“Blue Planet II”: the series (and trailer)

David Attenborough surely has one of the best jobs in the world: circling the Earth (and, in this case, going under the seas) and documenting the wonderful plants and animals produced by evolution. (I wonder if he writes his own narrative.) The BBC excels at nature series, and here’s the video prequel for the newest one, “Blue Planet II”. The trailer itself has some stunning photography.

Keep your eyes open for the yeti crabs (Kiwa hirsuta) and other deep-sea creatures, as well as the spitting dolphin. Sadly, the thing I most wanted to see, but wasn’t in the prequel, was described in the Torygraph‘s piece on the series, a series that apparently brought to light several new scientific phenomena. I desperately wanted to see this in the trailer:

Among the most astonishing discoveries was made in the Seychelles where filmmakers found that predatory Giant Trevally fish leap into the air, to grab sooty terns on the wing.

“A fish that launches itself, missile-like, to take birds from the air, sounded too extraordinary to be true,” said Miles Barton, Producer for the Coast episode.

“Despite it being a fisherman’s tale there was no photographic evidence to back it up. I haven’t been out on a shoot in 20 years where I haven’t had at least a still picture of the behaviour to go on. So I was sceptical, to say the least.

“We arrived and got very excited because yes, there were splashes everywhere, the fish were leaping out of the water and they did seem to be grabbing birds. They’re amazing shots. A genuine bird-eating fish.”

The new footage proved for the first time that the fish have the intelligence to spot moving birds in the air from underwater, and calculate the light shift so they can leap at just the right time to catch their moving target.

The team has broken such new ground that there at least a dozen scientific papers are already planned on the back of the series.

The Wikipedia article on the show is actually more informative than the BBC’s site. The series comprises seven hourlong episodes; the first, “One Ocean”, will be broadcast on October 29 from 8-9 pm on BBC One. The second, “The Deep” is on November 5, and the other episodes aren’t yet booked but you can check with Wikipedia or the BBC. This would be a great time to be in the UK!

Here’s a short video on the yeti crab, which is associated with hydrothermal vents:

There are apparently two species of yeti crab, with one associated with vents off Antarctica. To see a National Geographic video of thousands of these bizarre animals (and other species), click on the screenshot below:

h/t: pyers

Losing our religion: the U.S. slowly goes secular

Several readers called my attention to a new short article in Scientific American, “The U.S. is retreating from religion“, which highlights a recent study by the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by NORC (the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago.  The upshot is something I’ve written about a lot: the U.S. is slowly becoming more secular. Our country, I suspect, will be as atheistic as Denmark or Sweden in about 150 years. (Sadly, we won’t be around to see that.)

The GSS has been conducted since 1972 (see methodology and data here), and among its inquiries is the religious affiliation of Americans. The first graph below shows the changes from 1972 to 2016 (solid lines), and projections to 2035 (further shaded areas). The projections are apparently based on “a statistical model of the relationship between year of birth, age, and religion.”

While the GSS asked people about the four religious affiliations below, plus whether they were Jewish, only the first four are shown (Jews are only a few percent of Americans.) But the trend is absolutely clear: Protestantism is falling rapidly, Catholicism much more slowly, “other religions” are holding steady and low at about 5-7%, and the “nones”—those with no clear religious affiliation, though they may believe in a god, or be “spiritual” or atheists—have been rising rapidly and predicted to rise even faster.

As the article notes:

Since 1990, the fraction of Americans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled, from about 8 percent to 22 percent. Over the next 20 years, this trend will accelerate: by 2020, there will be more of these “Nones” than Catholics, and by 2035, they will outnumber Protestants.

This projection doesn’t account, I suspect, for immigration, which may change these projections because (especially under Trump) since it’s unpredictable and the projections appear to be based solely on age data. Nevertheless, some of us will be around to see the day that “nones” comprise the most common species of “believers” (and nonbelievers) in America:

The data on which some of the projections were made are given below: how age is correlated with religious affiliation. The trends are similar, with Protestantism losing big time and “nones” much more prevalent among younger than among older people, although Catholicism is a wee bit more frequent among younger than older people.  It could be that more young people are converting to Catholicism than to other forms of belief. As the article notes:

Among people born before 1940, a large majority are Protestant, only 20–25 percent are Catholic, and very few are Nones or Others. But these numbers have changed rapidly in the last few generations: among people born since 1980, there are more Nones than Catholics, and among the youngest adults, there may already be more Nones than Protestants.

However, this view of the data does not show the effect of age. If religious affiliation increases or decreases, on average, as people get older, this figure could be misleading.

Allen Downey, the article’s author, in fact sees these predictions as conservative in the direction of overestimating religiosity and underestimating the “nones”: you can read the reasons why in his piece.

Why is this happening? I suspect that it’s because the social well-being of America is increasing over time, and there’s plenty of evidence that increased well being—measured by a variety of statistics like healthcare, income inequality, incarceration rates and so on—is associated with lower religiosity both among countries and among states in the U.S. But of course if this is the reason, some unpredictable cataclysm, like nuclear war with North Korea, could upset these trends.

Absent that, we can still say with confidence that those who proclaim that “religion in America is stronger than ever” are simply full of it.

Downey, a Professor of Computer Science at Olin College in Needham, Massachusetts, provides more data here, and has a longer version of this piece on his website, Probably Overthinking It. He notes “It applies the same methods to predict changes in other aspects of religion: belief in God, interpretation of the Bible, and confidence in the people who run religious organizations.”

Readers’ wildlife videos

Tara Tanaka (vimeo site here and flickr site here) has re-edited and improved these wonderful videos of a Pileated Woodpecker making a nest, and of Pileated chicks growing up. A while back I posted an earlier version of the first video, but there are new readers and these are well worth seeing again. Here are her notes. Be sure to watch the videos on large screed and hi-def:

Last September I walked by the dining room window and saw a Pileated Woodpecker [Dryocopus pileatus] in a dead snag, about 75’ from the house. The tree was diseased and in danger of hitting the house, so a couple of years ago we had it topped, but left it standing – just for the woodpeckers. I cracked the window and slipped the scope out the window, and videoed him creating what appeared to be a new cavity, but he ended up making just a shallow depression.

Six months passed, and I saw him only occasionally. In March I looked out and he was back working very seriously on his well-aged starter cavity. He worked for a couple of days, excavating an enormous amount of wood. During the time he was still excavating the cavity, I looked out one morning to see him at the cavity, but his crest was up and he clearly didn’t want to go in. He hopped around the tree, came back, looked in, raised his crest, and left. Later in the day we say him working on the cavity again. We thought there might have been a rat snake in the cavity, so that afternoon, after he’d “knocked off” for the day, we went out and were about to wrap the base of the tree with some nylon mesh we use to protect nests from snakes, and saw that there was a fresh, broken egg on the ground at the base of the tree. Apparently a Wood Duck was in the cavity laying an egg, even before the Woodpecker had finished it. The most important tree in the woods is a snag, and the most important bird is the woodpecker.

I hope you enjoy this, it was a lot of fun to film and edit.

And. . . the babies! These are from the year after the cavity was made above:

I went out every morning for two weeks and shot video of these two little boys, from before any of the red in their malar stripes was visible. The day before I shot this video I got to watch the larger of the two say his first “big-boy” Pileated words, and this was my favorite moment of the two weeks — watching the smaller one call his first real call, after hearing and then intently studying his larger brother’s call. I managed to record each of them leaving the cavity the next morning, and the smaller one left about 45 minutes before the larger one! I later realized that they had to be able to communicate with the parents before they fledged, and they timed it perfectly.

The parents had nested in another dead tree the year before, and right around the time that the eggs were due to hatch, the tree broke off half-way up, ironically right at the spot where he had built his cavity the year before, when he didn’t have a mate. This year they built their cavity about 50’ high in a slash pine that my husband had girdled (cut the bark off all the way around) at least 3-4 years ago, just so that it would die and could be used by woodpeckers. When I would review the video that I’d shot on windy mornings I could see the tree moving, and held my breath with every gust for weeks, but this year their tree stood strong while they used the cavity. I saw them for a couple of days after they fledged, but the parents have taken them somewhere else, hopefully just for now. I hope they come back and make their nests in our yard in years to come. A hen Wood Duck would come every morning and look in the cavity to see if it was empty yet, and I think she has been laying eggs in it since they left. Those babies are going to have quite a jump when they hatch!

Tara added this in an email:

Interestingly, the smaller one who followed his larger brother’s lead in “speaking” his first words was the first to fly, leaving his brother alone for about 45 minutes before he got up the courage to step out in the air.  They both had beautiful first flights.  It’s very special getting to know individual birds and follow them from year to year.

Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sunday, October 22, 2017, and I’m already halfway through my trip to Cambridge. ‘Tis sad to think that I’ll soon leave the DPRC for Chicago. But it’s been a good time.  Last night after dinner, for instance, we went to Christina’s, certainly the best ice cream place in the Boston area (maybe the best in America), with a panoply of delicious flavors; check out their entire list at the link. It’s hard for your neurons to process the flavor list and spit out a decision (what some of us call “choice”), though one of my two scoops was already in my consciousness: burnt sugar—the best ice cream flavor in the world. Below are what was on offer; note “corn” at the bottom, which I wanted to try, but not at the expense of the other flavors:

Which flavors would you choose?

Here’s my cup: burnt sugar (the dark brown one) and “khulfi”, a nod to the ice cream endemic to India, made with pistachios, rosewater, and ample lashings of green cardamon. It was terrific:

In baseball news, the Houston Astros beat the dreaded New York Yankees 4-0 last night, securing a berth in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The series, which goes to the team who wins four games (seven max), begins on Tuesday.

It’s National Brandied Fruit Day, but who cares when I can get Christina’s ice cream? But in Australia it’s a lovely holiday: Wombat Day! Granted, it’s an unofficial holiday, but we’ll celebrate it with a video compilation of baby wombats:

On this day in 4004 BC, according to Archbishop Ussher’s 17th-century chronology, the world was created, and about six o’clock in the evening. You can see how he got this Biblically-based chronology at the link, but why 6 p.m. The answer:

Ussher referred to his dating of creation on the first page of Annales in Latin and on the first page of its English translation Annals of the World (1658). In the following extract from the English translation, the phrase “in the year of the Julian Calendar” refers to the Julian Period, of which year 1 is 4713 BC, and therefore year 710 is 4004 BC.

In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth, Gen. 1, v. 1. Which beginning of time, according to our Chronologie, fell upon the entrance of the night preceding the twenty third day of Octob[er] in the year of the Julian Calendar, 710.

Ussher provides a slightly different time in his “Epistle to the Reader” in his Latin and English works: “I deduce that the time from the creation until midnight, January 1, 1 AD was 4003 years, seventy days and six hours.” Six hours before midnight would be 6 pm.

Note added later: although Wikipedia gives October 22 as Ussher’s “day of creation”, it also gives October 23 in other places, as do other sources (see second and third comment after thispost). So it seems likely that it was indeed the latter date. As Rosanne Rosannadanna said, “Never mind.”

This is the reason many fundamentalist Christians think the world is about 6000 years old. On this day in 1797, André-Jacques Garnerin made the first recorded parachute jump, jumping from a balloon about 1000 feet above the Parc Monceau in Paris, and using a silk parachute connected to a small basket in which he stood. He survived. On October 22, 1878, the first rugby match played under artificial lights took place between Broughton and Swinton in Salford, England, near Manchester. In 1883, the Metropolitan Opera House opened in New York City (the opera was Gounod’s Faust). On this day in 1962, President Kennedy announced to the U.S. that because U.S. spy planes had detected Russian missiles in Cuba, the U.S. was instituting a naval blockade around the island. Exactly two years later, Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, but declined it. Finally, on October 22, 2013, the Australian Capital Territory (the small bit of Australia that contains the national capital of Canberra) became the first part of Australia to legalize same-sex marriage.

Notables born on this day Franz Liszt (1811), Sarah Bernhardt (1844), John Reed (1887), Curly Howard (1903; one of the Three Stooges), Robert Capa (1913), Annette Funicello (1942; my first heartthrob), Catherine Deneuve (1943), Deepak Chopra (1946), and Jeff Goldblum (1952). Those who died on October 22 include Paul Cézanne (1906), Pretty Boy Floyd (1934), Pablo Casals (1973), and Soupy Sales (2009).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili wants “a little something”, and you know what she means

Hili: We have come to the end.
A: End of what?
Hili: The end of the morning excursion into wild nature. Now it’s time for a little something.
In Polish:
Hili: Dotarliśmy do kresu.
Ja: Czego?
Hili: Porannej wyprawy w dziką naturę, pora na małe conieco.
I put up a rare tw**t myself about Archbishop Ussher, and Matthew responded:

I responded that it probably was since the Archbishop was Irish, but Matthew responded that God was surely in the Middle East.

Another tw**t from Matthew Cobb:

And several tweets stolen from Heather Hastie. The first one shows Melissa Etheridge’s awesome mugshot after she was arrested for possession of weed (there’s a video, too).

The status of my favorite bird, the world’s only flightless parrot:

And a cat who hasn’t learned where to sleep:

Road trip and wedding, 1972

It turns out that my old college friends, whom I’m visiting in Cambridge, have a lot of snapshots taken around 1971 and 1972, right after we finished college. I’ll put up a few of them just for grins.

Four of us—Tim and Betsy (the people I’m visiting), Kenny King (my best friend, now deceased) and I—went to the wedding of two other college friends in Fort Worth, Texas. That was a high society affair, as the bride’s family were big oil people in Texas, and loaded. It was August in 1972. We drove from Williamsburg, Virginia to Fries, Virginia (to attend the annual Fiddler’s Convention), and then all the way to Forth Worth in a 1971 Dodge Colt, spending the night in the Highland House, a drug halfway house and the only place where we could score a “free sleep”.  (The rules they told us: “Stash your dope off the lot, and dudes and chicks gotta split up.”) It was filthy but the price ($0) was right.

Remember, these are hand-held photos of old snapshots in an album:

Here tiz! Joker Joe’s, a truckstop and firework emporium in Tennessee. Left to right: me, Betsy, and Kenny.

Our arrival in Texas! Left to right: Tim, Kenny, and I:

This was taken after going to downtown Fort Worth to rent our tuxes (several of us were in the wedding party). Left to right, Bob Hancock, Kenny, Will Hausman (the groom), me (flashing), and Richard Mohs, from Webster, South Dakota. We all lived in the same dorm during freshman year (1967-1968) at William and Mary.

The wedding party, as dapper as a group of dressed-up hippies can be. Left to right: Tim, Richard, me, Phil (Will’s brother) and Kenny.

I have others, but they’re too salacious to post here.

After the wedding Richard drove us to his home in Webster, South Dakota (a tiny town in the middle of grainfields) and then, after a short stay lubricated with America’s worst beer (Grain Belt), Kenny and I took off hitchhiking towards Boston. That segment was an epic trip, too long to recount here.

The University of Chicago and its free-speech policy praised in the NYT

Greg Mayer called my attention to an opinion piece in today’s New York Times lauding the University of Chicago and our principled and outspoken president, Robert Zimmer. Click on the screenshot to see the article:

It’s largely about the University’s enlightened free-speech policy, something I’ve written about before (e.g., here and here). Remember, too, that the University of Chicago is a private university, and therefore not forced to abide by the First Amendment. But it does—and more.  Here’s a bit of the article:

The University of Chicago has always been usefully out of step with its peers in higher education — it dropped out the Big Ten Conference and takes perverse pride in its reputation as the place where fun goes to die. It was out of step again last year when Jay Ellison, the dean of students, sent a letter to incoming freshmen to let them know where the college stood in respect to the campus culture wars.

“Our commitment to academic freedom,” he wrote, “means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

The letter attracted national attention, with cheering from the right and caviling on the left. But its intellectual foundation had been laid earlier, with a 2015 report [JAC: read it!] from a faculty committee, convened by Zimmer, on free expression. Central to the committee’s findings: the aim of education is to make people think, not spare them from discomfort.

“Concerns about civility and mutual respect,” the committee wrote, “can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”

Those are fighting words at a time when professors live in fear of accidentally offending their own students and a governor needs to declare a countywide state of emergency so that white supremacist Richard Spencer can speak at the University of Florida. They are also necessary words. That isn’t because universities need to be the First Amendment’s most loyal guardians — in the case of private universities, the First Amendment generally doesn’t apply. They set their own rules.

Instead, it’s because free speech is what makes educational excellence possible. “It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears,” Louis Brandeis wrote 90 years ago in his famous concurrence in Whitney v. California.

. . . That is the real crux of Zimmer’s case for free speech: Not that it’s necessary for democracy (strictly speaking, it isn’t), but because it’s our salvation from intellectual mediocrity and social ossification. In a speech in July, he addressed the notion that unfettered free speech could set back the cause of “inclusion” because it risked upsetting members of a community.

“Inclusion into what?” Zimmer wondered. “An inferior and less challenging education? One that fails to prepare students for the challenge of different ideas and the evaluation of their own assumptions? A world in which their feelings take precedence over other matters that need to be confronted?”

You don’t hear college presidents talk like that these days—certainly not at Yale or Harvard. Greg adds that “the author of the opinion piece is a Wall Street Republican that the Times recently hired.” It’s a sad day when the prime defenders of free speech are Wall Street Republicans rather than progressive Leftists.

I can’t help but feel a swell of pride at these plaudits, even if they do come from a Republican. For I’m glad to be associated with a school that hasn’t caved in to the censors and Pecksniffs increasingly policing higher education in America and Britain.

In the article, Stephens gives one of the classic reasons to defend free speech (as interpreted by our courts), however offensive. These are of course the arguments made by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty:
If you can’t speak freely, you’ll quickly lose the ability to think clearly. Your ideas will be built on a pile of assumptions you’ve never examined for yourself and may thus be unable to defend from radical challenges. You will be unable to test an original thought for fear that it might be labeled an offensive one. You will succumb to a form of Orwellian double-think without even having the excuse of living in physical terror* of doing otherwise.
*JAC: Well, with the increasing popularity of “Punch A Nazi” views—with “Nazis” interpreted as “anyone whose political views I don’t like”—that physical terror is increasing.

The latest skinny on Kirkus’s penchant for censorship

I’ve written twice (here and here) about American Heart, an upcoming young adult (YA) novel by Laura Moriarty (out January 2018), and how Kirkus Reviews dealt with it unfairly. The book is about a hypothetical America in which Muslims are put into detention camps, like some Japanese-Americans (citizens!) were during World War II, and in which a white girl, initially in favor of such camps, changes her mind when she helps a young Muslim boy escape to Canada.

The book was initially given a favorable review by Kirkus, one of the three big pre-publication review sites that’s important in determining whether libraries order new books and whether people buy them. The review, written by an “observant Muslim woman of color”, was very favorable, and in fact Kirkus awarded the book a prized “star” for its quality. That’s a big boost in attention and sales. You can see the original review at the second link above.

Then a regressive Leftist group called “YA Twitter”, devoted to policing YA books, ginned up a social media campaign of outrage, all because the book was seen through the eyes of a white girl, and was supposedly a “white saviour” novel. (Moriarty says this is wrong.) It’s clear that many of those who complained to Kirkus hadn’t read the book, as it hadn’t been released: they were operating solely on the book’s summary on Kirkus and Amazon. Yet the book was very favorably reviewed, and given a star, by what would seem to be a reviewer who would be the most captious: a religious Muslim woman.

Well, Kirkus caved in the most cowardly way: the star was removed and the review changed, with these rather negative (and clearly anti-Trump) sentences added (see my comparison of both reviews at the second link above):

Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective worldbuilding device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter. Still, some will find value in the emotionally intense exploration of extremist “patriotic” ideology, the dangers of brainwashing and blind spots, and some of the components of our nation’s social fabric that threaten to destroy us, such as segregation, greed, mistrust, and mob mentalities.

A thought-provoking, chilling read with a controversial premise.

The book was suddenly “problematic” because it was, in effect, a case of cultural appropriation: the book apparently should have been told through a “Muslim filter”.

I was upset about this because it shows how the Regressive Left can effectively censor a book they don’t find ideologically congenial, thus molding the politics of young people to their liking. It’s thought policing. We should be just as upset about this as the Left was when the Right tried to censor Lesléa Newman’s pro-gay book Heather Has Two Mommies (1989).

Now, in a piece at Vulture, Claiborne Smith, the Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus, who had some ‘splaining to do, tries to ‘splain what happened. What ensues is cowardsplaining. The first piece of news is that this kind of alteration had never happened on Smith’s watch:

Yet while investigating criticisms may be business as usual, Smith admits this is the first time during his tenure that a review has been pulled and altered in this way.

The second piece of news is the Kirkus tried to get Moriarty to remove both reviews from her personal Facebook page (you can see them at the second link above), citing the “fair use” doctrine. But that applies to using Kirkus excerpts for publicity, while Moriarty was trying to show how Kirkus changed her review. I suppose Kirkus has a legalistic argument here, but it seems likely they were simpy embarrassed at having what they did made public:

On Tuesday, after Moriarty posted the text of both reviews in a comment thread on her personal Facebook page, the magazine [Kirkus] reportedly called her publisher repeatedly to demand that she take the comments down. (Smith describes this as a standard fair-use issue — authors and publishers are only permitted to excerpt 35 percent of a review for marketing purposes.)

More repugnant is this third piece of newsKirkus changed the review by simply deciding themselves (after social media outcry) that it needed alteration and then “persuading” the Muslim woman who first wrote it to bend to their will. Does the folowing sound like the Muslim reviewer had much input into the changes and what was to be said?

.  . . while the Muslim woman who wrote the original review was involved in the editing process — “the decision to retract the star was made in full collaboration with the reviewer,” [Smith] says — altering the review does not appear to have been her idea in the first place. According to Smith, Kirkus concluded internally that edits would be made before reaching out to the reviewer.

“We wanted her to consider if changing what we thought was sort of reductive word choice, and adding deeper context, is something she thought might be appropriate,” he says, though he emphasizes it was ultimately her call: “I did not dictate that to her. She made that decision on her own.” (The word choice in question likely refers to text in the original review that referred to Sadaf as “a disillusioned immigrant,” which some commenters took exception to.)

Smith is simply covering his tuchas here. Had Smith or the other editors not come down on her, and told her what changes needed to be made, and that the star had to be removed, the review would have stood as originally published. For what choice does a paid reviewer have if she doesn’t want to alienate her bosses? Again here’s how Smith responds to the “cynic’s” claim (which is also mine) that Kirkus told the reviewer what needed to be changed:

“We wanted her to consider if changing what we thought was sort of reductive word choice, and adding deeper context, is something she thought might be appropriate.”

Sorry, but I simply don’t believe that. I’m sure they told the reviewer what changes they wanted, and of course she had to assent. That’s surely what Kirkus means by saying “she made that decision on her own.” Some “decision”! It’s like saying a Saudi woman makes her own decision to cover up when she leaves the house. I share the cynical take described by Vulture:

Kirkus’s critics are skeptical of that claim; among the more cynical takes on the controversy is that Kirkus used the reviewer’s identity as a shield, only to then suppress her voice when it didn’t toe the line. Smith bristles at that: “It’s like no one believes that this reviewer has a mind and can change her opinion. Is that so difficult to believe?”

Yes it is—when the reviewer’s job is on the line. Sorry, but Smith is being a spin doctor here, and I don’t believe him. In the end, though, he admits he removed the star because of public pressure based on the book featuring a white point of view (my emphasis below):

The answer isn’t necessarily clear. Would Kirkus’s reviewer have changed her mind independently, even if the review hadn’t been pulled for evaluation? Or did she feel pressured to alter what had proven to be a deeply unpopular opinion when asked if she wanted to, even without explicit instructions to do so? What is clear, though, is that the choice to un-star American Heart reflects something noteworthy about Kirkus’s framework for critique — one in which a book’s value is determined not just by the quality of its storytelling, but also by its politics. The sentence added to the review indicates that writing the book from Sarah Mary’s point of view remains an admirable choice from a craft perspective (“an effective world-building device”), but wrong from a moral one (“it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter”). And while Smith says the call-out of said problematic element is not meant to dissuade readers from reading the book — “If readers don’t care that this novel is only told about a Muslim character, from the perspective of a white teenager, that’s fine” — he acknowledges that Kirkus does care, and does judge books at least in part on whether they adhere to certain progressive ideals. When I ask if the book’s star was revoked explicitly and exclusively because it features a Muslim character seen from the perspective of a white teenager, Smith pauses for only a second: “Yes.”

That tells us something about Kirkus, and it’s not pleasant. Well, let us see if Kirkus removes stars (or downgrades books) in the many similar cases when one culture or sex is described by members of another. There go future Huckleberry Finns and To Kill a Mockingbirds, as well as Shindler’s Lists. I doubt they’d carry out this viewpoint policing as a matter of course, because it’s simply insane. Kirkus did it because a group of offended ideologues objected: it’s not policy but simply kneejerk reactivity.

Now we see that Kirkus judges books not on their quality, but on their adherence to certain tenets of “progressive ideals,” which apparently including not writing about one culture from the viewpoint of another. Is that a way to judge books? I don’t think so.

Caturday felid trifecta: Cat brings home plush friend, a polite cat who knocks, and Maru gets into a tiny bowl (with bonus lagniappe)

We have an all-video Caturday felid post today. The first one, in which a cat steals a plush tiger, seems familiar, and I may have posted it before. Well, you can’t see it too often. This cat, named Timmy, has his own Facebook Page; he was recently very ill but seems to be recovering.


This very polite cat has learned to knock on the door using a lock:


What is it about Maru that compels him to enter any box or vessel he sees? I know of no other cat like this, and of course that is why he’s famous. After his recent failure to enter a “too small box,” Maru redeems himself here by entering (with only his legs) a glass vase. This cannot be comfortable, and I am baffled. Perhaps he has some kind of feline compulsive disorder?


Lagniappe: reader Michael calls our attention to a Japanese video by the Ohkawa Furniture Craft collective showing off their skills by producing tiny furniture for cats. Note the miniature alarm clock! Reader Stephen also found a link giving more information.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Kurt Andreas sent us photos of both animal and vegetable; his IDs and descriptions are indented:

Dogwood Thyatirid Moth (Euthyatira pudens), New Paltz, New York (April 25, 2013). A gorgeous little moth with a mohawk.
Winter aconite (Eranthis sp.), New Paltz, New York (March 23, 2013)  An early bloomer that lets me know it’ll only be a few weeks before Snowdrops and Crocuses start popping up.
JAC: I wonder what’s around to pollinate this?

Avis James, an old friend who teaches biology at New Mexico State University, took her students, well, “scorpioning”. You may not know that scorpions fluoresce under UV light because of a substance (identity unknown) in their cuticle. (This ability to fluoresce may even have a function enabling the animals to see at night). Biologists often find scorpions by going out at night with UV lights, and that’s what Avis and her class did. Here’s her description—with a bonus felid.

I took my Zoology class on a late summer field trip to black-light for invertebrates.  We were just outside Las Cruces, NM, but behind a local peak were there were no city lights.  One of the students, Matthew Gallien, took these photos of scorpions.  They are most probably in the genus Vaejovis.  We were using 100 LED UV flashlights: they were fabulous.

We found that other things glow under black-lights out there, including scat.  No pictures of glowing poop attached.

The final picture, a bobcat (Lynx rufus) is from another class field trip.  We went to the Alameda Zoo in Alamogordo NM.  My student Hannah Whittaker took this when she was in the enclosure with the animal.  This is a rescued animal: someone tried to keep it as a pet.  That didn’t work out so well, but it now it can’t be released into the wild.

Reader Gary Radice sent some lovely Oregon landscapes:

Not wildlife pix, but here are some land/sea/sky scape photos from the Oregon coast, looking south from Ecola State Park toward Cannon Beach. That is Haystack Rock in the middle of the first photo.
That empty beach is pretty typical for Oregon, especially midweek and off-season. Did you know that the entire Oregon coast, all 353 miles of it, from the low tide line to the vegetation line, belongs to the people of Oregon? There are no private beaches.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on Saturday, October 21, 2017. It’s going to be another beautiful day in Cambridge, even though back in Chicago the Cubs, after last year’s Moment of Glory, have resumed their status as Perennial Losers. But there’s one down side: it’s National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day: a travesty of a food if ever there was one. Give me a plain cheesecake with a graham cracker crust or, if necessary, a bit of cherry topping. The addition of pumpkin turns it into the dessert equivalent of the yuppie’s dream: a Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice latte. I eschew all pumpkin-flavored cheesecake. In the Bahá’i faith, today celebrates the birth of the Báb.

On this day in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Strait at the tip of South America that bears his name. On October 21, 1805, Lord Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar but lost his life. On this day in 1879, Thomas Edison applied for a patent on his incandescent electric light bulb. In 1945, the women of France were finally allowed to vote (1945!). And on this day in 1983, according to Wikipedia, “The metre [was] defined at the seventeenth General Conference on Weights and Measures as the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second.”

Notables born on this day include Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772), Alfred Nobel (1833). Oswald Avery (1877), George Solti (1912), Martin Gardner (1914), Ursula Le Guin (1929), Carrie Fisher (1956), and Kim Kardashian (1980).

Those who died on this day include Horatio Nelson (1805; see above) and Jack Kerouac (1969). Here are two of my literary/life heroes: Kerouac (right) and Neal Cassady (left), who appears as Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s great novel On the Road. Cassady was also the driver of the “Furthur” bus for the Merry Pranksters’ cross-country trip described in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. This is a famous photo known to all Kerouac fans.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili wants to run for Leader of the World, though no such position exists. We could be sure, though, that were she elected we’d all be required to take mandatory naps:
Hili: The world needs a new leader.
A: Are you going to run?
Hili: It’s too early to say.

In Polish:

Hili: Świat potrzebuje nowego przywódcy.
Ja: Będziesz kandydować?
Hili: Jeszcze za wcześnie, żeby coś powiedzieć.

Out in Winnipeg, Gus and his staff had a nice day outside before the winter snows begin. Naps were also involved. His staff reports:

It was a beautiful fall day today, I think we broke a record at 25°C.

A tweet from reader Barry (with a video):

Three tweets found by our own Twitter Addict, Matthew Cobb; be sure to watch the videos in the first two!

Check out the bouncy bobkittens!

How many fox kits does this vixen have? What a nutritional load that is!

And more mammalian fitness on display: