Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ skepticism

Wednesday is Jesus and Mo Day, and today’s strip, called “guard”, came with an email note:

Today’s strip was inspired by this book review.

The book, “Not Born Yesterday” by Hugo Mercier, is on my to-read list.

Here’s the book from Princeton University Press, and if you click on the screenshot you’ll go to the US Amazon link. It was published on January 28 of this year, and looks well worth reading.

Now to the strip, which shows another example of religious doublethink:


Readers’ wildlife photos

Remember, landscapes and astronomical bodies count as “wildlife” here. Please send in your good photos.

Today we have both birds and the cosmos. First, some birds from reader Garry VanGelderen, sent on March 5. All IDs and notes are indented. I’d call this “Five Ways of Looking At a Blue Jay”:

Since about a week or so ago I have a new camera, a bit of an upgrade of the one before. I also have now a resident Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) and I have some reasonably good pictures:

The first one was taken early in the morning when it was -20°C and the bird was sitting in my feeder all puffed up to stay warm.

The next few pictures were taken today… a sunny day with the temperature hovering around +3°C (by the way perfect weather for the maple sap harvest which has now started in my area):

And the cosmos from Tim Anderson in Australia:

Attached is an image of a globular star cluster, NGC3201, which is located in the Vela constellation close to the Southern Cross. The cluster has a radial velocity of 490 kilometres per second, which is unusually large, but not high enough to escape the gravitational attraction of the Milky Way.

The image was made by combining 120 separate photos taken with a 100mm refracting telescope and a monochrome camera fitted with a set of LRGB filters.

No viruses were harmed in the creation of this astrophotograph.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

It’s Wednesday, April 1, 2020—April Fools’ Day—and I’m guessing that people are too dispirited to post April Fool’s jokes, for fooling people doesn’t seem so funny now. I predict we’ll see a paucity of such humor today.

First, the food months. April is National Florida Tomato Month, National BLT Sandwich Month, National Soft Pretzel Month, National Soyfoods Month, National Grilled Cheese Month, and National Garlic Month. April 1 is National Soylent Green Day as well as National Sourdough Bread Day.  Curiously, Soylent Green is not a real food, but a cracker from the 1973 dystopian movie of the same name (there is a Soylent food company but it doesn’t make “Green”). Soylent Green was made of PEOPLE, and today’s link suggests an April Fool’s joke.

It’s also Boomer Bonus Day, in which we Boomers (aka “seniors”) are supposed to get special prices on goods. Too bad everything’s closed. It’s also International Fun at Work Day (have fun at home!), National One Cent Day (celebrating the useless penny), and Edible Book Day. That’s right: today’s the day that people make books that can be eaten. Here’s one:

Finally, it’s National Atheist’s Day, with the poor placement of the apostrophe suggesting that it’s celebrating only a single atheist. People really should proofread their stuff.

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) goes to a bunch of information about its subject: Dame Jean Macnamara (1899-1968), described by Wikipedia as “an Australian medical doctor and scientist, best known for her contributions to children’s health and welfare.” Her research showed that there was more than one strain of polio, a fact that apparently helped in the development of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine.

News of the Day: It’s too depressing to recount. Just read the front page of any good newspaper. More than 1,000 have died in New York City alone, with the state’s death toll increasing by over 30% per day. And healthcare workers everywhere are being struck down. Here are some more depressing data posted by a physician/scientist:

As for April Fool’s Day, here’s the Chicago Tribune‘s April Fool’s issue from 114 years ago (h/t Matthew)

Stuff that happened on April 1 includes:

Here’s one reference for that #2 above. Oy, is that evidence weak, and, of course, it comes straight from Scripture. Reading my new book on the shroud of Turin, I find that there were many relics of the Last Supper circulating around Europe in the Middle Ages, including plates from that meal and some Last Supper bread. (Other relics include the True Cross, nails that supposedly affixed Jesus thereto, and, weirdly, some of Mary’s breast milk.)

More news:

  • 1789 – In New York City, the United States House of Representatives achieves its first quorum and elects Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania as its first Speaker.
  • 1854 – Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times begins serialisation in his magazine Household Words.
  • 1867 – Singapore becomes a British crown colony.
  • 1918 – The Royal Air Force is created by the merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
  • 1924 – Adolf Hitler is sentenced to five years imprisonment for his participation in the “Beer Hall Putsch” but spends only nine months in jail.
  • 1960 – The TIROS-1 satellite transmits the first television picture from space.

Here’s a NASA documentary showing some of the weather satellite’s pictures:

Here’s a takeoff of a Harrier; I’m not sure if they’re still being used:

  • 1970 – President Richard Nixon signs the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law, requiring the Surgeon General’s warnings on tobacco products and banning cigarette advertising on television and radio in the United States, effective 1 January 1971.
  • 1976 – Apple Inc. is formed by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in Cupertino, California, USA.
  • 1979 – Iran becomes an Islamic republic by a 99% vote, officially overthrowing the Shah.
  • 1999 – Nunavut is established as a Canadian territory carved out of the eastern part of the Northwest Territories.
  • 2001 – Same-sex marriage becomes legal in the Netherlands, the first contemporary country to allow it.
  • 2004 – Google announces Gmail to the public.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1578 – William Harvey, English physician and academic (d. 1657)
  • 1815 – Otto von Bismarck, German lawyer and politician, 1st Chancellor of the German Empire (d. 1898)
  • 1873 – Sergei Rachmaninoff, Russian pianist, composer, and conductor (d. 1943)
  • 1885 – Wallace Beery, American actor (d. 1949)
  • 1885 – Clementine Churchill, English wife of Winston Churchill (d. 1977)
  • 1932 – Debbie Reynolds, Scottish-Irish American actress, singer, and dancer (d. 2016)
  • 1939 – Ali MacGraw, American model and actress
  • 1947 – Francine Prose, American novelist, short story writer, and critic
  • 1950 – Samuel Alito, American lawyer and jurist
  • 1955 – Terry Nichols, American criminal
  • 1961 – Susan Boyle, Scottish singer
  • 1973 – Rachel Maddow, American journalist and author

Remember when Susan Boyle stunned the audience and judges of “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2009?  Everybody laughed at her at the beginning, but the snickers turned to shock and then to tears. Here’s her song: talk about feel-good moments! Since then she’s sold over 25 million records. I just watched it again, and I must have something in my eye.

Those who succumbed on this day include:

  • 1914 – Rube Waddell, American baseball player (b. 1876)
  • 1917 – Scott Joplin, American pianist and composer (b. 1868)
  • 1976 – Max Ernst, German painter and sculptor (b. 1891)
  • 1984 – Marvin Gaye, American singer-songwriter (b. 1939)
  • 2017 – Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Soviet and Russian poet and writer (b. 1932)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Editor Hili is impeding progress:

Malgorzata: Can you please vacate my chair?
Hili: Not now, maybe later.
In Polish:
Małgorzata: Czy możesz zwolnić mój fotel?
Hili: Nie teraz, może później.

In nearby Wloclawek, where Leon’s staff Elzbieta (a teacher) is teaching remotely, Leon is also learning that way. Here he learns about snails:

Leon: Distant education. We are managing.

In Polish: Edukacja zdalna. Radzimy sobie.

Malgorzata notes this about Poland: “Remote teaching already is a huge problem. Some families have more children than they have computers or laptops. Some poor families are living in very small flats, and children do not have their own rooms. All non-essential lessons (like music, which Leon’s other staff member teaches) are just being skipped.”

From Margaret Morgan on Facebook:

Posted by Angus Calder on Facebook:

From Barry, evidence that prayer is not only futile, but harmful:

From Titania. She forgot the additional good news, for the woke, that more men than women are afflicted:

Two tweets from reader Barry (be sure to play the video to see the nunchucks).

And a bunch of future patients:

Tweets from Matthew. About the first one he says, “Thread in which GG kicks the ass of the New York Times and rightly so. The UK press has same problem: political journos out of their depth.” The thread is here. 

Crikey, these otters are bellicose!

A sizable brood! I hope Honey has as many this year:

As Matthew points out in his retweet, this shark has been around the block:


Pandemic consolations

We all have reasons to be frustrated during this pandemic, though all frustrations pale before the illness or death of a loved one, or of losing a job or defaulting on a mortgage. But every one of my friends has complained about a different minor burden that the new restrictions have placed on them. Feel free to kvetch below.

My biggest frustration is not being able to travel. I was supposed to go to Florida, and that was canceled, and then lecturing on a CRUISE (oy!) to Gibraltar, Morocco, and the Canary Islands in April. That, too, is now defunct. I hope only that the fates may allow me to return to Antarctica this winter.

My consolations are these, in no particular order: ducks, good books, and wine. Tonight I’m making a honking big steak and will accompany it with a 14-year-old Rioja—a great steak wine. Under the philosophy that great wines are meant to be shared, I always try to save my fancier bottles to split with wine-lovers or those who want to learn about good wines, but such people are going to be few for a while. So I’ve decided to crack some of my good bottles, like the one below, to treat myself. I haven’t tried this one yet, but it’s supposed to be very good.

It’s not a substitute for penguins, but it’ll do, pig. . . it’ll do.

What are your biggest frustrations? And are you giving yourself any special treats as a palliative?

Bird opera

Reader Merilee sent some of us the link to this “bird opera”, which is really lovely, using birdsongs as the voices in the Mozart opera “The Magic Flute”.

Here are the notes from ShakeUp music. You’ll have to click below to get to the Vimeo site.

ShakeUp Music recomposed The Magic Flute Papageno/Papagena Duet into a colorful Mozart bird aria. Listen to an audiovisual Twitterstorm performed by our feathered fellows.

Follow us on Vimeo
or YouTube:

To see an original Mozart performance with Homo sapiens, go here.

My only issue is that there are no ducks. They could have ended the piece with one loud and rousing “QUACK”!


Words and phrases I detest

You’d think that during the pandemic, people might be at home brushing up on their grammar; but of course you’d think wrongly. I never seem to run out of phrases that I detest, and, in this latest installment, all of them come from HuffPost, a reliable source of bad writing by eager but unlettered and underpaid youths just out of college. (You don’t get “lettered” in college any more.)

Read and weep. (No need to tell me that you have no problem with these; the point is that I do.) And feel free to add your own peeves in the comments.

If you must see the article, click on the screenshot, though the headlines in the click-through post aren’t always the same as on these front-page teasers.

1.) “Vibe”.  I have no problem with “good vibes” or “bad vibes” or “vibes” used as an abbreviation for “vibraphone”. I do have a problem with its use this way:

Note: it’s not a “good vibe” or a “bad vibe” or any kind of “(adjective) vibe”.

Here we have the latest with-it noun meaning, I think, “a created atmosphere or emotion”, similar to the odious use of the word “mood” without any adjectives. In this case, they don’t even tell you what kind of “vibe” you’re supposed to feel when Kris Jenner fumbles when trying to use Instagram. In fact, the word is completely superfluous in the headline above; they could have said, “Kris Jenner attempts and fails to livestream Kim Kardashian.”  But then, of course, the headline wouldn’t look cool and edgy.

2.) “AF”. The first time I saw this, I didn’t realize that it means “as fuck”, for example, “I’m mad AF at Trump.”  It’s a way to use obscene words without having to write them out. And, like “vibe”, it’s lazy and annoying. Here’s one example:

Tell me, friends: what, exactly, is added to his headline by using “AF”? Why not just say “really relaxing”? Because of course (see below). You look au courant when you use those two letters—but only to morons, like those people who staff HuffPost. I see that I’ve excoriated the use of “AF” in a previous post, and that makes me angry AF at myself.

3.) “Journal” as a verb. This word, which is short for “keeping (or writing in) a journal” is part of the noxious trend in which nouns become verbs, like saying “gift” for “giving a present” or “medal” for “winning an Olympic medal.” To wit:

What’s next with this trend? “Stephen King is booking”? “It’s about time to start Christmas carding”? “I have to go to the grocery store, so I better do some listing”? The mind boggles.

4. “Because of course.” I’ve already had my Hour of Detestation with the phrase “Because X”, which is gaining in “with-it” journalism. (The example I used before, from HuffPost, of course, was the headline “Which airline to fly based on the free snacks, because free snacks.”)

The possibilities are endless for “X”. But this new variant is even more obnoxious.  In fact, when used as intended, all it says is “read what was written before.” In the following, the “because of course” means “Meghan Markle always inspires the perfect look.”  Well, for one thing she doesn’t, and for another the wording gives me a pain in my lower mesentery. Finally, on what grounds is Megan Markle even an “influencer”? People who read articles like this need a life!

101-year old man, having reportedly survived the Holocaust, World War II, and the Spanish flu epidemic, now survives COVID-19

Talk about a survivor: this is unbelievable! The story (h/t Malgorzata) comes from the Jewish Journal (first headline) and Forbes (second) and you can see it by clicking on the screenshots. But I’ll reproduce the whole short report from JJ below.

The report:

A 101-year-old man, identified as ‘Mr. P’ has been released from isolation after recovering from COVID-19 in the Italian city of Rimini. Mr. P., a WWII and Spanish Flu survivor was admitted last week to a hospital in northeast Italy after he was tested positive for the Coronavirus.

According to Gloria Lisi, Vice-Mayor of Rimini, as the patient began to recover it became “the story everyone talked about” in the hospital.

“Everyone saw hope for the future of all of us in the recovery of a person more than 100 years old,” Lisi said in a televised interview.

“Every day we see the sad stories from these weeks that mechanically tell about a virus that rages and is especially aggressive on the elderly. But he survived. Mr. P. survived.”

According to an article in Forbes, this is the second pandemic the man has survived. Mr. P was born in 1919, in the middle of the Spanish flu, estimated by the Centers for Disease Control to have infected 500 million people, about a third of the world’s population.

It doesn’t really say in what sense he was a Holocaust survivor, whether he was Jewish, whether he was in the camps, and so on. It could be that he simply lived through the time of the Holocaust, but you could say that about anyone who lived in Europe during those years. And did he really get the Spanish flu, or was simply alive but ininfected while it raged? Still, he did beat the COVID-19 at 101!

And the Forbes story is below, which doesn’t say anything about the Holocaust survival.

Key bits:

Crucial quote: “Mr. P made it. The family brought him home yesterday evening,” Lisi said. “[It teaches] us that even at 101 years, the future is not written.” His “truly extraordinary” recovery gave “hope for the future,” she added.

Key background: Mr. P’s survival is remarkable, especially considering the high fatality rates for older Italians who become infected with the virus. According to a report from Italy’s National Institute of Health, nearly 86% of deaths in the country were patients older than 70 years old. And while China, the U.S., and Italy all had confirmed coronavirus numbers hovering around 80,000 Thursday, Italy saw substantially more deaths, 8,165 compared to 1,000 in the U.S. and  3,287 in China. The age distribution of Italy’s population may be a factor— the country has the second-oldest population globally, with 23% of Italians clocking in at over age 65.

Tangent: Mr. P has joined the ranks of other centenarians to survive coronavirus, including 103-year-old Zhang Guangfen, a woman living in Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated. Guangfen was admitted to hospital in early March and was discharged a week later. On Thursday, South Korea saw its oldest survivor leave hospital after a 97-year-old female coronavirus patient made a full recovery. She is reported to be from Cheongdo, a city not far from Daegu, which has seen the worst of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak.

To paraphrase the old doo-wop song, “Who was that man? I’d like to shake his hand.” On second thought, maybe we’d just bump elbows.

How Australia is handling the pandemic

Reader Sue Davies sent a report from Australia on how they’re handling the pandemic, and gave me permission to post it. While much of her information comes from two sites (a Guardian Australia site and an Aussie federal government site), the summary and words are her own, and I’ve indented them:

I thought you might like to know how we in Australia are handling the crisis.

The Prime Minister has set up a “National Cabinet” made up of Premiers and Chief Health Officers of all six states and the Northern Territory.  This meets daily to make decisions affecting the whole country.  All the states are implementing the same laws to ensure that the response is the same everywhere.

Presently the rules are these:

1).  No more than two people can congregate outside at any one time (excluding family members). There are stiff on-the-spot fines ($1600) for people caught flouting the rules.

2).  All shops and organisations are shut down excluding:  supermarkets, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, liquor shops, petrol stations, vehicle repair shops, food production and distribution, hairdressers.

JAC: Note that hairdressers are open, something that’s not the case here. I guess the violation of social distance is deemed less important than the need for tonsorial services!

3).  All state borders are closed to all traffic excluding freight, health workers. Also allowed are “compassionate grounds” travellers and people returning to their home state (who all HAVE
to go into 14 days of quarantine before they can get to their destination).

4). There are no sporting fixtures, sport training, use of outdoor gyms and playgrounds, use of public swimming pools.  And all beaches are closed.

5).  No cinemas, clubs, hotels (drinking, not accommodation), casinos, auctions, house inspections, personal services (excluding hairdressers, physiotherapists), amusement parks, galleries, museums, libraries, markets.

6).  You are allowed out of  your home in order to: shop for essentials, visit doctors, visit pharmacies, get your vehicle serviced, exercise (but by yourself).

7).  The only people allowed into the country are citizens and permanent residents, who all have to go into 14 days quarantine.

8).  All aged care facilities are locked down.  No visitors.

9).  People cannot just turn up at the doctor’s premises.  They have to telephone first and the doctor will decide whether they need to attend.  Otherwise all medical consultations are done
via phone or video.  And all consultations are bulk-billed to Medicare (our universal health system) so that no-one has to pay.

10). Landlords (of both private residences and commercial premises) are not allowed to evict their tenants.

11). Fewer half of the members of Federal Parliament (both house and senate) are sitting (just enough to constitute a quorum) to prevent spreading the virus; and those who are sitting are self-isolating between sittings.

12). Wedding attendance is limited to the celebrant and two witnesses.  Funerals are restricted to 10 people.

13). Restaurants and cafes can offer delivery and takeaway only. Food courts in shopping centres may also only offer takeaway.

14). Child care centres are closed.  In most states, schools are still open but parents can decide whether to send children or keep them at home.  Schools will remain open for children of health workers.

15).  All celebrations for Anzac Day (our national day remembering war veterans) are cancelled.

As at 6:30am on 31 March 2020, there have been 4,359 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. There have been 266 new cases since 6:30am yesterday. There have been 19 deaths.
Countrywide there are 50 people in intensive care of which 20 are on ventilators.

It looks like we may be flattening the curve:

More info and graphs can be found here. 

All this means that about 8 million Australians are suddenly out of work, so the government is implementing a $130b package to support employers, who keep their staff, by way of wage subsidies.  This prevents the government social-security network from being overwhelmed by out-of-work job seekersm and enables employers to retain staff (even if the business is not trading) to facilitate a smooth start-up when this is all over. It also assists people to keep paying rent and buy essentials.

Pensioners will all receive and extra $1750, and in Queensland electricity bills will not be issued (electricity is state-owned in Queensland but I think in all other states it is privatised).

The army has been deployed to help with enforcement of the rules and bans and are also employed in a couple of factories manufacturing PPE.

I think that covers most of it.  I believe New Zealand has also introduced draconian measures that seem to be working.

Sue added this later:

One thing that I didn’t mention is that there is no politicking about all this.  There are two state Labor governments and four state Liberal (conservative) governments and all are working together, including the federal opposition (Labor) to provide the best leadership possible.  It really is a “wartime” cabinet.  If only it could be like that in normal times. . .

Or in the U.S.!  Thanks to Sue for her report.

I went to the grocery store!

For me this was a big deal, as I haven’t been shopping since the lockdown started, and the scary videos you see on YouTube about how to sanitize your groceries made me apprehensive. Plus I’ve just hit the “old people” age, though I’m healthy. But after an e-lecture by my surrogate mother Malgorzata about the need to stop worrying, I approached this calmly and resolutely as if I were assigned to enter a war zone, or, as I’ve put it, “About to cross the River Styx.”

I checked with my doctor earlier this week about the need for masks and gloves, and he said I needed neither so long as I didn’t touch my face; but he added that if I had anxiety about it, I should wear a mask (he knows me well). Actually, I donned a cheap mask, a pair of latex gloves, and I wiped off the shopping-cart handle with isopropyl alcohol.

The store was our giant local Jewel-Osco, and I went at 6:45 a.m. to ensure fewer people. Once inside, my worries abated, as there were very few people, almost none of them wearing protective gear. I made sure to stay 6 feet away from people, and proceeded to do a large buy of staples, including milk, bread, eggs, peanut butter, black beans (my go-to “quarantine food”, eaten with rice and other goodies). The stuff like milk and ice cream were wiped down with 70% ethanol before being put in the refrigerator, while the non-perishables are sitting in my car trunk for a day to help them decontaminate.

Outside the store, I removed my gloves and my mask, having mastered the technique of removing gloves without touching their outside. I avoided touching my face, and, at home, I did a big scrub of my hands and even put ethanol on my keys, as I’d driven my car. Much of this may be unnecessary, but it makes me feel safer. It wasn’t onerous.

One note: although all the employees were wearing masks and gloves, almost none of the few customers were wearing either. I think some of them thought that my mask meant that I actually had the virus, because they looked at me oddly and stayed well away from me. One woman wouldn’t even pass me in the aisle with her grocery cart (that, of course, is less than six feet apart), but she looked frightened, and I felt bad about that.

At any rate, I made it, and don’t have to go shopping for perhaps two more weeks. Only time will tell whether this outing got me infected, but I doubt it and I’m not going to worry about it.

Photo from Vox‘s useful guide to grocery shopping during the pandemic; they don’t recommend wearing either gloves or a mask.


Readers’ wildlife photos

Please send me your good wildlife photos because the tank is below the level I’d like. Now that we’re all chilling at home, you should have time to get together ten or so photos. Thanks!

Today’s contribution is from Mark Sturtevant, insect photographer par excellence. His words and IDs are indented:

Today we have some slightly weird looking arthropods to look at.

First, a common spider that resides politely and unobtrusively in peoples’ basements. This female long-bodied cellar spider is carefully tending her egg sac, which is typical since this group of spiders make doting parents. I kept this lady in a shoe box for about a week, and intruded on her every day or so to take pictures.

What is interesting about their egg sacs is that they use very little silk to wrap them, so the eggs are plainly visible and the embryos can be seen thru the egg shell. In the second picture you can see the mature spiderlings inside the eggs. For a given egg, the pale bulging area is the carapace of the spiderling, and the curvy lines are their long legs bundled together. A day after the last picture, the spiderlings had all hatched and were all over the inside of the shoe box. I would very much like to have photographed the hatching, as I understand it is pretty cool to see.

According to website known as BugGuide, pretty much every cellar spider you see in the U.S. will be one of 3 introduced species.  Based on the markings on the carapace, this one is probably Pholcus phalangoides,

Planthoppers from the family Derbidae range from the unremarkable, to the fairly weird. I know of 3 weird species where I live, and so. . . Let’s Meet the Derbids.

The first two pictures are of Anotia uhleri. I call this the “new Derbid” because it was a new species for me recently.

The next two pictures show the “pale Derbid”, Otiocerus wolfii. Planthoppers tend to have highly shortened antennae, tipped with a stout bristle called the “arista”. In these Derbids, the antennae are secondarily elongated but they still have the arista. The antennae can be raised, as in the first picture, or flattened down alongside the strangely expanded head. After an extended period of staring at these things, I have yet to work out the convolutions of their antennae. Derbid antennae are a mystery.

Finally, we have the “red Derbid”, Apache degeeri, which is both my favorite and my first Derbid. I well remember the astonishment of many years ago when I first came upon one of these. I was not even sure what insect order I was looking at, and that does not happen every day!

I find Derbids by slowly going down forest trails and looking under leaves. I find many other interesting things this way, but Derbids will always be special. Most of these pictures were taken as staged shots indoors in front of a large window. Unlike other planthoppers, Derbids have a mellow nature, so careful handling will generally yield several pictures before they start feeling restless and flutter weakly away (they are not strong fliers). But they always go straight to the window where they can be retrieved and carefully set back on the stage again. Of course they were released after they were “borrowed” from nature for a while.