A cruel trick on a kitty

What kind of sadist would offer spinach to his cat as a treat! That guy should be forced to eat kibble. Watch this short clip:

 

PuffHo: No Muslims should be portrayed as terrorists on television

It would clearly be bigoted, on a TV show about terrorism, to portray only Islamic terrorists. But it would also be tendentious to neglect Muslims on a show about terrorism, pretending that Islamic terrorism simply doesn’t exist. Yet PuffHo (of course) is applauding such a show in its new article: “Here’s why you’ll never see a Muslim terrorist on this TV show“. To wit:

Here’s something we can hopefully all agree on: we’ve seen enough Muslim terrorists on TV.

Whether it’s reinforcing the threat-next-door stereotype *cough “24” cough* or how far too many actors who are or appear to be Middle Eastern have played a terrorist on TV (Kal Penn, Rami Malek, etc.) representations of Muslim people as extremists only fuel Islamophobic and xenophobic sentiments.

To subvert this history of stereotyping and marginalization on-screen, “Quantico” showrunner Josh Safran has made it his mission to never feature a Muslim terrorist in the series, which follows a group of FBI recruits combating incidents of domestic terrorism.

In a New York Times article titled “Can Television Be Fair to Muslims?” featuring excerpts from a roundtable of writers and showrunners of series like “Homeland” and “Quantico,” Safran explains that his series stands in direct defiance of this kind of typecasting.

“For me, it was important to not ever put a Muslim terrorist on our show,” he said. “There hasn’t been one. This year we have the appearance of one — which is a spoiler. But it’s not true.”

Now think about this. If you know the “24” television series, you’ll also know that it was not all about Islamic terrorists; in fact, they’re in the distinct minority. It was about a panoply of terrorists from distinct countries and backgrounds. If you have a show about domestic terrorism in the U.S., it’s almost a form of censorship to leave out a group that has been responsible for several major and deadly episodes of terrorism. Even fears of “Islamophobia” must bow to reality. But the Regressive Left prefers distorting reality rather than portray the true nature of American terrorism, some of which is committed by Muslims.

There’s more:

Safran also said the result of the presidential election was a turning point for the series. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s win, the writers of “Quantico” were at a loss as to how to depict terrorism in this moment of extreme political volatility, leading to a frank conversation with a network head.

“We had this long talk the day after the election, in the writers’ room, about how the show is about terrorism. We were there for hours. We were crying, and it was really tough,” Safran recalled. “How do you go in there and talk about what terrorists are going to do today? You just don’t want to do that. I don’t want to watch a show about terrorism now. I called the network and I said, ‘Can we change the show?’ They said yes. We’re changing the show so that it can represent, in a dark time, more hope.”

What is the “hope” here? That Muslims won’t commit any more acts of terrorism? That hope is vain. To partially quote Richard Feynman, “. . . Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

Then there’s this:

Maybe this will be a case of life imitating art, because even FBI Director James Comey noted in 2015 how the cast of “Quantico” is far more diverse than the overwhelmingly white, male makeup of FBI employees

What the sentence above says is pretty true, but what PuffHo omits is that the FBI is making a big push to diversify its staff. The problem is finding qualified minority employees. As The Marshall project notes,

“The FBI is overwhelmingly white and male among my agent force,” FBI Director James Comey told an audience at Georgetown University last month, Politico reported, after a speech lamenting mistrust between white police and black communities. “I have to change the numbers.”

The bureau is in the midst of a new “targeted” recruiting strategy, says James Turgal, Comey’s new head of personnel. According to Turgal, the agency has expanded the list of schools where it recruits to include dozens of colleges with large minority enrollment. He also sends staff to black, Latino, and Asian organizations that cater to lawyers, MBAs, and other professionals.

Finally, one hopes that Arab Muslims cast on TV shows get to play roles that aren’t going to be clumsily defined by other stereotypes—like the hijab-wearing  Joanna in Bloomers (ironically played by a Hindu actress).

Science fiction has always been ahead of the curve in this sort of thing. Star Trek DS9 cast Siddig El Fadil (a.k.a. Alexander Siddig) as the station’s Doctor Bashir, a young, naive and nerdy scientist who was in no way stereotyped or defined by either his ethnic origins or religion.

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Perhaps “showrunners of 2016” should emulate what sci-fi was doing back in 1993, that would be nice.

In the end, we won’t end Islamic terrorism by pretending it doesn’t exist. You can be absolutely sure that the FBI knows this, and is monitoring Muslim groups, websites, and phone traffic to stave off potential terror attacks.

h/t: Grania

Texas, trying desperately to restrict abortions, requires fetuses, no matter how advanced, be treated differently from other medical waste, and given a proper burial

Last June the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas laws that would have placed severe restrictions on abortion clinics in that state—laws that were intended to limit access to abortions by severely reducing the number of qualified clinics. (The law made clinics conform to standards of “ambulatory surgical centers”.) In response, the woman-controlling Texas legislature has now done an end run around the decision. At the end of last month, they approved a new regulation that fetuses, unlike other forms of medical waste, must be buried or incinerated like a human body, regardless of the stage of abortion. As the New York Times reported:

According to the rules, aborted fetal tissue must be handled like a deceased person and treated “using the process of cremation, entombment, burial, or placement in a niche or by using the process of cremation followed by placement of the ashes in a niche, grave, or scattering of ashes as authorized by law.”

Here are the new regulations, showing the unwarranted distinction between fetuses and other forms of medical waste, including body organs:


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And fetuses? See below, and here it is in larger type:

 (B)The products of spontaneous or induced human abortion shall be subjected to one of the following methods of treatment and disposal:

(i)fetal tissue, regardless of the period of gestation, except as provided by §1.133 of this title (relating to Scope, Covering Exemptions and Minimum Parametric Standards for Waste Treatment Technologies Previously Approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services):
(I)incineration followed by interment;
(II)steam disinfection followed by interment; or
(III)interment;

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In other words, fetuses, even if very early in development, must be buried as if they were humans.  This can only reflect the view that a fetus, no matter how far along, is equivalent to an already-born human.  That, of course, is a religious view, but it also makes more trouble for abortion clinics, which must now cover the extra expense of burial or cremation/burial. Will the patient be required to pay more to cover these costs?

Further, it’s palpably clear that this rule is meant to shame women who have had abortions, forcing them to treat their fetuses as if they were their already-born children. That is clearly a psychological burden: “My fetus is going to be buried like a person.”

There is no medical or biological justification for treating aborted fetuses differently from animal carcasses (after all, we are animals) or from organs removed from people. The only justification is a religious one, and Texas just can’t stop trying to put obstacles in the way of women seeking abortions.

Donald Trump has already sworn to ensure that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, placing abortion laws back in the hands of the states—and you know what that means.  The only consolation is that the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to overturn the Texas law in the first place, and a new Trump appointee won’t change that balance. But several of the Justices are old, and it’s likely that Trump will get another appointment even if he has only one term.

A late addition: reader Pliny The in Between has a cartoon editorial comment on the new Texas law at his/her site:

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Caturday felid trifecta: Ten fascinating science studies on cats, stray kitten crashes live t.v. news, and why cats like boxes,

From Smithsonian Magazine, we have an easy-to-digest list of ten scientific studies of cats with one-paragraph summaries. Here’s one of them:

Studying the many, many factors that contribute to rampant house cat obesity, feline nutritionists have concluded that human denial is a hefty part of the problem. When 60 German owners of clearly Garfield-esque felines were interviewed, there were “striking” differences between how they perceived their cats and how the scientists saw them. “Only a small percentage readily indicated that their cat was overweight,” according to a 2006 Journal of Nutrition paper. “The majority preferred euphemisms like ‘a little bit too big,’ or did not perceive or admit anything extraordinary about the weight of their cat … some even likened their cats to underweight silhouettes.” Fat cat owners were far more in need of a reality check than the masters of paunchy dogs, perhaps because “cats appear less often in public … where other people might comment.”

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(“He’s just full-furred.” Photo Credit: ESezer / iStock)

And here’s something you didn’t know (not!):

A 2005 paper, “Caregiver Perceptions of What Indoor Cats Do ‘For Fun’,” set out to answer the eternal question: Just what do cats do all day? The authors tracked all available sources of feline amusement, including playing with sponges, “spinning,” sleeping on toasters, helping to cook and looking at a variety of objects, including alpacas, parking lots, snowflakes, window awnings and the sun. But a popular activity was one that many cat owners will find familiar: “Stares at nothing.”

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Here’s a one-minute clip from a Turkish television show, in which a stray kitten crashes a news broadcast. The anchor doesn’t miss a beat though the kitten settles on his laptop, though he does crack a slight smile. The Turks do love their cats!

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Here’s more science of cat behavior: an explanation of why cats like to sit in boxes (or, in the case of Maru, in anything, including mixing bowls and wastebaskets.

Speaking of boxes, here are Maru and Hana in their respective boxes. Maru, as always, opts for the smallest box. His head is about three times that of his friend’s!

h/t: Amy, jsp, Michael

Readers’ wildlife photos

Remember to send in your photos! I have a small backlog, but more is better. Today we have pictures from two regulars, the first being Mark Sturtevant. His captions are indented:

The first picture is an odd little moth that I have probably seen on many occasions, but this one got my attention because it landed near my feet and went into this odd pose by hanging upside down and curling its abdomen up while holding its wings down. It is a Geometrid moth known as the lesser grapevine looperEulithis diversilineata – and its posture probably makes it look more like a bit of dead leaf. [JAC: Don’t forget that mimicry can involve the evolution of behavior as well as appearance.]

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Next up is a mating pair of basswood leaf miner beetles (Baliosus nervosus). These little beetles are very common, but they are small and very shy, making it hard to get a decent picture. As their name also indicates, their larvae will be found mining inside basswood leaves.

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The next two pictures are not my usual fare. Last Spring I was waiting on the grounds of a local nature center, eagerly waiting for the opening day of their butterfly house. While waiting, I came across this pair of cold mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). These pictures are the first ‘serious’ pictures taken with a ‘new’ (actually very old and used) 300mm zoom lens that I had bought for myself as a Christmas present. You have already seen some of the pictures that I had taken of the tropical butterflies at that location.

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Finally, one of our giant ichneumons at work. She is Megaryhssa atrata, and here she is using her extraordinary ovipositor to drill up to several inches into wood to parasitize what is probably the larva of a large stingless wasp called a horntail (often Tremex columba). This was yet another good find on my Lucky Tree Stump.

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And from Stephen Barnard in Idaho, who sensed my desperation for pictures in late November (the 22nd, to be exact):

Since you’re desperate, here are some photos from this morning.

Fog in the valley.

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Desi and Lucy (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) warming up in the morning sun after the coldest night of the year so far.

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A hen mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and her two suitors:

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Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s December 3, and 1-2 inches of snow is predicted this week for Chicago. I am sorry to inform you that it is National Peppermint Latte Day, just one more step in the ongoing conversion of coffee to a confection.  (That happened years ago with granola bars.) I have never had one of those vile flavored lattes, and hope I never will. (Apologies to those of you who like them.) It’s also United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

On this day in 1910, modern fluorescent lighting was first demonstrated—at the Paris Motor show. In 1960, the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot, with many great songs (“If ever I would leave you”, etc.), opened on Broadway, later lending an informal name to the Kennedy administration. The replacement of Robert Goulet on Broadway with Franco Nero in the movie and Julie Andrews with Vanessa Redgrave, makes the original cast album far superior to the movie. In 1979, Iran officially became a dictatorial theocracy as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was named the country’s first “supreme leader.”  And on this day in 1984, a leak of methyl isocyanate from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India killed at least 6000 people and injured more than 100,000.

Notables born on this day include Sven Nykvist, famed cinematographer for Ingmar Bergman (1922), Ozzy Osbourne (1948), Daryl Hannah (1960,♥), and Katarina Witt (1965, ♥). Those who died on this day include Oswald Mosley (1980) and Lewis Thomas (1993).  Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is decrying the human condition, or rather the condition of humans:

Hili: According to my feline reasoning humans have lost any common sense.
A: You might be right, but why do you assume that they ever had common sense?
Hili: Your answer might be showing a fallacy in my reasoning.

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 In Polish:
Hili: Na mój koci rozum ludzie stracili zdrowy rozsądek.
Ja: Możesz mieć rację, ale dlaczego sądzisz, że kiedyś go mieli?
Hili: Być może twoje pytanie wskazuje na pewien błąd w moim rozumowaniu.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: What we must boycott in the Trump era

Almost everyone over the age of 40 must know of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest players in basketball history. I began following him when he was setting high school records in New York  (he was named Lew Alcindor then), and then at UCLA, and then in the NBA.  Since retiring he’s made a career of acting, activism, and writing, showing that being a great athlete is not incommensurate with being a penetrating thinker.

Abdul-Jabbar’s activism and thoughtfulness are on tap in his new article in the Washington Post, “How boycotts could help sway Trump.” The article isn’t just about boycotts, though: it’s a broad platform for the anti-Trump activism that many of us foresee in our future. The day Trump was elected, when I was in Hong Kong, I thought, “What are we going to do?” My first notion was that, since the Congress was Republican as well, we’d have to engage in mass political protest, perhaps along the lines of the civil disobedience we practiced in the Sixties. I’m older now, but I hope the fire is still there, and I could see hitting the streets if Trump (as I fear) will do something as outrageous as supporting the Vietnam War or ignoring the segregation we protested in my youth.

After laying out a persuasive case that we shouldn’t expect much good from the Trump administration—look at whom Trump chose for his Cabinet!—Abdul-Jabbar suggests five lines of action against the upcoming malfeasance, which I summarize along with my take.

  • Civil disobedience, such as blocking Trump advisor Stephen Bannon from entering the White House. (Confusingly, Abdul-Jabbar adds lobbying against the Muslim ban or for NASA to continue climate research, items that aren’t really civil disobedience.) This is what I envisioned, but stuff like blocking Bannon is too narrow, and doesn’t have the moral suasion to appeal to many people. I can see, for instance, action to prevent the deportation of immigrants, action that would rise to the level of civil disobedience. Would America be moved by this like it was against the fire hoses and dogs turned on civil-rights protestors? I doubt it, for the morality of integration is more clear-cut than that of fighting to allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. Still, you can’t persuade everyone, no matter what your cause.
  • Donate money to organizations like the ACLU and NAACP to fight Trump’s violation of civil liberties and civil rights. This sounds good to me.
  • Lobby the legislators who support policies of Trump that are unconstitutional. This also sounds good, but most of those legislators will be Republicans, unlikely to be scared by threats of being voted out of office.
  • Boycott Trump’s businesses. This seems to me an eminently workable tactic. If all opponents of Trump stopped patronizing his casinos and hotels, it would have a big effect, and Trump would notice. There’s nothing like a reduction in cash flow to scare a Republican.
  • Boycott right-wing sites like Breitbart by not patronizing its advertisers. Unless this is well organized, and those advertisers publicized, this won’t work. Besides, there are lots of right-wing websites like Breitbart, and that one, though on the odious extreme right-wing, deals with issues other than Trump; and should we really be trying to shut down a site we oppose? There are free speech issues.

It’s premature to ponder what we’ll have to do, as we don’t know what will happen, but it’s not premature to think about the possibilities. Of the above, I see civil disobedience, donations, letters to legislators and newspapers, and boycotting Trump’s businesses as the most effective tactics. But what can we do when Trump nominates, as he undoubtedly will, a horrible conservative for Scalia’s vacant Supreme Court post?

If you have other ideas, weigh in below.

h/t: Diane G.

Charlie Hebdo starts a German edition

Today the much-maligned, sometimes tasteless, but always brave (and Leftist) magazine Charlie Hebdo started publishing an edition auf Deutsch. As the Guardian reports,

The initial 16-page edition – with a print run of 200,000 – features a sober four-page graphic travel reportage by cartoonist and publisher Laurent Sourisseau, better known by his artist’s name Riss, which portrays people he met and their reflections on their national identity, Germany’s refugee influx and other social issues. [JAC: Riss was wounded in the Muslim attack on the magazine’s headquarters in January of last year.]

. . . Charlie Hebdo is now produced in a secret location, a legacy of the massacre at its former offices that claimed 12 lives, including some of France’s best-known cartoonists.

The German version will be edited from France by a 33-year-old from Berlin who on the advice of her colleagues uses a pseudonym, Minka Schneider.

Schneider told Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily that the “Je suis Charlie” solidarity movement was especially strong in Germany, where the magazine sold 70,000 copies of its “survivors’ edition” one week after the shootings.

Here are two images from today’s edition, with translations by Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus):

“VW stands behind Merkel.” The VW mechanic, giving the broken-down Merkel an inspection, says, “Just a new exhaust system, and it’ll go four more years.”  Not hard to figure out this one.

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Merkel on the john: “Charlie Hebdo acts to free you. And now also in German.”

Typical of their over-the-top cartoons. screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-8-07-06-am

House science committee endorses climate-denialism article

As I noted in Faith Versus Fact, an important science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is loaded with climate-change denialists—and that was before Trump was elected. Get a load of some of the statements that have come from Republican (of course) members of that committee (this is from FvF, pp. 249-250):

And even when not motivated by religion, climate-change denialists still make palpably false claims resembling those used by advocates of alien abduction or Holocaust denialism. Climate denialists have, for example, claimed that scientists on a climate-change panel of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, whose report implicated fossil fuels in global warming, actually profited financially from their efforts (not true: they don’t get a penny for such work). Other arguments are that climate-change scientists don’t base their conclusions on “real scientific facts”; that the “real” evidence shows no trend of global warming, which is “one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community . . . there is no scientific consensus”; and that climate-change concern is “a massive international scientific fraud.” Amazingly, all of these quotations come from Republican members of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the committee responsible for formulating U.S. policy on such issues. Fully 72 percent of the Committee members are outright climate-change denialists or have voted against bills to alleviate global warming.

The beat goes on: as Motherboard reported, the Committee’s official twitter feed issued this, endorsing a Breitbart article saying that land temperatures have “plunged” 1°C this year, calling such drops “the final death rattle of the global warming scare.”  Motherboard adds,

“The Breitbart News story aggregates a Daily Mail article that insinuates global warming is a byproduct of El Niño. (It’s not.)

. . . Breitbart and Daily Mail based their stories on a statistically incomplete infographic that appears to have been created by the latter publication. It cites climate data from 1998 to 2016 without proper context, and for a specific reason.

“This is the portion that people usually show if they want to avoid showing the large increase in temperature over the forty previous years. If you look at the longer temperature record, there’s a clear upward trend,” Daniel Walton, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Center for Climate Science, told me.

“Both 2015 and early 2016 were very warm periods. Often El Niños are followed by La Niñas, which could bring cold anomalies. Just because one year has especially high or low temperatures doesn’t contradict idea of a long-term trend because we expect there to be considerable interannual variability,” he added.

For further refutation of that Breitbart claim, see yesterday’s article in The Washington Post.

Here’s the long term data on land-temperature “anomalies” (year round as well as October) since 1880; as you can see, the long-term trend is definitely upward: ice caps and glaciers are melting, coral reefs are dying, and all the climate-change accords in the world don’t seem to be helping.

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Here’s the tw**t from the House Committee:

Now this is just one posting on Twi**er, but remember that this is the official site for the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Note the word “science”, which seems out of place. If our legislature is giving tacit approval to a bogus claim like this, it can only get worse under the next administration.

I’m really glad I won’t be around in 150 years to see the icecaps and polar bears gone, and the Great Barrier Reef bleached to death.

h/t: Michael F.

My talk at NUS in Singapore on the nature of and evidence for evolution

When the local Humanist Society invited me to talk in Singapore, I proposed to talk about the relationship between science and religion. That made the organizers nervous, because offending religious sentiments is against the law in that country. But it’s easy to give such a talk without saying anything that would violate the law, and, after all, it was the Humanist Society.  Still, they counter-proposed that I talk about Halloween, telling me that I could apply skepticism to issues like ghosts and witches. I refused, for the issue of ghosts, goblins and the like is far less pressing than that of religious malfeasance.

In the end we compromised: I’d give a general evolution talk to the students and faculty at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and then talk about science and religion in a discussion at the Yale-NUS consortium (a self-contained educational unit run jointly by NUS and Yale University).

I’ve put the first talk below, and it’s similar to many other talks I’ve given on the evidence for evolution, so it won’t be new to many of you. If you’re new here, and need a refresher, go ahead. (As usual, I can’t bear to listen to my own talks.) I’m told that there’s a wonky bit for 20 sec or so around 1:07:00, but that it’ll be fixed. Go to the original Vimeo site to see it full screen.

The Q&A bit starts about 1 hour and 13 minutes in and lasts for 15 minutes.

My thanks to the Singapore Humanists, NUS, and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for sponsoring my talk and providing excellent hospitality (and good noms).