My last meal


UPDATE: This wasn’t meant to be a suggestion for a last meal when you’re dying, or in prison. Let me be more specific: you’re told that at a certain moment you will be quickly and painlessly vanished from existence. Those are the circumstances I envisioned here.


No, I’m not gonna die, but I was thinking, as I sometimes do, about what I’d eat if I had just one more meal to ingest before I died. American prisoners on Death Row get such a choice, but there are two problems: they are limited to what is either on hand in or can be prepared by the prison cafeteria, and, worse, NO ALCOHOL.  Other countries have permitted alcohol, for example, Adolf Eichmann asked for (and drank half of) a bottle of red wine before he was hanged in Israel. Wikipedia, of course, has an article on last meals, which in the U.S. tend to be comfort food. I used to browse the Texas state execution site just to see what last meals the prisoners had, but they stopped adding that feature. (I was always curious what someone would eat when they knew they were going to die.)

But let’s assume you can have anything you want: food and alcohol. You are limited to four courses or five items, and can choose the booze as well.

I think I’d have something like the following. Please, no food-shaming me in this post; I won’t have it.

And I’m asking you to choose your last meal, too, as I’m interested in what readers would eat.  Here goes:

  1. A big hunk of goose foie gras, lightly sauteed or made into a terrine by leaving it overnight in a heated oven that was turned off, served with slices of lightly toasted baguette. Wine:2009 Chateau d’Yquem
  2. Either a huge honking Maine lobster or a big bowl of gooseneck barnacles, both with plenty of butter. Wine: White burgundy from Domaine Leflaive
  3. A big 40-day-old dry-aged ribeye steak with its slightly gamey taste, cooked rare and accompanied by gratin dauphinois potatoes. Wine: 2000 Chateau Petrus (infanticide, but gutsy)
  4. Dessert: rice pudding made as they do at L’Ami Jean in Paris

If I could have a dessert wine, it would be a nice vintage port from Graham’s, but I think that’s asking too much.

Now THAT is a great meal, at least for me. What would you have?

(By the way, a while back I described the best meal I ever had in a restaurant–at the Troisgros in the village of Roanne, about 60 km from Lyon.)

New York outlaws child marriage

As I noted recently, child marriage in the U.S. is not only far more common than you think, but in many states there’s no minimum age for marriage if a judge assents. As Human Rights Watch notes:

The vast majority of US states permit marriage under age 18 under some circumstances. In 27 US states, there is no limit to how young a child can marry if a judge authorizes the marriage.

27 states! Well, New York has taken a step forward, raising the age of consent from 14 (!) to 18, or 17 with a judge’s and parents’ permission. (HuffPo still beefs about the provision that can allow marriage at 17, saying that “it still doesn’t protect girls”, and noting that “As it stands, minors are still vulnerable to many of the negative consequences linked to child marriage. Human rights groups say that every year a girl is able to push off marriage is crucial. [Child marriage affects boys, but to a much lesser degree than it affects girls.]”). I suppose HuffPo would like the age raised to 21 or even 25, but from 14 to 18 is still a huge improvement.

CBS News adds this:

The previous law, which dates back to 1929, did not provide any guidance to judges on whether to grant consent, Cuomo’s office said.

“We cannot solve the child marriage problem globally if we don’t first solve it here in the United States,” Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of the organization Unchained at Lasttold CBS News in May.

Health department data shows that between 2000 and 2010, 3,853 minors were married in New York. Eighty-four percent were minor girls married to adult men.

What are the 27 states without a marriage floor? Here’s a figure (originally from the NYT) that I added to my previous post (link in first sentence above). I’m not sure which “minimum ages” require consent of judges and parents, but it’s unconscionable to allow anyone to marry at 15 or below, and even worse to have no mandated minimum age. It looks as if New York has joined Nebraska and Oregon as the only three states that don’t allow girls younger than 17 to marry.

h/t: Mizrob

An article in Mother Jones smears Dave Rubin; he fights back

Here’s Dave Rubin describing how he was characterized by a piece in Mother Jones magazine as being “alt-right”, and how he pushed back against that. The piece was “Cashing in on the rise of the Alt-Right” by Josh Harkinson  (see his other articles here). Harkinson appears to be on the Control Left (“Ctrl-Left”), a great new term for Authoritarian Leftists.

Harkinson’s article indicts a number of people as “alt-right”ers, including Rubin, and maintains that they’re doing this to gain fame and make money:

[Kule] Chapman was vilified but arguably also romanticized in a New York Times story, which dubbed his group an “alt-right Fight Club.” He is emblematic of an ascendant cohort of bloggers, livestreamers, meme jockeys, and Twitter trolls who have seized on right-wing extremism in the age of Trump—perhaps out of political passion or ideology, but perhaps also for what they see as an increasingly viable money-making opportunity.

. . . The crowdfunding model is also increasingly popular among the right’s independent media personalities, especially as advertisers have fled YouTube over concerns about appearing alongside offensive content. Among the most successful is former Young Turks personality Dave Rubin, who raises $30,000 a month from more than 4,000 patrons for the Rubin Report, a YouTube show that has featured guests such as Cernovich, Southern, and Yiannopoulos, who tend to be shunned by more mainstream outlets. Cernovich claims he uses the $10,000 that he earns each month from 260 recurring donors to pay a staff of researchers. “The media doesn’t get to pick and choose who is going to have a platform,” he told me. Crowdfunding “has now allowed the people to do it.”

Harkinson also implies that Patreon itself, a crowdfunding site that has supported a number of Leftists, is somehow sympathetic to the perceived “alt-right”:

The rival crowdfunding site Patreon has been more welcoming to these voices; it now hosts Rubin, Cernovich, Southern, Baked Alaska, and a number of lesser-known figures such alt-right sci-fi novelist and video blogger Brittany Pettibone, who, like Chapman, was booted from GoFundMe for violating its terms of service.* [JAC: note the asterisk.] But even Patreon has limits: In December, it kicked off the animator Emily Youcis, a self-identified white nationalist.’

This is just an attempt to smear Rubin—and Patreon. I know some readers don’t like Rubin, as he often hosts right-wing guests and is seen to throw them softball questions, thus missing the chance to dismantle them. But Rubin also hosts lots of Leftists and Progressives, and his interviewing style is more in the nature of getting them to air their views (as does Larry King and Steve Paikin), rather than engaging them in argument. And, as Rubin argues in his response below to the Mother Jones smear, he holds a number of decidedly un-“alt-right” views. Have a listen to his 7-minute response to Mother Jones’s “Thinkquisition”:

Rubin complained to Mother Jones, and got them to slightly change bits of the article. Here’s one change, which appears as an asterisked remark at the bottom of the original article:

The rival crowdfunding site Patreon has been more welcoming to these voices; it now hosts Rubin, Cernovich, Southern, Baked Alaska, and a number of lesser-known figures such alt-right sci-fi novelist and video blogger Brittany Pettibone, who, like Chapman, was booted from GoFundMe for violating its terms of service.*

*We revised this sentence to better reflect the range of voices discussed; the story has also been updated with responses from Rubin and Pettibone.

And, the conservative National Review wennt to bat for Rubin. You may say that’s only because it’s a conservative site, but even conservatives can be right!:

While the term “farright” probably does not merit the legal label of libel, its use in this context was at best lacking in intellectual honesty, and at worst a shoddy, malicious attempt to slime Rubin. Rubin is married to a man and favors marijuana legalization, pro-choice policies, and single-payer health care. He has publicly challenged the regressive Left’s increasingly illiberal attitude toward speech it finds objectionable, but that doesn’t mean he can be characterized as “further to the right than Breitbart” in good faith. And Harkinson seems to know as much. After Rubin called the piece libelous and demanded a retraction on Twitter, the author backpedaled, claiming that Rubin merely “host[s] softball interviews with lots of people who” are “to the right of Breitbart.” Meanwhile, Mother Jones changed the sentence in question to remove the term “farright,” added Rubin’s response in parentheses, and highlighted both changes in a vague editorial note at the bottom of the page. In digital journalism, such errors and retractions are inevitable.

But the conflation of Rubin with literal white supremacists and separatists and the subsequent half-hearted retraction were no accident. Evidently, Mother Jones intended to equate Rubin — who interviews and challenges personalities ranging from Margaret Cho and Hilary Rosen to Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson — with the Internet’s most prominent alt-right extremists.

. . . This is obviously quite problematic. Reasonable people can, of course, disagree about the propriety of giving a platform to those with views that engender wide, bipartisan disgust. But Harkinson isn’t interested in having such a good-faith debate; his aim is to silence and de-legitimize those who attempt to air and understand extremist views. Indeed, when confronted with criticism from the likes of Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan, he doubled down on his attack, retweeting clips of Rubin (rightly) arguing that non-mainstream voices are worth engaging with in part due to the failures of the media but also because entities with audiences as wide and engaged as, say, Infowars’ Alex Jones, should be unpacked and understood.

. . . One wonders where this game ends. Back when the term “alt-right” was exclusively reserved for white supremacists with no regard for conservatism as it has traditionally been understood, it maintained a sort of incriminating implication. But every time the Left attempts to tar non-leftists with the same brush, it dilutes the label, just as it has done with every other pejorative that came before. The difference now, thankfully, is that the Internet gives victims such as Rubin a chance to fight back.

The origin and migration of domestic cats: a genetic study

I think about fifty people sent me articles about a new genetic study of domestic cats and their ancestor, Felis silvestris—an analysis published in a paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution by Claudio Ottoni et al. Thanks to all for calling this to my attention, as it combines two of my favorite subjects, cats and genetics; but excuse me if I can’t thank you all by name.

The reference and free link to the paper (if you have “Unpaywall”) is at the bottom, as well as a link to the study’s supplementary material. The paper was also summarized in articles in The Guardian and in a Nature News and Views piece, and got tons of attention in the press because, well, cats.

In truth, the results can be summarized briefly; they’re a bit surprising but not earthshaking. First, if you want a video presentation and don’t want to read this whole post, just watch the 3.5-minute Nature synopsis below:

The authors looked at the mitochondrial DNA of 352 ancient cats from 30 archaeological sites, with samples taken from teeth, skin, and hair. They also looked at recent museum specimens of the five known subspecies of F. silvestris: the subspecies names are silvestris, lybica, ornata, cafra, and bieti. Here are their distributions with the numbers corresponding to the 30 archaeological sites sampled:

It’s been known from previous genetic studies that domesticated cats came from just one of these subspecies F. silvestris lybica (FSL), although modern housecats in Europe hybridize, and thus get genes from, the European subspecies F. silvestris silvestris (FSS). We also know, from remains of a cat associated with an ancient burial in Cyprus, that cats were at least semi-domesticated by 10,000 years ago, though they were probably not pets but living in association with humans and used for controlling rodents (there was agriculture by then, and stored grain needed protection). Here’s a rather skinny FSL, showing that the wild species is a striped (“mackerel”) tabby cat, but what’s shown below is a real wild species:

What the new study found, though, was that, using easily extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), there are five genetically distinct groups, or “clades”, within FSL. Using the distribution of these clades from dated cat remains from known locations showed how where cats were domesticated and how they moved about with the help of humans (probably largely on ships, which also have rodents).

Here are the five clades of mtDNA in FSL, also showing the genetic relationship of the other four subspecies with the inclusion if an outgroup species, Felis margarita, the adorable sand cat.

Here’s a sand cat just so you can see how cute they are. 

When the authors looked at the geographical distribution of these clades before domestication 10,000 years ago, they got the map below. Pay particular attention to the clades of FSL, as they are the ones used to trace the movement of cats in association with humans. A and B are in the Middle and Near East, and are genetically distinct from each other and from the DNA in clade C, which occurred (and still occurs) in North and Central Africa.

So looking at the genes of ancient cats from 10,000 years ago through Egyptian times and Roman times and medieval times to modern times, the authors found that the FSL subspecies appears to have been domesticated twice, It happened first in the Middle or Near East about 10,000 years ago, which we already knew, and then the descendants of those cats spread into southern Europe about 6000 years ago (we know this because cats from that region now carry the A and B mtDNA haplotypes seen above). Then there was another round of domestication that began in ancient Egypt about 4000 years ago. We know from ancient writings and artwork, as well as cat mummies, that the Egyptians kept tabby cats, and that their cats had the haplotype C from that region. Here’s an ancient painting from the Ottoni et al. paper showing an Egyptian tabby eating a fish under a woman’s chair. As the paper notes:

The image shows a ‘cat under the chair’ with a tabby mackerel marking, typical of F. silvestris lybica (Anna (Nina) Macpherson Davies, Copy of Wall Painting from Private Tomb 52 of Nakht, Thebes (I, 1, 99–102) Cat Eating Fish. Photo: © Ashmolean museum, Oxford, UK).

As shown by the correlation of clade C’s mtDNA with specimens from dated sites, the Egyptian-domesticated cats also moved into Europe, and in fact those Egyptian descendants became more numerous in Europe than did cats descended from the Middle and Near Eastern clades.  One of these Egyptian-like cats was also found at a Viking trading port, Ralswiek, on the Baltic sea, suggesting that cats were being moved around on Viking ships. Some of the Egyptian-clade domesticated cats even made their way to the region that’s now Iran, the domain of the wild subspecies Felis silvestris ornata.

So, based on mtDNA (and this needs confirmation with nuclear DNA, since mtDNA is really just a single gene that shows no recombination), cats in Europe are derived from FSL that was domesticated twice—in two places and thousands of years apart.

There’s one more interesting finding: the authors were able to get an idea about when humans began selectively breeding cats for coat patterns. (Cats probably largely underwent both natural and artificial selection for tameness, with the tamer wildcats able to get more food by approaching human settlements more closely, and then people breeding those cats that tended to hang around.)

There is one gene that is an indication of human selection for pattern: the gene causing the appearance of blotched rather than mackerel tabbies. As you see above, F. silvestris are mackerel tabbies in the wild, while the blotched pattern, seen below, is found only in domestic cats:

Blotched pattern on a tabby

We also know that the difference between striped (“mackerel”) and blotched tabbies resides at a single gene, Taqpep (a “transaminopeptidase”), with the blotched form being recessive to mackerel (you need two copies of the blotched gene to get the blotched pattern). We also know the precise DNA sequences that code for either the mackerel or blotched pattern. The authors were able to get nuclear DNA sequences of this gene from about 90 cats, and ten of these had the blotched form, with this gene appearing earliest about 1400 AD.  Conclusion? Probably that, at least for coat pattern, people didn’t select cats for a preferred appearance until medieval times.

This is a very cool study, and course is especially interesting to us ailurophiles. What we need now are more data using nuclear rather than mtDNA (the latter tends to move more readily between populations), and, especially, samples from the Far East and elsewhere in the world, since all the samples studied came only from Africa, Europe, and the Middle and Near East. What happened in China? Were cats domesticated there 5,000 years ago, as one study suggests, and, if so, were they from F. silvestris ornata or F. silvestris bieti, whose ranges extend into the Far East? Time will tell, my cat-loving friends, but be assured that, given the big public interest in felids, we’ll have the genetic data soon.


Ottoni, C., W. Van Neer, B. De Cupere, J. Daligault, S. Guimaraes, J. Peters, N. Spassov, M. E. Prendergast, N. Boivin, A. Morales-Muñiz, A. Bălăşescu, C. Becker, N. Benecke, A. Boroneant, H. Buitenhuis, J. Chahoud, A. Crowther, L. Llorente, N. Manaseryan, H. Monchot, V. Onar, M. Osypińska, O. Putelat, E. M. Quintana Morales, J. Studer, U. Wierer, R. Decorte, T. Grange, and E.-M. Geigl. 2017. The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world.  Nature Ecology & Evolution, doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0139

Supplementary information and data here.

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ speech

The new Jesus and Mo strip, called “fall,” is a rare one not accompanied by the artist’s comment. But it needs no gloss, except to say that all too often Leftists will discount news they hear from a right-wing source, even if it’s true (Righties like Trump of course do the same thing with the “left-wing media”). I’d prefer not to see that kind of behavior on this site, for, after all, conservatives can sometimes be right! Since all sites except those like the New York Times sometimes make mistakes, or distort stuff, I try to check every substantive news claim against other sources.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Don’t forget to send in your good wildlife photos; there’s always a need for more!

Reader Don McCrady sent a terrific series of eagle-in-action pictures, and topped it off with a star photo. His notes are indented:

I purchased a new Canon 6D camera a little while ago so I stuck my 400mm lens on it and went down to a local park on the edge of Lake Sammamish in Redmond, Washington.  I was hoping to find some red-tailed hawks, but when I got there the sky was devoid of any birds.  I was about to give up when this lone Bald Eagle started circling overhead.  I was hardly ready with the camera when she spotted a fish down below and started to dive.

I followed her as best I could during her descent and glide.

She then extended her talons and splashed in for the catch.

After floating for half a minute or so, she launched herself triumphantly out of the water with her catch.

She flew almost directly over my head toward a nearby tree.

She let me approach close enough to her tree to take this shot.

After a short while, she took off again and flew away with her prize, presumably to her nest.

For the astrophoto lagniappe, my first after a long dreary winter of endless rain and clouds, I offer a simple but spectacular globular cluster known unpoetically as M92, which lies about 26000 light years away in the constellation Hercules.  By the way, as nice as globular clusters can be in an astrophoto like this, they are one of the few deep-space objects that in my opinion look better through an eyepiece than through a camera.

M92 is a globular cluster lying 26000 light years away in the constellation Hercules.
The image was taken with an STL-4020M attached to a Stellarvue SVS130 telescope, with a total exposure time of 3 hours, one hour each for red, green, and blue. The final image was upsampled 2x.

1,387 subscribers to go

We’re ticking down at a decent pace toward the 50,000 subscriber mark, and though some readers have had the hauteur to tell me that that’s a meaningless figure, it means something to me. 1387 subscribers to go, so we’re more than 97% of the way there. Then I can die a happy man, and no, I’m not going to off myself at the Landmark Number; it’s a metaphor!

Some other data:

Total number of posts: 15,744

Total number of comments: 804,856 (average 51.1 comments per post)

Number of unpublished “draft posts” (most will never see the light of day): 1,167. These include the infamous “What’s the matter with Wikipedia?” post begun years ago by Greg Mayer. (It’s an indictment of the inaccuracy of that site.) I fear that, like Casaubon’s “Key to all Mythologies” in Middlemarch, Greg’s intriguing post will never see the light of day. And yes, I’m Greg-shaming!

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

We’ve reached midweek: it’s Wednesday, June 21, 2017, and, after much confusion on all of our parts, it really does appear to be the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. Or so says Google, which proclaims that “the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere began at 11:24 PM last night”. And they celebrated it with this lovely animated Google Doodle, one of the cutest I’ve seen:

Appropriately for summer, it’s National Peaches and Cream Day. One wouldn’t guess a priori that this combination would be good, but it is. Sadly, it’s hard to get a good peach in Chicago, as they’re shipped here unripened and never develop that fresh, off-the-tree flavor. When I lived in Davis, California, I could sometimes pick them ripe from the tree and consume them on the spot, my chin dripping with peach juice; and oy, was that a treat! A ripe peach or mango is also the perfect accompaniment to a Sauternes, which otherwise is best enjoyed on its own. It’s also World Humanist Day.

On this day in 1749, the city of Halifax was founded in Nova Scotia. On June 21, 1919, there was an event I’d not heard of: “Bloody Saturday,” when the Canadian Mounties (RCMP) killed two people, firing into a crowd of strikers during the Winnipeg General Strike (that’s where Gus lives), a mass protest against low wages and poor working conditions. In 1982, John Hinckley, Jr. was found not guilty by reason of insanity for trying to kill Ronald Reagan. He was kept in a mental hospital for 35 years and, on September 10 of last year, was released to his mother’s custody in Williamsburg, Virginia—the town where I went to college. Finally, on June 21, 2009, Greenland, the world’s largest island, gained autonomous government, though it reamains part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Notables born on this day include Reinhold Niebuhr (1892), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905), Mary McCarthy (1912), Michael Ruse (1940), Nils Lofgren (1951), and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge (1982). Those who died on this day include Inigo Jones (1652), and three American civil rights activists murdered by the Klan near Philadelphia, Mississipi on June 21, 1964: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. During that “Freedom Summer”, the three men shown below were killed for the horrid crime of trying to register blacks to vote. Seven men were convicted of the murder in a 1967 trial; none served more than six years. In 2005, based on new evidence, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his role in what happened 41 years earlier. He remains in prison, serving a 60 year sentence.

Top to bottom: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

Here’s a well known photo of Lawrence Rainey, the sheriff of Neshoba County, where the murders were committed. He  was also charged with the conspiracy. A Klan member, he was acquitted, but this picture taken during the trial, with Rainey having a chaw of Red Man chewing tobacco, shows the insouciance with which he and others regarded the charges:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is affronted once again:

Hili: I have to think it over.
A: Did something happen?
Hili: Yes. I have a feeling that you’re neglecting me.
In Polish:
Hili: Muszę to wszystko przemyśleć.
Ja: Coś się stało?
Hili: Tak, mam wrażenie, że mnie zaniedbujesz.

And out in Winnipeg, scene of the General Strike, Gus is sleeping weird, as cats are wont to do.  As staff member Taskin reported yesterday:

Afternoon greetings from Gus. We submit this picture from this morning. Gus laid like this for quite a while but there was no catnip involved, so I have no explanation for it. =^..^=

Pair of elephants save calf from drowning

This incident, which must have happened yesterday, is going viral. The video shows two Indian elephants saving a drowning baby who fell into a pool in a Seoul zoo; they do it by working together to push the baby into the shallow end. There’s simply no doubt about their intentions. Sure, nature can be cruel, but it also can be kind.

More hijab-osculation

As PuffHo says in its latest osculation of Allure magazine’s “first ever hijab-wearing cover model”: “Yes to all of this.”

But to all of what?  The wearing of a hijab—the Confederate flag of headgear—to ensure that you don’t excite the passions of men? The confusing juxtaposition of “don’t look at me” with “I’m on the cover of a fancy fashion magazine wearing a lot of makeup”? Click on the screenshot to go to the piece:

It’s not like they’re unaware of the modesty aspect of the garment, either:

One thing Aden does have to say about her hijab is that it allows her to spend less time worrying about her looks.

“I have much more to offer than my physical appearance, and a hijab protects me against ‘You’re too skinny,’ ‘You’re too thick,’ ‘Look at her hips,’ ‘Look at her thigh gap,’” she told Allure. “I don’t have to worry about that.”

Head to Allure to read the entire interview.

First of all, no, the hijab doesn’t protect you from comments about weight, shape, or thigh gaps; it’s a headscarf. Also, if the message is modesty and de-emphasis on appearance, why does Aden wear so much makeup? I believe those eyebrows are alluringly shaped as well:

Those lips aren’t naturally red, I think (and check out the Nike “swoosh” hijab):

Oh, and she’s making the “Latin Kings” gang sign. Totally rad!

Let’s face it: HuffPo’s recurrent adulation of the hijab is just virtue signalling. It’s the site saying “Look at us: we’re not racists or Islamophobes!” All at the same time worshiping a garment that’s the symbol of female oppression.