Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Lent

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:


The quest for the elusive kea: staging and preparation

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. [7][8] 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:

There are several large memorials made of huge blocks of pounamu:

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!

Finally, my goal for tomorrow: Kea or Bust! (Several readers have sent me links to new National Geographic and Atlantic articles about how the kea has an infectious “laughter”—a play call.

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:

Wednesday: Hili dialogue (& Leon lagniappe)

by Grania

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.

Unintentional comedy:

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.

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.

In Polish:

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.

Jeff Tayler on Sarah Haider, Islam, and the betrayal of liberal values by the Left

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!

Extolling women in Saudi Arabia:

If you’re a Western feminist, this is certainly a persuasive argument to move to Saudi, right?

“If there’s no God, murder isn’t wrong”: A ridiculous video from Prager University

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.

Two tweets

by Matthew Cobb

Readers are invited to explain the first one, which involves calculus of some kind, I believe.

And this might amuse you

Name the animal

Here’s a tweet that Grania found. I’m pretty sure I know what this thing is (hint, it may not be an adult animal. . . ), but I’ll leave it to the readers to guess.

Cincinnati Zoo fails to answer my query about chiropractic given to tiger cub

Well, by now I’ve written three times to the Cincinnati Zoo about their reprehensible use of a (human-trained) chiropractor to adjust the cervical vertebrae of a tiger cub who wasn’t “thriving.”  I asked for a response and I didn’t get one. I also wrote to Thane Maynard, the head of the zoo: no response. (Note that he has a Twitter account but his tweets are protected, which is just plain weird.)

I just wanted to report this nonresponse for the record. Maynard, who is in the video looking on approvingly as a quack presses the neck of a baby tiger, is—pardon my French—a jackass. First he employs a quack, one trained to practice quackery on humans rather than felids, to treat a fragile animal, and then he doesn’t bother to respond when I call him out.  I have no use for the man. What’s next, Thane? Homeopathy for sick hippos? Acupuncture for llamas?

Of course I also got lots and lots of emails and comments from chiropractors, all telling me that I didn’t understand their profession, and some adding that while many chiropractors are indeed bad, they themselves are of course the good ones.

Sorry, but it’s all duck noise to me.

From Queenstown to Fox Glacier (with added Milford Sound bonus)

My trip to Milford Sound was pretty much a washout–literally. It was pouring rain the whole time, and while the ship’s captain made a great to-do about the lovely waterfalls that spill down from the top of the fjord when it rains, he was just making a virtue of necessity. One couldn’t even go outside the boat without getting immediately drenched, and as for seeing the Sound itself, well, forget it.  I’ll try to put some photos of that “liquid sunshine” experience below.

But it was compensated for by my lovely 8-hour bus trip today from Queenstown to the next destination on my Journey to See the Big Parrots (“Kea or Bust”): Fox Glacier, a small town on the west coast. Tomorrow I take another 6-hour bus journey to Greymouth, which is the hopping off point (1.5 hours) for Arthur’s Pass, the place where I hope to see keas.

New Zealand commercial buses are great, and today’s trip was particularly lovely. The drivers give a running commentary on the landscape, geology and animals, and they know their stuff. And we went through some spectacular country, punctuated by hourly stops for food, tea, bathroom breaks, and scenic spots. Truly, a bus ride on the inter-city service here is like a tour bus!

Here are some random shots on my 8-hour journey. The country is expansive and stupefyingly gorgeous.

Beech forest with ferns. I’m told there are three species of endemic beeches, all non-deciduous (keeping their leaves in winter): red, white, and black. They grow slowly and so aren’t the basis for a big logging industry.

Red beech cut up since it was blown down. Its color and hardness were, we were told, especially prized by the furniture-making trade:

Wet forest with tree ferns (tree ferns in the wild!!):

It’s WET! Look at these lovely epiphytes decorating a tree:

I don’t know what these gelatinous plants are. Readers?

The next two photos were taken on the way to Milford Sound yesterday. No wonder Lord of the Rings was filmed in this land. . .

Apparently, before the Europeans came, the forest came smack down to the Tasman Sea, like this (west coast of South Island).

We reached the Tasman sea and, strolling along the beach during a break, I found these pebbles. I didn’t arrange them; this is natural:

Here are ducks; I have no idea whether these are garden-variety mallards or some special New Zealand duck (their heads aren’t very green). Readers?

And a few more shots from the all-day trip to Milford Sound:

A great glacial valley from 14,000 years ago. We were told the glaciers went up to tree line on the mountains at either side. The grass is New Zealand’s native grass, which is not green but golden:

A tree knot or something. . .

Rock scoured by a waterfall:


Finally, a lousy shot of Milford Sound, showing the waterfalls that appear when it’s rainy, and a few New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri)who don’t mind the rain. (The seals are also found in Australia).

It was pouring sheets of rain and the air was full of mist; I almost ruined my goddam camera getting these shots!

Such was my disappointing day at the world’s #1 rated tourist site. You can’t control the weather, of course, but if I were going to the Sound, I’d look at the five-day weather report and book a day predicted to be clear. It hadn’t rained for 16 days before I showed up—and then, boom!

Here is my backpacker-hostel digs in Queenstown. My bed is lower right, foreground, and I shared the room with 7 women who appeared to be in their early 20s. They were MESSY: it looked as if a bomb had exploded in the room, scattering clothes and toiletries everywhere. (Note how neat I am.) The picture doesn’t do justice to these women’s messiness, AND when I put a book and some toiletries on my bed to claim it when I left for the day, someone had stolen them when I got back! Beware if you stay at the Base Backpacker’s Hostel in Queenstown: it’s not safe. (I’m in a much better place here in Fox Glacier.)

To end on a high note, here’s a scenic spot between Glenorchy and Queenstown, showing Lake Wakatipu and some of the surrounding mountains:

On to see keas. This photo was provided by reader Gordon, who took a photo of a kea he encountered at Arthur’s Pass and who followed him down off the pass. What a story! His comment (note that the bird is banded):

This one joined me at the top of Arthur’s Pass and flew down with me to alight on the car each time I stopped.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue – cats & Twitter

by Grania

It’s the birthday of Twitter (2006).

I love and hate it, sometimes at the same time. Depending on who you choose to follow – sometimes as a pure voyeur – it can be an echo chamber or a place of discovery or a place of facepalming frustration. It also is far from balanced in how it doles out Internet Justice, and much like Facebook has a real problem on its hands in trying to balance free speech without becoming a platform for genuine abuse as may prove to be the case with Kurt Eichenwald.

One of Twitter’s strong points is you often get to see the news before the major media outlets get to it.

But it can be a bewildering place. For example, although I don’t know whether this was a real or spoof account, this can pretty much summarise the Twitter experience in under 24 hours.

Twitter also pokes advertising at you, which is fair enough, they’ve got to pay the rent too. But their algorithms need some tweaking. This advert was aimed at me in spite of the fact that my bio clearly says atheist. (You don’t have to state your religion, or lack thereof. I’m just obnoxious*.) Maybe they’re just that desperate.


Then there are moments of comedy. I first noticed this floating by and wondered what on earth Wikileaks was whining about as it clearly has the Verified blue tick.


Being verified is not a big deal – there are some users with fewer than 2000 followers who get verified accounts, so the bar is not particularly high. Then it became clear who the tweet was really about. Evidently he operates both accounts. Why does he need TWO blue ticks?


Of course, once you show injury you are pretty much a bleeding lamb cutlet in a piranha tank. Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer cutlet.

Anyways, happy birthday Twitter.

Its also the UN International Day of Forests, which is a far more important thing and one can only hope that forests outlive us, Twitter and humanity in general.

In Poland, Hili is suffering from a common felid affliction. Fortunately it is rarely fatal, although some cat staff have had to resort to tags to ensure that the household god in their midst does not go the way of Six Dinner Sid.

Hili: I can’t remember?
A: Remember what?
Hili: Whether I already had my breakfast.

In Polish:

Hili: Nie mogę sobie przypomnieć.
Ja: Czego?
Hili: Czy ja już jadłam śniadanie.

Bonus tweet, offered by Jerry (of course). Jerry is doing well and en route to Nelson.

We have a bonus appearance from Gus.


*Actually, I put it in back in the day when I was with Atheist Ireland, and I just never really got around to changing it.