Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’. . . could it be Satan?

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “laic”, comes with the note: “It’s another one based on that Pope report.”

The report, from Reuters, is about how Pope Francis is blaming Satan (who must be more than a metaphorical being) for trying to destroy the Catholic Church.  Here’s a quote from the article:

In fact, the pope is so convinced that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis and deep divisions racking the Church that he has asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day in October to try to beat him back.

“(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said in a message on Sept. 29.

. . .“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable,” he wrote in the document.

How can you have any respect for a man who thinks his Church is being attacked by the Hornéd One?

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

A very merry unbirthday to you. Unless it is your birthday, in which case, have a good one!

Other birthdays today belong to:

Arthur Miller, American playwright and screenwriter (1915 – 2005)

Evel Knievel, American motorcycle rider and stuntman (1938 – 2007)

Mark Gatiss, (1966) English actor, screenwriter and novelist

Eminem, (1972) American rapper, producer, and actor

Mae Jemison, (1956) American physician, academic, and first African American woman in space.

In honor of his birthday, here’s the song that made Eminem famous.

This song was from the movie 8 Mile, loosely based on his life up to that point.

And the song that for reasons known only to the gods has spawned a word that is now in the Oxford dictionary. It’s one of those curiosities, as the song goes all the way back to 2000, yet somehow it is in 2018 that stan has become an official verb. The moral of the story is, yes, the baby really is picking up everything you play on the radio. It is not “too young” to understand.

In history today, there was a  tornado in London in 1091 thought to be of strength T8/F4. I didn’t think that England was tornado country, but there you go.

In 1662 Charles II of England sold Dunkirk to France for 40,000 pounds. I’m pretty sure that counts as cultural appropriation.

In 1771 the opera Ascanio in Alba, was premiered in Milan, it was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the age of 15.

In 1814 eight people died in the London Beer Flood. London doesn’t half get odd disasters. As always, the poor got shafted and Big Business rewarded: the brewery was sued, but it was ruled an act of God and they were allowed to reclaim the duty already paid on the beer to recoup their losses.

In 1956 Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer played chess against each other in The Game of the Century. Fischer was only 13 at the time and beat Byrne by sacrificing his queen in a move chess nerds are still talking about.

Over in Poland this morning, Hili is being cautious, and sensibly so.

Hili: I have to retreat.
A: Why?
Hili: I see a badly brought up dog.

In Polish:

Hili: Muszę się wycofać.
Ja: Dlaczego?
Hili: Dostrzegam źle wychowanego psa.

Finally, on to Twitter offerings du jour.

The dignity of cats:

The majesty of elephants (Matthew is entirely to blame for this one)

A happy child. Wait til he discovers ice cream.

More children being cute

The cat portion of Twitter:



Current events Twitter:

I think the Ecuadorian Embassy is taking notes from Jordan Peterson or something.

If this doesn’t convince people they need to do something, nothing will

Remember that weird new piece of ‘art’ on the wall of the White House? The internet has been busy.

Alternative version

Then there’s the weird glitch on Twitter today that seems to be affecting everyone except Matthew. Not even Twitter knows what it is. I’m telling you, Skynet is real.


And when the Singularity arrives, the man who made this robot twerk to Uptown Funk will be the first one against the wall.

Anyhoo, that’s all for today!



Hat-tip: Blue, Heather, Matthew.




A very old tool

Here’s my hand holding a 130,000 year old flint spearhead created by a Neanderthal living near what is now Krapina, Croatia. It’s a beautiful point, and amazing to think that this was chipped by a hominin so long ago.

I learned a ton today at the Croatia Natural History Museum, as we had a special visit to the Neanderthal collection and got a close-up view of the stunning bones and artifacts. This required special permission, and I am most grateful to the curator, Dr. Davorka Radovčić, for taking the time to show us the specimens and give us detailed explanations.

I will do a whole post on our visit, with lots of cool photos, but here’s a teaser:

Okay, one more. This is a very special skull (all bone, no reconstruction), but I’ll tell you about it later:


Zagreb: Day 2

My perambulations around this lovely town continue, but I’ve little time to post and so I may have to catch up on the backlog when I come back to the U.S.  I’m also keenly aware that most of the pictures so far are about food, but that’s only because I’ve spent more time sitting in restaurants than touring museums and sights. That will change, though, as I’ve several sights to see, including the Museum of Natural History, where I’m told I’ll be shown actual Neanderthal bones today, and the Museum of Broken Relationships, which I’m very keen to visit.

First, though, dinner on Saturday night. I was already full from a huge lunch, but my generous hosts pressed more food on me. As I requested before I came here, we went to a traditional Croatian restaurant. We began with beer (of course), and rolls with a cheese spread. These rolls had pork cracklings and paprika in them (thanks again to Pavel for identifying the food).

My main course was pašticada, described by Wikipedia like this:

Pašticada is a stewed beef dish cooked in special sauce, popular in Croatia. It is often called Dalmatinska pašticada because it originates in Dalmatia. It requires long and meticulous preparation: first, the meat is pierced and stuffed with garlic, cloves, carrot and bacon, then salted and marinated in vinegar overnight. The marinated beef is then roasted and cooked with roasted bacon, onions, parsley root, nutmeg, prunes, tomato paste, water and prošek up to five hours, depending on meat. After cooking, the vegetables are blended into a sauce. In Dalmatia, it is a meal for important feasts, including weddings. It is usually served with gnocchi or homemade pasta.

It was rich, delicious, and served with gnocchi, great for mopping up the sauce:

Pavel and Igor, wanting lighter food, had kalja, a soup/stew made of cooked lamb and vegetables. There’s a glass of slivovitz (plum brandy, the national tipple) on the side:

For “dessert” we had a dish that wasn’t sweet, and can be served as either a soup, an appetizer, or a main course: štrukli, the Croatian equivalent of pierogi: dough filled with cheese and covered with bread crumbs and sour cream. The dough here, though, is wheat flour rather than potato flour:

The next day we visited the Neanderthal Museum and site in Krapina, a very important place where, during mining operations in 1899, a huge trove of Neanderthal bones and relics were found. Some of those bones were used by Svante Pääbo and his colleagues to get the first Neanderthal DNA sequence, which of course was important in many ways, not the least to show that Neanderthals bred with “modern” Homo sapiens (I consider the two forms to be subspecies rather than full species).

There’s a museum on the site with replicas of Neanderthal bones and dioramas of how they might have lived, as well as a movie and other information about evolution. Here are some shots.

The museum exterior:

A diorama inside; note that one person has lost his hand; this is deliberate, as the movie showed a bear biting off the hand of a hunting Neanderthal man:

A comparison of the skulls modern H. sapiens (H. sapiens sapiens) and Neanderthals (H. sapiens neanderthalensis):



A neanderthal cranium bit showing the more prominent brow ridges:

And the teeth, larger than those of modern H. sapiens. In a few hours, with luck, I’ll get to see real Neanderthal bones instead of casts.

A reconstruction of where the Neanderthal fossils were found. The cave was blasted out of existence before they found the bones, which were excavated from layers of soil. This is the site where they were found, but the cave is gone:

A stromatolite section in the evolution bit of the Museum. Stromatolites are the earliest “fossils” on Earth, dating back about 3.7 billion years ago, and are the remnants of layers of cyanobacteria (“blue green algae”) built up over years. Moreover, stromatolites are still forming in some saline places on Earth like Shark Bay, Australia.

Here are some modern stromatolites forming in Shark Bay (photo from Wikipedia):

After the visit to the Museum, Pavel, Darko and I repaired to a lovely country inn overlooking a castle for a substantial and delicious lunch. Here’s the restaurant:

While we waited to be seated at the Sunday lunch crowd, we cracked local walnuts, which the restaurant had conveniently provided on a wine barrel, complete with a big wooden mallet to crack them. Pavel is opening one:

Lunch was COPIOUS. We split three dishes: a Croatia “everything plate” with samples of all kinds of meat, veggies, and potatoes, as well as duck (shoot me now) with mlincia type of noodle or flatbread (it’s both) made from flour and eggs, baked, and then boiled.

But Pavel and Darko began with a soup made from štrukli, the dish we had for dessert the night before:

Duck with mlinci:

The giant meat platter:

A well-laden table. Darko is on the left, Pavel on the right:

Dessert was Palačinke u vajnšatou – crepes with ground walnuts and wine “chateau”: runny mousse made of white wine, whipped eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. I show the dessert as it was served and then a bit dissected:

It was a terrific meal in a wonderful setting, and we spent several hours eating and chatting, including some discussion of free will. Here’s a view from the restaurant, with a medieval castle atop a nearby hill:

Stay tuned for further adventures. . .

Does Harvard discriminate against Asian-American applicants?

I’ve always been in favor of affirmative action, and if that means you must discriminate against some people in favor of others, regardless of “merit” scores like grades and SATs, then so be it. I consider affirmative action to be both a form of reparations issued to those discriminated against in the past (blacks in particular), but also as a way to ensure diversity, which I see as a good part of college. But I’m also in favor of affirmative action based on other aspects of diversity, like family income, politics, viewpoints, ideology, and social class. After all, one wants in college not just exposure to those of different ethnicities, but to those of different backgrounds and ideas.

The Supreme Court has ruled that colleges can take race into account along with other factors in its admissions policies, so long as this doesn’t lead to “race quotas”, similar to the “anti-Jewish quotas” used in the past by schools like Harvard (in the past there was a cap on Jewish students based on anti-Semitic bias).

Whether colleges have in fact adhered to the Supreme Court’s policies is not clear. They do use multiple criteria for admissions, including race, but schools like Harvard have had a remarkably similar ethnic representation over the past several years, implying quotas. Just using grades and other “meritocratic” criteria, as well as extracurricular activities (clubs, social work, and so on), one would predict a higher proportion of Asians and a lower proportion of blacks and Hispanics among entering students than what is actually seen (read below). SSFA claims that if grades and other “meritocratic” criteria were used, the Asian population of Harvard would be 43%; it’s now 23% compared to 6% in the U.S. population as a whole.

But that’s what affirmative action does, and I have no objection to its limited use by universities to ensure diversity. .

Now, however, a group representing Asian students rejected by Harvard, Students for Fair Admissions (SSFA), has taken Harvard to court claiming that Asians are indeed discriminated against (see here, here and here for the particulars and background of the case). SSFA is supported by Trump’s Department of Justice, which opposes affirmative action.

Both sides were heard in Federal district court in Boston yesterday, and it’s a bench trial, so the judge will decide if Harvard violated the Supreme Court’s dictum by having quotas.

Whoever loses will appeal the case, and it’s likely to go to the Supreme Court, where most of us can guess what will happen: the new, more conservative court is likely to dismantle the use of any racial or ethnic features in deciding college admissions.

This case, then, is a landmark case for affirmative action, and the judge forced Harvard (who fought this tooth and nail) to disclose how, exactly, it decides who gets into that prestigious school.

What was revealed seems to be this: while Asian-Americans rank the highest in meritocratic criteria like test scores and grades, as well as extracurricular activities, they were apparently ranked lower than other groups in “personality characteristics.” That is apparently why Harvard is not 43% Asian-American. Further, the personality rankings were lower not from personal interviews conducted by alumni, but from the admissions office itself, who, I think, make such judgments based on written applications alone. I’m not sure how you can judge personality without an interview, but so be it.

Harvard contests this analysis, but I haven’t seen them disputing the statistics. Here’s what the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, reports:

Anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions accused Harvard admissions officers of assigning discriminatory “personal” ratings to Asian-American applicants and attempting to “racially engineer” incoming classes, according to briefings filed in federal court Friday morning.

The briefings marks the latest development in the ongoing lawsuit against Harvard which SFFA first brought in Nov. 2014,

Using statistical analysis and opinions from outside experts—as well as newly public (though heavily redacted) accounts of Harvard’s highly competitive admissions process—SFFA reported that College admissions officers consistently scored Asian-American applicants lower than applicants of other races on “personal traits” like “positive personality,” “likability,” “kindness,” and “humor.”

The personal traits rating is one of several factors the Admissions Office considers when making admissions decisions, according to the court filings. Harvard admissions officers numerically rank applicants for their personal traits on a scale of 1 to 6—1 being the highest, and 6 the lowest.

SFFA filings note that Asian-American applicants to Harvard typically score higher than do applicants of any other race on other factors considered in the admissions process—factors including academics, extracurriculars, and recommendations from teachers and college counselors.

“No rational factfinder could conclude that Harvard’s admissions system complies with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” SFFA argued in its briefing. Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, among other qualities.

Lawyers for the University, in a filing submitted later Friday morning, rejected the notion that any differences in scoring constituted discrimination.

“Nothing in the record suggests any effort by Harvard to limit the number of Asian-American students, which fluctuates considerably from year to year,” Harvard’s filing reads.

Yet an internal Harvard review that was secret until the court forced it to become public showed that Asian students were indeed downgraded on their “personality scores”. As these scores are quite important in the admissions process, this lower ranking undoubtedly contributed to Asian-Americans’ reduced representation in the entering classes. Click on this screenshot from the Harvard Crimson to see the article (emphasis is mine):

Some quotes:

Harvard’s internal research office concluded the College’s admissions policies produce “negative effects” for Asian Americans in a series of confidential reports circulated among top administrators in 2013, according to court documents filed early Friday morning in an ongoing lawsuit against the University.

In the reports, which were never made public, Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research [OIR] also concluded the College’s admissions process advantages legacy students and athletes more than it does low-income students.

In one 2013 report, OIR employees wrote that “Asian high achievers have lower rates of admission.” In others, OIR found that Asian American applicants earned consistently lower “personal” ratings from Harvard admissions officers than did applicants of other races despite earning consistently higher rankings for their academic records and tests scores.

. . . Following a period of information gathering in late 2012 and early 2013, OIR wrote a report titled “Admissions and Financial at Harvard College.” In addition to examining issues of gender and early action admissions, the report was specifically meant to address the question: “Does the admissions process disadvantage Asians?”

Using 10 years of admissions demographic data and logistic regression models, OIR (Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research) created a model that estimated the probability of admission for individuals based on certain characteristics.

This model included estimated demographic breakdowns of classes admitted given different weighting of various characteristics used to evaluate applicants. One of the breakdowns considered the demographics of a class that would be admitted if Harvard judged only by rankings and ratings of academics success.

Under this scenario, “the percentage of Asians would more than double to 43 percent,” according to SFFA’s Friday filings. SFFA’s document alleges representatives from OIR met with Fitzsimmons to present its findings and that Fitzsimmons took little—if any—further action to address the report.

“Following this presentation, Dean Fitzsimmons [William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s Dean of Admissions] did not request any additional work from OIR into whether Asian-American applicants were being disadvantaged in response to the February 2013 Report,” the document states. “Dean Fitzsimmons did not share or discuss the February 2013 Report with anyone else in the Admissions Office or any senior leaders outside the Admissions Office.”

It looks, then, as if a.) Harvard did given Asian-Americans lower personality scores, and this accounts at least in part for the fact that they constitute only 23% of the entering class instead of more than 40%, and b.) Dean Fitzsimmons covered up this report, or at least did not pursue it.

I can’t find any explicit denial by Harvard that Asian-Americans were indeed given lower personality scores than were members of other groups. This then leaves Harvard in a double bind. They must then admit one of two possibilities, neither of which makes Harvard look good:

a. Harvard deliberately downgraded Asian-Americans in their personality scores as a way of keeping them from constituting too great a fraction of the entering class (this would be an illegal use of “quotas”).


b. Harvard sees Asian-Americans as having less attractive personalities as potential students than do members of other ethnic groups.

The fact that the personality downgrading was done by the admissions office rather than personal interviewers, who could actually talk to the students, supports scenario a.

Either way, Harvard looks bad—and I’m not even talking about their preferential admission of athletes and the children of alumni (“legacy admissions”), which is something Harvard doesn’t want to talk about.

This case is a precedent because it’s the first time in recent years that a minority group has claimed it has been discriminated against in admissions because of preferential admission of whites and other groups.

I have no way of knowing how it will come out, except that the judge, appointed by Obama, has a reputation as a liberal, and so may rule for Harvard. But that won’t be the end of it. This case will no doubt work its way up to the Supreme Court, and their decision will be the definitive ruling on affirmative action by race in American colleges.

I’m interested in readers’ reaction here, so read the background material above and please comment below.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Welcome to Tuesday, and apparently Boss’s Day in United States and Canada. (Seriously, you guys?)

Notable birthdays today are:

Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, novelist, and poet (1854 – 1900)

Michael Collins, Irish general and politician, 2nd Irish Minister for Finance (1890 –1922)

Linda Darnell, American actress (1923 – 1965)

Angela Lansbury, English-American actress, singer, and producer (1925)

Wendy Wilson, American singer-songwriter, member of Wilson Phillips (1969)

I have an ongoing bid to get Jerry to like Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd – The demon barber of Fleet Street. So far he is resistant, but I will prevail until he likes it or goes mad. If you like your heroines less bloody, here’s Angela Lansbury as Mrs Potts singing Beauty and the Beast. Otherwise here she is singing A little priest.

Wendy Wilson is of course the daughter of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. This is a recording by her group Wilson Phillips singing their most famous hit Hold On from 1990.

In history today in 1950  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was published, starting The Chronicles of Narnia series, although later a “prequel” was written for the series. The books are a strange mix of heady children’s adventure series with a distinct air of frowsty British academic as well as a touch of gallant sexism circa early 20th century; and heavy, unsubtle dollops of tendentious Christianity. Nevertheless, it was my first introduction to the world of Fantasy and for that I will always be grateful.

In 1975 Rahima Banu, a two-year-old girl from Kuralia in Bangladesh was the last known person to be infected with naturally occurring smallpox.

In 1984  Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


In Poland the furry duo are doing important stuff on their morning rounds.

Hili: Did you check everything?
Cyrus: Yes, somebody was here yesterday.

In Polish:

Hili: Sprawdziłeś wszystko?
Cyrus: Tak, wczoraj tu ktoś był.

Twitter contributions today

I am not sure what this is but you certainly don’t see this every day.

This is an interesting find. Matthew adds: “She had good teeth too”.

And someone on Tumblr drew her (I’m not good at reading Tumblr posts, I can’t make out which one is the artist, I think it might be “beecharts” who appears to have deleted her account now)

And a letter from a harried employee of the Inland Revenue.

I’m pretty sure this is essentially how all wars start.

It’s not just eagles, apparently bats can swim too.

My kind of facetiousness

There might be something slightly terrifying about having “houses” come crashing down out of the heavens and surrounding you with intent.

Some optical illusions for you, both natural and designed:

One of these is not like the others.

A really impressive bit of piloting

The end

Hat-tip: Matthew

Otter cries for noms

As you read this, I will be speaking in a fancy Zagreb theater on religion vs. science. But I’ve scheduled this in advance so you can hear this lovely otter vocalize as I vocalize less cutely. The YouTube notes:

Boo the pet otter loves his food and is always excited for dinner time, so much so he makes strange cat-like mewing and squealing noises, caught here on camera by his owner last month (September). “I love the noise he makes when he eats,” said the owner.

Elizabeth Warren is “native American”—or is she?

Well, she has at least one Native American ancestor some ways back. But I wouldn’t exactly say that makes her a “Native American”—any more than nearly all American blacks are “white” because most of them have at least some white ancestors. I believe the average African-American has 20% of their genes from whites.) At this point you can claim what identity you want, as there are no rules.

Further, I never much cared whether Warren had such ancestry or not; I’d vote for her against Trump any day. The real miscreant was Donald Trump, who repeatedly called Warren “Pocahontas”, a stereotype used as a slur.

But, for the record, here’s one article from The Daily Beast (click on the screenshot):

There’s also a longer article from the Boston Globe, which says this:

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren has released a DNA test that provides “strong evidence’’ she had a Native American in her family tree dating back 6 to 10 generations, an unprecedented move by one of the top possible contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

Warren, whose claims to Native American blood have been mocked by President Trump and other Republicans, provided the test results to the Globe on Sunday in an effort to defuse questions about her ancestry that have persisted for years. She planned an elaborate rollout Monday of the results as she aimed for widespread attention.

The analysis of Warren’s DNA was done by Carlos D. Bustamante, a Stanford University professor and expert in the field who won a 2010 MacArthur fellowship, also known as a genius grant, for his work on tracking population migration via DNA analysis.

He concluded that “the vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, but he added that “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor.”

. . . The inherent imprecision of the six-page DNA analysis could provide fodder for Warren’s critics. If her great-great-great-grandmother was Native American, that puts her at 1/32nd American Indian. But the report includes the possibility that she’s just 1/512th Native American if the ancestor is 10 generations back.

For you genetics mavens, the Globe gives more details on what genes they used and how they used South and Central American DNA as a stand-in for “Native Americans” (they are evolutionarily related, of course).

If it were my call, I wouldn’t call Warren a “Native American (I’d say “she had a small fraction of genes from Native Americans”); but of course calling her that satisfies the Daily Beast‘s political preferences as well as defusing Trump’s misogyny.

The Boston Globe is more reserved in its headline:

But is this of any import? Only if Warren claimed she was a Native American and benefited from it without knowing for sure whether she had any such ancestry.That would be a bit of a misstep. I’m not quite sure whether she did that, except that the DNA results take precedence over oral family history, which without documentation (and I don’t think she had any) is not convincing. Perhaps she misrepresented herself in the absence of good DNA data, but seriously, is that worth worrying about, much less making a campaign issue about? Not when the issue is Donald Trump and his attack on progressivism.

Nevertheles, the fact that Warren took a DNA test and released the results (would she have done so if she had no Native American ancestry, though?), tells me that she’s going to be a Presidential candidate in 2020.  I’d be glad to vote for her, though her chances of winning seem slim at this point. It’s too easy for her to be dismissed as “another New England liberal” like John Kerry and Michael Dukakis.

Cambridge University students vote against “Remembrance Sunday”

I was a conscientious objector, but my stand was always that there could be such a thing as “just wars” in which it would not be immoral to fight and kill. One of those just wars was World War II. (I wouldn’t fight in Vietnam because it wasn’t a just war but a useless and meaningless one.

Students at Cambridge University, however, have voted against promoting the “Remembrance Day,” which honors those killed in all British wars, on the grounds that it “glorifies war.”  I haven’t time to dissect this, but read the Torygraph at the screenshot, or MetroUK:

Now there is some merit in campaigning against “glorifying war”, or in recognizing the victims of war beyond just dead British soldiers. But this, I think goes beyond that, and, to my mind, at least devalues the sacrifices of the British in the the last just war: World War II. For without those sacrifices, these students would be offering resolutions in German—if they were allowed to offer resolutions at all.

It is a mean spirited form of virtue signaling. I doubt that the same thing will happen in Australia and New Zealand on ANZAC Day.

Honey is back!

Well, this is absolutely beyond belief. Anna reports that Honey has returned to the pond—and to James. To quote her:

Honey is back and James seems quite happy. I’m concerned about the disgusting film in the pond though. What do you think it is?

Perhaps Billzebub proved too aggressive for her, or she got hungry (she looks a bit thin). I’m not sure what Anna means about the “film” on the pond, but it could be that white stuff on the surface at the top of the first two pictures. Readers?

First, a video of the loving couple reunited, taken by Anna. She is sure from Honey’s behavior and bill markings that it really is her. I’m very pleased.

Three photos:

And so the soap opera continues: As the Pond Turns.