Well, just one, but it was a long story that almost ended in failure, with victory pulled from the flames at the last possible moment. And anyway, seeing one is sufficient. Details and more photos follow tomorrow.
Good morning (and good night to those of you in countries with their noses on the International Date Line).
Today is the birthday of the man who invented the safety elevator, Elisha Otis (1811). The invention was born out of necessity – he wanted to use hoisting platforms at his bedstead factory, but they were unreliable as the lifting cable often broke. Initially he didn’t seem to think much of his invention, he’d created other things before: a safety brake for trains and an automatic bread baking oven. However he showed it at the New York World’s Fair in 1854, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“…every differentiable symmetry of the action of a physical system has a corresponding conservation law.”
German aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun was also born today in 1912. He moved to the US after World War II, recruited through the secretive Operation Paperclip, where he worked on the Saturn V program.
Franz Schreker (1878) is a little-known Austrian composer born to a Jewish father and Catholic mother. His promising career was cut short by the Weimar Republic; rising anti-Semitism and National Socialist demonstrations irreparably damaged his reputation. He died in 1934 in relative obscurity. Since 2004 however, there has been a revival of interest his works, and they have been performed in Germany and Austria.
And so, onto Dobrzyń where Hili the cat is being obscure. Maybe she is showing off to Cyrus, or perhaps she is an astute observer of trends and weaknesses in philosophy.
A: What are you thinking about?
Hili: I’m thinking that philosophers didn’t arrive at post-existentialism yet.
Ja: Nad czym myślisz?
Hili: Nad tym, że filozofowie nie dotarli jeszcze do postegzystencjalizmu.
Although it has been not been reported very widely in the Western press, on March 12th Iran sentenced Iranian-American Karam Vafadari and Afarin Nayssari to death.
They were originally arrested on charges of serving alcohol in their home and hosting mixed-gender parties. Vafadari is Zoroastrian and thus is technically not bound to these Islamic laws. Minority religions in Iran are protected in their Constitution.
Kateh Vafadari, the sister who lives in the USA claims that the case is really about “extortion, property seizure and national security threats“. Former Italian ambassador to Iran, Roberto Toscano, agrees:
“The reason must be a different one…political blackmail toward the US (of which they are also citizens), envy for their success, intimidation toward the Zoroastrian community, desire to grab their properties, [and] repression of contemporary art (the reported destruction of works of art at their home would point in this direction).”
Earlier this month these charges appear to have been changed to now include attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran and recruiting spies. The Center for Human Rights in Iran says these charges are completely without evidence, and notes:
The imprisonment of Vafadari and Nayssari also appears motivated by greed: the Islamic Republic has a long and documented history of unlawfully confiscating private property, especially that belonging to those with whom the authorities do not favor. The family of Vafadari reported continuous calls right after the couple’s arrest demanding money, and noted that the charges brought would allow the seizure of the couple’s extensive properties.
— Free Narges (@UnitedForNarges) March 20, 2017
FDD’s Senior Iran Analyst Tzvi Kahn agrees:
The prognosis is not good. The New York Times notes:
The continued inclusion of Iran among the six predominantly Muslim nations in Mr. Trump’s revised visa ban has only aggravated matters, according to Iranian-American advocates. Iran, which has described the ban as insulting, has retaliated by prohibiting most American visitors.
“The problem is that no one has a clue about Trump administration policy,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran. With the American prisoners in Iran, he said, “there is limbo, really.”
If I return without seeing one of these birds, I’ll be downhearted. Here is a kea attack on a car at Arthur’s Pass. The woman tried to feed one, which is forbidden, though I know it’s tempting.
And here’s a video showing the infectious “play call” of the kea that incites other kea to playful behavior. Read about it in National Geographic. Note that the researchers played various calls to the keas, including non-play calls and the calls of other species.
FURTHER UPDATE FROM THE BBC (Sadly, the policeman, and two others hit by the vehicle, have died. GCM):
- A police officer has died after being stabbed outside the Houses of Parliament
- Two other people have died and at least 20 others are injured after the attacker drove into them in a car on Westminster Bridge
- The alleged assailant was shot and killed by armed police
- Metropolitan Police say they are treating it as a terrorist incident and buildings are in lockdown
- Theresa May condemns the attack as “sick and deprived”
- The PM insists attempts to undermine British values are ‘doomed to failure’
UPDATE FROM CNN (with link to live blog; there’s also livestreamed video):
One woman has died and many people were injured, the British Press Association reported, in what police are treating as a terrorist incident at the Houses of Parliament.
“Officers — including firearms officers — remain on the scene and we are treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise,” police said.
A female has been recovered from the River Thames alive but with injuries, a Port of London Authority spokesman told CNN.
Images showed a car crashed into the perimeter gate of Parliament, and witnesses later told CNN that they had seen the vehicle mow down pedestrians.
David Lidington, leader of the House of Commons, also reported a stabbing.
“It seems that a police officer has been stabbed, that the alleged assailant was shot by armed police,” he said.
There were either one or two terrorist attacks today outside Parliament and on Westminster Bridge nearby. A policeman was stabbed, not fatally, and the assailant shot and killed (apparently British police near Parliament are armed). At least one of the five pedestrians deliberately struck by a speeding car has died.
I am calling this a “terrorist attack” because a.) the British police are calling it that and b.) it’s the first anniversary of the Brussels bombings. I don’t like to rush to judgment when this kind of thing happens, but this time I’ll predict it’s the hand of Islamic terrorism. You can read the New York Times report here. An excerpt:
LONDON — Britain’s Parliament was placed on lockdown on Wednesday, plunging the country’s seat of power into turmoil, after an assailant stabbed a police officer outside the building before he was shot, and a motorist on an adjacent bridge plowed over at least five pedestrians, killing at least one.
The Metropolitan Police described the attack as a “a terrorist incident,” but many details, as well as the sequence of events, remained unclear. Security officers shot the assailant outside Parliament. But it was not yet known whether the assailant was the same person who ran over the pedestrians on the bridge. The police also responded to reports of a person in the River Thames.
. . . Ambulances and other emergency vehicles thronged the scene, and helicopters flew ahead, as one of the busiest sections of London was cordoned off and evacuated. The Westminster station on the Tube, London’s subway system, was closed. Prime Minister Theresa May was rushed into a vehicle and spirited back to her office, where her aides reported that she was safe.
A map from the NYT:
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) March 22, 2017
You know this is going to happen in the U.S. sooner or later, and it will be awful when it does—not only for the innocent people killed or injured, but for the backlash on peaceful Muslims that will ensue when Donald Trump claims he was right all along. I have no idea how it will play out when it happens, but if you want to see true Islamophobia—bigotry against Muslims—be whipped into a frenzy by our President, that will be the time.
As for these incidents, is this the price we must ultimately pay for relatively open immigration, or is there anything we can do? I ask readers for their response. And don’t tell me that handguns kill a gazillion more people in the U.S. than do Muslim terrorists, which of course is true; that is not the issue I’m talking about, and I’ve had my say on guns. Remember, this is a problem not limited to America, not by a long shot.
The author of today’s Jesus and Mo strip apologizes for being late with the Lent humor. The strip appears to be unusual in that it’s almost straight Catskill humor without any explicit denigration of religion—unless that be criticism of how un-serious people are at giving up stuff at Lent.
I’m off to see kea (I’ve learned that the singular and plural are the same) in an hour or so! Wish me luck. Here’s a photo of one taken by my friend Andrew Berry at Arthur’s Pass several years ago. Isn’t it gorgeous? He was very close to it, too:
Tomorrow is the day I head up to Arthur’s Pass from Greymouth to look for keas, the world’s only alpine species of parrot. I’m hopeful that I’ll get to see these remarkable birds, because the pass is where they are most easily found. In preparation, today I traveled from Fox Glacier north to Greymouth, took a room in a backpacker’s hostel (but a real room: I need to spread out and clean up), and bought round-trip bus tickets to Arthur’s pass.
As I said in an earlier post, New Zealand intercity buses are like tour buses: the driver keeps up a constant and informative patter about the history, biology, and geology of the region we’re passing through, often negotiating wet hairpin curves as he does so. And there are one-lane bridges that have to be negotiated—often only a few feet wider than the bus:
A bit of the lovely scenery on the coastal road north, said to be one of the world’s ten most beautiful highways. I think those are ducks on the lake, but I have no idea which species.
The buses also make frequent stops for food, bathroom breaks, and photo opportunities. One of these was at the lovely little town of Hokitika. It’s famous for carving and selling the local nephrite jade, called “pounamu” by the Maoris and “greenstone” by the descendants of immigrants. It was much prized by the Maori for its beauty, hardness, and utility. It was made into jewelry, axes, tools, fishooks and clubs (see the Wikipedia excerpt below), and is still carved by hand to traditional Maori designs (as well as modern ones). I visited a store to see the process:
It apparently takes a lot of skill and training to carve these stones, which are found in riverine deposits are are not immediately identifiable as jade (see below; for more information about designs and the stones, go here).
Here’s a bit about greenstone from Wikipedia:
Pounamu plays a very important role in Māoriculture. It is considered a taonga (treasure) and therefore protected under the Treaty of Waitangi. Pounamu taonga increase in mana (prestige) as they pass from one generation to another. The most prized taonga are those with known histories going back many generations. These are believed to have their own mana and were often given as gifts to seal important agreements.
Pounamu taonga include tools such as toki (adzes), whao (chisels), whao whakakōka (gouges), ripi pounamu (knives), scrapers, awls, hammer stones, and drill points. Hunting tools include matau (fishing hooks) and lures, spear points, and know poria (leg rings for fastening captive birds); weapons such as mere (short handled clubs); and ornaments such as pendants (hei-tiki, hei matau and pekapeka), ear pendants (kuru and kapeu), and cloak pins.  Functional pounamu tools were widely worn for both practical and ornamental reasons, and continued to be worn as purely ornamental pendants (hei kakï) even after they were no longer used as tools.
Pounamu is found only in the South Island of New Zealand, known in Māori as Te Wai Pounamu (“The [land of] Greenstone Water”) or Te Wahi Pounamu (“The Place of Greenstone”). In 1997 the Crown handed back the ownership of all naturally occurring pounamu to the South Island tribe Ngāi Tahu, as part of the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement.
A Maori fish hook:
A Maori club:
I love the traditional design below, which requires the carver to open up spaces between the bits of jade. Some information from Global Culture:
The Maori twist or Pikorua resembles two intertwined pikopiko ferns. Pikopiko is a pale green new-growth fern frond that thrives in shady, damp areas of the New Zealand woods and Rua is the Maori word for the number two.
The entanglement has no beginning or end which refers to an eternal bond between two autonomous entities. These entities might be two persons. The pikorua symbol shows how individuals sometimes go their own way on their path of life but always come back together because of their strong bond hence the description of pikorua as “The path of love and life”. Another common description because of its meaning is ‘two person friendship pendant’.
I’ve now landed in the town of Greymouth, which I quite like. It’s an old gold and coal mining town (population about 14,000), and has a sleepy atmosphere with old buildings. Here’s part of the downtown:
Greymouth is also the terminus of one of the world’s most famous railway journeys: the 4.5-hour “TranzAlpine Service” cutting through the Southern Alps from Greymouth to Christchurch and back. A fire in the forest in February closed it for nearly six weeks, but today, as my bus was pulling in, the first train on the restored line was pulling out, and the locals were very happy. Here’s the station:
This large stone shows that the green jade interior is hidden until the stone is cut open:
Dinner at a local cafe: turbot and chips with a local cider. The cider was about 6% alcohol, and I have to admit I was a bit tipsy after the meal. The turbot was excellent.
I am staying at the Noah’s Ark Backpackers, which, despite its Biblical name, is a fine place—not nearly as crowded and odious as my hostel in Queenstown. And I have my own room—the Zebra Room, as all the rooms are named after (and decorated like) animals. My room reminds me of a whorehouse! Sadly, none of the rooms are named after endemic fauna.
The Dog Room:
The friendly resident d*g. He came to my door but wouldn’t cross the threshold: obviously well trained.
I went to the grocery store to stock up with provisions for my all-day trip tomorrow, and found that Weetabix, the favorite cereal of my biologist friend Andrew Berry, had lost a vowel and gained a hyphen down under. Here, then, are Weet-Bix, whose photo I display for Andrew (as a Brit, he knows of this name change and mocks it). (UPDATE: Andrew tells me that the Aussie product, Weet-Bix, is actually the original and Weetabix is a copy in Blighty.)
Andrew thinks that Weetabix must be eaten in pairs, and yells at me when I visit his house and have three at a time, which seems to me the optimal number. . .
Finally, a sad ad for a lost cat, which hung at the entrance of the store. Poor kitty–I hope they find it!
Here’s an Attenborough segment on keas from BBC Earth. You’re not supposed to feed them, so I won’t. But I hope to get up close to them, as they’re fearless and inquisitive (“cheeky” is an adjective frequently applied):
Kea eating a sheep. An estimated 150,000 were killed by sheep farmers before a ban in the 1970s. Now only 1,000-5,000 of the birds remain:
Good morning! Jerry is in dreamland after a day spent prepping for tomorrow’s Great Kea Hunt. More later on this. For the rest of us, it’s business as usual.
Today is the birthday of William Shatner (1931) a man whose identity is now forever intrinsically merged with Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek, even though it was only one of many roles he’s played in series such as T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal. But Star Trek, in spite of cheesy dialogue, creaky sets, tacky costumes and occasionally dubious acting skills, came to define an entire sub-genre of science fiction in the 20th century.
But he can do restrained comedy too.
But the best thing that Star Trek did was create a new generation of skeptics and atheists.
Shatner is Jewish, but is quite comfortable pointing out the weaknesses in religious morality.
You want to go at me with the Bible? Tell me how Deuteronomy 22:20-21 about stoning non-virgins to death works in our society with our laws? https://t.co/F0UJnZgV57
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) March 3, 2017
In Poland today our furry friends are up to shenanigans again.
Hili: Let’s go to the kitchen.
Cyrus: What for? The bowls are empty.
Hili: We’ll shout that the cake is burning.
Hili: Idziemy do kuchni.
Cyrus: Po co, miski są puste.
Hili: Będziemy krzyczeć, że ciasto się pali.
Meanwhile in Włocławek, Leon is pining for warmer weather:
Leon: So? Where is the spring?
Well, it’s not Spring in Ireland, anyway: the weather has gone back to cold and miserable again. In fact it’s been snowing all morning, even though we had no snow to speak of this winter.
I call your attention to Jeff Tayler’s new piece at Quillette: “On betrayal by the Left: talking with ex-Muslim Sarah Haider.” I’m a big admirer of Haider, a co-founder and director of outreach for Ex-Muslims of North America. I’ve heard her speak several times; she’s thoughtful and eloquent, and deserves a wider audience. Haider, along with Ali Rizvi—and of course Ayaan Hirsi Ali—are the American equivalents of Maajid Nawaz. Rizvi has recently published a book (see here and here), and I look forward to a book from Haider, or at least some columns along the lines of those produced by Nawaz.
Haider is facing the same dilemma as all vociferous liberal Muslims or ex-Muslims: they’re being betrayed by the left—especially feminists—who view Muslims and their odious faith as worthy of respect because the believers are seen as oppressed people of color, as underdogs. When liberalism conflicts with pigmentation, it seems, pigmentation wins.
You can read Jeff’s piece for yourself; here’s a short excerpt:
The mainstream media, she says, seem not to care about their plight. She adduces an example: the June 2016 incident in which EXMNA called the local Wegman’s bakery and ordered a cake emblazoned with “Happy Three-Year Anniversary, Ex-Muslims!” The management refused to take their order, worried that such “inflammatory” verbiage might offend its Muslim employees. The Freedom from Religion foundation eventually intervened – businesses cannot deny services based on a customer’s faith or lack thereof – and Wegman’s relented. The rightwing press and blogosphere publicized the affair, but few other news outlets did. It goes without saying that similar incidents not long ago generated great public sympathy when the victims were gays.
There we have it: the rightwing press calling out behaviors scrupulously avoided by the “liberal” media! Tayler goes on. You may say, “Yes, but the press is doing that because they’re bigoted against Muslims.” Well, yes, perhaps, but who cares if they call these incidents to our attention?
Haider is still outraged. “When I read a news article about how a woman’s hijab was pulled off or how a stewardess refuses to give a Muslim woman an unopened can of Coke, it’s national news. But no one covers what we’re going through, no one covers our persecution. Of course we know there’s anti-Muslim bigotry, and that’s being covered. But our struggle should be covered as well. It’s appalling that our pain isn’t worth discussing. In fact, we’re often painted as the victimizers.”
That the rightwing media do at times report about them only leads to EXMNA being (wrongly) associated with the right.
The left’s rejection hurts all the more since the most menaced former Muslims are women. Female apostates, she tells me, face ostracism, beatings, harassment and threats from their families and communities, forced travel back to home countries to pry them free of Western influence, and forced marriage.
And on the regressive feminists:
The discussions in the aftermath of the 2015-2016 New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, gave her a chance to experience the hypocrisy of the left when it comes to Islam. She saw that older feminists strongly denounced the crimes, saying “’there’s no excuse, these assaults are rooted in religious patriarchy and we cannot allow them to happen.’ They have this idea that no culture can supersede women’s rights, but younger feminists look at things from a very strange perspective, a narcissistic perspective,” and believe it’s — “bigotry to even acknowledge that there are problems in certain cultures, unless of course you’re talking about Western culture, in which case I can acknowledge whatever I want. What could be a more effective roadblock to addressing the problems? I don’t know what world I’m living in when I can’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem and that it’s at a much more extreme level [in Islamic countries] than anything we have in the West, when saying that in itself is [considered] a form of racism, a form of bigotry.”
Criticizing Islam is especially dangerous in the Age of Trump, as Trump’s reprehensible immigration policies have led Leftists to defend Islam even more fervently than usual, as a kneejerk reaction. Everywhere hijabs are being extolled, and criticism of Islamic doctrine muted. Islamists like Linda Sarsour, who loves sharia law, are suddenly seen as feminist heroes, which is ridiculous. And so to finish, I’ll warn you against Sarsour, whose status as a “liberal feminist” is insidious as well as symptomatic of everything wrong with the Regressive Left. The quotes are from Haider:
“After Trump won, I was hoping the left might engage in some introspection” about how its refusal to hold an honest discussion about Islam had damaged the movement. (As I recently pointed out in Quillette, Hillary Clinton’s failure on the campaign trail to speak frankly about Islam and terrorism most likely put Trump in the White House). “But if anything they’ve dug in. So we see Linda Sarsour [heralded] as a warrior for women’s rights.” (This is an insult to reason and progressivism, even if Bernie Sanders would disagree. Sarsour calls herself a “racial justice & civil rights activist,” but supports Shariah law, declared herself “not Charlie” after the cartoonists’ slaughter at the hands of Islamists in 2015, and, in a 2011 tweet, said she wished she could “take away” Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s vagina.) Calling Sarsour a defender of women’s rights “is absurd on the face of it,” says Haider, “but it’s becoming more and more the norm. People will call us racist for criticizing a religion. They have no idea of what it actually means to be liberal.”
Amen. (That’s metaphorical.)
Oh, and here are two tweets from a feminist “hero”, one of the leaders of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Sarsour, realizing how they might look, subsequently deleted them. Perhaps someone told her that Hirsi Ali, as a victim of female genital mutilation, had already had part of her vagina taken away!
Reader Kurt sent me this video with the note,
“Sending you this for your listening pleasure in the hope you’ll never post anything from the execrable ‘Prager U'” again.”
Sorry, Kurt: here it is.
In fact, in this video Dennis Prager himself asks the burning question, “How do you know murder is wrong?” Science, he says gives no facts to answer this, and, says Prager, “in a secular world there can be only opinions about morality.” Prager, of course, says the answer is God (the Judeo-Christian god, naturally): “If there is no God, there is no objective morality.”
Here he’s using the Divine Command theory beloved of William Lane Craig: Whatever God says is good or evil makes it so.
The flaws in this view are manifold, beginning with all the odious dictates of God in the Old Testament and the Qur’an (if you include the Abrahamic God). If what God said was moral, then it is right to kill your children when they curse you, slaughter anyone working on the Sabbath, and so on ad infinitum.
In the end Prager, like everyone else, confects his own version of “God’s morality”, and does that on extra-Biblical grounds. Would he think it moral to kill his children for no good reason should God, as he did to Abraham, dictate such an act?
Prager in fact has his own opinions about which of God’s Biblical dictates to follow, and which to reject. That comes, as for all believers, from secular feelings (many of which may have been instilled in us by evolution)—yes, opinions, but opinions informed by a notion of what kind of society you’d like. Of course, even that choice of a desirable society is ultimately a preference. There is nothing objective in any morality—except for choosing the best means to create a society you prefer.
Finally, Prager trots out the Hitler/Stalin-were-atheists argument. He doesn’t mention the Inquisition or ISIS, or the notion that Hitler and Stalin weren’t acting out of pure atheism, but out of a desire to create a religious-like ideological cult (complete with God figure) in which no dissent could be tolerated.
When you watch this non-dumb man make a totally dumb argument, remember that not EVERYTHING from Prager University is bad. It’s a serious mistake to reject every video proffered by this place just because most of them are conservative and religious.
If there’s one lesson I’d like to impart to readers, that is this: never write off a source of news or opinion permanently just because it’s generally wrong, right-wing, or religious. Sometimes conservatives are right, and even if they’re wrong, you can use them as whetstones to hone your opinion. That is why conservative Ben Shapiro regularly destroys Leftist college students: they haven’t done their homework to back up their arguments, but rely on mantras, slogans, and what their Facebook friends say. Shapiro has done his homework, though I disagree strongly with what he concludes from it.
Likewise, I’ve seen many people, even on this site, dismiss Sam Harris’s opinions tout court simply because they think he favors torture or profiling, even though his views are far more nuanced than that. But even if he was in favor of these things applied on a wholesale scale, that doesn’t mean we can reject out of hand everything he says. I don’t want to see that kind of lazy dismissal used on this website! Always go after the arguments themselves, and don’t rely on ad homs.
And remember, the news about suppression of freedom of speech comes mainly from conservative sources.
And with that, I’m off to Greymouth to find keas.