Pride of Man

We continue on with the songs of Gordon Lightfoot from his first (and best) album “Lightfoot!“, released in 1966. “Pride of Man,” was written by Hamilton Camp (1934-2005), and is one of only three cuts on the album not composed by Lightfoot. It’s religious—almost like the book of Deuteronomy set to music—but it’s still a great song.

Monday: Hili dialogue

Thank Ceiling Cat for small mercies: the temperatures this week are predicted to be above freezing for the first time in ages. Here are the predicted high and low temperatures for Chicago over the next seven days (in °F).

Screen shot 2015-03-02 at 4.00.48 AM45°F high tomorrow: I can hardly believe it. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the beasts find their warmth with each other, and hey, that’s my sofa that Cyrus is on!

Cyrus: Why do we insist on sleeping on this small sofa?
Hili: Because it has higher social prestige.

(Photo: Sarah Lawson)
In Polish:
Cyrus: Dlaczego my się upieramy, żeby spać na tej małej sofie?
Hili: Bo ma wyższy prestiż społeczny.
(Zdjęcie: Sarah Lawson)
And some felid lagniappe: check out this link provided by reader Susan.


The phinal Philomena

It’s with a heavy heart that I inform you that, after today’s post, we’ll have exhausted all of Philomena Cunk’s “Moments of Wonder” clips—and I don’t know if there will be any more. But reader Alex kindly called my attention the new posting on YouTube of the entire episode of “Weekly Wipe” from last Friday, and if you follow the time marks I’m about to give you, you can see Philomena in all her glory. The video is below.

For “Moments of Wonder” on “Medicine”, start at 25:31 and go to the end.

For Philomena and Barry Shitpeas’ analyses of the 2015 Oscars, start at 15:25 and stop at 19:41.

And yes, Monster Munch really exists. Has anyone tried it?
But take heart, there are other Cunk videos aboot, and we’ll have one from time to time. For example, here’s Philomena and Barry’s earlier review of the movie “Twelve Years a Slave” (from the beginning of the clip to 1:24).
And here’s some new jargon to be used here:
“Going full Cunk”: Irredeemably thick
“Cunked out”: The result of the action named above
“Cunk it up”: Act thicker than you are (Diane Morgan’s own term)


Dawkins in Time Magazine: Stop indoctrinating children with religion

This piece by Richard Dawkins appeared in the online Time Magazine ten days ago, and I think it’s a great sign that a mainline media venue, one not known for criticizing religion, publishes something so “strident.”

The essay, appearing in the “Religion” section, is called “Dawkins: Don’t force your religious opinions on your children.” If you’ve read Richard’s other pieces, or just The God Delusion, you’ll know of his view that forcing religion down the throats of children constitutes child abuse. In general I agree, although the word “abuse” might be misleading, since not all such brainwashing produces serious harm. But all such brainwashing certainly weakens the organs of reason. On this ground he objects to using terms like “Muslim child” or “Jewish child,” for children are forced to bear those labels and didn’t chose their beliefs.

Just a quote or two for the uninitiated:

Would you ever speak of a four-year-old’s political beliefs? Hannah is a socialist four-year-old, Mark a conservative. Who would ever dream of saying such a thing? What would you say if you read a demographic article which said something like this: “One in every three children born today is a Kantian Neo-platonist child. If the birth rate trends continue, Existentialist Positivists will be outnumbered by 2030.” Never mind the nonsensical names of philosophical schools of thought I just invented. I deliberately chose surreal names so as not to distract from the real point. Religion is the one exception we all make to the rule: don’t label children with the opinions of their parents.

And if you want to make an exception for the opinions we call religious, and claim that it is any less preposterous to speak of “Christian children” or “Muslim children”, you’d better have a good argument up your sleeve.

After raising this rhetorical—and deeply meaningful—question, Dawkins bats away several potential objections, including these: “But we label children by their nationality, don’t we?” And “Religious labeling children is good because it helps us identify their culture.”  I’ll let you read Dawkins’s answers for yourself.

At the end, he analogizes recognizing the invidious nature of religious labels with feminists’ recognition and identification of demeaning sexist labels:

Feminists have successfully raised our consciousness about sex-biased language. Nobody nowadays talks about “one man one vote,” or “the rights of man.” The use of “man” in such a context raises immediate hackles. Even those who use sexist language know they are doing it, may even do it deliberately to annoy. The point is that our consciousness has been raised. Our language has changed because we have become aware of hidden assumptions that we previously overlooked.

Let us all raise our consciousness, and the consciousness of society, about the religious labeling of children. Let’s all mind our religious language just as we have learned to over sexist language. “Catholic child,” “Muslim child,” “Hindu child,” “Mormon child” — all such phrases should make us cringe. Whenever you hear somebody speak of a “Catholic child,” stop them in their tracks: There’s no such thing as a Catholic child. Would you speak of a “Postmodernist child” or a “States Rights child”? What you meant to say was “child of Catholic parents.” And the same for “Muslim” child etc.

The 10,000th post: what shall it be?

In only 145 more posts (144 after this one goes up), we’ll hit 10,000, and at the rate I post that will be in less than a month. Given that it’s a landmark (granted, an artificial one), and that we don’t know if I’ll get up to 20,000 (I could get sick of it all–or die), we should celebrate somehow. I’d like to have a reader-participation post of some sort—not one that says “what I got out of this website”!—and I welcome any suggestions below. If I use one, there will be a free copy of WEIT (with a cat drawn in it) coming your way.

Which ideas should be killed?

John Brockman has collected his “angels”: all of the many scientists, philosophers, psychologists, techno-geeks, and mathematicians that he either is an agent for or whom he simply knows, and posed to them a provocative question: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” The results, in the form of 1-4 page mini-essays, are compiled in a new book, This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories that are Blocking Progress. You can buy it for only $11.81 on Amazon.

Although I’m not a fan of “idea anthologies” in general, this one is good, and well worth reading. For one thing, you’ll be surprised at the ideas that people say must be deep-sixed, including “Theories of everything” (Geoffrey West), “Entropy” (Bruce Parker), “Falsifiablity” (Sean Caroll, and I disagree with him), “Humans are by nature social animals” (Adam Waytz), “Mind versus matter” (Frank Wilczek), “Culture” (Pascal Boyer), and “The illusion of scientific progress” (Paul Saffo, whose essay I again disagree with). You can see the entire list of contributors, which number about 150) at the Amazon page, simply by clicking on the bookcover link here.

As you can see, there are many provocative essays, and the authors are a veritable cross-section of scientific thinkers, young and old (full disclosure: I have an essay on why we should get rid of the idea of free will). You will be surprised at many essays, puzzled by others, and disagree strongly with still others. But that’s the point of a book like this: it shakes you out of your complacency and makes you think. I particularly enjoyed the short essays on statistics (among the things we should eliminate are our obsessions with the mean and the standard deviation), and those on physics, arguing about whether time really began with the Big Bang, whether string theory is of any value, and whether the wave function really collapses.

In my own field, where I can really evaluate the quality of the contributions, the essays are mixed. The contributions by Dawkins (who advocates the retiring of essentialism) and Seirian Summer (get rid of the notion that life evolves via a shared genetic toolkit) were good, but there were several I saw as misguided in one way or another, including Roger Highfield’s claim that we shouldn’t say that evolution is “true”, Kevin Kelly’s claim that mutations aren’t really “random” (I’ve criticized their earlier versions of these two essays in a New Republic article), Nina Jablonski’s idea that race is just a social construct and the whole notion should be scrapped, and Martin Nowak’s criticism of inclusive fitness. But I found most of the essays intriguing and many counterintuitive.  For a mini-education in contrarian thinking in science, this book is essential.



Anti-Semitism in U.S. colleges

Let me first describe what I consider to be anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia.” “Islamophobia,” properly construed—and of course I’m the construer—is simple bigotry against Muslims: dislike of an individual simply because he or she adheres to Islam. Now if that individual has invidious beliefs: oppression of women, hatred of gays, favoring murder for apostates, and so on, then I see no problem with disliking such a person. While far more Muslims than we think have such views (see the recent BBC poll), it’s simply unfair to dislike someone before you know their views, simply on the basis of what religion they claim, and even more unfair to write off or discriminate against everyone who adheres to a faith.

That, however, is different from writing off the faith as a whole, which I see as perfectly valid and not a form of bigotry. Islam, like all religions, is a delusion, its beliefs about the cosmos insupportable, and its “morality” on the whole reprehensible. Islamophobia is not dislike of Islam. Judaism is also a delusion, though I see myself as a secular Jew (I’ve explained in earlier posts what that means to me.)

Anti-semitism is like Islamophobia as it’s dislike of people simply because of their religion. It is not the same as criticism of Israeli policy, which, after all, many Jews criticize as well. I have often said that we need a two-state solution, that the settlements need to be taken down, and so on.

Both anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia”—though I’d prefer to call it “anti-Muslim bigotry” since “Islamophobia” has been conflated with dislike of Islam—are instantiated by “hate crimes”: crimes motivated at least in part by someone’s ethnicity, gender, or belief. And every enlightened person, Muslim, Jew, or atheist, should decry such bigotry. “Hate crimes” are cases in which bigotry is clearly distinguishable from simple dislike of a religion. If you attack a Muslim simply because of his clothing, or a Jew because of his yarmulke and tallis, that is a hate crime.

While the left is largely preoccupied with Islamophobia, let’s remember that “hate crimes” are far more common, at least in the U.S., against Jews. Below are data from the FBI given in a Washington Post article on February 11, showing that hate crimes against Jews are five- to six-fold more frequent than hate crimes against Muslims. As the Post reports:

It should be noted that Jews are consistently targeted for their faith more often than members of any other religious group, and that anti-Semitic crimes accounted for roughly 60 percent of religious hate crimes last year.

Note that there are about three times more Jews than Muslims in the U.S., so even if you weight the data by population, anti-Semitic hate crimes are still twice as common per capita as anti-Islamic hate crimes.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 7.07.17 AM

But of course we hear far less in the U.S. about anti-Semitic hate crimes than anti-Muslim hate crimes, which I believe partly reflects the double standard in the US (particularly among the American Left): Muslims are the underdog, and are regarded by many as “people of color”, so they get special privilege, and Islamophobic crimes are seen as worse than anti-Semitic crimes.

Nowhere is this double standard more prevalent than on American college campuses.  While anti-Israeli sentiment is common—indeed, the norm—at U.S. universities—it’s often hard to distinguish from anti-Semitism, for many see all Jews as responsible for the perceived crimes of Israel. In cases like the one below, the veneer is clearly anti-Israel, but the core motivations are anti-Semitic. According to The Blaze, this is a video of a Jewish student being vetted for membership on the student judicial council at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA):

Rachel Beyda was running for a seat on the judicial council at the University of California in Los Angeles when members of the student government questioned whether her Jewish background would be a “conflict of interest.”

“The first question directed at her by General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth was an attack on Rachel’s ability to be a justice based on her involvement in the Jewish community,” Rachel Frenklak, Beyda’s roommate, wrote in an article for UCLA’s Daily Bruin. “At President Avinoam Baral’s insistence, the question was phrased slightly more considerately by Transfer Student Representative Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, but this first question set the tone. Rachel finished the interview … [and] was asked to leave the room for council discussion.”

“What followed was a disgusting 40 minutes of what can only be described as unequivocal anti-Semitism during which some of our council members resorted to some of the oldest accusations against Jews, including divided loyalties and dishonesty,” Frenklak continued. “All council members swiftly agreed Rachel was amply qualified for the position, but half of the council had strong reservations stemming from Rachel’s Jewish identity.”

KCBS-TV reported on the story, describing one question to Beyda as: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community … given that recently … [inaudible] has been surrounding cases of conflict of interest, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view … [inaudible]?”

I think you’ll detect the anti-Semitism in this video, despite the ridiculous insistence of people like Roth that their questions did not reflect anti-Semitism.  Nobody who dislikes Jews, of course, will admit it; while anti-Semitism is perceived as bigotry, it’s okay when hidden behind the banner of anti-Zionism. I strongly believe, despite the insistence of many that criticism of Israel and Zionism is not anti-Semitic, that much of it really is.

Here’s an example of that disingenuousness.  (Note that while the video says it’s about “racism,” let’s be clear: Jews are not a race, at least in the genetic sense, as they don’t form any kind of coherent genetic group. It’s about bigotry, but the lesson is the same.)

Seriously—if a black, gay, or female student had been minutely grilled in the same situation about their “membership in black/gay/women’s organizations,” and that is seen as a problem, wouldn’t what is going on here be more obvious? (See the report of the Anti-Defamation League as well.)

After the discussion, the committee rejected Beyda by a vote of 4-4-1. It was only after intervention by a faculty member, who pointed out the clearly insupportable reasons for rejecting her, that the council reversed its vote and approved her (unanimously).

This is a small incident, but it falls in a much larger class of similar cases. Are we to believe that only one or two people on U.S. campuses are anti-Semitic?

Below is a 30-minute video about the general problem of anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses. I’m not very sympathetic with the Jewish students’ views that their voices are drowned out or their views contradicted (that’s just free speech), but I do object to the discussions turning into student slurs against Jews. As for the professors proselytizing against Israel in their classes, well, that’s a touchy subject, but I wouldn’t bring it up in my classes, even if I were teaching politics instead of evolution. A professor is indeed an authority figure, and you have to be aware of your possession of a bully pulpit and of the intimidation of students. I am impressed by the students’ equanimity in the video, perhaps because there’s a tradition of anti-Semitism that they’re simply used to. (That’s how I feel: I am saddened and depressed by anti-Semitism, but not tremendously angered, for it’s been a going concern for millennia.)

I was surprised to hear in the video that many in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement against Israel have the explicit aim of eliminating the state of Israel, for I thought that its goal was simply to get Israel to agree to a two-state solution and remove its settlements from the West Bank. I guess I was wrong, for I asked Malgorzata about this and received this response:

There are videos of Omar Barghouti and other from BDS saying this in absolutely clear words. There is a video of Norman Finkelstein (of all people!) who says it openly and deplores it, accusing BDS movement of hypocrisy by fighting for something they are speaking openly about only among themselves and for being totally unrealistic because Israel is there to stay. So, yes, this is the goal of the founders and the core group of this movement. Moreover, at their every demonstration there are shouts: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”. Israel exists between “the River and the Sea”, so where is there a place for Israel? On all the maps they are presenting there is a “Palestine” written on the whole territory and no “Israel”. You can find the relevant videos all over YouTube.


Readers’ wildlife photos

From reader Gaurav Shah, a new contributer, we have a robber fly (species unidentified). Robber flies (also called “assassin flies” for obvious reasons) are in the family Asilidae; Wikipedia gives a curt but accurate description:

They are powerfully built, bristly flies with a short, stout proboscis enclosing the sharp, sucking hypopharynx. The name “robber flies” reflects their notoriously aggressive predatory habits; they feed mainly or exclusively on other insects and as a rule they wait in ambush and catch their prey in flight.

Gaurav notes that “this photo reminds me of a lion on the Serengeti with its prey.”


Here are some lepidopteran photos by reader Jonathan Wallace; his descriptions are indented:

The adult butterflies and moths tend to get all the glory but the larvae are just as interesting and often spectacular looking.  The larvae are also, of course, ecologically important by virtue of their role as important herbivores and as prey to a wide range of other species.

The species shown here are the Peacock, Aglais io (on stinging nettle, Urtica dioica) which in common with many of the Nymphalids is gregarious in the larval stage and the Drinker, Euthrix potatoria, which gets both its vernacular and scientific species name from the habit of the larvae to drink from droplets of dew.


JAC: This caterpillar turns into a cryptic bark-mimetic adult moth; here’s a photo from Wikipedia:


Back to Jonathan’s photos; the larval Drinker:

1640 Drinker

 The first picture is a Northern Eggar, Lasciocampa quercus ssp. Callunae. The second (green) picture is of a Coxcomb Prominent, Ptilodon capucina, showing its characteristic alarm posture with the head reared up over its back.

1637 northern eggar

2008 Coxcomb prominent larva

JAC: The coxcomb prominent also has a mimetic adult; this is its photo from Wikipedia:


This is a Vapourer, Orgyia antiqua.  The setae are coated in toxins and presumably the dramatic appearance of the caterpillar is an example of aposematism.  The female of this species is flightless as an adult and mates and lays her eggs on the remnants of her pupal cocoon.

2026 vapourer morth larva

Here’s a bunneh (eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus) that I saw stopped in its tracks on my way to work.What do they eat when everything is covered with snow? The lousy photograph is from my iPhone without a flash, but it almost looks like an ink-on-paper drawing. And it reminds me of the opening bit of Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes,” which F. Scott Fitzgerald described as “the coldest stanza in poetry”:

St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
       The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
       The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
       And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Finally, a photo for you astronomy buffs, taken by reader Tim Anderson. His description:
A picture of the waxing moon from Tumut, NSW, Saturday 28 February 2015. The image was taken with a Canon 70D camera through a 110mm apochromatic doublet telescope.

Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s the Lord’s Day, so be sure to worship Ceiling Cat in the way His Felinity demands: petting or feeding stray cats, and serving any that own you. We ahall get more snow in Chicago today, but only a few inches. Still, it’s March, and the week’s weather forecast shows precious few days when temperatures are predicted to exceed freezing. But you can see from the picture below that spring is already coming in Dobrzyn, for Hili has seen her shadow:

Hili: What are you looking at?
A: Judging by your shadow we went out for a walk an hour later than usual.
In Polish:
Hili: Czemu się tak przyglądasz?
Ja: Sądząc po twoim cieniu wyszliśmy dziś na spacer o godzinę później.


The best salute to Spock

This is a tw**t from astronaut Terry Virts aboard the International Space Station.  What a great tribute to Leonard Nimoy!

Screen shot 2015-02-28 at 5.55.12 PM


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