Ken Ham screws up

Doesn’t he realize that he’s turning his Ark into a gay flag?

Open thread: The fetishization of suffering

by Grania

Jerry wrote a post years ago on Mother Teresa that has proved to be the most popular post ever on this website (even more popular than the one on penis sizes, which is quite remarkable given that this is humanity we are talking about). Jerry pointed out, as did Christopher Hitchens before him and Aroup Chatterjee before that, that the sainted nun had a bizarre and twisted taste for suffering. Only the religiously convicted or a sadist could spin terminal illness and pain as something to be valued.

When I see people suffer, I feel so helpless! It’s difficult, but the only way I find is to say, “God loves you.”
I always connect this by saying to them, “It’s a sign He can kiss you.”
I remember I told this to a woman who was dying of cancer with her small children surrounding her. I didn’t know which was the greater agony: the agony of leaving the children, or the agony of her body.
I told her, “This is a sign that you have got so close to Jesus on the Cross that He can share His Passion with you, He can kiss you.”
She joined her hands and said, “Mother, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.” She understood so beautifully! My Life for the Poor

Mother Teresa was by no means alone in her idealization of physical and mental anguish. Many religions have rituals that are abusive and damaging  ranging from the relatively benign whirling Dervishes (Mevlevi) whose ritual spinning creates a giddy “spiritual” euphoria, to self-flagellation and slashing practiced by several religions.

I was raised as a Catholic, and while I can say that Mother Teresa’s views are not representative of all Catholics’; she was not an outlier either. Some people still actually think like this. There are times I wish that I had done Psychology 101 at university just to make sense of all the masochism that goes into this kind of thought.

On top of this, as John Hamill points out, the organisation that these people belong to controls thousands of schools and hospitals around the world. Wrap your head around this and you can start to see why their anti-Choice, anti-contraception, anti-euthanasia and anti same-sex equality activists are utterly unmoved by the extreme suffering that their positions create.

PS: Thank you Jerry for giving me zero hours warning about writing a post.


A neurosurgeon on medicine, euthanasia, and God

I’m off to my GP as I injured my shoulder, most likely acquiring bursitis, and will probably get a cortisone shot, which a friend just informed me “really hurts!” Now what was the point of telling me that? It adds no value to my day except a soupçon of fear (I’m not afraid of needles, but I don’t like pain).

As we age, our bodies gradually accumulate infirmities and scars: now I have two crooked fingers and a ruined toenail. (The day I moved into my office, the building manager and I had to move my huge and heavy oak desk out of the elevator, since the movers would only take it to the building entrance. It dropped onto my foot, completely severing the bone of the left big toe, causing me to faint, and then to visit the hospital where they pulled off the toenail with pliers, causing me to faint again. The doctor said the nailbed was screwed, and the toenail would always be deformed. True!)

But enough of these infirmities: this is by way of saying that this is the last post for today unless Grania is kind enough to start an open discussion thread.  I simply call your attention, via reader Paul, to an interview in the Guardian with neurosurgeon and author Henry Marsh, who wrote a highly acclaimed memoir called Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery . Has anyone read it?

It’s a nice interview and I’ll just excerpt two bits:

There has been a slew of books about that old-fashioned idea of what makes “a good death” recently. Do you welcome them?
I think Atul Gawande is a very good writer, but I didn’t get on with his book Being Mortal that much. He only very grudgingly says that maybe doctor-assisted suicide is a good idea. I am a great proponent, to the extent I feel I would take it up myself – though you never know, when push comes to shove, what you will decide. But it does seem to me increasingly that the two markers of a civilised society are bicycles and doctor-assisted suicide. It is not about licensing doctors to kill people. It is about allowing everyone with mental capacity to make a choice about how they would like to end.

I guess religion still partly gets in the way of that idea
It seems to me that the only rational case for theism is that God is a complete bastard. I have seen a lot of children die with inoperable brain tumours, particularly one horrible one called a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, for which there is no treatment. When I go out to Ukraine their parents are lining up to see me in the hope of a miracle. It just seems the proof for God is so very thin. “There’s a friend for little children above the bright blue sky.” I mean, really?

. . . You clearly left the NHS [National Health Service] dispirited. Can you see grounds for optimism?
I am afraid I don’t. Politicians seem unable to stand up to the public and say: if you want better health care you are going to have to pay for it. Instead they still say it is all about management and reorganisation. The evidence is clearly out there in the other wealthy European countries, though: we spend far less on healthcare in both absolute and per capita terms than they do, and almost across the board you see that in the relative outcomes.

Marsh has a newish book, Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery. 

The Women’s March and Linda Sarsour honor two murderers; Sarsour has a tantrum when questioned

If you don’t like the reporting of Fox News (and we know they have a conservative bent), how about the Daily Beast, which is slanted in the opposite direction? Well, put together the story at the former,”CNN pundit, Women’s March organizers under siege for ‘honoring’ birthday of New Jersey cop killer Assata Shakour“, and at the latter, “Linda Sarsour echoes Donald Trump, smears CNN’s Jake Tapper“, and you get not only consilience, but a nasty picture of The Women’s March and of its most prominent face, co-organizer Linda Sarsour.

I have to examine myself when calling out things like the Women’s March, as I’m all for moral and economic equality of women. But like much of the Left, many “intersectional” feminists have developed an authoritarian strain, so that those with the loudest voices, often bullies and regressives like Sarsour, can become the voice of the movement. In Sarsour’s case, it’s particularly distressing, for she’s in favor of sharia law, demonizes people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is pro-Palestinian to the point of favoring the elimination of Israel, and, overall, is a regressive in progressive’s clothing. I see her as a theocrat who’s learned to use victimhood and her status as a Muslim “person of color” to endear herself to muddled Leftists. To me, people like Sarsour represent a degradation of the progressive Left, and so I spend more time on them than on Trumpites because a). it’s my own side, and b). calling out Republicans is not only futile, but everybody else is doing it and I have little to add.

Both Fox and The Beast agree with me that Sarsour and the Women’s March have shown notably poor judgment in extolling terrorists and convicted murderers. Further, Sarsour has started to demonize (in the characteristic Authoritarian way) CNN reporter Jake Tapper, who questioned the wisdom of extolling terrorists and murderers. Sarsour’s response was not to explain how she and the Women’s March could bring themselves to honor killers, but simply to smear Jake Tapper and then act aggrieved and persecuted. I think that Sarsour’s victimization complex (which heretofore she’s employed to great advantage), as well as her narcissism and personal ambition, are eventually going to bring her down, or at least make the Left wake up to her. So far it’s still asleep.

Here’s the story. Four days ago the Women’s March emitted this tweet:

Unfortunatly, Assata Shakur (formerly JoAnne Byron) is a convicted murderer who, as a member of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), was indicted numerous times for robbery, kidnapping, and murder (charges were either dismissed, she was acquitted, or there was a hung jury), and finally was convicted for assault and murder of a New Jersey state trooper in a shootout. After several years in prison she escaped, lived as a fugitive, and then fled to Cuba in 1984, where she was granted asylum. Extradition requests have failed, and she has been on the FBI’s “most wanted terrorist list” (the first woman so “honored”) since 2013.

Now I know that the police sometimes persecute black activists, and the BLA may have had revolutionary goals, but I have no truck with violence and murder, except in self-defense (Shakur’s was not). Shakur seems like a dreadful candidate to be honored by the Women’s March.

And that’s not all. One of the speakers at the Women’s March in Washington D. C. was Donna Hylton, who served 25 years in prison for kidnapping, gruesomely torturing, and killing a wealthy New Jersey businessman. Here there was no revolutionary organization involved, just pure criminality. Why are such women seen as heroes and given public platforms? Believe me, if the Right were to take as heroes women like these, the Left would be all over it like white on rice. Imagine what HuffPo would write!

The Daily Beast author Emily Shire also reports similar encomiums from the International Women’s Strike—plaudits for a woman who spent ten years in an Israeli jail for a supermarket bombing that killed two students:

[There was no criticism from intersectional feminists] when the International Women’s Strike touted Rasmea Odeh as one of its original and main organizers. Odeh, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the State Department officially considered a terrorist group, was convicted for her involvement in a 1969 bombing at Hebrew University that killed two students.

Odeh, though, has found allies in many so-called progressive groups that claim to support immigrant and civil rights. When I reached out to the International Women’s Strike in March about Odeh’s involvement, Cinzia Arruzza praised Odeh and decried  “the persistent harrasmment [sic] by the US government and zionist political forces” she allegedly faced.

Just as the President and other Republican leaders are called upon to forcefully denounce the alt-right, and criticized when they fail to do so, the left needs to be held to the same standard.

Let’s face it: intersectional feminism has no problem demonizing Israel (and Jews, a historically marginalized group), as well as extolling murderers and terrorists. But I have a problem with these things.

So did Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent for CNN. He tweeted this, also mentioning the expulsion of Jewish lesbians waving a “Jewish pride” flag at the Chicago Dyke March:

Sarsour, in a pattern that’s typical of offended Authoritarians, simply smeared Tapper in her response while playing the victim:

Seriously, Tapper joins the alt-right for asking a question? And Sarsour didn’t let that rest, for she angers easily and extols her virtues at the same time she flaunts her victimization:

 Tapper responded by reminding Sarsour of something she’d rather forget (and has deleted her tweet about it):

In case you forget, here’s that ugly sentiment:

As Shire noted, the “strange bedfellows of the intersectional feminist movement” are disturbing, but bullies and authoritarians like Sarsour can’t seem to stop themselves, for they bear the hubris that the movement simply must fall in line with their personal views. Moreover, they attack and then smear those—even leftists like Tapper, who was famous for calling out Trump for his racism. (Did I mention that Tapper has a Jewish background?)

Shire adds this:

Sarsour’s ridiculously weak attempt to slander Tapper as a member of the “alt-right” was not the first time she has tried discrediting negative reports about her by falsely attacking the character of those voicing them. Last week, it was reported that the damaged Jewish cemetery that Sarsour had professed to help raise money for had not, in fact, received funds. Sarsour suggested she would sue the people reporting this (another Trump go-to move) and declared that she was the “target of the right wing, alt-right, right wing zionists.” That’s a mean feat of inverted intersectionalism.

The concern Tapper raised — about progressives standing with violent radicals — speaks to a much larger problem regarding the intersectionalist approach to social justice movements. On the one hand the intersectional feminist movement has been making strange bedfellows; on the other, it has been increasingly hostile to those who question those additions.

The smearing of opponents in an attempt to write them off forever is a trait of Authoritarian Leftists, but not of Progressive Leftists, who are usually willing to defend their stands instead of engaging in ad hominem arguments.

I hope that feminists and Authoritarian Leftists come to their senses about “leaders” like Sarsour. Even the American Civil Liberties Union has fallen for her schtick–the ACLU, whom I once worked for as a volunteer and supported financially!:

And Sarsour’s Twitter thread is full of threats against those who “defame” her and “lie about her”. Well, there are legal recourses to defamation, Ms. Sarsour, so avail yourself of them:

Here is a self-pitying, narcissistic Regressive who’s seen as a hero to feminists. Has the world gone mad? I’m hoping that her behavior, and the penchant of regressive intersectional feminists to ally with unsavory characters and movements, will eventually take its toll. So does Shire:

Perhaps, Sarsour’s attempt to slander a journalist at CNN for asking questions — rather than to answer the question —  may be a much-needed wakeup call for feminists and others on the left about the destructive tactics that the intersectionalist left appears to be picking up from its counterparts on the alt-right.

But I’m not holding my breath.

h/t: BJ, dano

Readers’ wildlife photos

We have a new contributor who sent some lovely photos of fox kits. There are too many to post, even with the selection Steve sent, so I’ll pick some of my favorites. His notes are indented;

My name is Steve Adams and I’ve been a long time reader of your website and of your books. I very much enjoy seeing the wildlife photos sent in by your readers and thought I could contribute some of my own. My wife and I live just south of Rochester, NY on about 8 acres of land. Our backyard is an open area that is surrounded on three sides by woods with our house being along the 4th side. Back in March of this year, we noticed a red fox, (Vulpes vulpes), hanging around the edge of the backyard. We hoped it was a vixen looking for a place to den as we’ve had foxes den there in the past. Our hopes were rewarded this past May when we saw she had given birth to 4 healthy kits!

I’ve attached a file that contains some of the images I captured of the kits over the course of about a month. They made their debut to the outside world around the 1st week of May. They’ve provided my wife and I with endless amounts of entertainment as we’ve watched them grow, play, and learn to be foxes. Sadly, the family has moved on now and we haven’t seen them together for about the last 3 weeks. Although, one kit seems to have an affinity for its old stomping grounds and has made occasional visits to the backyard.

I hope I haven’t sent too many images. These are some of my favorites I’ve culled from a larger set. I also have wildlife images from various parks around Western NY and from our trips to the Galapagos and Tanzania. When I have more time, I’ll put together a selection of these.

Note to readers

As readership grows (thank Ceiling Cat), I am being inundated with emails from readers (as well as from nutcases who want to call me a racist, alt-rightist, misogynist, or someone bound for hell). I appreciate the readers’ emails, as I depend on these to direct me to many news items and other juicy things to write about. But when emails are several hundred per day, I simply can’t keep up and also do my other work.

This makes me feel bad, as I like to respond to every reader, but with so many emails it’s nearly impossible, and I feel like I’m being rude when I don’t have time. Also, some exigent emails get lost in the accumulating pile, and I forget them.

To solve this problem, I’m asking readers to email me no more than once every three days or so. I don’t want to discourage contributions, so if you have multiple things to bring to my attention, combine them in one email rather than writing several times a day or even daily. Please, however, keep letting me know of interesting stuff out there.

Two exceptions: if something is extraordinarily timely and I must see it immediately, send it along. Also, corrections of fact or of typos are welcome at any time.



Thursday: Special Hili dialogue—and a post by Hili!

Introduction by Jerry: It’s Thursday, July 20, 2017. Yesterday Hili became aware that Hiroko Kubota, who made my lovely embroidered Hili shirt, has just published her second book—and a new embroidered Hili was on the cover! (A copy is being sent to Poland.) Not only that, but Hiroko made a time-lapse video of her embroidering Hili, as well as another cat and a d*g. She is a wonderful artist in thread, and for a while would take orders to custom embroider your cat, dog, or anything else on a shirt, purse, etc. (she also makes the shirts). Now she’s overwhelmed with work, and her etsy shop GoGo5 notes that she is not taking current orders. You can, however, order her two books. The first one, neko shirt, featured some instructions as well as photos of her happy customers, their pets, and their shirts (including me!); the second is for professionals and tells you how to embroider cats. But her talent is special, and it would be difficult for even a professional to match her artistry.

Below is the cover of Hiroko’s second book, which so inspired Hili that she insisted, besides engaging in a dialogue about it with Andrzej, on writing a post about Hiroko—and of course Hili, for, like all cats, she’s a narcissist. Here are Hili’s own words:

by Hili

Hili: We have to show how my portrait is getting embroidered.
A: Hili, it isn’t seemly.
HilI: I’m only praising a great artist. Today the link leads to a story about Hiroko and her artistic embroideries.

We cats like balls of yarn. It’s worse with embroidering, but we like to watch it because sometimes a ball of thread falls off a lap. Some people are embroidering chasubles, others do birds, but I am going to tell you about Hiroko Kubota, who embroiders cats and dogs. Maybe you remember Jerry in a shirt with my portrait? It’s a beautiful portrait, isn’t it? It conveys my character very well.

Now Hiroko has published a book about embroidered cats, and just guess who is on the cover! You guessed it. There is even a video about the embroidering of my portrait. Fascinating! I have watched it many times.

Of course, Hiroko Kubota is embroidering other cats, too, and even dogs, but–what can I say?–my portrait is exceptional. I have to send her words of great gratitude.

Hiroko Kubota

The superb Superb Bird of Paradise

The Cornell Birds-of-Paradise Project is a great website that contains all kinds of information about the 39 species in this fantastic group. There are videos and information about the sexual dimorphism in plumage and behavior, and other aspects of the birds’ biology, information about their evolutionary history and the people who study them, and general information about evolution and sexual selection—even a video on speciation. It’s a remarkable and informative site: the best place to visit if you want to see what are the most stupendous examples of sexual selection—and I’m referring not just to the male behavior, but to the female choice that drives much of it. It’s a rich resource for those who teach evolution.

Below is a 4½-minute video of the famous Superb Bird of Paradise (Lophorina superba), whose Cornell page is here. I like this video because it’s not just a “gee whiz–look at this!” presentation (you can see Attenborough’s shorter video of this species on a previous post), but one that shows how at least four different groups of feathers have evolved, and conspire, to create the “smiley face” appearance of the displaying male. There are also several evolved changes in male behavior, including jumping around to stay in front of the female and raising his bill to bisect the blue crown feathers.

After an evolutionist has gotten over her amazement, the first question that then arises is, “Why is the male bird doing this?” That is, what, exactly, is the female looking for that makes her not only drive the evolution of this display, but makes some patterns and behaviors more acceptable than others? Good genes? Some pre-existing sensory bias in the female?

In fact we know almost nothing about what drives this genre of “female choice” sexual selection. This means that, for the time being, we can only marvel at it, and at the power of natural selection—of which sexual selection is a subset.

h/t: Taskin

Why speech isn’t violence

Four days ago I wrote a critique of psychologist Lisa Barrett’s argument that speech can be violence, an argument made in her New York Times piece “When is speech violence?” Barrett’s answer was that speech becomes violence when it causes sufficient stress over time that the body is damaged. She then proposed banning speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos because they supposedly have that effect. Among the counterarguments is that a talk by Milo is a one-time “offense”, not a persistent stress, that people can choose to avoid it, and if you’re that stressed out by Milo, you should just stop watching his videos or talks.

Further, lots of people stress themselves out when they could be learning to stay away from stressors that are avoidable (workplace harassment, of course, should be illegal, as it is along with threats), that many perfectly defensible words (like critiques of Islam) are described by people as “stressful”, and therefore could be banned under Barrett’s rules, and, finally, that if you construe speech as violence, then that gives you a justification of responding with physical violence, something that’s actually happened at Berkeley and Middlebury College.

Well, yesterday Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff  (henceforth “H&L”) address Barrett’s argument in The Atlantic in an essay called “Why it’s a bad idea to tell students words are violence,” and they make many of these same points. (I really should try to write, at least sometimes, for sites that pay!) But to be fair, their piece is far better than my throwaway post, with Haidt, a social psychologist, and Lukianoff, head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), having deep knowledge of campus troubles and the psychology behind them.  Do read their piece.

H&L see two valid claims in Barrett’s argument and two inferences, drawn from those claims, that are invalid. The first valid one is that stress causes physical damage—something that’s long been known. The incorrect inference is that stressful speech is “violence”. (The correct inference would have been that stressful speech causes physical harm.) But then H&L go on to suggest that stressful speech also is largely avoidable, and you can train yourself to avoid being stressed out (they’ve suggested that incoming students be trained in cognitive behavior therapy, a good idea). They also argue forcefully that college students must and should learn how to not only listen to speech they find offensive, but learn how to counter it. I agree again.

The second valid point that H&L find in Barrett’s argument is that students “can grow from facing and overcoming adversity.” True. The invalid inference is one I made above: people like Milo, Charles Murray, or Christina Somers are not causes of chronic, body-damaging stress—unless you let them become that.

But then H&L go further than I in discussing the evidence that campus “safety” provisions like trigger warnings don’t work, and that the mental health crisis among campus students is growing, not diminishing. Students born after 1994, they say, show a rising spike in mental disorders. H&L say the Internet may be responsible for that, but don’t go deeply into the causes, which aren’t known anyway. They do argue that the “speech is violence” idea, and similar tropes, just make it worse:

We think the mental-health crisis on campus is better understood as a crisis of resilience. Since 2012, when members of iGen first began entering college, growing numbers of college students have become less able to cope with the challenges of campus life, including offensive ideas, insensitive professors, and rude or even racist and sexist peers. Previous generations of college students learned to live with such challenges in preparation for success in the far more offense-filled world beyond the college gates. As Van Jones put it in response to a question by David Axelrod about how progressive students should react to ideologically offensive speakers on campus:

“I don’t want you to be safe, ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe, emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.”

This is why the idea that speech is violence is so dangerous. It tells the members of a generation already beset by anxiety and depression that the world is a far more violent and threatening place than it really is. It tells them that words, ideas, and speakers can literally kill them. Even worse: At a time of rapidly rising political polarization in America, it helps a small subset of that generation justify political violence. A few days after the riot that shut down Yiannopoulos’s talk at Berkeley, in which many people were punched, beaten, and pepper sprayed by masked protesters, the main campus newspaper ran five op-ed essays by students and recent alumni under the series title “Violence as self defense.” One excerpt: “Asking people to maintain peaceful dialogue with those who legitimately do not think their lives matter is a violent act.”

H&L wind up arguing that allowing what the courts construe as “free speech” is especially important on college campuses, which are crucibles for testing ideas, constituting a sort of scientific, Enlightenment-based experiment based on the premise that only unregulated speech can truly create a progressive society. No suppression of free speech, I think, has ever improved a nation.

Near the end of their piece, H&L quote from a 2010 decision of a U.S. Court of Appeals, in which judge Alex Kozinski noted the special urgency of maintaining free speech on campuses:

The right to provoke, offend, and shock lies at the core of the First Amendment. This is particularly so on college campuses. Intellectual advancement has traditionally progressed through discord and dissent, as a diversity of views ensures that ideas survive because they are correct, not because they are popular. Colleges and universities—sheltered from the currents of popular opinion by tradition, geography, tenure and monetary endowments—have historically fostered that exchange. But that role in our society will not survive if certain points of view may be declared beyond the pale.

The University of Chicago’s administration and faculty—though not all of its students—support that view. Everyone on a college campus should agree, unless you have the kind of authoritarian campus like Bob Jones University, where dissent is suppressed for the good of Christian doctrine.

Here’s the toad!

Did you spot it in today’s earlier post? Here’s the original photo:

And here’s Mr. Toad:

Now we need some assistance here. Stephen thinks it’s “either a Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas) or maybe Woodhouse’s Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii).” Do readers know?