Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ ISIS

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “clue“, came with a note:

Today’s comic is a day late because I wanted to watch Tom Holland’s C4 documentary first – Isis: The Origins of Violence. UK residents can catch up with it here. [JAC: I can’t watch it from the US, and that’s too bad. It was put on YouTube several times, but Channel 4 got all the videos taken down. Report back if you’ve seen it.

The strip makes fun of those who claim that ISIS is not an example of “true Islam,” but one could claim that it’s truer to Islam’s roots than many more liberal versions of the faith.

My new shoes

Having stupidly left my fleece on a bus in New Zealand, I needed to replace it, and found a brand-new Timberland fleece, in my size, on a consignment site called “Poshmark“. It was less than half the retail price, so I ordered it. I didn’t notice until later that Poshmark has received many complaints about people getting the wrong stuff, or not getting anything at all.

But I did get my package two days ago. In it was this:

That’s not a fleece!

Well, they’re pretty spiffy shoes, size 7.5B, but they don’t fit me. After complaining, I was told that there had been a mixup, and was assured that my fleece would go out immediately. They also sent me a mailing label to return the shoes. If you’re a woman, would you wear these?

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Karen Bartelt sent some photos from Pinnacles National Park in California. The IDs and captions are hers, and indented.

A few photos from Pinnacles NP and the surrounding area taken in March 2017.
Western bluebird (Sialia mexicana), male:
California thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum):
California towhee (Pipilo crissalis):
California condor (Gymnogyps californianus).  Most condors have wing tags.  We saw #14, #85; about 7 individuals total:
The prettiest animals, imho, were these bramble green hairstreaks (Callophrys dumetorum):

Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning: it’s May 18, 2017, and it’s National Cheese Souffle day, promulgated by Big Cheese, as well as International Museum Day. Summer is coming, with temperatures in Chicago above 80° F (27° C) the past few days. But I’m warned by Ken the Weather Man that there may be severe weather in Chicago today, with high winds, hail, and perhaps some tornado cells.

On this day in 1652, Rhode Island passed the first law in English-speaking North America making slavery illegal. On May 18, 1860, Abe Lincoln received the Republican nomination for the Presidency; let us not forget that Republicans were once sane.

Not much else happened on this day, and that goes for births and deaths, too. Notables born on this day include Bertrand Russell (1872), Walter Gropius (1883), Perry Como (1912) and Tina Fey (1970). Those who died on this day include Gustav Mahler (1911) and William Saroyan (1981).

Perry Como is underrated; here’s his version of one of my very favorite American standards. The synch of voice and lips are is a bit wonky, but this is indeed a live performance:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is kvetching. It’s not that she’s allergic to flowers, but that the vase has forced her butt off the table!:

Hili: Cut flowers give rise to problems.
A: What problems?
Hili: You can see how uncomfortable I am.
In Polish:
Hili: Cięte kwiaty sprawiają problemy.
Ja: Jakie problemy?
Hili: Widzisz jak mi tu niewygodnie.
And lagniappe from reader Taskin: :
And a few morning tw**ts, this one contributed by Matthew Cobb:

I don’t know if you’ve seen the video of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s bodyguards brutally attacking demonstrators in Washington yesterday, but they were horrific, with Erdogan’s thugs kicking people in the face when they were already down on the ground:

Erdogan is a fascist goon, and so are his minions.

Here’s an outraged tw**t about the beatings by the law site Popehat, contributed by Grania.

For once Trump spoke real truths, not alternative ones:

Quote of the month: the scientist

I’m writing a piece that involves describing some accidental byproducts of pure scientific research that are enormously beneficial for our species, something which often happens and is used to justify funding pure science (it is one justification, but I prefer the notion that scientific knowledge enriches our species intellectually).  I may include this quote from H. L. Mencken, which I love, but even if I don’t I wanted to put it up. I believe I’ve posted it before. (Mencken, by the way, could be considered one of the first New Atheists, for he wrote scathingly and widely about the foolishness of religion.)

“The value the world sets upon motives is often grossly unjust and inaccurate. Consider, for example, two of them: mere insatiable curiosity and the desire to do good. The latter is put high above the former, and yet it is the former that moves one of the most useful men the human race has yet produced: the scientific investigator. What actually urges him on is not some brummagem idea of Service, but a boundless, almost pathological thirst to penetrate the unknown, to uncover the secret, to find out what has not been found out before. His prototype is not the liberator releasing slaves, the good Samaritan lifting up the fallen, but a dog sniffing tremendously at an infinite series of rat-holes.”

Harvard has first “blacks only” graduation ceremony

As The Independent reports, Harvard University, my alma mater (Ph.D) will hold a “blacks-only” graduation ceremony in six days. It won’t replace an existing ceremony, but is an add-0n:

Harvard University will host a graduation ceremony exclusively for black students, organisers have announced.

More than 170 students and 530 guests have signed up to attend the event, which will be held 23 May.

All-black ceremonies have been held at other US universities, such as Stanford and Columbia, but this will be a historic first for Harvard.

The event was crowdfunded by students who raised over $27,000 (£21,000). This year, the all-black ceremony is open only to graduate students, but organisers hope to open it up to undergraduates next year.

“This is an opportunity to celebrate Harvard’s black excellence and black brilliance,” Michael Huggins told The Root website.

Mr Huggins, who is graduating with a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, added: “It’s an event where we can see each other and our parents and family can see us as a collective, whole group. A community.”

Another organiser of the event said the ceremony would also draw attention to the experience of black students at Harvard and other elite institutions.

“Harvard’s institutional foundation is in direct conflict with the needs of black students,” Courtney Woods said.

“There is a legacy of slavery, epistemic racism and colonisation at Harvard, which was an institution founded to train rising imperialist leaders. This is a history that we are reclaiming.”

I can understand why black students at Harvard would want to have an organization, a center, or an association, but a blacks-only graduation strikes me as exclusive (I won’t say “racist”, because now “racism” is supposed to be “prejudice PLUS power”) and a form of academic segregation.  And how many such exclusive graduations can we have? Hispanics? Jews? Is it okay to have a a ceremony “exclusively” for blacks but racist if you had one “exclusively” for whites? What would Martin Luther King think of this, with his famous dictum that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin? Would he approve?

The article ends by noting this:

Last year, Harvard admitted its highest ever number of African-American students. However, they still comprised just 14 per cent of the 2016 population.

But that’s a tad higher than the percentage of African-Americans in the country as a whole, which is slightly above 12%.

However, the New York Times says this, showing some underrepresentation:

Black students at Harvard represent 5 percent of the overall student body, compared with whites, who make up 43 percent, according to federal education data. Campus tensions at the Ivy League school have been heightened over the past two years after a series of racially charged episodes.

It may be taboo to even raise questions about this ceremony, and I pondered not posting this, but decided to start some discussion. Remember, though, that African-American students will still get their diplomas, as far as I know, at the regular ceremony for all students.

Comey’s memo leaked!

And it was released on Twitter! Here it is, courtesy of the eagle-eyed Matthew Cobb.  Even if l’affaire Flynn doesn’t get Trump impeached, the way he eats steak surely will. 

U Chicago Divinity School Students call for curtailing free speech

On February 6, University of Chicago professor Rachel Fulton Brown (described as “Associate Professor of Medieval History, Fundamentals, and the College at the University of Chicago, and Associate Faculty in the Divinity School”) published a piece about Milo Yiannpoulos on “Sightings,” a column at the University’s Divinity School website. Called “Why Milo scares students, faculty even more,” the column was a defense of Milo’s right to speak, claiming that he could inspire conversation, that his motivations for so doing were fundamentally religious in origin, and that protests against him prove that students are embracing secularism as a flawed substitute for religion (Fulton Brown is clearly a believer, but at least one who thinks one’s faith should be be continually questioned). Fulton Brown begins by describing the riots that Milo’s appearance created at Berkeley, and then lays out her thesis:

The tradition of higher education in America is deeply indebted to Christian ideals. In his talk at Minnesota State University shortly before Christmas, Milo cited a commitment to education as one of the most important things Christianity gets right. “The first law in America to require general education,” he noted, “was called ‘The Old Deluder Satan Act’ to teach children to read the Bible in 1647. 122 of the first 123 colleges in America were Christian universities. Think about Harvard University, one of the epicenters of liberalism today. This is the founding statement of Harvard: ‘Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3.’”

. . . As a consequence of this self-secularization, religion became an object of academic study considered only from the outside, not tested intellectually or experientially from within. Universities, particularly public universities, became places for the purportedly neutral exchange of ideas, not for conversion to any clearly articulated and tested faith. Religion was a matter for the heart; education a matter for the head.

. . . This, I would argue, is why American college students and faculty find Milo’s talks so threatening. The issues that Milo talks about are usually considered political, but in fact have to do with people’s deepest convictions: the proper relations between women and men, the definition of community, the role of beauty, access to truth. Milo professes himself a Catholic and wears a pair of gold crosses around his neck. He speaks about the importance of Christianity for the values of Western civilization. As he put it in one interview: “[Western civilization] has created a religion in which love and self-sacrifice and giving are the highest possible virtues… That’s a good thing… But when you remove discipline and sacrifice from religion you get a cult.”

None of these issues, most especially the civilizational roots of culture and virtue in religious faith, are typically addressed in modern college education in America. Rather, they are, for the most part, purposefully avoided.

. . . Not to address these issues openly does not allow students to keep an open mind. Their minds are already open—and being filled with what they are given in place of religion: multiculturalism; race, class, gender; the purportedly secular ideals of socialism and Marxism. Particularly for those students, and faculty, who have little to no religious education outside of school, these ideals have become their faith.

. . . Thanks to his near charismatic appeal as a speaker, at least for those who attend his talks rather than stand outside protesting, he holds out the possibility of conversion, of changing hearts and minds.

It is much easier to call Milo names than to accept the challenge he presents.

Well, this is distressing on several grounds, most notably Fulton Brown’s criticism that secularism is an inadequate substitute for religious ideals. I question whether religious colleges encourage dissent and open speech about faith, homosexuality, and so on.  I’d also argue that she oversells Milo’s appeal to reason, since he’s most often a provocateur, and sometimes I’m not sure he even means what he says. But I would still argue that some of his points, like the need for affirmative action, the issue of equity versus gender feminism, and so on, could call for a conversation, even if he doesn’t engage in one himself. Students are all to ready to demonize people rather than argue with them,  and at the last someone like Milo, if you listen to him, could help you hone your ideas.  I remain firm in my view that if Milo is invited to speak by a college group, it is censorship to disinvite him, particularly at a public university.

But a large group of Divinity School students went further, calling Fulton Brown’s article (and the Divinity School website) an enabler of white supremacy (there they go again!), saying that both Fulton Brown and the University have endangered people by publishing her piece, and implicitly calling for a ban on not just MiloSpeak, but FultonBrown speak. Read the letter in the student newspaper The Maroon, “Divinity School students call for more inclusive environment in light of Fulton Brown Controversy.”

What strikes me first is how absymally written and full of jargon their letter is. Someone needs to teach these students to write clearly! I’ll be brief because the letter, signed by several dozen students, is long and torturous (also tortuous). Here’s the first paragraph:

We, the undersigned students, write to address the recent controversy over Rachel Fulton Brown’s February 16 article in Sightings. We welcome commitments made by our administration and faculty to defend students genuinely threatened by harassment. However, we are compelled to contextualize Fulton Brown’s argument in our current political climate and wish to insist on further concrete actions from the Divinity School moving forward. These actions must cultivate an environment where all students are free not merely to express themselves but to exist as they are. No institution can thrive while significant portions of its population are at risk of being marked, targeted, threatened, or silenced.

They are “compelled to contextualize”!  But the argument boils down to this: what Fulton Brown said was racist and endangers marginalized students. They don’t even care whether she or the Div School agree with Milo, simply that she was allowed to express her opinion. Work your way through this thicket of prose (my emphases):

The publication of Fulton Brown’s article must be understood in its proper context: the escalation of bigotry and its violent effects, both locally and nationally. In fact, the central ideas Fulton Brown relates in her essay resonate with and act as means of harassment and recruitment common to the informal coalition of the self-identified alt-right. The correlations are straightforward. Her praise for Yiannopoulos amplifies his antipathy to trans students and has welcomed threatening anti-trans flyering on our campus by white nationalists. Her selective valorization of European history along with her critiques of the modern academy and so-called multicultural Marxism aligns with the platform of another recently active white nationalist organization. One need not establish whether or not Fulton Brown supports or collaborates with these groups, given the bare ideological similitude. What remains essential is the welcome offered to such individuals and organizations by national politics, University policy, and Sightings editorial standards. Unwittingly or otherwise, the publication of Fulton Brown’s article has provided a platform for the proliferation and mobilization of white supremacy, nativism, and patriarchal chauvinism.

That’s a common trope: hosting speakers somehow implies endorsement of their views.

Here’s the kicker (my emphases):

Various interested parties have made public displays defending this kind of speech by resorting to arguments for “freedom of expression.” We find this line of reasoning disingenuous. The University itself deploys the rhetoric even as it threatens student activism with disciplinary action. Sightings, for its part, deferred to freedom of expression only in response to public critiques, none of which took into account the bodies this article endangered or the inability for the response to uproot the cause of bigotry. In both instances, a highly circumscribed idea of free expression has been deployed selectively and after the fact to dismiss criticism out of hand, to defend discriminatory speech, and to leverage “shared ideals” against anyone who merely expresses opposition to established authorities. Under these conditions, “lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation” is impossible.

Freedom of expression cannot exist without freedom of subjects.

But what are these sweating students trying to say in the last sentence?  What is “freedom of subjects”? Simply that there are limits on free speech: one cannot use it against marginalized groups, and if you do so you’re abrogating their “freedom”:

Freedom of subjects requires a prior commitment to protecting the physical, emotional, and intellectual security of all people, especially those most concretely and historically threatened: people of color, LGBTQ+, trans, gender non-conforming people, immigrants, undocumented people, women, religious minorities, and people with disabilities. Failure to adhere to these commitments is reflected in the University’s recent Campus Climate Survey, in which students who identify as members of marginalized groups report higher incidence of physical violence, intimidation, discrimination, and harassment. In spite of these facts, University statements have not addressed freedom of subjects, instead focusing on free expression. This preference denigrates the creation of safe spaces and the use of trigger warnings, vital resources both for those who have experienced trauma and for the cultivation of effective educational environments.

In other words, “unsafe speech” is not free speech, and apparently both Fulton Brown and the University have promulgated such speech.  While of course people’s physical safety must be protected, there is no requirement to protect the “emotional and intellectual security” of anyone on a campus. Am I endangering that when I criticize Islam, adhered to by “religious minorities”? Do I violate the emotional security of women when I decry the Muslimophilia of white western feminists?

Amidst all the students’ turgid prose, one sees that they simply don’t want to permit speech unless it doesn’t “threaten” (i.e., offend) “all people”, but especially members of marginalized groups.

Seriously, I am dead against Trump’s immigration program, but it’s not a “threat” to call for enforcement of existing immigration laws. It should be a discussion. It’s not a threat to say that a Catholic who is gay is somewhat of a hypocrite. But these Div School students (and I find them the worst of the SJWs, as they are not only progressive, but also have a sense of god-given entitlement) are setting themselves up to be the arbiters of speech. Milo shouldn’t speak, and Ceiling Cat help us if someone defends him!

What is happening to my university?

Comey memo: Is Trump finished?

The events of yesterday may have given Trump’s presidency a fatal blow. First, it’s come to light that former FBI director James Comey wrote a memo to himself in February, noting that Trump had asked him to stop the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn. Flynn, you’ll recall, was Trump’s national security advisor, but resigned when it came out that he likely had improper contact with Russian officials before the election.

The New York Times story below (click on picture to access) suggests, if Comey’s memo is authentic (and it seems to be), that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. That’s a crime. And it’s an impeachable offense. Here’s what Comey reported when sources read parts of the memo to newspaper reporters (it hasn’t been seen by any of them):

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

Trump, of course, could claim he never said any such thing. And that’s his line:

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

Further malfeasance by the President: we now know that he shared intelligence about ISIS with Russian officials in the Oval Office, intelligence that apparently came from Israel and was conveyed to the U.S. confidentially, as part of our intelligence-sharing operations. It was certainly not intended to go to Putin, who could in turn hand it over it to some of his unsavory allies, like Iran. What this will do, of course, is make our allies more reluctant to share secret information with the U.S., for Trump is untrustworthy and capable of giving that information to anyone on the spur of the moment.

It’s barely four months into Trump’s Presidency, and I hope that those who voted for our Chief Moron realize what they voted for.

My question to readers: Will this have any effect on Trump’s presidency; that is, will he be impeached for obstructing justice? Or will he show his Teflon-like nature again, and slough it off?

The down side of impeaching Trump, of course, is that we’d get Pence as President, but even that’s better than The Donald.

Here’s a tw**t from the “Fire the Fool” site, courtesy of Grania:

 

Google Doodle: The fantastic Antikythera Mechanism

Today’s Google Doodle in most of the world portrays the Antikythera Mechanism, as today is the 115th anniversary of its discovery, at least according to Google.  Wikipedia, however, says it was recovered on August 4, 1901, so figure it out yourself. It wasn’t even studied until 1951, as other artifacts from the wreck were deemed more important:

Whatever the date, this is one of the most splendid devices known from ancient times. Recovered in a wooden box in a sunken Roman shipwreck off Greece, it was in 82 fragments. These reside at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens:

Wikipedia describes its use:

Using modern computer x-raytomography and high resolution surface scanning, a team led by Mike Edmunds and Tony Freeth at Cardiff University peered inside fragments of the crust-encased mechanism and read the faintest inscriptions that once covered the outer casing of the machine. Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it dates back to 150-100 BC and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The motion, known as the first lunar anomaly, was developed by the astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BC, and he may have been consulted in the machine’s construction, the scientists speculate. Its remains were found as one lump later separated in three main fragments, which are now divided into 82 separate fragments after conservation works. Four of these fragments contain gears, while inscriptions are found on many others. The largest gear is approximately 140 millimetres (5.5 in) in diameter and originally had 224 teeth.

After this was made, we have no record of such complex technology until over 1300 years later–in the astronomical clocks of medieval Europe!

Here’s “Fragment A“, front and back, the most complex piece (captions from Wikipedia):

The main fragment and contains the majority of the known mechanism. Clearly visible on the front is the large b1 gear, and under closer inspection further gears behind said gear (parts of the l, m, c, and d trains are clearly visible as gears to the naked eye). The crank mechanism socket and the side-mounted gear that meshes with b1 is on Fragment A. The back of the fragment contains the rearmost e and k gears for synthesis of the moon anomaly, noticeable also is the pin and slot mechanism of the k train. It is noticed from detailed scans of the fragment that all gears are very closely packed and have sustained damage and displacement due to their years in the sea. The fragment is approximately 30 mm thick at its thickest point.

 

Fragment A also contains divisions of the upper left quarter of the Saros spiral and 14 inscriptions from said spiral. The fragment also contains inscriptions for the Exeligmos dial and visible on the back surface the remnants of the dial face. Finally, this fragment contains some back door inscriptions.

Here are speculative reconstructions, first the front and then the computer-reconstructed back:

The reconstructed front in the Archaeological Museum in Athens:

The back (computer reconstructed):

Here’s an explanatory video featuring Michael Wright who made the replica:

 

And here is the gear scheme as reconstructed by scientists:

Finally, two (of 15) fun facts about the device from Mental Floss (quoted verbatim):

  • Since long before the invention of the digital computer you are undoubtedly reading this on, there have been analog computers. These types of computers range from mechanical aids like a slide rule to a device that can predict the tides. The Antikythera mechanism, which was designed to calculate dates and predict astronomical phenomena, has therefore been called the earliest analog computer.

 

  • Jones and colleagues’ new interpretation of the mechanism is based on the extant 3400 Greek characters on the device, although thousands more characters are likely missing due to the incomplete nature of the artifact. Most notably, in their thorough linguistic analysis, these scholars discovered that the mechanism refers to eclipses’ color, size, and associated winds. The Greeks believed that characteristics of an eclipse were related to good and bad omens. Because of this belief, by building in predictive eclipse technology, the creator of the mechanism was letting the user divine the future.