Readers’ wildlife photos

Just a reminder to send in your photos. Today’s come from reader Mark Richardson’s decade-old trip to Alaska. His notes are indented:

These are a mixture of wildlife and landscape photos from a 2006 fishing trip in Alaska. We flew into Anchorage and drove south toward the Kenai peninsula. We met our fishing guides at the Soldatna airport and took a small airplane up the Cook inlet to a secluded fishing cabin. We were fishing for Coho (silver) salmon as they were heading towards fresh water rivers to spawn. Since they were still in the ocean, they were feeding (salmon stop feeding once they hit fresh water). We were catching them using lightweight fly rods. It was a hoot!
The first three are photos of wildlife, two of which are common animals seen on WEIT. The rest are landscapes- the first six were taken from the plane.
A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) that hung around our camp looking for scraps.  One of the fishing guides fed it pieces of steak, so no wonder it liked to loiter.
A juvenile Grizzly bearUrsus arctos, combing the beach for noms. Grizzly bears were a common sight and this fact kept us all alert.

The ubiquitous (at least in Alaska) bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus.
Soldatna seen from the plane shortly after take-off.

A colorful landscape from the plane of an alpine lake.
Big country up in Alaska- there is a glacier in the background.
A beautiful braided river.
A steaming volcano in the far background.
The runway at our fishing camp- not cool!
Low tide, big sky and two fishermen.
Not wildlife…just some essentials for the perfect fishing trip!

Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s the weekend: Saturday, December 9, 2017, and a week before I arrive in India. It’s also Nation Pastry Day and, according to the UN, International Anti-Corruption Day. I’m at work early as I have to do shopping later for India (my friends want some stuff not available there), and I’m waking up with a homemade giant latte in my favorite cup:

On this day in, 1531, The Virgin of Guadalupe made her first appearance: to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in Mexico City.  On December 9, 1793, the first daily newspaper in America, the American Minerva, was established by Noah Webster.  In 1897, Parisian activist Marguerite Durand founded the feminist daily newspaper La Fronde.  Exactly seven years later, France passed the law separating church and state.  On this date in 1946, the Indian Assembly met to begin writing the Constitution of India.  And on December 9, 1960, the first episode of Coronation Street—the world’s longest-running t.v. soap opera (it’s still on), was broadcast in the UK.  And it’s a banner day in science and medicine: on this day in 1979, the World Health organization certified that the smallpox virus had been completely eradicated from the planet—still the only human disease driven to extinction. Here’s the last person to get it: two-year-old Rahima Banu from Bangladesh, who contracted the disease in 1975. She survived, and now has four children of her own:

But we’ve also driven an animal disease to extinction; do you know what it is? Finally, on this day in 1987, the first Intifada began in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Notables born on this day include John MIlton (1608), Peter Kropotkin (1842), Fritz Haber (1868), Joseph Pilates (1883; yes the inventor of the racist discipline of Pilates), Tip O’Neill (1912), Kirk Douglas (1916), Judi Dench (1934), and Donny Osmond (1957). Those who fell asleep on this day include Anthony van Dyck (1641), Edith Sitwell (1964), Branch Rickey (1965), Ralph Bunche (1971), and Mary Leakey (1996).

Here’s a lovely van Dyck:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s dialogue is subject to interpretation (she’s not telling), but I’m pretty sure I know what it means.

Hili: Which invention was more important: a bed or a wheel?
A: It depends on time of the day.
Hili: I’m not sure.
In Polish:
Hili: Który wynalazek był ważniejszy – łóżko czy koło?
Ja: To zależy od pory dnia.
Hili: Nie jestem pewna.

Here is a tweet from Grania: Roy Moore accuses evolution of corrupting children.

Tweets from Matthew Cobb:

Red kites (Milvus milvus) in the snow (play video):

And the most perfect cat ball:

Another cat from reader Charleen:

And a video of a kitten that appeared yesterday. LIVING THE DREAM!

The Mueller Sanction

I don’t know who made this video, or how they got it to look so realistic, but it’s pretty cool. The Trump investigation as a James Bond story!

Should a Christian baker be able to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding?

In 2012, a Christian baker and self-proclaimed “cake artist” in Colorado, Jack Phillips, decided he wasn’t going to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, because the request violated his religious beliefs. The couple sued for violation of the state’s anti-discrimination lawsuit, and won. The case was appealed, and now it’s been argued at the Supreme Court, as it has never been decided whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, color, sex, or national origin, also applies to sexual orientation. Phillips claims that, at least in this case, his First Amendment rights were being violated: that he should be able “to use his artistic talents to promote only messages that align with his religious beliefs.” The court will probably rule in a few months.

Remember, while it may be illegal to not make a cake requested by a gay customer or a Jewish customer, this case is about baking a wedding cake for a gay marriage, which could be construed as discrimination not against a person, but an act that violates the baker’s religion, so there are First Amendment considerations here.

Nevertheless, my own view is that the gay couple should prevail, for one could use one’s religion to discriminate against other things that seem wrong, like a Christian baker choosing not to make a Bar Mitzvah cake for a Jewish family, which comes close to discriminating against religion itself. (Remember, again, this is discrimination not against sexual orientation, but against an act that violates one’s religious beliefs.). Further, it gives weight to acts like Catholic doctors refusing to perform abortions when the pregnancy is due to rape or incest since such an act violates the doctor’s religion. While I believe that’s illegal in the U.S. (I’m not sure), but it’s still legal in Ireland, where abortion can be performed only to save the life of the mother. Given our new Supreme Court, all kinds of acts that seem discriminatory or dangerous could be approved because they privilege one’s religious belief over secular notions of equality. (I still, of course, believe that religious beliefs should be accommodated in public when they are not overly onerous to society.)

Andrew Sullivan is also conflicted (he’s a Catholic but also gay), but comes down on the side of the baker. In New York Magazine, he writes this:

Which is why I think it was a prudential mistake to sue the baker. Live and let live would have been a far better response. The baker’s religious convictions are not trivial or obviously in bad faith, which means to say he is not just suddenly citing them solely when it comes to catering to gays. His fundamentalism makes him refuse to make even Halloween cakes, for Pete’s sake. More to the point, he has said he would provide any form of custom-designed cakes for gay couples — a birthday cake, for example — except for one designed for a specific celebration that he has religious objections to. And those religious convictions cannot be dismissed as arbitrary (even if you find them absurd). Opposition to same-sex marriage has been an uncontested pillar of every major world religion for aeons.

And so, if there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be — and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it. One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, “How does someone else’s marriage affect me?” and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change. It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core “live and let live” argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

Nonetheless, here we are. And it is a hard case constitutionally. It pits religious and artistic freedom against civil equality and nondiscrimination. Anyone on either side who claims this is an easy call are fanatics of one kind or other. I’m deeply conflicted. I worry that a decision that endorses religious freedom could effectively nullify a large swathe of antidiscrimination legislation — and have a feeling that Scalia, for example, would have backed the gays in this case on those grounds alone. Equally, I worry that a ruling that backs the right of the state to coerce someone into doing something that violates their religious conscience will also have terrible consequences. A law that controls an individual’s conscience violates a core liberal idea. It smacks of authoritarianism and of a contempt for religious faith. It feels downright anti-American to me.

I sympathize with Sullivan, and feel a bit conflicted as well, as we have two “rights” competing with each other, but in the end I think the “freedom of speech” defense is weaker than the anti-discrimination principles that underlie our society.

The Supreme Court, which recently heard arguments on the case, seemed from their questions to be divided—largely along ideological lines. The case isn’t completely straightforward because baker considers himself an artist who can choose for whom to practice his art, and he has a First Amendment (constitutional) defense for his actions. Justice Anthony Kennedy may again be the swing vote.

So let’s take two polls here: one on how you feel and the other on how you think the Supreme Court (which has a conservative majority) will rule. As always, this is just my attempt to gauge opinion; I’m not pretending that this is a scientific result, or representative of anything beyond a sample of WEIT readers. And please take a few seconds to vote!

and your prediction:


h/t: Simon


Here’s the organism (well, sort of. . . .)!

Did you guess what organism made the pattern below, found on a recent dive around the hydrothermal vents off Tonga?

Here’s the answer in the second tweet:

How big is that thing? The laser beam images are 10 cm (about 4 inches apart): The paper from which this comes (below) adds, “Note the shield-shaped elevation, marginal elevated rim and mote, and color (pale pink) of the area of the pattern compared with the surrounding veneer of gray calcareous lutite (image courtesy The Stephen Low Company).” You can find thousands of these things on the wall of the mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The pattern is similar to that described in a 2009 paper in Deep Sea Research (click on screenshot to go there):

It’s called a “living fossil” because the patterns are nearly identical to those found in ocean sediment cores from about 50 million years ago. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the organism that made (or left) this pattern is the same as the ancient one, for it may be not a fossil but a burrow.

But what IS the organism involved? The paper above doesn’t say, because they haven’t recovered an organism from whatever makes this pattern. DNA sequencing of material recovered from the holes shows genetic material from foraminiferans, protists that probably settled in the holes rather than making them.

When the holes are injected with resin underwater, and then the cast recovered, it looks like this (caption from paper):

Fig. 8. Photo of plasticine reconstruction (3-D) of the modern P. nodosum pattern based on observation of the hexagonal pattern of holes at the sediment–water interface and vertical shafts connecting with an underlying horizontal hexagonal network of tunnels or tubes (model and photo by Hans Luginsland).

The raised nature of the pattern as well as the rim can, according to the authors’ models, enhance water flow over the openings, suggesting that either this is a burrow of some sort or the 3-D remains of an organism that filtered microbes out of the water.  The authors suggest this could be a remnant of one of two types of organisms:

1.) Xenophyophores: Giant single-celled foraminifera that have multiple nuclei and form a “test”, a hard skeleton made from minerals extracted from seawater.

2.) The remains of a sponge. As the authors say:

Alternatively, the modern form is the compressed body of a hexactinellid sponge adapted to an unconsolidated sedimentary substrate (Rona and Merrill, 1978). If this interpretation is correct, then the fossil form is a body rather than trace fossil.

These sponges have hard parts as they contain spicules (small bits of the body) made of silicon.

Alternatively, it could be something else. The authors don’t consider that it might be burrows of a worm, but this site suggests that:

The short answer is, “We have no fricking idea.” There are many mysteries on the ocean floor.

Zinnia Jones: The dangers of Regressivism

Zinnia Jones is a transgender woman who nominally posts at The Orbit, a series of blogs that were once part of Freethought Blogs but separated from that site for reasons that were never explicit. I rarely read her site, and rarely look at The Orbit itself because postings at the 22 constituent blogs are rare; in fact, Zinnia’s last post was December 2 of last year, and here are the dates of the last posts from some other people whose sites I’d sometimes read when they were at Freethought Blogs:

Dana Hunter: May 18, 2017
Alex Gabriel: January 3, 2017
Aoife O’Riordan: January 22, 2017
Greta Christina: December 6 of this year, but last post before that was on September 27, 2017
Ashley Miller: May 3, 2016
Heina Dadabhoy: December 31, 2016
Jason Thibeault: September 17, 2016

Of the remaining 15 sites, eleven haven’t had a post since October of this year. It’s clear that The Orbit is dying a slow death, and probably for the same reason that the Atheism Plus site went under: off-putting authoritarianism and, in the case of Atheism Plus, horrible internecine squabbles over completely trivial matters.

Zinnia Jones, however, seems to be on Twitter almost constantly (I don’t look at many people’s accounts, but just checked), and one of her tweets from this year demonstrates in a nutshell the reason why The Orbit has put so many people off. It’s from July, and seems to have been removed, but was saved (nothing disappears for good on the Internet):

The tweet:

But of course it’s clear that ISIS in Syria and Iraq does indeed throw gay people off of buildings to their deaths. Here’s a CNN video documenting it (some of the images might be disturbing). You can find videos rather than still pictures elsewhere on the Internet, but I’ll let you suss them out yourself.

Why did Jones say that these are “suicide photos”? It’s clear: she’s trying to defend Islam from the charge of homophobia, a regular pasttime of Regressive Leftists. But the accusation won’t stand, and Ngo attributes it to “intersectionality”:

The principle of intersectionality—that people can be oppressed on the basis of several different characteristics (e.g., ethnicity and religion)—is not problematic, but what it’s done is foster each group’s defense of all the others. So, for example—as in this case—Muslims, who occupy one “axis”, must be defended by a transgender woman against any of the religion’s own oppressions. In the end, intersectionality seems to poison everything, as every “oppressed” group becomes immune to all charges of racism or bigotry, which become solely the purview of heterosexual white men. And what that does is erode basic principles of liberalism.

Let me assure you that Zinnia Jones wouldn’t last a day under ISIS, or, as a blogger, in several Middle Eastern countries.

h/t: Grania

Identify the organism that made this pattern

Here’s a new tweet that Matthew sent, showing a pattern found underwater by ROV SuBastian dive #96 (dive #97 starts at 11 a.m. Chicago time, and you can watch it here).  These dives are sponsored by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, and are currently investigating hydrothermal vents around Tonga in the Pacific.

Your job: Guess what kind of organism made that pattern. It’s not a human creation, but a genuine trace left by living organisms. What is it? I’ll put up the answer at noon Chicago time. Paleodictyon trace fossils are of unknown origin, but we’re pretty sure what made this one. You’ll find out in two hours.

Today’s dive looks cool, and here’s the info:

This is the twelfth ROV dive of the Underwater Fire expedition. This dive will visit the known hydrothermal vent field at Mata Fitu volcano, one of the North Mata group of volcanoes. This is the second dive of this expedition at Mata Fitu, but first visit to the hydrothermal vent field.The dive will start downslope of the area of known venting and will traverse back-and-forth upslope to establish the aerial extent of venting. The dive will be a mix of geo-transects to visually explore the area, sample lavas and sediments, and will also do chemical and biological sampling at the hydrothermal vents.

Watch it here in about an hour:

Ali Rizvi talks sense on Israel and Palestine

Unbeknownst to me, Ali Rizvi, author of The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason (I blurbed the book) wrote a fine article on the Israel Palestine crisis that was published in PuffHo on July 28, 2014. (Click on screenshot below to read it, and you should.) Normally I’d kvetch about his publishing this on a regressive site like PuffHo, but the readers there really need this kind of thoughtful article. Why is it that ex-Muslims, often raised—as was Rizvi—to hate Israel and Jews, always turn out to be more pro-Israel (or at least more balanced) than are American Regressives Leftists? I suppose that’s because the apostates thought their way out of Islam, and thus can more easily see through the propaganda of the Israel bashers, including people like Linda Sarsour and organizations like CAIR, the BDS movement, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

I’ll list Rizvi’s seven points (he by no means excuses Israel, criticizing Netanyahu and the expansion of settlements on the West bank), and also excerpt some of what he says, with all his words indented. Where I’ve commented, I’ve put that in brackets:

1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?

Over 700 people have died in Gaza as of this writing. Muslims have woken up around the world. But is it really because of the numbers?

Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years — more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. Thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Syria have been killed by ISIS in the last two months. Tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban. Half a million black Muslims were killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan. The list goes on.

But Gaza makes Muslims around the world, both Sunni and Shia, speak up in a way they never do otherwise. Up-to-date death counts and horrific pictures of the mangled corpses of Gazan children flood their social media timelines every day. If it was just about the numbers, wouldn’t the other conflicts take precedence? What is it about then?

If I were Assad or ISIS right now, I’d be thanking God I’m not Jewish.

Amazingly, many of the graphic images of dead children attributed to Israeli bombardment that are circulating online are from Syria, based on a BBC report. Many of the pictures you’re seeing are of children killed by Assad, who is supported by Iran, which also funds Hezbollah and Hamas. What could be more exploitative of dead children than attributing the pictures of innocents killed by your own supporters to your enemy simply because you weren’t paying enough attention when your own were killing your own?

This doesn’t, by any means, excuse the recklessness, negligence, and sometimes outright cruelty of Israeli forces. But it clearly points to the likelihood that the Muslim world’s opposition to Israel isn’t just about the number of dead.

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?

There are three pervasive myths that are widely circulated about the “roots” of the Middle East conflict:

Myth 1: Judaism has nothing to do with Zionism.
Myth 2: Islam has nothing to do with Jihadism or anti-Semitism.
Myth 3: This conflict has nothing to do with religion.

3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians? [JAC: They do nearly everything they can to avoid it because they know the consequences for Israel’s image.]

4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields? [JAC: Rizvi’s answer, which is a fact well known but often hidden, is “yes.” And that’s why so many more Palestinians die than Israelis, for rather than protecting the Palestinian people, Hamas, a truly odious organization, deliberately tries to get them killed as a propaganda tool. So much for the “disproportionate” reaction of Israel (see #3 above).]

5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza? [JAC: People forget that Gaza was once Israel and was given to the Palestinians, who failed to develop it.]

6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel? [JAC: see #4.]

7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn’t everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?

Because Israel’s flaws, while smaller in number, are massive in impact.

Many Israelis seem to have the same tribal mentality that their Palestinian counterparts do. They celebrate the bombing of Gaza the same way many Arabs celebrated 9/11. A UN report recently found that Israeli forces tortured Palestinian children and used them as human shields. They beat up teenagers. They are often reckless with their airstrikes. They have academics who explain how rape may be the only truly effective weapon against their enemy. And many of them callously and publicly revel in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.

. . . However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims — it needs to do much more to show it isn’t the same as the worst of its neighbors.

Israel is leading itself towards increasing international isolation and national suicide because of two things: 1. The occupation; and 2. Settlement expansion.

Remember, this is the take of an ex-Muslim who has no political reason to love Israel. He says that, instead of us taking sides, it’s more productive to foster peace initiatives than to put all the blame on one side or the other. The only solution, I think, is the two-state solution, but I’m slowly beginning to realize three things: a. it’s not going to happen, at least not in the next several decades, b. Neither Hamas, Fatah, nor the Palestinian Authority wants it to happen, even if they get most of what they want, and c. Israel only exacerbates the situation by continuing to expand settlements.

Finally, re the Jerusalem issue, Ali published the bit below on his public Facebook page (click on screenshot to go there). It doesn’t take sides, but faults everyone for fighting about a city that symbolizes three delusional religions. But aside from the delusions, he fails to consider that these sites are also important in the history of all the main Abrahamic religions as sites of worship, and they’re fighting not just over which delusion is true, but who has access to their history.

h/t: Grania

Readers’ wildlife photos

Joe Dickinson sent photos from a group beloved of Professor Ceiling cat: DUCKS! His notes are indented:

Prompted by the “aesthetically challenged” Muscovy duck posted on Dec. 6, here are some more ducks ranging from strange to beautiful.

First here is a Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) that has been hanging around Aptos creek for the last few days.  Based on the  white and red on the face, it is a feral domestic.

My other nomination for petty strange (if not exactly ugly) is the surf scoter (Melanitta perspicillata).  To my eye, there is some sexual dimorphism in bill shape as well as color.  I’m sure the reader can determine which is the male.  The third photo is unusual in that he has come ashore;  as the name implies, they typically are seen in the zone where the swell starts to break just off the beach.

Speaking of sexual dimorphism, I find the common merganser (Mergus merganser) unusual, with the female displaying a striking reddish crest.  I assumed it was a male when I first saw one.

The common mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is, of course, a familiar example of sexual dimorphism.  I throw this in just because I particularly like the composition.

The male wood duck (Aix sponsa) is certainly unusual but most, I think, would find it attractive. This one is in a small nature preserve in the middle of Santa Cruz (next to the sewage treatment plant).  I don’t recall seeing a female.

Friday: Hili dialogue

We’ve reached Friday again, as it’s December 8, 2017 and National Brownie Day (I had mine earlier this week). One week from today I’ll be flying to India, which I think is a straight 19-hour flight. No business class for me this time; I’ll be sitting in steerage. I hope at least the food is good.

On this day in 1660, as Wikipedia reports, “A woman (either Margaret Hughes or Anne Marshall) appears on an English public stage for the first time, in the role of Desdemona in a production of Shakespeare’s play Othello.” On December 8, 1854, in the document Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX infallibly proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which, as you should know, claims that the Virgin Mary was born without Original Sin (a lot of people think it means Jesus was born without original sin). And very few people realize this isn’t in the Bible: it’s just made-up shit turned into Dogma because the Pope is inflammable.  On this day in 1922, Northern Ireland separated from the Irish Free State and remained with the UK.  On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman in front of Lennon’s hotel in New York City, the Dakota. Chapman remains in prison in New York State and has another parole hearing coming up next year. Finally, on this day 6 years ago, SpaceX became the first company to launch, orbit, and recover a space vehicle after the second launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9.

Notables born on this day include Mary, Queen of Scots (1542), Eli Whitney (1765), Jean Sibelius (1865), Diego Rivera (1886), Lucian Freud (1922, one of the few near-contemporary artists I like), Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925), Jim Morrison (1943), Greg Allman (1947; died this year), Bill Bryson (1951), Ann Coulter (1961) and Skinhead O’Connor (1966; yes, I know it’s Sinéad). Those who ceased to be on December 8 include Thomas De Quincey (1859), Golda Meir (1978), John Lennon (see above), Marty Robbins (1982), and John Glenn (one year ago today). It’s also the 287th birthday of Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799), the scientist who discovered photosynthesis. Google is celebrating that with a Doodle today:

Here’s Lucian Freud’s painting of his first wife, Kitty Godley—with a kitty!

And photo of Rivera and his wife; you better know who she is!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili defends her predation:

A: You’ve killed a bird again.
Hili: That’s natural.
A: Not everything natural is as beautiful as some people think.
In Polish:
Ja: Znów zabiłaś ptaka.
Hili: To naturalne.
Ja: Nie wszystko co naturalne jest tak piękne, jak się niektórym wydaje

Here, you can haz cat tweets from Grania:

And a Tom Nichols tweet with a reply:

Heather Hastie found this tweet from our Official Website Physicist™: those are his and Jennifer’s kittens:

And a guinea pig feast from Matthew. Somebody’s got to eat those odious Brussels sprouts!