Readers’ wildlife photos

June 21, 2021 • 8:00 am

Seriously, people, send me your photos (good ones, please), as this feature is running out of submissions. I have but a handful in the hopper.

Today we have another installment of Doug Hayes’s famous “Breakfast Crew”: the birds (and mammals) he sees at his home feeder in Richmond, Virginia. Doug’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

The 14th installment of the Breakfast Crew. The past couple of months were pretty quiet around the yard as the birds retreated to the park and more wooded areas of the Forest Hill neighborhood (Richmond, Virginia) to nest and hatch the next generation. Now many of the gang are back with the new crop of babies. The robins are still building nests and I have seen pairs of cardinals hanging out together engaging in “courtship feeding” in which the male feeds the female. Round two of baby birds soon?
A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) and two babies (there is a third one on the ground who eventually joined the others) were the first of the new crop to show up in the yard.

 

A fledgling female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

We got a bumper crop of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) this year. This is one of a batch of five that follow one adult to the feeders. They are quite comical as they squabble among themselves for a spot at the suet feeders, shoving and pecking at their siblings for a choice spot. This little guy was puffed up to ward off the morning chill.

A young house sparrow (Passer domesticus).

An adult common grackle and a juvenile (Quiscalus quiscula). The grackles’ numbers have exploded also. It is not unusual to see five or more at one time at the feeders.

Peanut Girl, the red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) doing her thing. She never tires of hunting for peanuts.

A rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). I had seen this guy a couple of times. On this day, I saw him from the back and thought he was a woodpecker. When I finally got a good look at him, I didn’t have my camera handy. Fortunately, he returned in the afternoon and decided to hang out for a while.

A pine warbler (Setophaga pinus). They usually stay in the more heavily wooded areas and the park, but this one decided to check out the feeders.

Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are quite common in the neighborhood thanks to all the birdhouses in the park and in backyards.

Male and female house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) driving off an intruder.

Chip Monk, the eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) peeks out from her home in our generator housing. She is becoming used to seeing me at the window and will watch what I’m doing for some time.

An eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) acting casual so I won’t notice him. These guys are quite the pests. The silvery areas on the feeder openings are where the squirrels have gnawed into the aluminum in an attempt to get at more food. I had some all plastic feeders and the squirrels destroyed them by chewing away the collar surrounding the opening, and getting a jackpot of seeds.

Camera info:  Sony A1 camera body set to bird eye detection autofocus; Sony FE 200-600 zoom lens plus 1.4X teleconverter; ISO 4000;

Monday: Hili dialogue

June 21, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Monday, June 21, 2021: National Peaches and Cream Day. That means that you can not only eat this dish, but that things will be fine. It’s also Take Your Cat to Work Day (if you’re working from home, that’s okay, otherwise forget it!),  National Selfie Day, World Giraffe Day, and, most important, Atheist Solidarity Day.

It’s the first full day of summer (the summer solstice started just before midnight last night) and today’s Google Doodle celebrates this with an animated gif (click on screenshot; there’s a different Doodle for the Southern Hemisphere, where winter just began).

Finally, it’s also these holidays (the solstice was at about 11:30 pm yesterday):

News of the Day:

The Bidens still don’t have a cat. I will report daily until they get one.

The shootings and killings continue to escalate in Chicago: I know when it’s bad when I drive to the grocery store early on Saturday or Sunday morning and pass the University of Chicago Emergency Room. When there are more than two cop cars outside, and when there are a bunch of cops milling about  in front of the ER door, I know it was a bad weekend. That’s what I saw this morning and, checking up, I found that five people were killed and 40 hurt in this weekend’s shootings. And that report was filed at 9 a.m. Sunday morning! (Note: the total hasn’t yet been updated.) The shootings thus occurred between Friday evening and early Sunday morning. It’s not over yet as I write this on Sunday evening. No wonder there were news trucks and live reporters from local stations also stationed outside the ER.

According to the Washington Post, scientists are still fighting about whether Covid-19 came from a natural host transmitting it to humans or a leak from a Wuhan lab. Both scenarios have problems—for the former it’s that the animal host has still not been identified. I suspect this will eventually be settled, though I don’t have a dog in this fight.

Also from the WaPo, click on the screenshot to watch a 5½-minute video on whiteness.  I gave in and watched how I’ve failed in many ways. Be my guest by clicking on the screenshot below. It’s  pure Kendi-and DiAngelican ideology, with not a word of dissent. The Washington Post is no longer an organ of objective journalism; like the New York Times, it’s become a vessel for social engineering and for purveying ideology, even to schoolchildren.

According to the narrator, this is only the first in a series of videos on the invidious nature of whiteness.

Via the Toronto site BlogTO, Diana MacPherson tells us that Toronto is installing “duck platforms” in its harbor to prevent ducklings from drowning. Ducklings have to get out of the water several hours a day to dry off as they have no way to waterproof their feathers (they get feather oil from their mother sitting on them). To prevent waterlogged babies, Toronto is installing these platforms that ducklings can climb onto and dry off:

Speaking of rescues, reader Debra sent this sign photographed by her cat-loving friend Paul in the New York City subway yesterday:

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. 601,442, an increase of 300 deaths over yesterday’s figure.  The reported world death toll is now 3,882,633, an increase of about 6,400 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on June 21 includes:

  • 1900 – Boxer Rebellion: China formally declares war on the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Japan, as an edict issued from the Empress Dowager Cixi.
  • 1915 – The U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decision in Guinn v. United States 238 US 347 1915, striking down Oklahoma grandfather clause legislation which had the effect of denying the right to vote to blacks.
  • 1942 – World War II: A Japanese submarine surfaces near the Columbia River in Oregon, firing 17 shells at Fort Stevens in one of only a handful of attacks by Japan against the United States mainland.

Nobody was hurt and no damage was done to the Japanese target, Fort Stevens.

The Japanese used child soldiers, aged 14-17, as front line combatants on Okinawa. Here’s a photo of some of them:

(From Wikipedia): Tekketsu Kinnōtai child soldiers on Okinawa

Here’s the FBI’s wanted poster before they found the killers: seven men, including KKK members, were convicted (maximum sentence was ten years in jail!), and one additional killer was not convicted until 2005 (see below).

Their remains uncovered on August 4. 1964:

Here’s a famous picture of two defendants who got off. The caption: “The main suspect were the local sheriff, Lawrence A. Rainey (above right), his deputy Cecil Price (above left) and 16 other men, all of whom were allegedly members of the Ku Klux Klan. They were charged with violating the civil rights of the victims.” Rainey is dipping a chaw of tobacco.

The Miller test for obscenity. It’s now of course violated regularly.

  • Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
  • 1982 – John Hinckley is found not guilty by reason of insanity for the attempted assassination of U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
  • 1989 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, that American flag-burning is a form of political protest protected by the First Amendment.

As I wrote five days ago, some Republican Senators are trying to get a Constitutional Amendment through Congress to prohibit flag burning (it would then have to be approved by 3/4 of the states). This will not stand.

  • 2005 – Edgar Ray Killen, who had previously been unsuccessfully tried for the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, is convicted of manslaughter 41 years afterwards (the case had been reopened in 2004).

Killen, Jailed in 2005, died in prison in 2018.

  • 2009 – Greenland assumes self-rule.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1892 – Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian and academic (d. 1971)
  • 1921 – Jane Russell, American actress and singer (d. 2011)
  • 1948 – Ian McEwan, British novelist and screenwriter
  • 1953 – Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani financier and politician, 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan (d. 2007)
  • 1957 – Berkeley Breathed, American author and illustrator
  • 1982 – Jussie Smollett, American actor and singer

This bit by Dave Chapelle on Jussie Smollett (said to be a French actor pronounced “Juicy Smole-yay”) is one of his funniest pieces. Trigger warning: strong language including n-word.

The unfortunate but endearing cat carried several mutations. Here’s a photo from the WaPo:

Photo: Mike Bridavsky/lilbub.com

Those who “passed” on June 21 include:

  • 1652 – Inigo Jones, English architect, designed the Queen’s House and Wilton House (b. 1573)
  • 1874 – Anders Jonas Ångström, Swedish physicist and astronomer (b. 1814)
  • 1908 – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Russian composer and educator (b. 1844)
  • 1964 – James Chaney, American civil rights activist (b. 1943)
  • 1964 – Andrew Goodman, American civil rights activist (b. 1943)
  • 1964 – Michael Schwerner, American civil rights activist (b. 1939)
  • 2001 – John Lee Hooker, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1917)

Here’s Hooker with “Boom Boom”, live at Montreaux in 1990:

  • 2015 – Gunther Schuller, American horn player, composer, and conductor (b. 1925)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili is full of herself, as usual (her views are always correct, so she’s made a tautology):

Hili: I’m proud of my correct views.
A: Which ones?
Hili: All of them.
In Polish:
Hili: Jestem dumna z moich słusznych poglądów.
A: Których?
Hili: Wszystkich.

From Bruce. BYU is “Brigham Young University” in Provo, Utah, a Mormon school. When I was younger and collected college tee-shirts, I went into the BYU bookstore to get one of theirs, but was kicked out because I had a beard and mustache. Jesus couldn’t go to BYU!

A photo from Barry, which he labels, “Cut your own fucking grass!” Let’s hand it to the Scots, though: they mowed a couple of feet into England!

From Jesus of the Day:

Masih talks about the new election for Iran’s President, won by a hard-liner. You may not agree with her on the boycott of Iran, which Biden is going to soften considerablyu, and I dislike imposing hardships on the Iranian people, who by and large oppose their theocracy, but if you don’t want Iran to have the bomb, what does one do? I am convinced that any Biden deal may marginally stall Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, but won’t by any means stop it.However, I don’t agree that foreign heads of state should be barred from entering the U.S. unless they’re liable to arrest.

Tweets from Matthew, who, like me, loves ferrets and stoats, even though they’re voracious predators. Here’s Moose the Ferret having a great time.

Bats, whales, and now add tree mice to the groups of mammals who use echolocation! Mice in the genus Typhlomys have very small eyes and are nocturnal.

Of this tweet, Matthew notes, “n.b.: the cladogrm isn’t quite right (e.g., “marine mammals”) but the variety of vaginas, etc. is”. Can you spot the phylogenetic errors?

I got this too late to put up yesterday, but by gum, FIFTY FIVE YEARS? Sunrise, sunset. . . .

A while back, I went through a few days when I was obsessed with watching watch restoration videos. As it says at the end, “Watch again.” The original video with the restorer is below the first one.  I can’t fathom the dexterity, patience, and skill required to do this kind of work.

Sound up, please.

A whole thread of medieval cats licking their butts! They observed the behavior fine, but the depiction of the moggies, as usual, leaves a lot to be desired. There are more in the thread:

“Kiss From a Rose”

June 20, 2021 • 2:15 pm

This 1994 song written and performed by Seal, “Kiss From a Rose” is considered schlocky by many, but I think it’s beautiful—and very complex.  I’ll present two versions: one from the studio and the other in concert. After you watch one or both of them, be sure to listen to Rick Beato’s analysis of the song’s structure: “What makes this song great?” (It was Beato’s post on Auto-tuning that led me to this song, as YouTube is wont to do and wants to do.) YouTube’s “suggestions” on the side of the video you’re watching have often involved me wasting hours of time, but also finding some cool stuff.

Enjoy, though this isn’t everyone’s musical cup of tea.

p.s. Seal’s real name is Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel.

Vancouver school board ditches honors math and science courses (English, too), fibs about why

June 20, 2021 • 10:45 am

From News1130 (a Vancouver, BC radio station) via reader Jeff, we have yet another case of academics trying to dismantle the meritocracy. It is no coincidence that ranking and tracking of students, whether it be by eliminating standardized testing or eliminating advanced placement (AP) classes, is all happening at an increasing rate. The reason to anyone with brains is transparently clear: this kind of ranking and sorting leads to inequities—differential representation of ethnic groups compared to their proportion in the population.  In the U.S. (and I suspect in Canada), there’s an average achievement gap between Asians (at the top), whites (middle) and blacks and Hispanics (lowest). I suspect this is due to cultural differences that will take years to remedy, but which must be remedied. But in the meantime, it’s inimical to eliminate opportunities available to all groups.

If you ranked or sorted students solely by achievement, then, you would get lower representation of students of color in colleges. That’s one reason why we have affirmative action. But you’d also get the AP classes in high schools filled largely with Asian and white students—another inequity. Abraham Kendi, in his How to be an Antiracist, asserts that inequities are evidence of racism—not just the long-term effects of past racism (as is surely the case in the U.S.), but current and ongoing systemic racism. This claim, while false, is almost untestable if you hold the belief that racism can be so subtle that it’s unconscious but nevertheless still powerful.

The elimination of the meritocracy, while it has some good aspects (I favor limited affirmative action), will have long-term dire effects not only on societal progress, but, as John McWhorter claims, on the self-image of minorities themselves, who don’t get a chance to show high achievement and are told, in effect, that they’re not as good as others. It’s an opportunity eliminated, one that should remain while we work on the root causes of inequality.

Here’s a short piece about the Vancouver School Board eliminating honors science and math programs in the only two schools that offer this option. (Honors English classes have already been eliminated.) Click on the screenshot to read:

While I favor some affirmative action, I do not favor eliminating opportunities, especially ones like these that could act to identify minority students who excel in STEM.  Being forced to take a non-honors course when you’re really interested in and talented at doing science is a good way to kill interest in it.

But the worst part is how schools always lie when they dismantle the meritocracy. Here’s the Big Lie promulgated by the Vancouver School Board:

The school board says the move will not mean less opportunity for students.

“By phasing out these courses, all students will have access to an inclusive model of education, and all students will be able to participate in the curriculum fulsomely. Teachers support the diverse needs of all students in their classes through differentiated instruction — and this includes enrichment,” a spokesperson writes in an email.

“Honours Math and Science do not provide enrichment – they are simply accelerated courses. It is important to note that a student who excels in math or science will still be able to learn at a level that challenges them and allows them to explore their potential.”

The pharse “inclusive model of education” not only gives away the real motivation, but denies students the opportunity to have their education tailored to their talents and desires. Such a system, if it’s to help those with the greatest educational handicaps, must perforce teach everyone geared to the needs of the lowest-achieving students. But in such a case a rising tide doesn’t lift all the boats. (By the way, does the school board know what “fulsomely” really means?)

Another arrant lie is this: ““Honours Math and Science do not provide enrichment – they are simply accelerated courses.”  Now correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds like a tautology: a distinction without a difference. Why doesn’t acceleration provide enrichment? My own honors English and classics courses in college immensely enriched me beyond the non-honors courses I was used to taking.

As one academic claims, whose name indicates he’s Asian, this new policy actually increases inequality, reducing opportunities for talented but poor kids who can’t afford access to the private schools that provide the equivalent of honors courses:

Andy Yan, is the director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University, and considers himself a beneficiary of these programs.

“Certainly in my experience the enriched and honours programs actually got us on to the first rung of social and economic mobility. The removal of these programs, I think, is a terrible decision that it doesn’t promote equity,” he says.

In a tweet objecting to the cancellation of the programs, Yan describes himself as an “East Van, blue-collar household, VSB kid. Scrapping this option, in his opinion, means less opportunity for kids whose families can’t pay for private school or extra tutoring.

“If anything it promotes, and increases inequality,” he says.

“Now, those that can afford these program will go to them, and those who can’t now don’t have any of these types of programs.”

Whether or not you favor dismantling the intellectual meritocracy (something also tried without good results in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China), we should at least expect a little honesty from those who support such a move. The profusion of dissimulation about this stuff is starting to really get to me. Not to draw too fine a comparison, but it reminds me a bit of Orwell’s 1984—not in terms of eliminating social classes, but in terms of promulgating obvious lies but asserting that they’re truths.

 

h/t: Jeff

Wrongheaded religious accommodationism in physics

June 20, 2021 • 9:15 am

Like religion and secular government, religion and science survive best when they’re kept well apart—when there is no incursion of religion into government and science. (The other way around, at least for science, is not bad, for science has always served to show the falsity of many religious claims—claims like creationism, the worldwide Flood, Adam and Eve, and the Exodus.)

Yet the article below, highlighted by the tweet at the bottom, calls for accommodationism: for religious people to profess their faith to other scientists, and even to tell each other about “the role of faith in science” (there is none) and “the health benefits of intermittent fasting” (a sop to Muslims). This kind of well-meaning but intellectually vacuous accommodationism surfaces from time to time, and I have to whack it down.

Click on the screenshot to read the piece from Physics World from April. I couldn’t find a post I’d done on this piece, but if I have, well, perhaps some of you haven’t read it.

The article is a straight out call to mingle faith and science, a movement that I thought had slowed, and so haven’t written about it in a while. The piece first points out the disparity between the religiosity of scientists (not very religious) and the religious general public—not only in America, but in most of the West.

A British Social Attitudes survey in 2019 found that 48% of the UK population identifies as religious and that since 1983 there has been a decline in the proportion of Christians, an increase in the non-­religiously affiliated, as well as a rapid rise in the Muslim population, along with other minority religions (up from 2% to 9%). In other words, the beliefs and worldviews of the UK population are becoming more diverse as we move away from a predominantly Christian population to a more mixed one. Yet in this regard – as in other aspects of diversity – the UK scientific community is strikingly out-of-step with society. Indeed, a report from Rice University in 2016 found that just 27% of UK scientists identify as religious compared with 47% of the general population (Socius 10.1177/2378023116664353).

That is, of course, the Templeton-funded work of Elaine Ecklund, who regularly distorts the data to make scientists, irreligious as they are, seem more religious than we think.  But why the disparity between the religiosity of the average person and that of the average scientist? It is even larger in the UK and US than Ecklund admits, with the most accomplished scientists (members of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society) being almost wholly atheistic (only 7% of NAS members believe in a personal God, and a similar figure holds for the RS.

There are several possible reasons for this disparity, which I discuss in my book Faith versus Fact. One is that “scientists are simply more educated than the average American, and religiosity simply declines with education.” That may be partly true, but can’t explain much of the disparity, as professors in science are far less religious than professors in other areas, who presumably have had just as much education. Second,  if you’re religious, you’re probably less likely to want to go into science. It is the nonbelievers who may be drawn to enter a discipline that discards the supernatural. Another reason, for which there is some independent evidence, that doing science erodes your religious beliefs over time. I can’t really see any other explanations, but the latter two, which I think both contribute to the disparity, show that there is indeed a conflict between science and religion. This is the case I make in Faith Versus Fact.

One suggestion that isn’t the case is that scientists demonize and/or expel other religious scientists, purging our ranks of believers. But by and large we don’t give a rat’s patootie about the religious beliefs of our colleagues. We may puzzle over them, or even make fun of them, but we don’t penalize scientists who believe in God. Often they are quite accomplished, too, viz., Francis Collins, director of the NIH, and Ken Miller, cell biologist and author of widely used biology texts.  None of us claim that believing in God prohibits you from doing good science. I claim that there is a clash between science and faith, and this clash explains why, on the whole, Western scientists are so much less religious than the general public from which they’re drawn.

Here’s Wood’s “explanation”, or rather a non-explanation:

So, what is keeping religious people away from science? It is tempting to follow the Enlightenment phil­osophy that places science and religion in conflict: “as science advances, religion declines”. But that is far too simple. The Rice report compares eight countries, finding that the disparity between scientists and the general population who identify as religious is small in nations such as Turkey and India, while in others such as Taiwan and Hong Kong religious people are even over-represented in science. That picture is very different from the UK and other western countries where the religiously affiliated are strikingly under-represented. The report also finds that most scientists do not believe there is a conflict between science and religion – instead it being more a societal issue than a philosophical one.

He’s wrong. Ecklund’s report showing a smaller disparity (which is still a disparity) in countries like Turkey and India can be explained by the fact that those countries are more religious compared to Western ones (indeed, now both are approaching theocracies), and so the disparity is almost guaranteed to be smaller. As for Taiwan, the disparity in the other direction isn’t great, and I have no explanation for Hong Kong (readers might suggest theories that are theirs). But at any rate the “conflict” is most discussed and visible in Europe and North America, and here the disparity is profound, even more profound that Ecklund pretends since she doesn’t dwell on those UK and US scientists who actually do research and are good at it. Here’s a figure from her 2016 paper using data from all surveyed scientists.

 

Sebastian Wood disagrees that there’s a conflict between faith and science, and asserts that harmony is possible:

Irrespective of the reasons why religious people are under-represented in science, which are no doubt manifold and complex, I believe that neither society nor scientific pursuits stand to benefit from being out-of-step with each other. Rachel Brazil’s insightful Physics World article “Fighting flat-Earth ­theory” traces the rise of belief in a flat Earth back to religious convictions. It stands as a warning that we need to build bridges between scientific and religious communities rather than allowing the divide to widen further. In a society that increasingly recognizes the value of diversity, it is worth reflecting on the history of science to see that no single religion or worldview has a monopoly on scientific progress. Even a cursory glance reveals profound contributions to science from individuals representing the full range of religious and non-religious worldviews, both historic and contemporary. Clearly this diversity of thinking is of enormous and proven value to science and technology, and is something to be treasured, nurtured and encouraged.

In contrast to the first sentence, I think that science, religion and society benefit from religion not sticking its nose into science but science examining religious claims. Science doesn’t get polluted with superstition that has never helped us find truth, while religion gets its false truth claims corrected, and society becomes less religious, which I think is a good thing. (I attribute the growing secularization of the West to the increasing hegemony of and public respect for science, and here agree with Steve Pinker in his Better Angels book.) As for getting rid of stuff like creationism by “building bridges between science and religion”, that doesn’t work very well. Francis Collins and Karl Giberson founded BioLogos as a explicit vehicle for convincing evangelical Christians that evolution is both true and harmless to their faith. They failed: instead of evangelicals embracing evolution (the data shows no change in decades), the BioLogos site has become increasingly Christianized, with apparently sentient academics and scientists arguing about how Adam and Eve could really have been the ancestors of us all (a sine qua non of Christianity). While some people’s minds can be changed by telling them scientific truths, the best way to efface religion is simply to emphasize the benefits of science and wait for people over years and generations to realize that, hey, science can find truth and religion can’t.

Wood gives two other reasons why science and religion aren’t in conflict. First, many scientists don’t perceive a conflict between science and religion. That is, besides creationists, American scientists simply don’t see a “war” between the two areas on a day to day basis. But so what? If you define your terms carefully, as I do in Faith versus Fact, you see a very profound conflict between science and religion: conflicts in methology, philosophy, use of “faith”, and how we apprehend “truth”.

Second, Wood claims that religious scientists have made profound contributions to their fields. I agree, but so what? Science itself is practiced as an atheistic discipline, and these contributions, at least in the last two centuries, had nothing to do with religion. In fact, they were made despite religion. (It’s clear that in the 19th century nearly everyone was religious, so it was a no-brainer to say that religious scientists advanced their field.) But now atheistic scientists make far more contributions than religious ones—for two reasons. First, there are so many more atheistic scientists than religious ones. Second, the better a scientist is, the more likely he or she is to be an atheist.

So here’s Wood’s proposal to put science and religion in step, a proposal that seems to me useless and worthless, at least for accomplishing its aims. It wouldn’t hurt, I suppose to have tea with your religious colleagues as a way of social bonding, but best to avoid discussing faith!

At NPL [the National Physical Laboratory in the UK] we have made “inter faith week” a regular fixture in our calendar. This is a national initiative that supports and encourages constructive interactions between people with different beliefs to build relationships and mutual understanding, recognizing common values as well as differences. We also encourage colleagues to share their experiences of how their beliefs affect their work and invite guest speakers to talk about a subject relating science to religion. Over the past three years we have had talks on the relationship between artificial intelligence and religion, the role of faith in science and the health benefits of intermittent fasting. Each year we find that there is an enormous desire to learn about and discuss these topics.

Again, scientists are welcome to discuss these issues on their own time (I enjoyed writing my book, but I didn’t write it to “build relationships and mutual understanding”). But for Ceiling Cat’s sake keep these discussions unofficial. “Interfaith week” in a science institution is a disgrace. It’s like having Bigfoot Week, UFO Week or Djinn Week at the NIH, or Crystal Healing Week at the CDC.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, which means we have a themed batch of bird photos from biologist John Avise. His text and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Green Feathers

Two of my earlier WEIT posts highlighted blues and reds in avian plumages (see “Blue Birds in North America” and “Red Feathers”). This week, green is the featured color.  Green is an uncommon hue in North American birds, so I had to dig hard to find suitable examples from my photo collection.   Green colors in bird plumages usually stem from blue structural features of feathers in combination with yellow carotenoid pigments.  In many species, the green is displayed equally by both sexes, thus suggesting that camouflage in green foliage may be adaptive and favored by natural selection. [Given the ubiquity of green vegetation, I’m actually surprised there aren’t many more green birds!]. But in several duck species with green feathers, drakes are much brighter than hens, so in these cases sexual selection surely is involved.  The state where each photo was taken is shown in parentheses.

Allen’s Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin (California):

Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna (California):

Violet-green Swallow, Tachycineta thalassina (California):

Orange-crowned Warbler, Vermivora celata (California):

Green-tailed Towhee, Pipilo chlorurus (Arizona):

Green Jay, Cyanocorax yncas (Texas):

Green Heron, Butorides virescens (California):

Monk Parakeet, Mylopsitta monachus (Florida, introduced):

Red-crowned Parrot or Amazon, Amazona viridigenalis (California, introduced):

Yellow-headed Parrot or Amazon, Amazona oratrix (California, introduced):

Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca (California):

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata (California):

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos (California):

Mallard head portrait:

Sunday: Hili dialogue

June 20, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Sunday, June 20, 2021: National Vanilla Milkshake Day, which means it’s going to be a bland day. And it’s the longest day of the year! The summer solstice begins at 11:32 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the U.S.

It’s also Father’s Day, for which Google has an animated Doodle (to see it, click on screenshot). The Doodle also links to information about Father’s Day.

And it’s Plain Yogurt Day, National Ice Cream Soda Day, American Eagle Day, National Turkey Lovers’ Day (at least they put the apostrophe in the right place!), West Virginia Day (in West Virginia), World Refugee Day, and World Humanist Day

Wine of the Day:  This is a 2018 California Deperada “Kleio” chenin blanc that I paid $16.99 for some time ago, but the price is now listed as much higher. At the price I paid it’s a bargain, a good accompaniment for pizza (it’s hot and I wanted a cool white). It’s a complex chenin blanc, quite dry but with a floral, perfume-y bouquet with (I swear) a slight odor of bananas and minerals. But look at this tasting note, which is over the top!

The seashell minerality in this sustainably-farmed Chenin is densely backed by bruised quince, kumquats, lime blossom and hints of beeswax. The bright acidity mingles with nutty notes of raw almonds and white sesame seeds, making this bottle a great candidate for shellfish and poultry pairings.

Beeswax? Sesame seeds? I can’t smell it, but you know how these things are. Anyway, I think that now this bottle would be both pricey and hard to find, but I’ll have two days to enjoy it. (Depending on the bottle, I’ll drink it over either two or three days; the latter if it’s a gutsy red that may get better.) This is a textbook example of a good, dry chenin blanc, which, with sauvignon blanc, should be on your list of go-to whites in this hot season.

News of the Day:

The Bidens have announced that their beloved German Shepherd “Champ” has died at the age of 13. They have another younger dog, but remember the promises by the President and First Lady that they were going to put a cat in the White House? As I predicted, that hasn’t happened. Well, Joe, now it’s time. If not now, when?

In a tepid election, with less than 50% of voters casting a ballot (the lowest since the 1979 Iranian Revolution), Iranians have elected hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as their new President. Raisi is a theocrat and the handpicked choice of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the “Supreme Leader” of the country. The citizens clearly weren’t enthused:  only 48.8% of the populace bothered to vote. Raisi, though a bigger opponent of the U.S. than his predecessor, is said to be in favor of reviving the nuclear agreement with the U.S. and other countries that Trump canceled. As I’ve said, this agreement is futile, as anybody with two neurons to rub together knows that Iran will get nuclear weapons some day and has been developing them all along.

I’m glad they made Juneteenth a holiday, which starts immediately, but the NYT editorial page is already grousing about it in multiple ways. Juneteenth tee shirts? Can a national holiday be kept as a black holiday, or will it be coopted by white folks and greedy commercial interests? Have we made much progress in the struggle against racism? Let’s just celebrate what the day stands for and leave the kvetching for a while. In fact, three of the NYT’s 11 front-page editorials are kvetches about the holiday (click to read):

 

As they say at the end of each episode of the NBC News, “there’s GOOD news tonight”.  Today’s good news: a kitten in Pennsylvania has been rescued from a storm drain and adopted. The Facebook post is below. I love animal rescue stories.  (h/t GInger K)

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. 601,352, an increase of 301 deaths over yesterday’s figure.  The reported world death toll is now 3,876,269, an increase of about 8,500 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on June 20 includes:

Only 23 of the 146 prisoners survived; the rest died of thirst, trampling, or suffocation.

Here’s the great seal with the meaning of its symbols:

Obverse:

Reverse (the Big Eye always freaks me out):

Here’s a photo of Victoria when she was relatively young, though I couldn’t find the date:

Here’s that patent:

  • 1877 – Alexander Graham Bell installs the world’s first commercial telephone service in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
  • 1893 – Lizzie Borden is acquitted of the murders of her father and stepmother.
  • 1900 – Boxer Rebellion: The Imperial Chinese Army begins a 55-day siege of the Legation Quarter in Beijing, China.
  • 1942 – The HolocaustKazimierz Piechowski and three others, dressed as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, steal an SS staff car and escape from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Here’s a tweet Matthew found to commemorate the successful escape:

  • 1943 – The Detroit race riot breaks out and continues for three more days.
  • 1944 – The experimental MW 18014 V-2 rocket reaches an altitude of 176 km, becoming the first man-made object to reach outer space.

This, the world’s first guided ballistic missile, crossed the Kármán line, the legal boundary between space and the Earth’s atmosphere: it’s 100 km above the Earth’s mean sea level. The rocket (below) was designed by the Germans to attack allied cities, and were used to attack places in five countries. Fortunately, they were developed too late to be of much use to the Nazis; had Germany had them in reliable form at the beginning of the war, England might have lost. Here’s a V-2 replica:

von Braun was in fact a leading figure in designing the developing the V-2 rockets described above.

  • 1963 – Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union and the United States sign an agreement to establish the so-called “red telephone” link between Washington and Moscow.
  • 1972 – Watergate scandal: An 18½-minute gap appears in the tape recording of the conversations between U.S. President Richard Nixon and his advisers regarding the recent arrests of his operatives while breaking into the Watergate complex.

Nixon’s secretary had a dubious explanation for that gap (from ABC News):

Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s loyal private secretary, was tasked with transcribing the tapes before they were turned over to prosecutors. Woods testified in front of a federal grand jury in 1974 that she was using a dictaphone, which had a pedal that would pause the recording when she lifted her foot off it, and she claimed she had erased part of the tape by mistake.

“Her explanation was that she was listening to the tape and … the telephone rang,” said Wine-Banks. “So she kept her foot on a pedal, pushed the wrong button. She pushed record instead of off and reached for the phone.”

And that funny re-enactment by Woods:

(AP photo): Rose Mary Woods, President Richard Nixon’s secretary at her White House desk, demonstrates the “Rose Mary Stretch” which could have resulted in the erasure of part of the Watergate tapes, 1973.
  • 1975 – The film Jaws is released in the United States, becoming the highest-grossing film of that time and starting the trend of films known as “summer blockbusters“.

A famous scene from the movie:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1875 – Reginald Punnett, English geneticist, statistician, and academic (d. 1967)
  • 1905 – Lillian Hellman, American playwright and screenwriter (d. 1984)
  • 1909 – Errol Flynn, Australian-American actor (d. 1959)

Flynn was a handsome devil, and beloved by the ladies. There’s a still-used phrase that may derive from him (from Wikipedia):

The expression “in like Flynn” is said to have been coined to refer to the supreme ease with which he reputedly seduced women, but its origin is disputed. Flynn was reportedly fond of the expression and later claimed that he wanted to call his memoir In Like Me. (The publisher insisted on a more tasteful title, My Wicked, Wicked Ways.)

 

  • 1924 – Chet Atkins, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (d. 2001)
  • 1942 – Brian Wilson, American singer-songwriter and producer
  • 1945 – Anne Murray, Canadian singer and guitarist
  • 1952 – Vikram Seth, Indian author and poet

Those who reached their pull date on June 20 include:

  • 1925 – Josef Breuer, Austrian physician and psychologist (b. 1842)
  • 1947 – Bugsy Siegel, American mobster (b. 1906)

Bugsy was a Jewish gangster who nevertheless was hand in hand with the Italian mafia, and he was largely responsible for getting organized crime into Las Vegas (see The Godfather). He was killed at 41. Here’s one of his mugshots, taken when he was 22:

  • 2002 – Erwin Chargaff, Austrian-American biochemist and academic (b. 1905)

No, as he said, “I did not find the double helix.” But he did find the key to the pairing rules of DNA: the number of As and Ts are the same, as are the number of Cs and Ts, but the first pair is not equal in proportion to the second pair. Ergo, A pairs with T, and G with C. He did not get the Nobel Prize for this.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili refuses to be a Popperian:

Hili: This is a dead spider, probably.
A: You have to try to falsify it.
Hili: You do it.
In Polish:
Hili: To jest prawdopodobnie martwy pająk.
Ja: Musisz to spróbować sfalsyfikować.
Hili: Ty to zrób.
And a picture of baby Kulka in the garden:

From Barry, though I don’t know if the data are correct:

From Bruce:

From Jesus of the Day:

Tweets from Matthew. First, the magic of Christiano Ronaldo. Want a Coke? Just ask him! (See here for recent news showing that perhaps Ronaldo is no longer so keen on the soft drink.)

76 ducklings in the Big Parade! Some were clearly ducknapped; no merganser could have incubated that many eggs.

This is a gynandromorph stag beetle, split right down the middle, with the big pincer on the male side. (See another one here.)

This is a good question; how stupid of me not to ask it before. On the other hand, one could say that they do replicate in terms of being able to serve as a template for a twin DNA strand.

So many people risked their lives to save Jews during the Nazi regime! Here’s one, part of a thread that tells the story. Read more about his story here, which includes his allowing his daughter to horsewhip Gestapo agents trying to arrest Jews.

Matthew says this is an excellent book for the layperson; you can buy it read about it here (only £15 for a lavishly illustrated hardback about insect behavior. Matthew adds that the thread below the book includes some great insect pictures and videos. One is shown below: a moth pupa that’s a pretty good mimic of a dead leaf.

Another moray eel hunting on land. NOBODY IS SAFE NOW!

The death of pop and rock via Auto-Tune

June 19, 2021 • 2:30 pm

I’ve maintained many times, and still believe it, that rock music is not only most horrible, but reached its apogee in the Sixties and has been going downhill at an accelerating rate ever since. One of the reasons for the acceleration is the use of Auto-Tune: a program that can be used to change the note a singer sings and make it conform absolutely to the predetermined pitch. Increasingly, songs and instrumental notes are used to achieve this kind of “perfection”, which if overused (as it nearly always is these days), can make a song sound inhuman and robotic. It’s become a substitute for being able to sing properly. As the narrator notes in the video below, it’s enabled substandard singers to become rock/pop singers, since even pretty bad singers can sing on key when their voices are electronically adjusted.

Here’s a 14½-minute video by musician/engineer/producer/audio expert, etc. Rick Beato not only showing how Auto-Tune works to change recorded notes, but also how it homogenizes and ruins much of modern rock music. He hastens to add that he’s not opposed to the occasional use of Auto-Tuning to fix individual notes, but that most of the top ten tunes on music sites like Spotify are heavily autotuned. You know what this sounds like: a robotic, monotonic voice.

Beato’s thesis, with which I agree, is that the imperfections of the human voice are what makes non-autotuned music appealing. If notes are sung badly wrong, the way to fix it is not to electronically adjust the voices, but, says Beato, do it the old fashioned way: do enough takes until you get it right. 

h/t: Bryan

Andrew Sullivan on why we shouldn’t ban the teaching of CRT, but why it’s bad to teach it

June 19, 2021 • 1:00 pm

In this week’s installment of The Weekly Dish, Andrew Sullivan has a very good piece on Critical Race Theory (CRT; click on screenshot below, though you may have to be a subscriber to read it). I’d urge you to subscribe, as it’s only $50 a year—less than a dollar a week.

In the piece, Sullivan has a number of theses (direct quotes are indented):

1.) The media’s characterization of opposition to CRT (and laws against it) as a Republican plot to discredit Democrats is partly wrong. Yes, the “laws” being passed to ban the teaching of CRT are mostly a Republican initiative, but opposition to teaching CRT goes across the political spectrum, including many liberals.

I’m sure the MSM will continue to push this narrative indefinitely. They are still insisting, after all, that “white supremacy” is behind hateful attacks on Asian-Americans, and that soaring murder rates are purely a function of Covid19. And you can see why: this dismissive take is extremely helpful in avoiding what is actually happening. It diverts attention from the stories and leaks and documents that keep popping up all over the place about extraordinary indoctrination sessions that have become mandatory for children as early as kindergarten.

2.) CRT as taught in schools is not the academic version, but is injurious nevertheless, as it simply dumbs down the theses of “big time CRT” as presented by scholars like Crenshaw and Kendi. It is more than just shining a light on American racism.

And no, 6-year-olds are not being taught Derrick Bell — or forced to read Judith Butler, or God help them, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Of course they aren’t — and I don’t know anyone who says they are.

But they are being taught popularized terms, new words, and a whole new epistemology that is directly downstream of academic critical theory. Ibram X. Kendi even has an AntiRacist Baby Picture Book so you can indoctrinate your child into the evil of whiteness as soon as she or he can gurgle. It’s a little hard to argue that CRT is not interested in indoctrinating kids when its chief proponent in the US has a kiddy book on the market.

The goal of education of children this young is to cement the notion at the most formative age that America is at its core an oppressive racist system uniquely designed to exploit, harm, abuse, and even kill the non-white. This can be conveyed in easy terms, by training kids to see themselves first and foremost as racial avatars, and by inculcating in them a sense of their destiny as members of the oppressed or oppressor classes in the zero-sum struggle for power that is American society in 2021.

Here’s the picture shown from Kendi’s AntiRacist Baby Book:

3.) There’s nothing wrong with beefing up school curricula to teach more about America’s odious history of racism.

The legacy of this country’s profound racism, the deep and abiding shame of its genocidal slavocracy, the atrocities, such as Tulsa, which have been white-washed, the appalling record of lynchings and beatings, the centrality of African-Americans to the story and success of this country: all this must be better explored and understood. There is nothing wrong and a huge amount right about black scholars taking the lead in shining light on what others might miss, building on past knowledge, helping us better account for it. White scholars, like the hundreds of thousands of white citizens who gave their lives to end slavery, have a crucial role to play as well.

4.) But there should not be laws either mandating or forbidding the teaching of CRT in the classroom. However, if taught, it should be presented as just one of several sociological theories. But mandating or banning its teaching is doing exactly what liberals don’t want: inhibiting free speech:

The question is: what can a liberal society do when almost all of its educational, media, business and cultural elites have adopted an ideology that believes that liberal society needs to be dismantled? And the answer is: not much. Liberalism assumes that bad and noxious ideas will eventually be driven out by better ones. Banning illiberal ideologies like CRT makes us indistinguishable from the woke — who would ban any speech they didn’t like if they could get rid of the First Amendment (just look at what “liberals” are doing in Canada or Britain, for example, where they lock people up for resisting this ideology). Replacing CRT with crude, jingoistic versions of history or society is no answer either.

Many of the bills attempting to ban CRT in public schools are well-intentioned and do not, in fact, ban CRT. But they contain wording to constrain the kind of teaching that is built on CRT that is far too vague, could constrain speech in countless unforeseen ways, and are pretty close to unenforceable. (When people are proposing body-cameras for teachers, you know they’ve gone off the edge.) Most of these bills, to make things worse, strike me as unconstitutional. And they cede the higher ground.

5.) CRT itself is bad for kids because it promotes authoritarianism rather than liberalism.

And it’s vital for the rest of us to understand that these kinds of lessons are directly downstream of an ideology that, according to an early Critical Race Theory text, “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of Constitutional law.” For these reasons, CRT insists that what we have always understood as liberal education is, in fact, a lie, because liberalism assumes that we are all individuals, capable of reasoning with each other as equals, where, in fact, we are mere representatives of racial constructs which are part of a permanent struggle between the oppressors (white) and oppressed (non-white).

This is not teaching about critical race theory; it is teaching in critical race theory. And it is compulsory and often hidden from parents. It contradicts the core foundations of our liberal society; and is presented not as one truth to be contrasted with others, but as the truth, the basis on which all other truths are built. That’s why teaching based on CRT will make children see themselves racially from the get-go, why it will separate them into different racial groups, why it will compel white kids to internalize their complicity in evil, tell black kids that all their troubles are a function of white people, banish objective measurements of success to avoid stigmatizing failure, and treat children of different races differently in a classically racist hierarchy.

And this is why — crucially — it will suppress any other way of seeing the world — because any other way, by definition, is merely perpetuating oppression. As Kendi constantly reminds us, it is either/or. An antiracist cannot exist with a liberalism that perpetuates racism. And it’s always the liberalism that has to go.

6.) Rather than trying to pass Trumpian laws and dictates banning the teaching of CRT, Sullivan recommends that we must fight the theory because it defies liberalism, for CRT “is committed in its foundational texts to the overthrow of liberalism.”

It’s not just a culture war gambit. It’s a deep defense of our liberal inheritance. Once a generation grows up believing that there is no such thing as reason — just “white thinking” and “black thinking”; once it grows up believing that free speech is a device for oppression not liberation; once it sees our founding documents as cynical lies to perpetuate slavery and “white supremacy”; once it believes that no progress has ever been made in race relations, because the “systems” sustain unaltered “white supremacy” for ever, then we have detonated the foundations of a free society.

And we should remember that CRT is adhered to by only a minority of Americans: Sullivan quotes a YouGov poll showing that Americans oppose CRT by 58% to 38%, with 53% having a “very unfavorable view of it.”

Overall, this is a measured, well written, and convincing piece. We all know that CRT is far more than just a way to call attention to past and present racism, which is an admirable effort. Instead, it is a divisive ideology—John McWhorter would call it a theology—that tears America apart rather bringing it together, and is explicitly designed to be not only untestable, but also to stifle all discussion about it.

Scientific American: religious or “spiritual” treatment of mental illness produces better outcomes

June 19, 2021 • 11:00 am

Scientific American continues to circle the drain, even after it retracted an anti-Semitic op-ed this week. Several readers have commented that they’ve canceled their subscriptions, and I’ve never had one.  Perhaps the old-fashioned Sci Am that we knew and loved is no longer sustainable in a world where people want their science as short, click-baity pieces.

The latest dire piece is not an op-ed but an article, appearing in the “Mind” section under “mental health”. It’s a justification for including religious and spiritual therapy in mental health treatment, and could be taken as, in part, a defense of the value of religion. Indeed, it may be the case that for believers—though I haven’t checked the references; readers are invited to—some kind of god-infused therapy might ameliorate mental illness. The author gives references supposedly showing this. After all, if you’re already religious, you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and so buttressing the comforting bits of what you already believe might make you feel better. After all, that’s what a lot of church is about.

But there are a few problems with Rosmarin’s thesis. First, religious therapy enables religious belief, i.e., faith. Part of what is said to “cure” you involves reinforcing falsehoods rather than facing real or potential truths. I don’t object to that so much, though, as an antitheist, I don’t like it. Second, although “spiritual” therapy is mentioned many times, and is said to help even nonbelievers, the author never tells us what spiritual therapy really is. Given how broad the boundaries of the concept “spiritual” extend, almost any therapy that helps could be said to include a “spiritual” element. For example, one could tell a secular patient  to learn to accept both good and bad as inevitable parts of life. That is the doctrine of many Buddhists, and could be said to be “spiritual”.

Importantly, there’s no mention of religion actually exacerbating or instigating mental illness, and I have no doubt that it does. Martin Luther is a famous example, but think as well of the many children who have been terrified by thoughts of heaven or hell, the people who do horrible stuff because they think God told them to, or the priests who, formally prevented from having sex, become pedophiles. I could go on, but will refrain. But there’s not a word about any of this.

Finally, why on earth is Scientific American publishing stuff like this? I suppose you could include it in the ambit of “popular science”, but barely. They might as well be writing about the value of acupuncture in helping physical ailments. Like acupuncture, religion is a regimen based on false assumptions, and its use encourages a naive reliance on faith: on stuff that is either untested or palpably false.

Rosmarin is a Ph.D. psychologist identified as “director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital and an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.”

Here’s the evidence adduced by Rosmain:

  • His own SPIRIT program “suggests that spiritual psychotherapy is not only feasible but highly desired by patients”
  • During the last pandemic year, religious people were “the only group to see improvements in mental health”
  • Spirituality, says Rosmarin, is woefully lacking in most forms of therapy, as psychiatrists are the least religious among all medical specialties.
  • As Rosmarin says,

My own research has demonstrated that a belief in God is associated with significantly better treatment outcomes for acute psychiatric patients. And other laboratories have shown a connection between religious belief and the thickness of the brain’s cortex, which may help protect against depression. Of course, belief in God is not a prescription. But these compelling findings warrant further scientific exploration, and patients in distress should certainly have the option to include spirituality in their treatment.

You can check the references for yourself. They may show what he says they do. But I still would be wary of religious treatment, since it uses falsehoods and belief in falsities to help people get better. I don’t necessarily oppose that, but I would have liked to have seen a mention of how religion causes or exacerabates mental illness. It using religion any different from telling patients that acupuncture in their ears could help them, or that everybody really likes them?

Rosmarin winds up giving a few anecdotes as evidence for the efficacy of “spiritual” therapy (I suspect that a lot of the “spirituality” is old-fashioned religion), and asserts that the biggest group of patients who come to his SPIRIT counseling are individuals “with no religious affiliation at all.” These are, of course, the “nones,” but nones may be religious, and simply not affiliated with an established church or sect. Only a minority of “nones” would consider themselves atheists.

When I read this article, the words of Marx kept coming back to me—words from a famous passage usually (and unfairly) truncated to just the last sentence, implying pure religion-dissing. What’s left out is the first sentence in which Marx asserts that religion is often embraced because its the only form of help available to people in bad situations like poverty, illness, lack of social support, and so on.

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

I doubt that Scientific American will ever get back to the format that attracted many of us to the magazine in the first place. Just have a look at its contents these days, which have become more overtly political with a good dose of fluff.

h/t: Will