Readers’ wildlife photographs

Don’t forget to send in your good photos (most people aren’t professionals, but by now you’ll have an idea of the quality of stuff that appears here), as I can always use more. Today’s batch comprises “peeps”, which is what birders call the five smallest sandpipers of North America. The photos were contributed by reader Mike McDowell, and his captions are indented:

Surprise! Fall bird migration is underway! This may seem like comforting news for those of us enduring the present Midwest heatwave, but the humid weather is going to be with us for a while. However, shorebirds are heading out. They’re among the first southbound migratory birds to leave northern Canada for destinations in the southern United States, Central America and beyond. Some shorebird species have already made it to southern Wisconsin from areas as far north as the Arctic Circle.

Last weekend I was searching for tiger beetles on a sandbar along the Wisconsin River and came across a flock of peeps (common birder slang for the 5 smallest shorebird species). These tiny birds are a mere 5 to 6 inches long and weigh 20 to 30 ounces grams, roughly the same size and weight of a House Sparrow.  Anyway, there were around 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers Calidris pusilla and Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla foraging together for invertebrates in the shallows along the sandbar.

These images were digiscoped with a Nikon mirrorless camera and Swarovski spotting scope.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Calidris pusilla:




Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla:





And here are two from Stephen Barnard in Idaho, who apparently has taken up insect photography and—equally apparently—is good at it:

Honeybee [Apis sp.] with nearly full corbicula [“pollen basket”], pollinating Shasta Daisies [Leucanthemum × superbum]:


Drone fly (Eristalis tenax), introduced from Europe:


Sunrise, Chicago

We had powerful thunderstorms last night, which cooled off the city (we’ll be back to scorching today) and also brought the White Sox game to a halt. This morning the sun rose through a bright orange-red sky:


A view toward the lake (lower right) and rising sun:


Friday: Hili dialogue

It is July 22, and a Friday, so we’re all one week closer to death. On a lighter note, it’s both Ratcatcher’s Day (a chance forLarry to redeem himself) and Pi Approximation Day, since it’s 22/7, which is 3.14285. . . . .close enough.

On this day in history, Wiley Post completed the first solo flight around the world (1933), and, a year later, John Dillinger was gunned down by The Law outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. On July 22, 1942, the Nazis began removing Jews from the Warsaw ghetto, bound for liquidation, and, in 2011, Anders Breivik went on his Norwegian killing spree.

Notables born on this day include Emma Lazarus (1849), Edward Hopper (1882), Tom Robbins (1936), and Don Henley (1947). Those who died on this day include Carl Sandburg (1967) and Illinois Jacquet (2004). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Cyrus pose for a photo when suddenly nature calls to the d*g:

Hili: Cyrus, for God’s sake, this is a photo opportunity.
Cyrus: They explained to us that during picture taking we are to behave naturally.
In Polish:
Hili: Cyrus, bój się boga, to jest sesja zdjęciowa!
Cyrus: Na zajęciach tłumaczyli nam, że podczas zdjęć mamy zachowywać się naturalnie.

Leon et famille are still scouring southern Poland for the right house; Leon is inspecting every nook and cranny.

Leon: Oh, I haven’t been there yet.


Larry the Chief Mouser defeated in battle

Larry the Cat is the Official Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, and his brief is to mouse at 10 Downing Street. (There has been such a mouser since the days of Henry VIII!) Sadly, Larry was an ineffectual mouser, and his job (but not his title) has been usurped by Palmerston, a tuxedo cat who mouses well.

As if that humiliation weren’t enough, Larry has now returned to 10 Downing Street after an overnight scrap that seriously damaged his paw and apparently made him lose his collar. Here’s a picture of the injured moggie from the Torygraph piece. He can’t put weight on that front paw.


Photo credit: Barcroft

It’s not yet clear how Larry came a cropper, but it could be that he’s gotten into yet another scrap with Palmerston, perhaps motivated by jealousy. The Torygraph has reported on and given photos of Larry’s recurrent scraps with his rival:



Stay tuned for further updates:

h/t: Aaron

A scary article about Trump

As I made a visit to Facebook last night, and saw that about 40% of the posts were about Donald Trump, all saying basically the same thing—the man is an idiot—I began to experience the phenomenon of Trumpfenschmerz, or “Trump Weariness.” I wanted to write on my page, “Can we talk about cats instead?”, but I knew I’d be excoriated for it. I refrained. But now there’s one more thing to say about Trump—to call your attention to a new article about him in The New Yorker.

As much as I disliked and distrusted Trump before I read the piece, and figured that it couldn’t get worse, it has. The article, now called “Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All” (in print it was called “Donald Trump’s Boswell”), discusses the revelations of Tony Schwartz, the guy who ghostwrote Trump’s book The Art of the Deal. And he’s repudiated Trump, describing him as a completely self-absorbed man with not a jot of empathy for anyone, no deep knowledge of anything, and no attention span. Trump would, says Schwartz, be a horrible President—even worse than we envisioned given Trump’s minuscule attention span.

Schwartz feels so bad about having written this book (his description of how he wrote it is fascinating) that he’s donated all the profits, which are considerable, to charities Trump wouldn’t like—such as those helping migrant workers.

You owe it to yourself to read this piece, though I suspect 99% of the readers here already despise Trump. I wonder what Republicans who read it will think—if any Republicans do read the New Yorker.

Two tweets about the Milo kerfuffle

One from Dave Rubin:

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Indeed it is.

And one from Maajid Nawaz:

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Does evolution lead us to perceive reality, or is it all an illusion?

Donald D. Hoffman is a highly respected Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California at Irvine.  He’s developed a “formal theory of conscious agents” that he describes in a new Atlantic article—or rather in an interview with Amanda Gefter called “The case against reality“. And for the life of me I can’t figure out what the man is trying to say. I haven’t read his more formal academic work, but if they’re presenting his theory in a public place like the Atlantic, it seems that what he’s saying should be clear. Yet what I read is either unclear, or, when it’s clear, seems wrong. You should read the short interview yourself, but here are the points I take from it. It’s all a mess, and seems a bit like a gemisch of quantum woo, evolutionary misunderstandings, and postmodernism. If there’s a substantive and important point in the piece, I’ve been too dense to see it.

I’ve indented bits of the interview below. I address three claims.

1). There is no external reality. Quantum mechanics has proved that. Hoffman seems to think that because quantum mechanics has disproved local realism for some particles (that is, has disproved the claim that a photon or electron, for instance, has a certain nature and is in a certain place, regardless of whether we know it), so it has disproved local realism for everything, including macro objects. What we see isn’t reality, or even an approximation of reality: it is all illusion molded by natural selection.

Experiment after experiment has shown—defying common sense—that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space. As the physicist John Wheeler put it, “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.”

. . . Gefter: If snakes aren’t snakes and trains aren’t trains, what are they?

Hoffman: Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features. The snake I see is a description created by my sensory system to inform me of the fitness consequences of my actions. Evolution shapes acceptable solutions, not optimal ones. A snake is an acceptable solution to the problem of telling me how to act in a situation. My snakes and trains are my mental representations; your snakes and trains are your mental representations.

We’ll get to the “fitness consequences”—the selective pressures—in a minute, but I want to document Hoffman’s view of reality, which Gefter seems to accept:

Hoffman: . . . I have a space of experiences, a space G of actions, and an algorithm D that lets me choose a new action given my experiences. Then I posited a W for a world, which is also a probability space. Somehow the world affects my perceptions, so there’s a perception map P from the world to my experiences, and when I act, I change the world, so there’s a map A from the space of actions to the world. That’s the entire structure. Six elements. The claim is: This is the structure of consciousness. I put that out there so people have something to shoot at.

Gefter: But if there’s a W, are you saying there is an external world?

Hoffman: Here’s the striking thing about that. I can pull the W out of the model and stick a conscious agent in its place and get a circuit of conscious agents. In fact, you can have whole networks of arbitrary complexity. And that’s the world.

Gefter: The world is just other conscious agents?

Hoffman: I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Here’s a concrete example. We have two hemispheres in our brain. But when you do a split-brain operation, a complete transection of the corpus callosum, you get clear evidence of two separate consciousnesses. Before that slicing happened, it seemed there was a single unified consciousness. So it’s not implausible that there is a single conscious agent. And yet it’s also the case that there are two conscious agents there, and you can see that when they’re split. I didn’t expect that, the mathematics forced me to recognize this. It suggests that I can take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It’s conscious agents all the way down.

And one more bit, showing that brains aren’t real, either:

Hoffman: The idea that what we’re doing is measuring publicly accessible objects, the idea that objectivity results from the fact that you and I can measure the same object in the exact same situation and get the same results — it’s very clear from quantum mechanics that that idea has to go. Physics tells us that there are no public physical objects. So what’s going on? Here’s how I think about it. I can talk to you about my headache and believe that I am communicating effectively with you, because you’ve had your own headaches. The same thing is true as apples and the moon and the sun and the universe. Just like you have your own headache, you have your own moon. But I assume it’s relevantly similar to mine. That’s an assumption that could be false, but that’s the source of my communication, and that’s the best we can do in terms of public physical objects and objective science.

. . . Neurons, brains, space … these are just symbols we use, they’re not real. It’s not that there’s a classical brain that does some quantum magic. It’s that there’s no brain! Quantum mechanics says that classical objects—including brains—don’t exist.

I don’t know where to begin with this. First of all, just because a subatomic particle doesn’t have an intrinsic property until we measure it, and that property is dependent on how we measure it, doesn’t mean that macro objects don’t have properties or, as Hoffman implies, don’t exist. You can, after all, measure the momentum of a car, or of a stationary chair, with great accuracy. It seems to me that Hoffman is using a form of Chopra-ist woo here: claiming not only that certain claims about quantum mechanics extend all the way up to macro objects (yes, they do, but classical mechanics is adequate for macro phenomena, and that includes existence claims), but also that those objects don’t exist outside of consciousness. In fact, Hoffman claims, like Chopra, that the only real thing that exists is consciousness:

As a conscious realist, I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world. I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. The experiences of everyday life—my real feeling of a headache, my real taste of chocolate—that really is the ultimate nature of reality.

I find this problematic in several ways. If the brain is an illusion and doesn’t really exist, where does consciousness come from? After all, if we fiddle with the Object Formerly Known as the Brain, and ablate certain parts of it, or give it chemicals, then consciousness goes away. Further, all observers agree on that. Isn’t it strange, if reality is only an illusion constructed by our consciousness, that giving ketamine to a brain removes its consciousness? Why do we all still perceive the same objects then, and agree that the chemical has the same effect? Or, if the Moon is a figment of our consciousness (Chopra has maintained exactly that!), why, when some scientists observe a Rover landing on the Moon, do other scientists perceive exactly the same thing? After all, that concurrence couldn’t reflect anything molded by natural selection—our fitness doesn’t depend on Moon landings. Surely that must say something about an external reality.

But on to evolution:

2). We don’t perceive reality accurately because evolution provides us not with an accurate take on reality, but with a series of illusions that enhance our fitness [reproductive output]. Again, maybe I’m missing something, but if external reality is solely a result of our consciousness (which comes from a nonexistent brain), then why are we even subject to natural selection? That already seems contradictory, but perhaps I’m not understanding Hoffman. But what I do understand is his argument, which is flawed, why evolution gives us a take on the world that doesn’t even come close to reality:

Gefter: People often use Darwinian evolution as an argument that our perceptions accurately reflect reality. They say, “Obviously we must be latching onto reality in some way because otherwise we would have been wiped out a long time ago. If I think I’m seeing a palm tree but it’s really a tiger, I’m in trouble.”

Hoffman: Right. The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions—mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.

Now I’ll admit right off the bat that natural selection occasionally confers traits that, in some circumstances, distort reality. We may, for example, have been selected to think that we’re brighter or better than we are, because having that illusion gives us a confidence and power that might enhance our fitness. As Steve Pinker has written:

. . . beliefs have a social as well as an inferential function: they reflect commitments of loyalty and solidarity to one’s coalition. People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true. Religious and ideological beliefs are obvious examples.

. . . publicly expressed beliefs advertise the intellectual virtuosity of the belief-holder, creating an incentive to craft clever and extravagant beliefs rather than just true ones. This explains much of what goes on in academia.

. . . the best liar is the one who believes his own lies. This favors a measure of self-deception about beliefs that concern the self…

And our everyday experience with objects can sometimes mislead us when evolved traits create optical illusions, like the famous “checker shadow illusion.” Futher, we know that our sensory system is imperfect and limited by our biological constitution, so that we miss things that other creatures can see, like the ultraviolet patterns perceived by birds and butterflies. Finally, natural selection will foster our consciousness of those animals, those environmental factors, and those traits that have the highest potential effect on our fitness. But that’s not the same thing as saying that our consciousness actually molds the appearance of those organisms and traits.

But I maintain that, in general, natural selection will favor a fairly accurate take on reality (assuming there is a reality), because the more accurately we perceive nature, the higher fitness we will have. Hoffman gives one example where he says we’re selected to have illusions, but I don’t find it particularly convincing:

Gefter: You’ve done computer simulations to show this. Can you give an example?

Hoffman: Suppose in reality there’s a resource, like water, and you can quantify how much of it there is in an objective order—very little water, medium amount of water, a lot of water. Now suppose your fitness function is linear, so a little water gives you a little fitness, medium water gives you medium fitness, and lots of water gives you lots of fitness—in that case, the organism that sees the truth about the water in the world can win, but only because the fitness function happens to align with the true structure in reality. Generically, in the real world, that will never be the case. Something much more natural is a bell curve—say, too little water you die of thirst, but too much water you drown, and only somewhere in between is good for survival. Now the fitness function doesn’t match the structure in the real world. And that’s enough to send truth to extinction.

I find that baffling. Why wouldn’t the fitness function be one like this: “we want enough water to drink, and to sate our band of hominins, but we don’t want to go jumping in huge ponds of water if we can’t swim.” I think Hoffman has gotten it all backwards: our consciousness doesn’t shape external reality to increase our fitness; rather, our fitness depends on accurately perceiving external reality. There are some exceptions. I’m convinced, for example, that natural selection molds our tastes, which are qualia, to conform to what’s good for us. That’s why we like fats and sweets so much. As I’ve always said, a rotting carcass probably tastes like heaven to a vulture. But in most cases we want to see things as they are, for our fitness depends on that. If we could mold reality through consciousness to match our fitness, we would be able to see all dangerous insects as highly visible: snakes and spiders, for example, would be perceived as bright red or orange. We should be able to evolve our color-vision system to enhance our fitness. But that’s a shade on the teleological side, and we just can’t do that.

Yes, many dangerous animals are cryptic. That proves that we can’t change our perception of reality willy-nilly—that there is an external reality out there (animals often enhance their own fitness by being cryptic, so they win the perception battle!).  We can’t often mold the way we see reality to match our fitness functions.

I won’t go on, as this is already too long, but I wanted to add one more claim by Hoffman.

3). Neuroscience hasn’t progressed because neuroscientists haven’t taken into account the quantum nature of brain function and neural activity. 

Gefter: It doesn’t seem like many people in neuroscience or philosophy of mind are thinking about fundamental physics. Do you think that’s been a stumbling block for those trying to understand consciousness?

Hoffman: I think it has been. Not only are they ignoring the progress in fundamental physics, they are often explicit about it. They’ll say openly that quantum physics is not relevant to the aspects of brain function that are causally involved in consciousness. They are certain that it’s got to be classical properties of neural activity, which exist independent of any observers—spiking rates, connection strengths at synapses, perhaps dynamical properties as well. These are all very classical notions under Newtonian physics, where time is absolute and objects exist absolutely. And then [neuroscientists] are mystified as to why they don’t make progress. They don’t avail themselves of the incredible insights and breakthroughs that physics has made. Those insights are out there for us to use, and yet my field says, “We’ll stick with Newton, thank you. We’ll stay 300 years behind in our physics.”

There is by no means universal agreement that quantum-mechanical phenomena, as opposed to classical mechanics, are important on the level of brains and perception.  There are good arguments, in fact, that we can use simple classical mechanics—assuming an external reality—when doing neuroscience. At any rate, I would take issue with the claim that our failure to grasp quantum mechanics has impeded the study of consciousness, or has slowed progress in neuroscience.

If you can figure out a really important point in Hoffman’s article, do point it out below.

h/t: Peter

On Ghostbusters, Leslie Jones, and the duty of Twitter

Everybody knows by now that Twitter has permanently suspended the account of conservative Breitbart editor and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. His crime? Supposedly triggering a storm of abuse directed at actor Leslie Jones, one of the four stars of the new Ghostbusters movie. And as you also know, that movie has been extremely polarizing, largely because it’s taken a franchise that formerly had men in the starring roles and remade it with a female cast.

I see nothing wrong with that, but the movie activated a storm of criticism, largely from men, and much of that criticism was harsh. I see no explanation for such a level of rancor except pure sexism. I haven’t seen the movie, and won’t—those kind of movies aren’t my style—but most of the critics I trust have said that it’s not very good—that there are some clever bits, but the actors didn’t have any rapport and the effects were cheesy.  On the other hand, those committed to having more women in starring roles—an admirable motivation—seem to have promoted the movie solely because it had women in starring roles. When one can predict people’s reactions to a movie based on their politics, then you know something other than the quality of the movie is at stake. Ghostbusters became an ideological battleground, and the quality of the movie was totally lost in this battle.

I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say whether it was good or bad—given my dislike of the genre, I’d probably find nearly all movies like it bad—but I can write about what happened later. Leslie Jones, the tall black actor in the movie, was barraged with obscene, racist, and insulting tweets. Among the people who went after her was Milo. Compared to those of his followers, his own tweets weren’t nearly as insulting (though still hurtful), for Milo’s followers share neither his wit nor subtlety.

I am not a big fan of Milo, but neither do I say that he should be ignored or shouted down.  He is a provocateur and often says things for their shock value, but some of his criticisms of the Regressive Left do bear pondering. I abhor his politics—he supports Trump, for instance—but I also abhor the way that American college students have treated him: trying to shout him down, pouring fake blood on themselves during his lectures, setting off fire alarms during his talks to silence him. It is a testimony to the power of his message, which drives Regressive Leftist college students mad, that rather than oppose him with words, they act out, behave like babies, and try to shut him up. Letting him speak is the very reason why we need the First Amendment in the U.S.

But that’s the First Amendment, which applies to speech in public. What about Twitter?

It won’t surprise readers here that I think Twitter, which has become THE public social media platform, should follow the First Amendment. It should not have banned either Milo or his followers, regardless of how much hatred they purveyed.

Did Twitter have the right to ban and block these people? Yes, of course—it’s part of their conditions of service. Should they have banned or blocked Milo? No, I don’t think so.

For, as we know, it’s a fine line between real hatred and “hatred” that is merely offense taken at criticism. Who will decide? I don’t trust Twitter to do that. After all, they regularly leave up vile things that make fun of ethnic groups (anti-Semitic campaigns, for example) or of individuals. Here’s a tweet by First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza, not only a specialist in free-speech litigation, but a liberal, and no fan of Milo. It shows the kind of abuse that Donald Trump’s wife gets on Twitter—comparable to the abuse heaped on Leslie Jones. Were Melania Trump’s critics blocked? Nope.

(Click screenshot to go to tweet; it won’t embed for some reason):

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What should somebody do who is the target of such harassment? I know that these comments are hurtful: I myself am hurt by a lot of the emails and comments I get about this site, but that doesn’t nearly amount to the harassment directed at Ms. Jones. Most of the comments directed at me just get dumped. One that came after my “get off my lawn” post—about words and phrases I didn’t like—read something like this: “Why don’t you retire, you sick fuck?” I just ignored it and quietly shelved it. Were that to happen to me on Twitter, I would not have reported it, though. Nor would I report a tweet that said something like, “Die in a fire, you ugly Jew.”  Sometimes I will block these people on my website,  where I have to read the comments, but I would never try to get them blocked on Twitter, where I can avoid comments. Is that hypocrisy? I don’t see it that way. My site is my own, and yes, Twitter is private, but it’s become so big that it is in effect our public social media platform. And no one person can police it all. Further, when I ban someone on my site, I don’t block them for everyone, for they can always spew their invective elsewhere. If you’re blocked on Twitter, you can’t address anything to anybody on the entire site. It’s not a private blog but, in effect, a public forum with millions of followers.

If you don’t like what you read on Twitter, you can block the sender personally, so you won’t even be able to read the comments. And you can retweet the abuse so that others can see it (even when I call attention to nastiness, I don’t dox the sender). My policy is to read Twitter comments only rarely, as I follow the advice of Nick Cohen: “Don’t read the comments on what you write.” Instead of broadcasting every message of hate you get, rise above that hatred and ignore it—or retweet it, mindful that the senders are odious.

I feel sorry for the abuse Leslie Jones has taken, and abhor those who have harassed her. I abhor those who call for the expulsion of Muslims from Europe and the U.S., and I abhor those who deny the Holocaust. But should they be censored? No, I don’t think so. For if free speech means anything, it means we must let the most marginal and the most vile opinions be heard. To give the power of censorship to an individual is to take away your own power of discrimination.

But are there some opinions so clearly “hate speech” that we should block them? I don’t think so. The line between harassment and criticism, or harassment and rudeness, is so fine that I don’t trust anyone, much less Twitter, to adjudicate it. We all know that criticism of the Black Lives Matter Movement, or of Islam, is considered offensive “hate speech” by some.  And it really does offend many of those people—they are not pretending to be hurt. But there is room for valid discussion of these issues, and critics should not be censored. We all know of cases in which valid criticism is publicly displayed as a form of victimism, considered “hate speech,” even though it isn’t.  (Ghostbusters is not such a case.)

On the other hand, the line between free speech and threats of violence is clearer, and the U.S. government hasn’t had much problem deciding which side of the line you’re on.

Here are two tweets for which Milo got banned. Are they insulting? Yes, one of them is. Are they hate speech? Not in my mind. Should someone be banned for life for saying this? No way.

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In my view, Twitter’s policy on discussion should be that of the U.S. government’s: all speech should be permitted except that which threatens immediate violence. (In the U.S., workplace harassment is also prohibited, but that’s not relevant on Twitter as one can ignore harassment on Twitter but not in the workplace.) And surely Yiannopoulos shouldn’t have been held responsible for what his “followers” did.

As we see in the Melania Trump case above, misogyny and hatred aren’t confined to right-wing trolls or Milo Followers. I would suspect that some of those who went after her were simply angry Democrats.

To reiterate: Leslie Jones didn’t deserve the storm of hatred, racism, and misogyny that was dumped on her. I know she feels horrible, and I sympathize with her. But just as such sentiments are permitted in the public sphere, so they should be permitted on Twitter, which has in effect become the online public sphere. If Twitter persists in blocking people, then they must do so equitably, and outline a clear policy for doing so. But I’d object to any clear policy. For if you’re a Leftist, and celebrating Milo’s ban, remember that the next time the bell tolls, it might be for thee.

Dave Rubin, it so happens, shares my sentiments, and posted a video about it yesterday. It’s well worth watching.


Note: Vox has another view, and in fairness I call it to your attention. Their conclusion:

But at the very least, Twitter’s decision to permanently ban Yiannopoulos from the site is historic and most likely will serve as a stepping stone for Twitter to refine and increase its tools for fighting abuse. In particular, this should increase Twitter’s ability to identify the kind of largely indirect harassment that Yiannopoulos specialized in: not individual acts of trolling, but rather homing in on a target and goading other Twitter followers to go on the attack.

Readers’ wildlife photos

To get photographs from Phoenix resident Pete Moulton, I must see his work on his Facebook page and then beg him for some pictures for this site. The things I do for you readers! At any rate, Pete and I share a fondness for pie-billed grebes (Podilymbus podiceps), among the cutest of North American water birds (especially the chicks), and I asked him for some of his Facebook pictures of that species. He kindly complied, so here we go (his notes are indented):

The resident pair of adult Pied-billed Grebes at my favorite pond at Papago Park had an early brood this year, with four youngsters out and about–and fairly well grown–by mid-May, so it was a huge surprise to find this adult and freshly hatched youngster on 26 June. Freshly hatched juvenile grebes regularly ride on their parents’ backs, something that baby loons (aka divers) also do, but I’d never been able to photograph this behavior before. Too far away, too heavily cropped, and the light was poor, but the pose is compelling, and provides some hope for improvements.

Look at those cuties!

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I’d thought it was the first one out of the nest, but no one’s seen the other adult, nor any additional babies. It’s a mystery. Anyway, being the only offspring, and having one whole parent to itself, the chick has grown rapidly, so that by 16 July it was nearly as large as the adult. It still begs for food incessantly, but the adult’s beginning to ignore the demands. During about 90 minutes of observation, the adult fed the chick a few morsels by regurgitation. Here’s the youngster at about three weeks of age:

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Only once during the observation did the adult catch a crayfish, which the young bird immediately snatched away and devoured:

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The little grebe has grown up to the point where it’s making short dives on its own, and it shouldn’t be too long now before it’s feeding itself.

Here’s the range of the pie-billed grebe shown on the Cornell bird site:


Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s July 21, 2016, which means it’s Racial Harmony Day in Singapore. I’m sure it will be peaceful there, as it always is—by decree. On this day in history, in 1865, what’s considered the first Western showdown took place, as Wild Bill Hickok shot down Davis Tutt in Springfield, Missouri. In 1944, Hitler’s minions executed Claus von Stauffenberg and other conspirators for a failed plot to assassinate der Führer on July 20. And on this day in 1983, the Vostok Station in Antarctica recorded the lowest temperature ever in a place where people lived: −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F).

Notables born on this day include Ernest Hemingway (1899), Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam, 1948), Garry Trudeau (also 1948), and Robin Williams (1951, died 2014). Those who died on this day include pilot and astronaut Alan Shepard, American admiral, pilot, and astronaut (1998). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, it’s the cherry harvest, which I’ll miss, but am still promised pies every day. Hili is supervising the harvest but also fishing for compliments. To be sure, she’s looking very svelte:

Hili: Cats are beautiful.
A: I agree, in principle.
Hili: Good. I don’t like to argue.
In Polish:
Hili: Koty są piękne.
Ja: W zasadzie się zgadzam.
Hili: To dobrze, bo nie lubię się spierać.

Leon and his staff are still looking for a wooden house to dismantle and move up north; but Leon’s still taking his walks:

Leon: What? Haven’t you ever seen a wild cat?


Even our Canadian neighbors are suffering from the heat. Out in Winnipeg, Gus was prostrate with the extreme temperature, which was at least 34° C (40° C with the humidity index):


Here’s a print: “Cats Nightmare” by Louis Wain, an English artist whose paintings of cats, which varied from normal depictions to horrendous nightmare cats, are often used to illustrate the progression of schizophrenia.But as I discussed a while back, this progression was ordered not temporally, but in increasing degree of bizarreness. This picture does seem a bit bizarre:

Cats Nightmare Louis Wain

Finally, we have a cat conforming to principles of natural beauty. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be a “Furbonacci Spiral,” but I didn’t make this picture.



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