Penn Jillette confesses that he’s adopted Christianity, and then discusses “Islamophobia”

Well, see for yourself.

Here on The Big Think, Penn Jillette, famous magician and well-known atheist and libertarian, talks for 13 minutes about “Islamophobia.” After meeting a Muslim who became an atheist, but couldn’t admit it to others for fear of his life, Penn apparently realized the problems with Islamophobia, and talks about them for most of this video. His sentiments—that we can abhor a religion but not persecute its adherents—is admirable though hardly new to us, as is his disdain for Trump’s policies on restricted immigration. Yes, we need to exercise compassion for persecuted people, and open our doors to them as wide as we can, but there’s an issue we’re overlooking (see below).

As for the connection between Islam and terrorism, and whether we’ll subject ourselves to dangers by allowing more immigrants from the Middle East, Jillette admits that “There are hard problems here, really hard problems.”

But Penn neglects a serious problem when he says this:  “You’re not allowed to hate people for their ideas.” Now that’s just not right. Excuse me for Godwinning, but are we not allowed to hate Hitler, only his Nazism and anti-Semitism?  Are we not allowed to hate Jihadi John, who cuts off people’s heads, but only the religious ideology that promoted that action? Are we not allowed to hate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose “theology” has led to the deaths of thousands?

The fact is that people instantiate their ideas through their actions, and holding beliefs that can inspire bad acts is itself reprehensible. If someone told you that they adhered to a form of Islam that held women to be inferior, called for a worldwide caliphate, and called as well for the death of apostates, gays, and non-Muslims, are we not allowed to hate them for that? Must we say, as does Penn, that “We have to remember that people are good.” But what about good people who adopt and act on those bad ideas? Don’t they become bad people?

Can you really separate ideology from a person? Yes, none of us are perfect, but some people have better beliefs and actions than others. And for some, the nature of their beliefs and actions descends to the level where we can say, “These are evil people.” Do any of us doubt that religious ideology can turn good people into bad ones?

What we should disdain—what I call “Muslimophobia”—is an obsessive hatred of and bigotry against Muslims in general. But I think it’s too facile to hold a doctrine that can assess people separately from the ideas they hold. I do not like any religious people who adopt religious doctrines that call for bigotry against women, gays, nonbelievers, or members of other faiths. That goes for Christians and Jews as well as Muslims.

(Note, by the way, the tremendous amount of weight Penn has lost because of his fruit-and-vegetable diet: 105 pounds! That came after he was hospitalized for high blood pressure. He looks good, but I’m not used to a lean Penn!)

Caturday felid trifecta: Simon’s Cat on how cats stay so clean, Bobby the cat survives a two-minute machine wash, new Treasury cat on Downing Street, and Maru lagniappe

Here’s a recent episode of Simon’s Cat logic, which includes both behavior information from Nicky Trevarrow and the usual animated cartoon. Nicky says that cats groom in a specific order; check your own cat to see if that’s the case. I always wonder about this: how do cats get the back of their neck and their “shoulders” (on the back) clean given that they can’t reach them? I examined these bits of Hili in Poland, and those parts seemed just as clean as the rest of her (she’s fastidious). Since she hates other cats, it can’t be “allogrooming”.

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The BBC reports that Bobby, a Bengal mix who lives in Notthingham, was trapped in the wash cycle in a washing machine for a full two minutes (temperature: 60°C) before his owner rescued him. Here’s the full story

Lisa Keefe, of the Meadows in Nottingham, did not realise her Bengal crossbreed Bobby had climbed inside the appliance for a nap.

She raced to get him out after hearing “a loud thudding noise” from inside the appliance.

A vet at the clinic who treated him said: “In my 15 years as a vet, I’ve never seen a case like this.”

Nine-month-old Bobby was taken to Nottingham Pet Hospital on the verge of collapse and needed IV fluids to treat shock.

His brush with death has seen him nominated for a PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) Pet Survivor award.

Ms Keefe, 47, said Bobby was known to climb in the machine and she had put him outside before putting in a new load.

But she said the curious puss must have snuck back in and hidden under a duvet before she switched on the appliance.

“As soon as I heard the noise I rushed to the machine and could see the colour of his fur mixed in with the quilt. I was petrified and raced to get him out,” she said.

The kitten was in the washer “for about two minutes”, vet James Kellow said.

“Bobby has learned his lesson the hard way, he doesn’t go anywhere near the washer any more”, his owner added.

Vet Tamsin Thomas said: “Bobby was on the verge of collapse as his body was soaked through and his temperature was dangerously low.

“We gently dried him out, kept him warm and gave him IV fluids to treat shock.”

Mr Kellow, who treated Bobby, said the kitten had sore eyes from the detergent, but within a couple of hours was “as right as rain”.

I wonder how many lives that used up. And here’s Bobby, right as rain now:

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On July 29 the BBC announced that a third cat has joined the Downing Street Duo (Larry and Palmerston) as a mouser, this time for the Treasury. As with all Downing street cats, the new one, a black moggie named Gladstone, came from the Battersea Cat and Dogs home.  Larry is the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office (yes, a real title), and will stay on at 10 Downing Street with the new PM Theresa May. Palmerston, a tuxedo cat, has the title of “resident Chief Mouser of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) at Whitehall”. Palmerston and Larry have had serious scuffles in Downing Street, as the Wikipedia article describes.  But that didn’t stop the appointment of Palmerston:

Relations between Larry and Palmerston are rumoured to have been strained, and there was speculation that Larry’s recent trip to the vet was the result of one of their run-ins.

But the latest feline appointment – who is named after former Liberal prime minister and four-time chancellor William Ewart Gladstone – signalled a willingness to stand up to No. 10.

A caption on Gladstone’s photo – taken of him in a cat carrier – reads: “The humans had to keep me in this cage in case I ran down the street and tormented some other mouser called ‘Larry’. Personally, I’ve never heard of him.”

Asked why Gladstone, who was previously called Timmy, had been drafted in a spokeswoman said it was to “help control the mice problem in the 1 Horse Guard Road building”.

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Finally, how about a little Maru as lagniappe? This is the most salacious Maru yet, and is called “Sexy Japanese white radish and Maru.”  (I notice that Maru now has his own Wikipedia page.)

h/t: Pyers

Reader’s wildlife photos

How about a little Stephen Barnard photography (from Idaho) this rainy Saturday? His captions are indented.

Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus). I love the common name of this  bird. Usually, the second word in a hyphenated name isn’t capitalized, like Red-tailed Hawk or Yellow-rumped Warbler. This seems to be an exception. Sometimes it’s spelled without the hyphen. I worry about these things.🙂

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I love this photo, and I bet Matthew does, too:

Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) are raising a second brood under the eve of my front porch. Some Debbie-downer on Facebook told me they were doomed because second broods inevitably fall prey to parasites. They’re doing well and about ready to fledge, if they haven’t already. What I  firmly believe is the first brood are swooping in and out around the  nest, seemingly to encourage their siblings to fledge.

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These are both flies, I think, of two different species. They’re pollinating Shasta Daisies. The first one appears to be a bee mimetic. I’ve never noticed either before and have no clue about the IDs. [Readers?]

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And finally, some hummingbirds. I’ve lost the captions and IDs but have written Stephen for the information. In the meantime, amuse yourself identifying them, and be sure to see the pooper in the last photo:

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Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Yes, it’s Saturday, August 27, and all normal people will be relaxing.  In Texas, it’s a state holiday: Lyndon Baines Johnson day, which is “optional” for state employees (I’m not sure what it means). Regardless of what you think about LBJ, you really should read Robert Caro’s four volumes of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. (Caro, now 80, is planning one more volume.) Along with William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (he died during the writing of the third volume, but the first two are fully his), this is the greatest political biography in existence.  You may think LBJ’s life was boring, but Caro, who won a Pulitzer Prize for one of the books, and really should get it for all four, brings it to life with consummate reportorial and literary skills. I just recommended it to a friend, who was dubious, but now is deeply immersed in the Caro books and thankful that he found them.

On this day in 1859, Edwin Drake struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the construction of the world’s first commercially successful oil well was built to collect it.  Here it is, and no, that’s not Abe Lincoln standing in front of it.

drake-oil-well-AOGHS

Notables born on this day include C. S. Forester (1899), Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908; that’s why it’s LBJ Day in Texas), Lester Young (1909), and Barbara Bach (1947, and still married to Ringo Starr). Those who died on this day include Gracie Allen (1964; if Stephen Barnard gets another pair of eagles, he should name them George and Gracie), Margaret Bourke-White (1971), Louis Mountbatten, who presided over both the partition of India and the English leaving it, and who was assassinated by the IRA in 1979, and Haile Selassie (1975).

Here’s one of Margaret Bourke-White’s most famous photos, “The Louisville Flood“, taken during the Great Depression:

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Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is working up to her noms:
Cyrus: I’m tormented by a moderate hunger.
Hili: I’m not. Yet.
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In Polish:
Cyrus: Dręczy mnie umiarkowany głód.
Hili: Mnie jeszcze nie.

And in southern Poland, Leon is sniffing out larvae. The monologue is explained by Malgorzata:

My dictionary says that “woodworm” is another name of bark beetle, Ips typographus [JAC: in the U.S. many wood-boring beetle larvae are given the name “woodworm”.] There are always woodworms in wooden structures in Poland. We have plenty in our house. You have to fight with them (we do) and when buying old wooden things you always check for woodworms.

Leon: There is a woodworm somewhere here!

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Cats and Ping Pong

Let’s end the work week with cat videos, since every reader save one (see previous thread) likes cats. There are quite a few videos on YouTube showing cats purporting to play ping-pong, but this one really does. Of course, he’s playing the net and is powerless to deal with corner shots to the left. . .

This one came up right after the one above, and I found it amusing.  Happy weekend!

Readers’ Ask Me Anything

Okay, I’m dead tired and can’t brain, as I’ve had a bit of insomnia since coming back from Poland, so don’t expect gravitas and substance today. What I can do, which someone suggested earlier, is have the equivalent of a reddit “AMA”, or “ask me anything”. So, instead of writing a post or two this afternoon, I’ll have a look at questions that readers ask.

  1. Ask me anything
  2. Except very personal questions, of course. . . .
  3. I can’t guarantee that I can answer every question; I might pick the ones that look intriguing, just like when I did the reddit AMA
  4. You have to have a question, not just a comment
  5. You get one shot, which means one comment, though you can have two or three questions in your comment.

So, I am at your disposal (from time to time between other tasks).  I’ll try to answer questions today until I go home and then clean up stuff until about noon Sunday.

French courts overturn burkini ban

As CNN reports, and as I expected, the French Council of State, an administrative court, has overturned the bans on “burkinis”—the full body coverings for beachgoing Muslim women—enacted in 15 French towns. What were these people thinking? Why would a burkini be banned but a full-body covering for a non-Muslim deemed okay if it were worn to prevent sunburn? What about wetsuits for surfers? The reason, of course, is that burkinis are a symptom of religion, and to many French people violate the national policy of laïcité, the absence of religious influence in government.

The French (and now two German schools) have also banned niqabs, or face coverings, as I reported yesterday. (That ban includes burqas, the cloth sack that invariably covers the face as well.) One can make an argument that those bans are more reasonable, as niqabs impede your ability to see another person’s face, essential in many circumstances. And the niquab bans have been upheld by the European Court of Human Rights. However, as opposed to French law, I’d favor banning niqabs in certain situations—schools, banks, government offices, and so on—rather than the existing complete ban of the garment in public. The French also ban the hijab (headscarf) in schools, a move that I favor so long as symbols of other faiths are also banned.

A lot has been made, and rightly so, of this photograph of a burkini-wearing Muslim woman being forced by police to remove her garment in Nice:

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That’s a hideous picture from a liberal democracy; it’s simply shameful. As CNN adds:

Authorities in Nice say the officers were simply exercising their duties. Deputy Mayor Christian Estrosi denounced the photos, saying they put the officers in danger.

“I condemn these unacceptable provocations,” he said.

Online and in the streets, the bans have sparked protests and criticism around the world.

In London, demonstrators created a makeshift beach Thursday outside the French Embassy for a “Wear what you want beach party.”

Jenny Dawkins, a Church of England priest, told CNN she joined the protest after seeing a photo of the incident in Nice.

“I think it’s a frightening image,” she said. “I find it quite chilling to see an image of a woman surrounded by men with guns being told to take her clothes off.”

So the French government did the right thing, and I hope this will start a national conversation about the regulation of religious dress.

But we need that conversation in the U.S., too. That’s because the outrage by liberals against the burkini ban, exacerbated by that photo, misses some other “frightening images”, like these:

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Taliban religious police beating a woman in Afghanistan. You can download a short clip of the beating here.

And here’s a video of the religious police in Iran:

Beside Iran and Afghanistan, there are Islamic religious police, enforcing sharia law, in Gaza, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. As I’ve said before, it didn’t used to be this way: the forced covering of women, and policing of it (note that “policing” can be done by families and peers as well as state officials!) is largely an innovation of the 1980s, when several Muslim states became theocracies:

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Google Image for yourselves using the captions of the pictures above, and you’ll see the point. These women didn’t choose to cover; they were forced to. When regulations weren’t in place, the women were pretty much uncovered.

My point? Yes, the burkini ban is ridiculous and unworthy of a liberal state. The French have rightly overturned it. But those people who are revulsed by the photo from Nice largely ignore the even worse fate that befalls women in Islamic countries who violate their countries’ dress codes. As Maajid Nawaz wrote yesterday, it’s entirely consistent to oppose burkini bans but decry the much greater oppression that befalls Muslim women in Muslim countries:

. . . it is simply an undeniable fact that most Muslim women judged and attacked around the world for how they dress are attacked by other Islamist and fundamentalist Muslims, not by non-Muslims. These are religious fanatics playing the Not Muslim Enough game.

I am a liberal. The headscarf is a choice. Let Muslim women wear bikinis or burkinis. Liberal societies have no business in legally interfering with the dress choices women make. I have consistently opposed the ban on face veils in France, just as I oppose their enforced use in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Outside of this legal debate, though, and as a reforming secular liberal Muslim, I reserve the right to question my own communities’ cultural traditions and taboos.

As a liberal, I reserve the right to question religious-conservative dogma generally, just as most Western progressives already do with Christianity. Yet with Muslims, Western liberals seem perennially confused between possessing a right to do something, and being right when doing it.

PuffHo, the biggest aggregator of Regressive Leftism, went into a dither about the burkini ban, publishing article after article about it on their virtue-flaunting website. A few screenshots of articles:

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But yet you’d be hard pressed to find on anything on PuffHo about the repression of women in Muslim countries. So strong is PuffHo’s coddling of faith that they simply cannot bear to discuss what Islam does to gays, atheists, and women in their theocracies. The first article above, for instance (click screenshot) mentions “the frightening reality of policing women’s bodies,” and yet contains no mention of the much more severe policing in Muslim countries. (Ironically, one of the tweets in that article shows a cartoon of religious policing in a Muslim country, but it goes unremarked.)

Is this a “dear Muslimah” argument I’m making, engaging in “whataboutery”? Maybe it’s easier to change clothing police in our own lands than it is in, say, Saudi Arabia, and that’s true. But the whole issue of Islamic oppression of women will be ignored unless we express the same anger aroused by the photograph in Nice to the greater oppression of Muslim women by other Muslims—and not just in Islamic countries, but in the West as well. The burkini, while it should be legal, is oppressive: a way for men to exercise control over women, seen as temptresses whose hair, or ankles, can drive men to uncontrollable lust. (Burkinis, by the way, would be illegal in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.)

So yes, call out the French extremism shown in the photo. A progressive liberalism demands that. But we have only a limited amount of anger and attention at our call, and we (and unthinking “progressives” like HuffPo) need to devote most of that to the true policers of women’s dress: Muslim ideologues. What we need to do is efface women’s feelings that they need to wear the burkini, hijab, niqab, and burqa—in all countries— so they can be “modest Muslims.” And to do that, we need to engage a religious dogma that leads, among other things, to policing of clothing. We can at the same time allow some religious veiling, the symptom of a religious misogyny, but still attack the disease that produces those symptoms.

Readers’ wildlife photographs

Reader Kurt Andreas’s Instagram site describes him as “a naturalist in Queens,” (a borough of New York City) as well as an “amateur dolphinologist and beeologist.”  He sent some varied photos, and his captions are indented:

Zabulon Skipper (Poanes zabulon) on Lantana sp., male, Glendale, NY (August 3, 2016)

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Hoverfly (Toxomerus geminatus; female). Glendale, NY (June 10, 2016):

hoverfly Toxomerus geminatus

Leopard slug (Limax maximus). Glendale, NY (August 8, 2016). The hole seen in one of these pictures is the pneumostome, the respiratory opening of the leopard slug.

Leopard slug 1

Leopard slug 2

Bluebell / Grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.); New Paltz, NY (May 2, 2015):

Grape hyacinth

Tiger Crane Fly (Nephrotoma sp.)New Paltz, NY (May 15, 2013). I’ve noticed that casual observers think crane flies are giant mosquitos, and I try to sing their praise as non-bloodsuckers. Many crane flies do not feed on anything as adults, and the ones that do are pollinators.

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Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus); Bronx Zoo, Bronx, NY (May 19, 2014):


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Odontocolon sp., female. Glendale, NY (May 23, 2016) A parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in Cerambycidae and Melandryidae beetles.

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And some feline lagniappe:

Kitten Mittens, New Paltz, NY; Maine Coon berserker:

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Friday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

The week has gone by quickly, but the text of my children’s book is now in pretty good shape. If it ever sees the light of day, every reader should buy it. Note that August 26, as in every year since 1972, is Women’s Equality Day, the day that the 19th amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, became law in 1920.

On this day in 1498, Michelangelo got his commission to carve the Pietà, one of the greatest sculptures of all time. I remember seeing it at the World’s Fair in Flushing in 1964; like all viewers, I stood on a conveyer belt that moved past the statue. It now reposes in the Vatican, and I hope to Ceiling Cat they never try to ship it again. Here it is; have you seen it?

Michelangelo's_Pietà,_St_Peter's_Basilica_(1498–99)
 One other fun fact from Wikipedia:
According to Giorgio Vasari, shortly after the installation of his Pietà, Michelangelo overheard (or asked visitors about the sculptor) someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, whereupon Michelangelo signed the sculpture.Michelangelo carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, was making this) on the sash running across Mary’s chest. The signature echoes one used by the ancient Greek artists, Apelles and Polykleitos. It was the only work he ever signed. Vasari also reports the anecdote that Michelangelo later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his hands.
And his signature:
pieta' firma
Notables born on this day include Antoine Lavoisier (1743); those who died on this day include Frans Hals (1666), Matthew Cobb’s hero Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1723), and Charles Lindbergh (1974). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili will have to settle for a domestic rather than a wild dinner:
Hili: Let’s go home.
A: Why?
Hili: My dinner flew away, I have to see what’s in the pantry.
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In Polish:
Hili: Wracamy do domu.
Ja: Dlaczego?
Hili: Obiad odfrunął, trzeba zobaczyć co jest w spiżarni.
And in Southern Poland, Leon faces a dilemma:

Leon: A nap or a hike? That is the question.

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Seal leaps into boat to avoid orcas

Poor seal! It’s being stalked by nasty and hungry orcas, and these people let it stay in their boat till the murdering whales left. Here’s the YouTube notes:

We were out with the family looking for whales and a pod of 12 trainsiet killer whales where chasing the seal. It ripped towards the boat in a desperate escape and scrambled on the deck. It fell of three times in panic and finally stayed on untill the whales gave up after about 30-45 minutes. Most intense epic experience ever. Love you Nature. What a lucky seal.

Look at its scared face!

h/t: Heather

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