Turkey jails two journalists for republishing Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is becoming increasingly Islamist, increasingly oppressive, and increasingly regressive (are those all synonyms)? This once vibrant and largely secular country is now an oligarchy, and it’s forbidden to criticize both Islam and Erdogan. According to the Associated Press, there are nearly 2,000 court cases open in which people have been indicted for insulting the President. Some democracy!

The latest antic of this censorious government, however, is especially vile. Two journalists working for the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet have each been sentence to two years in prison (actually three, but reduced to two on technical grounds) for illustrating their columns with a Charlie Hebdo cartoon. Here are the courageous writers, Hikmet Cetinkaya (left) and Ceyda Karan (R):


Here’s the familiar cartoon that accompanied their columns:


Because of this cartoon, they were, as the AP reports, “acquitted of “insulting religious values” but convicted on charges of “inciting public hatred”.  Yet, as I’ve mentioned a few times before, this cartoon is by no means “Islamophobic”: it has varying interpretations—but one of them is not the demonization of Muslims.

One of the nastier aspects of this case is who brought it before the court (my emphasis):

The state-run Anatolia news agency said the case was brought by a total of 1,280 plaintiffs including Erdogan’s daughters Esra and Sumeyye, his son Bilal and his son-in-law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak.

The Erdogan family was represented by a lawyer in court, it added.

After the verdict, members of the public who had brought the complaint and were present in court shouted “Allahu Akbar”, Cumhuriyet reported — Arabic for ‘God is greatest’.

If that’s not unseemly entanglement of the government with a supposedly free press, I don’t know what is.  Finally, the persecution of this opposition paper is continuing, with two journalists from the same venue on trial for much more serious charges:

Cumhuriyet, which staunchly opposes the Islamic-rooted government of Erdogan, has been regularly targeted by prosecutions as concerns grow over freedom of speech in Turkey.

Its editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul are currently on trial on charges of revealing state secrets and could face multiple life sentences if found guilty.

And here they are:


ditor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily Can Dundar (C) and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul (R) arrive at the Istanbul courthouse for their trial on April 22, 2016

I am so sad about what’s happening to Turkey. I’ve been there several times and always found the people friendly, hospitable, and secular. It was an open and fairly democratic place, with the Islam kept in its place: the mosque and the home. Now the whole country is going the way of Saudi Arabia, and I fear for my Turkish friends. If journalists can be sent to jail for three years for publishing a cartoon, all bets are off.

h/t: Char Adams

Some evidence that life may have originated at least 4.1 billion years ago

For some reason I missed this paper published last November in Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA by Elizabeth Bell et al. , and it doesn’t seem to have been given a lot of attention by the press. That may be because its conclusions are questionable, and based on a very small sample. But if they’re right, it’s a pretty amazing result, for the authors report the presence of what may be biogenic carbon—that is, carbon derived from living organisms—from the Jack Hills of western Australia, and that carbon was dated at 4.1 billion years old.  Since the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old, and the zircons of the Jack Hills are the oldest known material of terrestrial origin on our planet (4.4 billion years is the oldest sample), the finding of biogenic life in zircons dated at 4.1 billion years means that life may have originated very, very soon after the Earth formed. But these findings are preliminary.

The oldest widely accepted evidence of life on Earth are 3.4 billion year old microfossils from the cratons of the Strelley Pool formation, also from Western Australia. (Old, stable parts of the Earth are called “cratons.”) To get older evidence than that, you have to date and do isotopic analysis of flecks of graphite that may be derived from organisms. The oldest carbon generally accepted as being of biological origin is about 3.8 billion years old.

The dating is done by radiometrically dating the minerals containing graphite (carbon) flecks (usually zircon derived from melting earlier “mud rocks” that presumably contained organismal remains), and the biogenic origin is studied by looking at the amounts of carbon 13 versus carbon 12 in the flecks. Non-organismal carbon has a relatively higher amount of carbon 13 than does biogenic carbon.(The different ratios come from the fact that organisms absorb atmospheric carbon into their bodies, which is higher in carbon-12 than inorganic carbon). The values of these isotopes are transformed into a statistic called δ13Cδ13C values  of 24 or lower are generally assumed to be signatures of carbon derived from organisms.

At any rate, Bell et al. dated zircons found in the Jack Hills. One of them contained carbon flecks (and was crack-free, so the graphite didn’t insinuate itself after the zircon was formed); and for that sample they determined the average δ13C of the flecks using spectral analysis.

Here’s the prepared zircon with the flecks inside. The bar is 30 microns long, or about a thousandth of an inch.


Fig. 1. (from paper) Transmission X-ray image of RSES 61-18.8 with graphite indicated. (Inset) Raman spectra for the top inclusion and for an epoxy “inclusion” from another investigated zircon. The broadened “D-band” at ∼1,400 cm−1 indicates disordered graphite (39); C–H stretch bands at ∼2,800–3,100 cm−1 (39) are observed in epoxy but not graphite.

And here’s the average value of  δ13C  (triangle) for the Jack Hills sample, compared with the ratios for 3.8-billion-year old graphite that is widely accepted as being organic in origin.  The average value of the Jack Hills carbon was -24, so it’s within the range of organic carbon; i.e. life might have been around by 4.1 billon years ago. That would extend the origin of life back another 300 million years beyond what we know, so that life may have originated no more than 500 million years after the Earth formed.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.54.26 AM

Fig. 2 (from paper) δ13C for Eoarchean–Hadean carbon samples measured via SIMS vs. host mineral age compared with inorganic and organic carbon (organic carbon values from ref. 13; inorganic from ref. 14).

Now the authors note that there are other processes that could produce low values of δ13C, including the Fischer-Tropsch chemical process, carbon derived from meteorites, isotope fractionation by diffusion, and so on, but they claim that a biogenic origin is “at least as plausible” as these (not a strong statement!).

I won’t go write further, as I only wanted to call your attention to some tantalizing evidence that life may have been around a lot earlier than we thought. Whether this becomes widely accepted will take a while—and much more work. After all, this paper is based on just a single sliver of zircon. If you want to see the entire paper, and can’t get it from the link below, just ask.

h/t: Latha Menon


Bell, E. A., P. Boehnke, T. M. Harrison, and W. L. Mao. 2015. Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old zircon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112:14518-14521.

1958: recounting the Muslim Brotherhood’s demand that all women wears hijabs, President Nasser is greeted with laughter and incredulity

Gamal Abdel Nasser had a colorful—and controversial—history: helping depose King Farouk, modernizing Egypt, nationalizing the Suez Canal, cracking down brutally on the Muslim Brotherhood (one of whom tried to assassinate him), building the Aswan Dam, making war on Israel, giving women the right to vote, imposing strong censorship on Egypt, and finally, dying of a heart attack at 52. In other words, he did both good and bad things, but on the good side of the ledger is his defense of women’s rights.

I don’t know much about the talk from which this two-minute snippet comes, but it was apparently delivered in 1958. He’s recounting his attempts to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953, one of whose demands was that all Egyptian women be veiled. You can see both Nasser’s and the audience’s incredulity at this demand, which at the time seemed ridiculous. (Do note, however, that Nasser implies that men are in charge of whether or not their wives and daughters are veiled.)

How different things are now! If you don’t think veiling women in Egypt, Afghanistan, or Iran is a regressive trait, remember that this speech was given 58 years ago. Enlarge it to read the English subtitles.

(A “tarha” is a scarf that covers the head.)

Nasser’s charisma, which helped make him a wildly popular president, is quite evident from this clip.

Readers’ wildlife photos

We have several contributors today, and some diverse photos.  First, reader (or erstwhile reader) Ben Goren, who’s been AWOL but sent a rodent labeled “South Mountain Sqrlz”. I don’t know the species.

Thought you’d get a kick out of this. I think she’s nursing pups.


From Stephen Barnard:

This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) chick was an egg three weeks ago. They grow like weeds, and the adults have their talons full bringing fish and guarding them from predators. I figure it will be nine weeks from now until they fledge, then another four or five years to maturity.

Also, a Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) drake.


A photo from a new contributor, Arthur Williams:

The pelican is a brown pelican, Pelacanus occidentalis, and seemed pensive.


Alexandra Moffat sends a harbinger of spring, as it’s snowed in New England:

I hesitate to send this, your usual photographs are so magnificent and exotic.   But maybe a glimpse of the common is acceptable. You DID ask for plants. The bright green in the drab New Hampshire early-spring woods, April 26 snow, and the happy and thriving skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) tickled me.

Alexandra Moffat

Amy: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”

This’ll be the last Amy we hear for a while, as she’s no longer alive to make music, and I’ve heard everything I can. Enjoy her singing the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow“?

Friday: Hili dialogue

It’s the penultimate day of April, as well as Friday.

On April 29, 1916, the Easter Rising came to an end in Ireland, with many of the leaders soon to be shot. And, on this day in 1945, the concentration camp of Dachau was liberated by Allied troops. I can only imagine how the inmates, certain that they were doomed, felt when they saw the liberators. On this day in 1899, Duke Ellington was born, and Willie Nelson in 1933. Brian Charlesworth, my friend and former chairman, turns 71 today; if you know him, send him a note. Among those who died on April 29 were Ludwig Wittgenstein (1951), Alfred Hitchcock (1980), and Albert Hofmann (2008), the first person to synthesize LSD and describe its effects. I attended a lecture he gave to Richard Schultes’s class when I was a graduate student at Harvard, and was surprised how staid and dignified the man was. (I expected a raving druggie.)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is eyeing the old wellhouse, though there are plenty of flower-laden cherry branches for her to climb:

A: Are you coming in?
Hili: No, I have higher aims.

P1040109 (1)

In Polish:
Ja: Idziesz do domu?
Hili: Mam wyższe cele.

And a bonus photo of the Princess sleeping with the d*g:


In Bristol, Bella the cat is in trouble with the Royal Mail for playing with the postie’s finger when he tries to deliver the mail, and she’s been given a restraining order. Finally, thanks to reader Barry, here’s a baby grasshopper giving a high five:


The Argument from Ponies

In a cartoon called “The Tao of Tommy: Budding Apologist Edition“, Reader Pliny the in Between presents a self-aggrandizing version of the familiar (and flawed) Ontological Argument:

Toon Source.001

I think that the kid, though, is really “Billy,” a budding William Lane Craig. However, there’s an unstated premise in the argument: “my happiness must necessarily be instantiated in this world.”


Wonderfully detailed insect photos, composed of thousands of images

From The Colossal comes a great post with amazing photos of pinned insects, and the method used to take them will surely interest the photographers in the audience.

First, a few photos, which are in much lower resolution than the original. Let me add that these pictures, taken by Levon Bliss, will be on exhibit at the Oxford Museum of Natural History from May 27 until October of this year. If you’re in Oxford, by all means see it.

First, a few photos:






This video tells you what you need to know about how they were made. Hint: they weren’t single images, but composites of thousands of them, taken by a camera that moves only a few microns between shots:

And a gif showing how they make large prints. Such images of course require that everything be in focus.



h/t: Jeremy

It’s time to release the “Twenty-Eight Pages” about Saudi Arabia’s involvment in the 9/11 attacks

If you haven’t been living in Alma Ata for a decade, you’ll know about the classified 28 pages of the bipartisan Congressional report on 9/ll. These pages have been kept from the public, and nearly everyone else, for 13 years, as they probably implicate Saudi Arabia in the terror attacks. So far, the only people who have had access to the 28 Pages are members of Congress, who can read them in an isolated room—without taking notes. Congressional aides aren’t allowed as substitutes.

It’s not clear exactly what’s in them, nor how high in the Saudi government the accusations extend, but there is no longer a reason to keep them secret on grounds of national security: the excuse that’s kept them classified all this time.

There’s some information from people who have read them, however. As the Independent reports:

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has read the report, and Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the joint congressional inquiry, both believe that the 9/11 victims’ families deserve to read the report before president Obama visits the Middle East on 21 April.

Mr Graham told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” show that the report outlines a network of people that supported the hijackers while they were on the West Coast and helped them to enroll in flight school.

Questioned on whether that network included the government, rich people and charities, the Senator replied: “All of the above”.

And from another report in the same paper:

Two Congressmen, both of whom have seen the secret document, are behind the bipartisan motion for declassification. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, held that the report offers evidence of links between “certain Saudi individuals” and the terrorists behind the 2001 attacks. Walter Jones, a Republican, said it also sheds light on why President Bush was so opposed to publication : “It’s about the Bush administration and its relationship with the Saudis.”

Some of the relatives of 9/11 victims want to sue those Saudis who might be responsible, and the Saudi government has threatened economic reprisals towards the U.S. if Congress passes a bill allowing such lawsuits.  Since the Saudi government knows perfectly well what happened, this is a bit worrisome. At any rate, sources in the Obama administration suggest that all or part of the redacted 28 pages may be released by the summer. It’s time to do this now, for the excuse that those pages “endanger U.S. security” is no longer credible. It looks really bad for a Democratic administration to perpetuate such a coverup.


Malia Bouattia, new NUS president, shows her hypocrisy

I’ve posted a few times about Malia Bouattia (e.g., here), the new president of Britain’s National Union of Students. Bouattia appears to espouse a double standard towards Israel and Palestine, completely demonizing the former and excusing all execrable acts by the latter. She’s even justified the Palestinian “resistance” (code for “killing Israelis civilians”), arguing that it works better (at what?) than do nonviolent methods. Here’s one of her quotes I gave in an earlier post, incorporating the classic anti-Semitic trope of “Zionist-led media outlets.” Shades of the Elders of Zion!:

“The notion of resistance has been perhaps washed out of our understanding of how colonised people will obtain their physical emancipation…With mainstream, Zionist-led media outlets …resistance is presented as an act of terrorism.

. . . To consider that Palestine will be free only by means of fundraising, non-violent protest and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is problematic… My issue is that whilst at time it’s tactically used, or presented as the non-violent option, it can be misunderstood as the alternative to resistance by the Palestinian people…”

Since Bouttia’s election, and subsequent strong criticism for her extreme anti-Zionist views, she’s been frenetically walking back her earlier statements, claiming she was misunderstood. I strongly doubt that: I think she’s trying to retain her position and build up a good reputation. We shall see.

I’m not sure who is interviewing Bouattia in the first video below, but that interviewer presses hard on Bouattia’s views. But the NUS President simply refuses to answer the question of whether Israel should be allowed to exist (the interviewer asks her three times and then gives up).

And then, when asked whether she condemns Palestinian violence, Bouattia says, “It’s not for me to condemn Palestinian violence.” Instead, she says she supports international law, claiming that people under that law have a right of self-defense when attacked.

She’s right there, but some of the Palestinian violence construed as “self defense” is as much (or more of) a violation of international law as are Israel’s actions, including the rampant car and stabbing attacks on Israeli civilians, the firing of rockets into Israel, aimed at civilians, from civilian areas in Gaza, and so on. What’s legal under international law is Palestinian resistance against military installations, soldiers who are armed, soldiers in combat and so on. Killing women, children, civilian men and even soldiers asleep on a bus (yes, a Palestinian teenager did this as well), whether through suicide bombing or stabbing, certainly violates international law. Is Bouattia ignorant of that?

Now Israel’s behavior, particularly under Netanyahu, has been execrable, showing no movement toward the only possible solution: a two-state solution with withdrawal from the West Bank. One can also make a case that occupation of that area is a violation of international law. But Bouattia is blaming only one side, uttering the disingenuous weasel words, “It is not for me to condemn Palestinian violence.” What does that even mean? Who should condemn it if not her—particularly since she’s so willing to condemn Israel?

I will give this woman a chance as NUS President: perhaps she realizes that she has to be more conciliatory as an NUS leader (see second video below). But statements like that give me no confidence in either her sincerity or her leadership ability. Yes, her views will appeal to the bulk of her student constituents who despise Israel, but her justification for Palestinian “resistance” against Israeli civilians (some of which surely disagree with their government’s policy), and her use of the code word “Zionist”, make me wary:

Here’s a video of a debate between two students about her views, taken from Daily Politics on April 25. The president of the Sheffield University Student Union claims that Bouattia has suddenly become more open-minded and more willing to listen to all her constituents, but the interview above casts doubt on that.


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