Biology question of the day

Here it is:

Can kittens be identical twins?

Now cat litters are usually bigger than two, but that doesn’t mean that identical twins or even triplets (which result from the splitting of a single fertilized egg) can’t occur. The only way to test this, of course, is not similarity in appearance–as with Jerry Coyne the Sixth and Not Jerry Coyne, who were littermates–but using genetics: their genomes should be virtually identical.

I’ve done a brief but inconclusive Google search (only about 3 minutes) and don’t have an answer. I throw this one out to the readers–and I’d like genetic evidence.

This of course goes for other animals; some of us already know, though, that nine-banded armadillos always produce identical quadruplets, but I haven’t investigated how often identical twins occur in various animal species. Readers can weigh in here, too.

Yesterday’s lunch

From time to time I meet reader Simon—a cancer researcher who moved here from Vanderbilt—to sample the fare of a local restaurant. Yesterday we went to an acclaimed place that specializes in the food of Macau: Fat Rice. The restaurant, on West Diversey Avenue, is hard to spot because the name is very inconspicuous: on the red-and-yellow poster on the door:

It’s a cozy and crowded restaurant. There are tables but we ate at the bar, washing down the food with a few brewskis:
Our meal started with an appetizer: boiled pork and ginger dumplings in Szechuan sauce:

And we split the house speciality, Arroz Gordo (“Fat rice”), a paella-like dish made with curried chicken, barbecued pork, linguica, chilli prawns, clams, croutons, ginger, a leaf I couldn’t identify, and a big pile of rice underneath, which was slightly charred and crunch at the bottom. Delicious! I don’t remember this dish from when I visited Macau last November, so it may be a case of cultural appropriation.


Arrant brown-nosing in the Cabinet

Check out this short video (I haven’t seen more of it, but would be glad to get a link). Unless it’s misrepresented, which I doubt given the source, it reminds me of Stalin during the Thirties, any of the North Korean dictators, or Chairman Mao.

Bradd Jaffy is senior news editor and writer for NBC Nightly News

Here’s a long and more nauseating version from CNN:

UPDATE (h/t to Grania): A couple of days ago Steve Pinker tw**ted an article from Vox, “The Bullshitter-in-Chief“, which is relevant to the above.  Discussing Trump’s craziness and lies, the author argues that what Trump is really doing is testing loyalty and making his staff cohere. As the article says:

But George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen argues that this kind of thing [the big kerfuffle about crowd size at the Inauguration, and Trump asking his people to agree that it was big] can serve a strategic role.

The key issues are trust and loyalty. By asking subordinates to echo his bullshit, Trump accomplishes two goals:

  • He tests the loyalty of his subordinates. In Cowen’s words, “if you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid.”

  • The other is that it turns his aides into members of a distinct tribe. “By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration.”

Irish girl suicidal from unwanted pregnancy; doctors confine her in mental health unit instead of performing abortion

The abortion laws of Ireland are a travesty: you still can’t get one in that country unless the mother’s life is in danger—from either health risks or possible suicide—or the fetus has fatal abnormalities. This draconian policy has led to horrible outcomes, the most notable being the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 from sepsis after doctors wouldn’t let her abort her fetus, although they were sure it would miscarry, because it still had a heartbeat. Mother and fetus succumbed, but how was that a good outcome? Only for Catholics, I suppose.

These laws need to be changed, and it’s the damn Catholic Church and the cowardly Irish politicians who won’t do what is right, even though most Irish people favor liberalized abortion laws.

The latest case, reported by The Irish Times, involves a “young girl” (age not given) who was pregnant and had strong views about why she could not bear the child, ultimately becoming suicidal. That was agreed on by two psychiatrists (the assent of two is required to approve a legal abortion), but one psychiatrist said the case could be “managed by treatment” (for her mental disorder), and the other, while saying she was depressed, said there was “no evidence of a psychological disorder.” (What the hell is depression, anyway?)

The girl was moved to Dublin, thinking she was going to get an abortion, but instead was slapped inside a mental health unit. She was ultimately released by court order, but there are no good grounds for preventing her from getting an abortion—even under Irish law. I’m betting these psychiatrists were Catholics. Meanwhile, she’s still at risk of suicide.

This reminds one of the notorious 1992 “X case,” in which a 14 year old girl—the victim of serial sexual abuse from her uncle—discovered she was pregnant. Her parents informed police, hoping that DNA evidence could be obtained from the fetus that would implicate the rapist. The police passed this onto the Attorney General, who obtained an interim injunction stopping the teenager and her parents from leaving the country or terminating the pregnancy. (The child and her parents had already gone to England for an abortion, but returned before it was performed lest they face criminal charges on returning to Ireland).  In spite of the girl becoming severely suicidal, the judge hearing the case decided that she should be restrained from leaving the country for 9 months. This was overturned on Appeal, but the girl suffered a miscarriage before the termination was carried out.

One good outcome of the “X” case is that traveling outside Ireland to seek an abortion became decriminalized. But you still can’t get an abortion unless there’s a health risk to the mother or the fetus is doomed.

h/t: Grania


Canada poised to repeal its blasphemy law

Since 1892, Canada has had an anti-blasphemy law on the books, to wit (from the Criminal C0de):

296. (1) Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years

  • (2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.
  • (3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.

R.S., c. C-34, s. 260.

Now the bit about being exculpated if you give a critical opinion on religion “in good faith and decent language” might seem to be the loophole. But as Peter Bowal and Kelsey Horvat note in a quote given by Canada’s Centre for Inquiry (a group that has long crusaded against that law), the law “remain[s] the most serious form of crimes (indictable), and contain broad, archaic wording which makes their criminal application and enforcement difficult as well as controversial today.”  Bowal and Horvat also indicate that “there is no guidance in the criminal code or in any judicial interpretations as to what “publishes”, “decent language” or  “a religious subject” mean, or generally what constitutes a blasphemous libel”.

The law hasn’t been used much, though in 1980 it was used to charge a theater with showing Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” though the charges were dropped.

Now, according to Global News and verified by the Government of Canada’s website, an bill to amend Canada’s criminal code has been introduced in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who represents Vancouver/Granville (she’s a Liberal, of course).  That law not only clarifies provisions of the sexual assault laws, but repeals section 296, with the repeal buried in a list of archaic and unenforceable laws (my emphasis in the bullet points):

Obsolete and/or redundant provisions

The proposed legislation would repeal several Criminal Code offences that were enacted many years ago, but that are no longer relevant or required today, including:

  • Challenging someone to a duel (section 71);

  • Advertising a reward for the return of stolen property “no questions asked” (section 143);

  • Possessing, printing, distributing or publishing crime comics (paragraph 163(1)(b));

  • Publishing blasphemous libel (section 296);

  • Fraudulently pretending to practise witchcraft (section 365); and,

  • Issuing trading stamps (section 427).

It’s about time to strike from the books a law prohibiting religious blasphemy, which doesn’t belong in a progressive country. This hasn’t passed yet, but I’m betting it will.

That doesn’t solve all of Canada’s “first amendment” issues, though, as there are numerous “hate speech laws” that are still on the books, and have been used. See the Wikipedia article on “Hate speech laws in Canada“. Here are two examples of “hate speech” that shouldn’t have been prosecuted, though in both cases I find the opinions prosecuted to be detestable:

In 2005, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal fined Bill Whatcott, leader of a small group called the Christian Truth Activists, $17,500 because he distributed flyers that had controversial comments about homosexuals.[38] The matter ultimately went to the Supreme Court of Canada where the decision was upheld in part.

In Citron v. Zündel TD 1/02 (2002/01/18) the Tribunal found that the respondent had theories of secret conspiracies by Jews. The respondent posted his theories to the Internet. The Tribunal found that the tone and extreme denigration and vilification of Jews by the respondent was a violation of s. 13(1). The Tribunal ordered the respondent to cease and desist his discriminatory practices.

Neither of these cases would have been prosecuted in the U.S. Let Ernst Zündel promulgate his anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial without being jailed. After hearing him, we can educate ourselves about the evidence for the Holocaust, and he can always be met with counter-speech. For further arguments about why we should let “hateful” speech be aired, read Mill’s On Liberty. 

h/t: Gregory

Ken White on free speech and hate speech

Ken White, who’s identified as “a 1st Amendment litigator and criminal defense attorney at Brown White & Osborn LLP in Los Angeles” writes a lot at the legal website Popehat. One of his pet issues is freedom of speech, and I call your attention to his new piece in the Los Angeles Times, “Actually, hate speech is protected speech.” It’s a good piece and gives the proper legal responses to six comments that are often in the air from the authoritarian wing of our Left. I’ll show White’s responses to three particularly pernicious tropes (indented):

  • “Not all speech is protected. There are limits to free speech.”

This slogan is true, but rarely helpful. The Supreme Court has called the few exceptions to the 1st Amendment “well-defined and narrowly limited.” They include obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, true threats and speech integral to already criminal conduct. First Amendment exceptions are not an open-ended category, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to add to them, especially in the last generation. Merely observing that some exceptions exist does not help anyone determine whether particular speech falls into one of those exceptions. It’s a non sequitur.

  • “You can’t shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater”


  • “Hate speech is not free speech”

This popular saying reflects our contempt for bigotry, but it’s not a correct statement of law. There is no general 1st Amendment exception allowing the government to punish “hate speech” that denigrates people based on their identity. Things we call “hate speech” might occasionally fall into an existing 1st Amendment exception: a racist speech might seek to incite imminent violence against a group, or might be reasonably interpreted as an immediate threat to do harm. But “hate speech,” like other ugly types of speech we despise, is broadly protected.

  • “We must balance free speech and other interests”
  • “‘Fighting words’ are not protected under the First Amendment”
  • “Maybe this speech is protected now, but the law is always changing.”

The Supreme Court’s approach to constitutional rights can change very quickly. For instance, it took less than a generation for the court to reverse course on whether the government could punish gay sex. But for decades the court has been moving towards more vigorous protection of free speech, not less. Some of the most controversial and unpopular speech to come before the court — like videos of animals being tortured, or incendiary Westboro Baptist Church protests at funerals — have yielded solid 8-to-1 majorities in favor of protecting speech. There’s no sign of a growing appetite for censorship on the court.

I’m not sure how torture of animals can be construed as “free speech”, even as artistic expression, unless it doesn’t violate animal-protection laws.

Go read the piece to see the legal take on the other three statements.

h/t: Grania

Readers’ wildlife photos and video

We have a photo and a video today. First, Tara Tanaka (flickr site here, vimeo site here) sent a video of a giant American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) who lives on her property. It’s positively primeval—and scary! Her notes on “Mr. Biggun” (be sure to watch the video on the site and in full screen; click on “vimeo” at lower right):

In January I posted a video of what I thought was our largest alligator. We later found her nest and babies, and I renamed her ‘Mrs. Biggun.’

A couple of months ago I looked out the window, and for the first time saw two gators at the same time, so I grabbed my digiscoping gear and headed out in the yard to video them. I chose the closest one to focus on, and as I videoed him he really didn’t look that big — UNTIL he pulled himself up on ‘gator island.’ When I saw his jaw mine dropped. Lesson learned: you can’t judge a book by its cover.

When I originally videoed Mrs. Biggun it was just before we hired someone with a mechanical harvester to remove the floating islands that were choking out the swamp and open water. Since our gator had a favorite spot to sun, we marked with flags and had David leave that little section, and we named it ‘gator island.’ You can see the original vegetation in the video of Mrs. Biggun, and what’s left in this one.

Reader Barbara Wilson (location not mentioned) sent some photos of an insect and plant, along with some notes:

This is the very opposite of a “spot the ___” photo.  The White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) caterpillars were by far the thickest organisms out in this scabby area, except the flowering Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva).  The caterpillar is protected by camouflage, tiny hairs, and a single yellow eyespot on its butt.

Here it is:

Dr. Andy Moldenke, who identified these photos, says these moths are migratory and that this year they are moving by the millions.

Here is another view of the rocky habitat, showing the Bitterroot, which appears to flower right out of the rock.

Lewisia rediviva has leaves earlier in the season, but if the weather is dry they wither before the flowers arrive.

Second feral kitten captured, named “Not Jerry Coyne”

Stephen Barnard in Idaho has been trying to trap a feral cat and her two kittens; yesterday he succeeded in getting the second kitten, which appears to be called “Not Jerry Coyne” since the first one, caught two days ago, was named after me (“Jerry Coyne the Sixth“). The siblings (below) look very similar, though you can tell by their condition which was caught most recently. I asked Stephen how he caught the second one, and he appeared to have used the first kitten as bait.

I trapped another kitten, which I think is the last one. It’s an identical twin to Jerry Coyne the Fifth. No sign of the mother.

I’ll probably take this one to the shelter tomorrow morning. It’s a really good shelter, lavishly supported by rich animal lovers in the Ketchum/Hailey area.

They’re eating regular canned cat food. What worked was (1) putting the crate with Jerry Coyne the nth by the trap, and (2) setting a hair trigger on the trap. The two kittens are overjoyed at being reunited.

Not Jerry Coyne is on the right. It’s been eating like a pig.

For my part, I hope they can be kept together, as the first one has already been adopted, and maybe the nice tenant who took Jerry VI can also take Not Jerry Coyne.

Voilà! They look at lot like the original Jerry Coyne the Cat (bottom photo), reared by Kätzchenmeister Gayle Ferguson in New Zealand:

Jerry the First:

Monday: Hili dialogue

It’s almost halfway through June already: Monday, June 12, 2017. The students are gone for the summer now, giving my campus a very different feel. It is quiet and unoccupied, but soothing, too. It will also be hot this week, with today’s high of 94° F (34.4° C). It’s National Peanut Butter Cookie Day, a delicacy I will eschew (as a friend of mine once  responded jokingly when I said that about a food, “I’ll chew it, too!”). In the US it’s “Loving Day,” commemorating a Supreme Court decision in 1967, Loving v Virginia, striking down a ban on interracial marriage (read “blacks and whites” in 16 US states. The case was recently made into a good but not a world class movie.

On this day in 1776, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted, which influenced the revolutionary government, forming a model for the next month’s Declaration of Independence. On June 12, 1942, Anne Frank got a diary for her 13th birthday present; the recent is history. In 1963, NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was murdered in Jackson, Mississippi by a Klan member. Precisely one year later, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in a South African prison for sabotage. And 30 years ago, in 1987, Ronald Regan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” And it happened! Remember this? (The famous statement is right at the end.)

Four years later, Boris Yeltsin was elected Russia’s president. On this day in 1994, an “unknown” killer (we know who it was) murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Brown in Los Angeles. Due to a bad prosecution and the jury’s cluelessness about DNA, O. J. Simpson was acquitted of the murder. Finally just one year ago today, Omar Mateen murdered 49 and injured 53 in an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida: the worst mass murder (aside from terrorist attacks) in American history.

Notables born on this day include Egon Schiele (1890; only 28 years old and an immense talent), Djuna Barnes (1892), Weegee (1899), George H. W. Bush (1924), Anne Frank (1929; see above), Jim Nabors (1930), and Chick Corea (1941). Those who died on this day include Edmund Wilson (1972; a great literary critic), Gregory Peck (2003), and all those people in Orlando.

Schiele was a very great painter, and had not the laws of physics cut his life short, we’d have many more wonderful works. Here’s a landscape (Krumau, 1916):

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Malgorzata tried to make rose-petal jam last year, but it didn’t work. Hili comments on the enterprise (I l love rose-petal jam and rose-petal Turkish delight):

Hili: Can preserves really be made out of rose petals?
A: Yes, they can.
Hili: It can’t be tasty.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy naprawdę robi się konfitury z róż?
Ja: Naprawdę.
Hili: To nie może być smaczne.

Reader Barry found a tw**t that documents a kitten being rescued from a pipe:

And cats (poorly) drawn in a medieval manuscript:

Evergreen State and postmodernism

Over at Quillette, which is really the go-to place fostering progressive Liberalism and criticizing Authoritarian Leftism, Michael Aaron has a new piece on the Evergreen State College affair called “Evergreen State and the battle for modernity.” It’s a good read, and deals more with the forces behind the fracas than the messy details of campus troubles.

Aaron revises the old Left/Right dichotomy into a trichotomy: postmodernism, traditionalism, and modernism. Traditionalists are basically anti-progressivists of the conservative Republican stripe, postmodernists are Regressives who “eschew any notion of objectivity, perceiving knowledge as a construct of power differentials rather than anything that could possibly be mutually agreed upon”, and modernists are “those who believe in human progress within a classical Western tradition.” Postmodernists hew to critical race theory (see the list of its key elements on Wikipedia).

Like me, Aaron sees this mess as a turning point—or at least a “crossroads” in modern society, though that may be a bit hyperbolic. I think it may be a crossroads for how we look at student behavior, but of course those students will become the next generation of decision-making adults, so we’ll have to see (if we live!). A few of its final paragraphs (read the whole thing):

In the end, the Weinstein/Evergreen State affair poses a significant crossroads to modern society, extending well beyond the conflict occurring on campus. Evergreen State represents the natural culmination of postmodern thought—roving mobs attempting to silence dissenting thought merely based on race, informed by far left theories that weaponize a victim status drawn solely from immutable, innate traits. Unfortunately, I cannot place full blame on the students either, as they have been indoctrinated with these ideas on the very campus that is now serving as the petri dish for applied postmodernism.

It is no coincidence that, while society outside the walls of campus looks on with disbelief, administrators to this point have been siding with the students. For if they were to repudiate the actions of the students, they would also need to repudiate the ideology with which they have been brainwashing them. In other words, taking a stand against the students would require administrators and professors to re-evaluate the meaning and value of the entire raison d’etre of their adult professional careers. Holding on to madness is a way of forestalling dealing with the grief that comes with the realization that one’s higher purpose has been a fraud. I am not sure of the final outcome, as this kind of process is long, difficult, and very, very painful.

But this internal struggle serves as a microcosm for the larger battle occurring in society between the ideas behind modernism and postmodernism. And the stakes are extremely high. As Weinstein articulated in his Rogan appearance, “Let’s put it this way, I believe at the moment coalitions are unholy alliances between two things. In this case you have the real equity movement, which are people who wish to end oppression, and then you have another movement that wishes to reverse oppression, and they don’t know that they are different because until you reach equity, they are pointing in the same direction.” For the sake of basic humanity and decency, let’s all hope that the Evergreen State affair has finally exposed this vital distinction.

As Bret Weinstein has said, the Evergreen faculty may be more to blame than the students, who probably came to the school not yet indoctrinated by postmodernism, and the Evergreen curriculum is full of it. Regardless, the school needs a thorough shake-up, starting with firing President George Bridges.