HuffPo goes full SJW

Hufffington Post is now HuffPost, has changed its look and format (many of the sections, like “religion”—which gave me much mirth and fodder—seem to be gone, and the rag is now explicitly devoted to giving voice to the marginalized. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that they frequently do it wrong, can’t distinguish who’s really “marginalized,” and they now must admit what’s been true all along: this is not news, but advocacy.

Click the screenshot to see their explanation:

An excerpt:

I think we can do better for people who feel that too much political and economic power has accrued to a very small elite. People who feel they are on the outside looking in at the prosperity created by globalization and technological transformation. That the game is rigged; that the deck is stacked against them; who feel that the house always wins. That definition includes many, many people who voted for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I suspect it also includes the majority of people who voted for Trump. It certainly encompasses voters on both sides of Brexit and the French presidential vote that took place over the weekend.

For me, the biggest divide in America, indeed across the globe, is between those who have power and those who don’t, and that doesn’t easily line up with our red and blue, left or right politics. The media has come up short in telling the story of one side of that divide ― of the people experiencing anger, voicelessness and powerlessness.

I don’t believe a word of their claim to give voice to Trump voters or the marginalized lower classes. Expect an even greater plethora of articles extolling the hijab and its wearers, more about “lived experience”, and clickbait pieces like “Samantha Bee schools her haters” or “Chrissie Teigen’s tweet is the perfect response to Ivanka Trump’s speech.”

Maybe they were losing money, but I don’t think this is a solution.

In the NYT, NYU professor defends suppressing some speech (guess what kind?)

We find in yesterday’s New York Times’s “The Stone” column a professor defending the suppression of speech in a piece called “What ‘snowflakes’ get right about free speech“. It’s by Ulrich Baer, identified as “vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, and professor of comparative literature at New York University, and the author of We Are But a Moment, a novel.” Baer’s thesis: some speech contravenes principles that are beyond discussion because, by invalidating “the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.” He’s referring to speeches on campus, not to expression everywhere.

I think Baer is wrong for the usual reason: people differ in what they consider “invalidating the humanity of people”, and thus someone has to decide who shall be censored. And who will the censor be? My view is that not everybody should be invited to give talks, as some people are simply crackpots and don’t express ideas worth hearing. There’s not enough time to hear everyone, so decisions have to be made. Not everyone deserves a college lecture spot. But, once invited according to university rules, no speaker should be censored nor any invitations rescinded.  But in the public forum, say at the Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner or in the U.S. town square (with a permit), yes, you should be able to say what you want—so long as it doesn’t incite immediate violence (physical, not mental) against people. Further, harassment of individuals in the workplace, or repeated harassment in other forums, should also be punished.

Baer begins by noting the change in sentiment that caused him (and students) to call for censorship:

During the 1980s and ’90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument. Freedom of expression became a flash point in this shift. Then as now, both liberals and conservatives were wary of the privileging of personal experience, with its powerful emotional impact, over reason and argument, which some fear will bring an end to civilization, or at least to freedom of speech.

We should resist the temptation to rehash these debates. Doing so would overlook the fact that a thorough generational shift has occurred. Widespread caricatures of students as overly sensitive, vulnerable and entitled “snowflakes” fail to acknowledge the philosophical work that was carried out, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, to legitimate experience — especially traumatic experience — which had been dismissed for decades as unreliable, untrustworthy and inaccessible to understanding.

Not really true: personal experience played a huge role in, for example, pushing forward civil rights.  Think of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and the murder of Martin Luther King himself. Yes, philosophical arguments also played a role (“Am I not a man and a brother?”), but it was hearing and seeing how blacks had been brutally oppressed that galvanized the American public and their politicians. It is the same with many social problems ameliorated before the 1980s.

Baer is right, though, that the trope of “lived experience” is now bruited about more often than ever. But in some cases it’s harmful, as in those falsely believed to be rapists on the grounds that a purported victim must always be believed.  Lived experience doesn’t trump everything, especially when it goes to ludicrous lengths, as when students complain that their Asian dorm food isn’t authentic.  “Lived experience” (is there any other kind?) should always be combined with moral arguments to move society forward, but experience doesn’t make morality irrelevant.

In essence, Baer’s argument is not only that some topics are settled issues, beyond discussion, but that those topics involve “punching down”: criticizing or injuring the oppressed. In other words, “hate speech”. (My emphasis in all the following quotes.)

Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.

The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. [JAC: Is it not censorship to prevent an invited speaker from speaking? If not, what is it?] Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public. In today’s age, we also have a simple solution that should appease all those concerned that students are insufficiently exposed to controversial views. It is called the internet, where all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.

Yes, ban all “hate speech” on campus but allow it on the Internet.  The problem is again that one person’s “hate speech” is another’s honest attempt to give an opinion that doesn’t stem from hatred, Muslims consider my criticisms of their faith as offensive hate speech. Should I not be allowed to criticize religion in a college talk? I have, in fact. It stimulates discussion. Baer continues:

The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to underestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. [JAC: Beware of the “more nuanced” or “more sophisticated” cards!]

I agree that some speakers want to rehash largely settled issues, such as whether women and minorities deserve equal opportunities, or whether people should have their hands amputated for robbery (advocates of the latter, by the way, are regularly allowed to speak on campuses); and there seems no point in inviting them to campuses.  But issues that, to Baer, represent “invalidating the humanity of some people” are worth discussing, even though some groups claim that those debatable issues invalidate their humanity. What is invalidation to some groups is debate fodder for others.

Here are issues that fall into that class: affirmative action, the dictates of religion, immigration policy, abortion, the destruction of statues of people who were bigoted in the past, Holocaust denial, and yes, the status of the transgendered, mentioned by Baer:

The rights of transgender people for legal equality and protection against discrimination are a current example in a long history of such redefinitions. It is only when trans people are recognized as fully human, rather than as men and women in disguise, as Ben Carson, the current secretary of housing and urban development claims, that their rights can be fully recognized in policy decisions.

I take the liberal position on every one of these issues, but have still learned from the debate. It is beyond doubt, for instance, that the Holocaust happened, and yet I wouldn’t want to censor a Holocaust denialist invited to campus. I have learned from such people, and from counterarguments which must accompany the kinds of speech mentioned above, about the kinds of evidence that unequivocally support the Holocaust and other issues. That makes me a more effective debater on this issue, and that’s a valid reason to hear a denialist out.  How do you hone your arguments without hearing (and debating) your opponents?

It’s not beyond reason to debate abortion (I favor it–on demand), if only to hash out what it means to say that “women should control their bodies” and “abortion is a right“. It’s worth debating whether we should continue affirmative action indefinitely after equality of opportunity is achieved (and how do we know it has been achieved?). To many feminists it’s worth debating transgender issues because some women feel that a transgender woman, lacking the experience of a biological woman, can’t fully speak as a woman. (I disagree, but it’s feminists fighting about this stuff, and they should be allowed to do that on campus.) It’s worth debating how much immigration any nation can tolerate or whether we should simply have fully open borders? It’s worth debating whether public criticism of Islam is allowable (many think not).

All of these cases fall under Baer’s rubric of things that, claim some groups, are personally offensive and “invalidate their humanity.” Who should be the judge of whether these topics are beyond the pale?  Nobody, I say. Were I running a college debate forum, there are some people I wouldn’t invite on grounds of lunacy or irrelevance, but others have invited such people, and those people should be allowed to speak.

Baer ends by emphasizing again that suppression of “invalidating-humanity” speech denies the marginalized the “right to public discourse”:

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

. . . When Yale issued its guidelines about free speech, it did so to account for a new reality, in the early 1970s, when increasing numbers of minority students and women enrolled at elite college campuses. We live in a new reality as well. We should recognize that the current generation of students, roundly ridiculed by an unholy alliance of so-called alt-right demagogues and campus liberals as coddled snowflakes, realized something important about this country before the pundits and professors figured it out.

What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech, are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse. The snowflakes sensed, a good year before the election of President Trump, that insults and direct threats could once again become sanctioned by the most powerful office in the land. They grasped that racial and sexual equality is not so deep in the DNA of the American public that even some of its legal safeguards could not be undone.

This is wrong.  Can you seriously maintain, with minorities raising their voices at every turn, with Muslims, women, and blacks constantly weighing in in the public square, that minorities are being denied their right to participate in public discourse? On college campuses everywhere, the marginalized are speaking up, and more than ever. Those whose speech is suppressed are not the marginalized, but conservatives (see the FIRE list of disinvited speakers, which  shows that nearly all recent censorship is from the Left). If we listened to Baer, every offended group could demand the censorship of a speaker on the grounds that it denies their humanity, as people have done with many right-wing speakers.  All voices except for those coming from the clearly demented (but who is demented?) should be heard for the good of our democracy. That’s something that the Founding Fathers realized, but that Baer has apparently forgotten.

Expect to hear more justifications for censorship coming from liberal Regressive Leftist academics (diluting the First Amendment is truly regressive). That is my prediction.

Ulrich Baer, self-appointed censor

Spot the sparrows!

Robert S. sent a picture of a tree in which there are three sparrows (there may be more). Can you find them all? Reveal at noon Chicago time.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have a series of photos by reader Keira McKenzie that might be called “Eight Ways of Looking at a Raven (and Two Ways of Looking at a Cat)”.  The photos are from Oz, featuring the Australian raven (Corvus coronoides) and Felis catus.

The ravens of Matilda Bay (a reserve on the Swan River, adjacent to the university of Western Australia) are unafraid of the humans who visit the small restaurant there, and are always on the lookout for munchies.  Such stunning birds. And they are ravens.  Crows are found in the more rural areas.

The ravens are all taken at Matilda Bay Reserve on the Swan River, Perth, Western Australia.  Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world, deserts to the east and north, what remains of forested wilderness to the south, and sea all the way to Madagascar to the west.
I asked Keira about where she lived and where the ravens were photographed; her response:

It’s small, loves razing history to the ground, gives bugger all for its environment and all the treasure like the wildflowers you so loved last year, and its mighty forests are constantly being woodchipped. Now they want to cull the great white sharks because they bite a few people a year. How many sharks are killed by humans? Thousands.  That is the Western Australian ethic.

Keira always supplements her photos with pictures of her beloved long-haired black cat, Plushie:

. . . and Plushie snoozing in the courtyard on her favourite chair (or one of them.  They’re all her favourite, especially if you are sitting in one.

Spot the cat!

Plushie, merging with the night permabulating the halls of my little house (she is currently sitting in the dark on my unicorn rug – rug based on the famous medieval tapestry before you get ideas of rainbows etc):

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning to all; it’s Tuesday, April 25, 2017, and it’s both National Crotilla Day (think “croissant + tortilla” and National Zucchini Bread Day. I’ve never had a crotilla, and I don’t like zucchini bread (I despise the ubiquitous and easily-grown vegetable), though for some reason I love carrot cake, especially with cream cheese icing. Here are crotillas, devised by Wal-Mart (has anybody had one?):

What was this invented?

It’s also ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand; I know, having just returned from NZ, that they have deep reverence for their lads who died in the wars, and will be honoring them in every town, large or small.

On April 25, 1792, there were two events of note:  Nicolas J. Pelletier, a robber,  became the first person executed by guillotine, and the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise” was composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. On this day in 1859, the French and British began digging the Suez Canal, and in 1915 the disastrous Gallipoli invasion began, which is why it’s ANZAC Day. This is also a big day for biologists, for on this date in 1953 Francis Crick and James Dewey Watson published their famous Nature paper “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid,” describing the proposed double-helix of DNA. As you see, it’s a very short paper:

And two years ago today, the death of Freddie Gray, 25, in police custody led to violent riots in Baltimore. Gray died of spinal cord injuries after detention for what was alleged to be an illegal switchblade knife. Some cops were charged, but none were convicted.

Notables born on this day include Oliver Cromewll (1599). Wolfgang Pauli (1900), Edward R. Murrow (1908), Ella Fitzgerald (1917), Meadowlark Lemon (1932), Al Pacino (1940), and Renée Zellweger (1969). Those who died on this day include William Cowper (1800), Dexter Gordon (1990), Ginger Rogers (1995), and Bea Arthur (2009). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili judges a portrait of Andrzej (I like it):

Hili: Well, I don’t know…
A: What don’t you know?
Hili: I have a feeling I could paint your portrait better.
In Polish:
Hili: No, nie wiem…
Ja: Czego nie wiesz?
Hili: Mam wrażenie, że ja bym lepiej namalowała twój portret.

Jonathan Wells’s new book attacking evolution

Sixteen years ago, Jonathan Wells, now a senior fellow at the creationist Discovery Institute, published an intelligent-design creationist book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Of course they were a myth to him, but the book was dreadful and a totally misguided attack on evolution. I reviewed it for Nature (free link here), and said this:

Wells’s book rests entirely on a flawed syllogism: textbooks illustrate evolution with examples; these examples are sometimes presented in incorrect or misleading ways; therefore evolution is a fiction. The second premise is not generally true, and even if it were, the conclusion would not follow. To compound the absurdity, Wells concludes that a cabal of evil scientists, “the Darwinian establishment”, uses fraud and distortion to buttress the crumbling edifice of evolution. Wells’s final chapter urges his readers to lobby the US government to eliminate research funding for evolutionary biology.

Wells also got a Ph.D. in biology from Berkeley, but to judge his objectivity about the evidence for evolution, I also added one of his publicly available statements in my review, and put it right at the beginning:

Opposition to evolution is found in many corners of the American religious landscape, including the Unification Church. Church founder Sun Myung Moon has frequently condemned darwinism for giving God no role in the history of life. In 1976, Jonathan Wells, a student in Moon’s seminary, answered his leader’s call. He writes, “Father’s [Moon’s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a PhD program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.” The University of California supplied Wells with his weapon, a PhD in biology and, with Icons of Evolution, Wells has fired the latest salvo in the eternal religious assault on Charles Darwin.

Wells has also questioned the connections between HIV and AIDS.

In 2006 Wells, continuing his battle against truth, published his second book. It was no better than the first, and on the same topic: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, issued, like the first, by conservative outlet Regnery Publishing.

In 2011 came his The Myth of Junk DNA, and by this time Wells had to go to the Discovery Institute Press, the equivalent of a vanity press for creationists. Sadly, the ID argument that nearly all junk DNA really does stuff—thus supporting an Intelligent Designer who put it in the genome for Reasons—has been largely quashed: there really is useless DNA, and its presence, nature, and location attest to evolution.

And now, ten years later, we have a new book, Zombie Science, also issued by the Discovery Institute Press.

The Amazon link (you can find it yourself) says this about it:

In 2000, biologist Jonathan Wells took the science world by storm with Icons of Evolution, a book showing how biology textbooks routinely promote Darwinism using bogus evidence—icons of evolution like Ernst Haeckel’s faked embryo drawings and peppered moths glued to tree trunks. Critics of the book complained that Wells had merely gathered up a handful of innocent textbook errors and blown them out of proportion. Now, in Zombie Science, Wells asks a simple question: If the icons of evolution were just innocent textbook errors, why do so many of them still persist? Science has enriched our lives and led to countless discoveries. But now, Wells argues, it’s being corrupted. Empirical science is devolving into zombie science, shuffling along unfazed by opposing evidence. Discredited icons of evolution rise from the dead while more icons—equally bogus—join their ranks. Like a B horror movie, they just keep coming! Zombies are make believe, but zombie science is real—and it threatens not just science, but our whole culture. Is there a solution? Wells is sure of it, and points the way.

Who writes these blurbs? Does anybody check them for accuracy?

And my point in the Nature review, which was that even if some textbook examples were out of date or incorrect, evolution is still true, remains. After all, ID books are wrong about every claim they make supporting Intelligent Design (ID). Further, the evidence for ID that its advocates promised was “right around the corner”, simply hasn’t emerged over a decade later. Established science has rejected Intelligent Design because there’s simply no evidence supporting it. Period.

I will be accused of having “reviewed” Wells’s book here without having read it, but this isn’t a review: it’s a notice that a scientifically rejected charlatan has published another book, and has even issued a “teaser trailer” for it. Here it is below. There’s no intellectual content there, but of course the buyers of the book aren’t looking for truth and reason; they’re looking to confirm their own religiously-based biases.

Will I read it? I don’t know, but I’m not going to pay for it. ID books are like theology books: if you haven’t read every single one, their proponents will claim that you haven’t addressed their best arguments. But I’ve read a much higher proportion of all ID books than IDers have for evolution books.  I’m sure they’re missing the best arguments! 🙂

It’s kind of pathetic that these people, whose efforts are motivated solely by religion, waste their brainpower attacking a paradigm that’s so well supported by evidence. I wonder if on some level they’ve realized they’re wasting their lives and will have no effect on science; and that that realization simply makes them redouble their efforts.

h/t: Michael

This is science, Bill Nye?

It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of Bill Nye, regarding him as a buffoon who will engage in any shenanigans that keep him in the public eye and help him retain the fame he desires—fame accrued as “The Science Guy”. I never saw the old show, and realize that many people liked it and it seemed to promote good science to kids; but his activities since I became aware of him have largely caused me embarrassment since he’s supposed to represent and burnish my own profession of science.

Well, Nye has a new show humbly called “Bill Nye Saves the World“, which apparently still has the goal of promoting science.

Here’s a new video from the show. Featuring comedian and actor Rachel Bloom singing “My vagina has its own voice,” it’s an arrant travesty:

Seriously, “butt stuff”? Now this may be social justice stuff, but it ain’t science—not even if you construe it as promoting a “spectrum of sexuality,” which is misleading because most people bunch at either end of the “spectrum.” In fact, I’m not sure what this is doing on a science show. It’s not even funny,

Nye, of course, was one of the honorary chairs of the March for Science, and this shows why I wasn’t keen on that choice. Defend this travesty if you want, but I’ll never admit it promotes anything but ideology. What’s next, Bill?:

“Do it before the paparazzi:
for the sake of Science, punch a Nazi!”

Once again, is female genital mutilation connected with Islam?

According to CBS in Detroit, Michelle Hoitenga, a state representative in Michigan, has introduced a bill (see it here) that in effect bans sharia law, although U.S. law already supersedes sharia law and the bill seems completely unnecessary and anti-Muslim.  The bill doesn’t specifically mention sharia law, but that’s clearly its aim:

A bill to limit the application and enforcement by a court, arbitrator, or administrative body of foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights; to provide for modification or voiding of certain contractual provisions or agreements that would result in a violation of constitutional rights; and to require a court, arbitrator, or administrative body to take certain actions to prevent violation of constitutional rights.

As used in this act “foreign law” means any law, legal  code, or system of a jurisdiction outside of any state or territory 5 of the United States, including, but not limited to, international  organizations and tribunals, and applied by that jurisdiction’s courts, administrative bodies, or other formal or informal tribunals. A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other  adjudicative, mediation, or enforcement authority shall not enforce  a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by the 6 constitution of this state or of the United States.

A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other adjudicative, mediation, or enforcement authority shall not enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by the constitution of this state or of the United States.

According to Hoitenga, the bill was motivated by the recent case of female genital mutilation (FGM) practiced on several girls aged 6 to 8 by a Muslim doctor in Detroit. The doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, has been duly charged with a criminal offense:

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Michele Hoitenga of Manton, said in an email to House members this week that a Detroit-area doctor recently charged with performing genital mutilation on two young girls was “essentially practicing a fundamentalist version of Sharia law,” according to MLive.com.

Again, you can argue about whether sharia law promotes FGM, or even whether sharia law is oppressive, but there’s little doubt that many branches of Islam do promote FGM or even make it mandatory, and that sharia law is oppressive where applied though it is superseded by US law in our country.

The Huffington Post, however, argues that FGM is not an Islamic practice, and also that sharia law has been grossly misunderstood; this is part of PuffHo’s Regressive Leftist campaign to glorify Islam by hiding some of its shady practices. As always, this is because Muslims are considered People of Color and therefore oppressed.

HuffPo is right on one count: the bill is superfluous, prohibiting what is already prohibited. But it errs, deliberately, in saying that sharia law is innocuous and misunderstood:

Sharia law, a favorite bogeyman of anti-Muslim extremists, is the deeply misunderstood legal or philosophical code of Islam. It’s interpreted differently by Muslims across the world using an assortment of texts, including the Quran, the Sunnah and Hadiths.

Yes, sharia law is interpreted differently in different places, but in no place is it superior to the laws of Western democracies, and in many places sharia (which in most Muslim-majority countries has become part of state law) is oppressive, unfair, and ludicrously regressive. For instance, in many places sharia makes apostasy a capital crime, prohibits drinking, makes the testimony of a woman in court worth only half of a man’s (!), considers in judicial sentencing that a woman’s life is worth half of a man’s, and allows or even requires barbaric practices like beheading or the mutilation of hands or limbs. Yet, according to the 2013 Pew Survey of beliefs in Muslim-majority lands, support for sharia is widespread (note: countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran weren’t surveyed), with many suggesting that it be applied to non-Muslims. Here are some data I’ve shown before from that survey:

So yes, Michigan’s anti-sharia bill is superfluous, but support for sharia among Muslims is widespread. Even in Britain, Muslim support for sharia is strong: the National Secular Society reports a Policy Exchange Survey of British Muslims that showed this:

“There are relatively large levels of support among British Muslims for the implementation of elements of Sharia law,” Policy Exchange said.

43% said they supported “the introduction of Sharia Law” and just 22% were opposed. 16% of British Muslims “strongly support” the “introduction of aspects of Sharia law into Britain”.

35% of 18-24 year olds expressed support for “aspects” of sharia and nearly half of the over-55s supported some “provisions” of sharia.

Okay, but putting that aside, is FGM an Islamic practice, or does it have something to do with the faith? The accused doctor certainly thought so! As the Detroit News reported:

A Detroit emergency room physician charged with mutilating the genitalia of two 7-year-olds from Minnesota denied cutting the girls, saying she merely performed a religious procedure that involved removing and then burying skin in the ground.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala’s lawyer offered the explanation Monday during a dramatic 90-minute court hearing in front of a standing-room-only crowd. The hearing ended with a federal magistrate judge ordering the Northville doctor jailed without bond while awaiting trial, the first of its kind in federal courts nationwide.

Dr. Nagarwala is clearly a Muslim:

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala (Photo: Henry Ford Health System)

We all know that Reza Aslan, another apologist for Islam, has also denied that FGM has anything to do with the religion, and PuffHo echoes his sentiments:

The practice [FGM] “has not been confined to a particular culture or religion,” according to the Female Genital Mutilation National Clinical Group, a United Kingdom-based charity working with women who have suffered FGM. “FGM has neither been mentioned in the Quran nor Sunnah.”

FGM existed long before Islam and it sadly persists today as a cultural tradition that traverses religious lines. Qasim Rashid, visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal School of Islamic Studies

FGM is practiced in many Muslim-majority countries as well as in some Christian-majority countries, according to Politifact, citing a UNICEF report. And some Muslim-majority countries, such as Yemen and Iraq, have low rates of FGM.

Qasim Rashid, visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal School of Islamic Studies, wrote in a HuffPost blog post in 2014 that FGM predates Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

“FGM existed long before Islam and it sadly persists today as a cultural tradition that traverses religious lines,” Rashid wrote. “For example, in Ethiopia, Muslims, Christians, and Jews have all practiced FGM — though no faith endorses the act.”

And because there is no solid theological basis for FGM in Islam, Rashid said, the only people today who believe FGM is a part of Islam are “Islamophobes and extremists [who ascribe to Islam].”

Well, I can think of no better refutation of this nonsense than Heather Hastie’s post from 2014, “Reza Aslan: Lying for Islam on FGM.” Read it if you encounter people who disavow a connection between Islam and FGM, for Heather simply demolishes that claim with data. Here’s a small excerpt:

In Sunni Islam, there are four schools of jurisprudence that express an opinion on the matter. Two of them, the Hanbali and Shafi’i schools, consider FGM obligatory, while the other two, the Hanafi and Maliki schools, recommend it. In addition, there have been several fatwas issued regarding FGM over the years, the majority of which favour it. (Fatwas are not compulsory, but devout Muslims consider them morally imperative.) For example, Fatwa 60314 includes statements that express the importance of FGM within Islam and dismiss the opinions of doctors.

The belief that FGM is an expression of faith if you are a good Muslim is widespread, insidious and promoted by religious leaders. Even in those Muslim countries where it has been banned, there is push-back by religious leaders. In Egypt for example, FGM was finally banned after several failed attempts in 2008. However, it is still being carried out outside hospitals and the Muslim Brotherhood has a campaign to get the law overturned. Mariz Tadros reported in May last year that “the Muslim Brotherhood have offered to circumcise women for a nominal fee as part of their community services”.

FGM apologists like Aslan and PuffHo could find out about this stuff if they wanted, but it goes against their pro-Muslim narrative. Talk about “alternative truths”!  These are not a monopoly of the Right.

A successful cat experiment—and a failure

Last Caturday, I put up an item about some cats having a propensity to enter and sit in squares of tape on the floor. I also urged readers to try it. What do you have to lose besides a bit of tape? Anyway, three readers tried it: one failed utterly, one succeeded, but only when the cat was enticed into the tape-square with a treat (this doesn’t count!) and then one success, from reader Rhonda. Her notes and photo:

The square experiment was successful in my household with really only one of our three cats. One stood in it for just a second, and the third was much too suspicious to get inside. This is Happy, our tiny and very trusting almost 15-year-old girl.

And we have a failure from Peter N., who also sent a photo and an account:

A few years ago a friend sent me an article that said cats would gravitate toward any defined small space, just like you said in your post of April 22. I set up a loop of digital audio cable on our bed, where Gus (1999-2017) always slept during the day. The result: it’s hard to generalize about cats!

The verdict so far: the behavior certainly isn’t ubiquitous Try this at home!

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Tony Eales sent some lovely spider photos from Queensland, in a country where everything is poisonous! His notes are indented:

A few of my favourite spider shots. The first is a cute little orb-weaving spider Araneus rotundulus. Only a few millimetres across, it can roll up into an almost perfect ball.

JAC: Here it is in a ball; photo from Brisbane Insects: (link above):

The next, Argiope ocyaloides, is another orb weaver. These specialise in weaving webs in the deep furrows in the bark of eucalyptus trees like the Ironbark.

Next are a couple of the bizarre Argyrodes species with their weird humped and reflective-skinned abdomens.

Russian Tent Spiders, Crytophora hirta, in the morning dew. These small orb-weavers can fill parts of coastal scrub and in the morning light it just looks magical.

One of the classic Huntsmans. The ones that come inside are well known for freaking out tourists and some squeamish locals. They are a large and extremely fast spider prone to sitting stock still them taking off at half an eye-blink speed. I’ve never heard of one biting. They’re very peaceful but terrifying. This large species, Holconia immanis, is only ever found under peeling bark of large Eucalyptus trees, not indoors. When you’re peeling back a piece of bark to see what’s worth photographing and something impossibly fast but about the size of a mouse shoots up your sleeve…it’ll be this guy:

This cute little jumping spider, Omoedus orbiculatus, lives on tree trunks eating ants.

A muppet headed Variable Lynx SpiderOxyopes variabilis. As the name suggests, they come in all shapes and patterns, but I’ve never seen one with such a comically swollen head before.

Last, a member of a really interesting family: the Thomisids (Crab and Flower Spiders). There are species from a few genera which are social to semi-social forming collective snare webs. This is the first and only social spider I’ve seen in the wild but I’ll be keeping my eye out for more. Xysticus bimaculatus, the Sub-social Crab Spider: