wounded was the suspect. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital. His identity was not immediately known.

Monday: Hili dialogue

Good morning. It’s Monday again: December 11, 2017. To paraphrase James Joyce, snow is general not over Ireland, though there’s enough to close schools and disrupt flights. But snow is general over the UK, severely disrupting flights and closing schools. To my friends over there, I’m sorry about this, but you’re a bunch of weenies! Chicago eats that kind of snow for breakfast.

For the events, births, and deaths that happened on this date, simply go to yesterday’s post, in which I screwed up and put stuff about December 11 rather than December 10.  There you will find that physicist Max Born was, well, born on December 11, 1882, making today his 135th birthday—if he wasn’t dead (he died in 1970). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954 for his mathematical work on the uncertainty principle.  Fun Born Fact: he is the grandfather of singer Olivia Newton-John.  Sadly, this is not a fact that will excite people at a cocktail party, as those who know Born’s work constitute a set largely non-overlapping with those who like the songs of Ms. Newton-John.

Here’s his gravestone in Göttingen (and his wife’s), inscribed with the uncertainty principle:

And today’s Google Doodle celebrating his life:



Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is biding her time. (Look at that sweet face!):

Hili: I’m not comfortable here.
A: So why are you sitting there?
Hili: So that I can enjoy the comfort of the armchair later.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie jest mi tu wygodnie.
Ja: To dlaczego tam siedzisz?
Hili: Żeby potem cieszyć się wygodą fotela.

And out in snowy Winnipeg, reader Tasker sends a photo from yesterday of “Gus snoozing this afternoon.”

We have a lot of tweets found by Matthew. Here’s one from one of his friends who was lucky enough to attend the Nobel Prize Banquet. You’ll remember that this year’s prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three people who worked on circadian rhythms and “clock genes.” Matthew’s note on the first tweet:

Leslie was Mike Young’s PhD student and discovered the timeless gene, which helped to explain how the clock works (she also played an important role in getting the two clock groups to work together). She has been in Stockholm as part of Young’s entourage for the awards. This is the hat she wore to the banquet today!

Leslie Voshall is now a professor of neurobiology at The Rockefeller University, and I like her sense of humor.

And Leslie’s tweet showing the Nobel banquet in Stockholm’s Town Hall:

Two themes, actually.  And I suppose the “thyme” is an accidental double entendre.

Not to leave out the physicists, here’s a hat at the banquet depicting gravitational waves, for which this year’s Physics Nobel was awarded. I didn’t realize that theme hats were a thing at Nobel banquets!

The men wore hats, too:

As I said, it snowed in London, and so we have this tweet:

And of course we have some animals, this one from Attenborough’s Blue Planet series. I hope this turtle makes it, but it’s fighting the odds:

A bat nomming a grape; what could be cuter?

A mustelid encounters its first snow:

We wind up with a really good story: