A reasonable criterion for assessing whether to topple statues, remove names, and so on

Glory be! Ross Douthat, the conservative New York Times columnist, has finally confected an argument that makes a lot of sense. (Almost everything I’ve written on this site about Douthat has been critical, usually taking issue with his weird religious ideas.)

But his NYT op-ed below lays what seems to be a reasonable way to see if institutions should be renamed, statues hauled down, and so on. No, it’s not based on the usual criteria: the “woke” one of seeing if a person engaged in any racist or eugenicist activities during their lifetimes, nor the more reasonable one of seeing whether the good a person did outweighs the bad. No, it’s based on what a name or statue is supposed to commemorate. 

Click on the screenshot to read:

Douthat’s piece was prompted by Princeton University’s decision to remove Wilson’s name from its school of public and international affairs (Wilson was President of Princeton from 1902 and 1910). Douthat was no fan of Wilson, for Wilson actively tried to keep blacks out of Princeton, but Douthat argues that the name change is basically virtue flaunting. I’m not sure I agree with that, for I don’t know a lot about what Wilson did for Princeton, nor do I agree with Douthat that Christopher Columbus deserves honor for “connecting North America with Europe.” But I do agree with his general criterion for judging names, statues, and the like, which is this:

. . . our monuments and honorifics exist primarily to honor deeds, not to issue canonizations — to express gratitude for some specific act, to acknowledge some specific debt, to trace a line back to some worthwhile inheritance.

Thus when you enter their Washington, D.C., memorials, you’ll see Thomas Jefferson honored as the man who expressed the founding’s highest ideals and Abraham Lincoln as the president who made good on their promise. That the first was a hypocrite slave owner and the second a pragmatist who had to be pushed into liberating the slaves is certainly relevant to our assessment of their characters. But they remain the author of the Declaration of Independence and the savior of the union, and you can’t embrace either legacy, the union or “we hold these truths …” without acknowledging that these gifts came down through them.

To repudiate an honor or dismantle a memorial, then, makes moral sense only if you intend to repudiate the specific deeds that it memorializes. In the case of Confederate monuments, that’s exactly what we should want to do. Their objective purpose was to valorize a cause that we are grateful met defeat, there is no debt we owe J.E.B. Stuart or Nathan Bedford Forrest that needs to be remembered, and if they are put away we will become more morally consistent, not less, in how we think about that chapter in our past.

Now there are of course ambiguous cases, in which an honorific is meant to laud both a person and his achievements, but it’s often clear, as it was with Gandhi, that his monuments are there because he was the father of Indian freedom. (He did do racist things as a barrister in South Africa.) For Douthat (and I don’t know enough to weigh in here), Woodrow Wilson’s positive contributions to Princeton, not his racist attitudes, are what the Wilson School was meant to honor, so the name should stay.  Likewise with Yale, a university named after the guy who donated money to found it, and not named to memorialize Elihu Yale’s slave trading (see below). In the case of Princeton or Yale, Douthat sees a double standard: the University wants to repudiate the man, but keep the inheritance he bequeathed; as he says, “keeping the gains, but making a big show of pronouncing them ill gotten.”

Looked at in this way, it becomes much easier to judge statues of Confederate soldiers (thumbs down for defending slavery), and of George Washington, Gandhi, Lincoln, and Jefferson, whose memorials and statues honor their good deeds. As for Douthat’s idea, I feel the way Thomas Henry Huxley said when he’d read about Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, saying “How stupid not to have thought of that.”


By the way, the issue of Yale keeps arising, often used by conservative nutjobs like Ann Coulter to tweak the Left. If you’re tearing down Jefferson and Washington statues because they owned slaves, they argue, then why not rename Yale University because, after all, Elihu Yale was a slave trader and a nasty piece of work? I recommend reading the short piece below, originally published on a Yale website, by history student Joseph Yannielli (specializing in the history of slavery and abolition), about what Yale did vis-à-vis slaves.  The piece has been taken down, which is a shame, but it’s been archived, so you can still read it. It comes with documentation and references, and would seem to dispose of the claim by some that Yale was really an abolitionist.

Now we know that Yale University won’t be renamed, for the name is too well established. But if Yale does defenestrate others who did things on par with Elihu Yale, and John Calhoun would seem to be one of them, it seems a bit hypocritical to remove Calhoun’s name from a Yale College but not Elihu Yale’s name from the University.  I don’t think that Yale needs to be renamed, but those who make arguments about erasing Calhoun from Yale and other who defended slavery will have to do some fast tap-dancing to justify keeping the name of Yale itself.

“Black” vs. “white”: a typographical decision

A typographical decision may seem minor, but this one isn’t trivial, for it bears on race relations in America and how we see them and characterize them in language.

In my lifetime, the acceptable word for African-Americans has morphed from “Negro” to “colored people” to “blacks”, and then to “African-Americans” and now “people of color” (the latter also includes Asians, Hispanic, and other unrelated populations united by a darker skin color.  The last three terms are currently acceptable, and I use all three. When I’ve used “black,” however, I didn’t capitalize it, nor did I capitalize “white”, even though they could be taken to denote populations. (“Race”, as I’ve written before, is not entirely a social construct, as it does does say something about genetics, though the idea that there are a finite number of discrete and easily distinguishable “races” is simply not true in biology. That’s why I use “population” or “ethnic group” instead of the fraught term “race.”)

The term “African-American” seems a bit off to me, because while blacks are almost entirely descended from African ancestors, they are 100% American now, and should we designate all people by their ancestry, making me a “Russian-American”? And of course many people are of mixed race. Well, as long as the terms for “black” aren’t seen as offensive, I will use what seems appropriate.

But when I saw “Black” capitalized in some places but “white” written in lower case in the same places,  I thought that was inappropriate—almost a reverse form of bigotry saying that somehow blacks deserved capitalization and whites did not. There isn’t really a biological justification for distinguishing them in this way.

It can be only a social justification, but that doesn’t seem right, either. And yet John Eligon, in the New York Times article below, notes that the increasing use of “Blacks” versus “whites” is largely based on a supposed difference in social experience.  At any rate, newsrooms are struggling with the capitalization problem, with this article, written 6 days ago, reporting that the Times and the Washington Post hadn’t yet decided what to do.

But this article, published four days later, seems to show that at last the Times has come down on the capitalized “Black” and lower-case “white”. A screenshot:

I haven’t checked the Washington Post yet.

Eligon’s article notes that not all African-Americans adhere to the capitalization difference, or even to the term “Black” itself. One of them is Jesse Jackson:

“Black is a color,” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader who popularized the term “African-American” in an effort to highlight the cultural heritage of those with ancestral ties to Africa. “We built the country through the African slave trade. African-American acknowledges that. Any term that emphasizes the color and not the heritage separates us from our heritage.”

Given that those who favor this usage see race as a social construct without biological roots, there can be no basis in biology for this usage. And, indeed, the rationale for the usage is based on a narrative and character supposedly shared by all African-Americans and distinguishing them absolutely from whites. (By the way, “Black” is supposed to be used only for “African-Americans”, which leaves one wondering how you designate, say, the black versus white inhabitants of other countries, like those of South Africa).

And, indeed, it is the “shared experience” of Blacks that, according to those in the article who favor the capitalization difference, mandate an uppercase “B” and a lowercase “w”:

The capitalization of black, which has been pushed for years, strikes at deeper questions over the treatment of people of African descent, who were stripped of their identities and enslaved in centuries past, and whose struggles to become fully accepted as part of the American experience continue to this day.

“Blackness fundamentally shapes any core part of any black person’s life in the U.S. context, and really around the world,” said Brittney Cooper, an associate professor at Rutgers University whose latest book, “Eloquent Rage,” explores black feminism. “In the choice to capitalize, we are paying homage to a history with a very particular kind of political engagement.”

I’m not sure how exactly they mean “blackness shapes any core part of a black person’s life . . .around the world”. That would seem to reduce the diversity of black people’s characters and lives to one common factor, presumably oppression, but even that is not always the case in places where blacks are in the majority. But let’s hear more:

For proponents of capitalizing black, there are grammatical reasons — it is a proper noun, referring to a specific group of people with a shared political identity, shaped by colonialism and slavery. But some see it as a moral issue as well.

It confers a sense of power and respect to black people, who have often been relegated to the lowest rungs of society through racist systems, black scholars say.

“Race as a concept is not real in the biological sense, but it’s very real for our own identities,” said Whitney Pirtle, an assistant professor of sociology specializing in critical race theory at the University of California, Merced. “I think that capitalizing B both sort of puts respect to those identities, but also alludes to the humanities.”

But if blackness is very real for one’s identities, is not whiteness as well? Not in the sense that all white people share a common culture, especially around the world, but in the sense that they are seen as monolithic oppressors of black people—indeed, of all people of color. My colleague Eve Ewing, a sociologist and poet who works at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, calls for capitalization of both nouns:

Yes, for if you adhere to Critical Race Theory (CRT), which undergirds this movement, you will see that Whiteness is indeed a “thing”, albeit not a thing that most of us would like to be part of: our enjoyment of privilege couple with our oppression of others:

From the CRT perspective, the white skin that some Americans possess is akin to owning a piece of property, in that it grants privileges to the owner that a renter (in this case, a person of color) would not be afforded.  Cheryl I. Harris and Gloria Ladson-Billings describe this notion of whiteness as property, whereby whiteness is the ultimate property that whites alone can possess; valuable just like property. The property functions of whiteness—i.e., rights to disposition; rights to use and enjoyment, reputation, and status property; and the absolute right to exclude—make the American dream more likely and attainable for whites as citizens.

And one of the tenets of CRT:

  • White privilege: Belief in the notion of a myriad of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race (i.e. white people). A clerk not following you around in a store or not having people cross the street at night to avoid you, are two examples of white privilege.

So yes, according to CRT, or any of those who see blackness as a fundamentally shared property of African-Americans, part of the core of their being, it’s hard to construe that core as not involving oppression. (And, indeed, oppression of blacks has been omnipresent throughout American history.) And whiteness is as surely a property of whites as blackness is of blacks: they are two sides of the same coin, deriving from slavery.

Given that both blacks and white are supposed to have shared moral (or immoral) properties, and there is no fundamental biological reason to capitalize one and not the other, I see no coherent case for writing “Black” and “white”. I suspect that a lot of the movement behind this intends to confer dignity on African-Americans but not on oppressive whites. The conferring of dignity on an oppressed group is laudable, but if you capitalize one “social construct” race, you must capitalize them all. Would you say “asians” or “hispanics”?

What will I do? Probably write either “blacks and white” or “Blacks and Whites”, but I won’t capitalize only one of them.  There’s no good reason to do that.

And, as usual, I invite readers to weigh in below on this.


Readers’ wildlife videos

We are really running low on readers’ wildlife photos, so if you have some good ones, now’s the time to send them in.

Today we have two videos by the late photographer and naturalist Andreas Kay from Ecuador.  The first is a caterpillar presumably mimicking a feather—a form of mimicry new to me.  Andreas’s YouTube notes:

This Caterpillar filmed near Mindo in Ecuador looks like a feather which presumably gives it an advantage in the struggle for survival since predators such as birds will not perceive it as food. There are more than 3500 species of butterflies and some 10000 of moths in Ecuador and their larvae have evolved different strategies to escape predators. Some hide in the vegatation due to camouflage coloration, others resemble a stick or moss or mimick bird droppings.

Bagworms build cases out of silk and materials such as leafs, wood and soil as camouflage, such as this Pagoda bagworm: https://rumble.com/v48got. Other caterpillars on the contrary are highly colorful (aposematic coloration) to warn potential predators that they are unpaltable or even toxic or have venemous spines. Some caterpillars expose fake eyes to deter predators, such as this snake mimic caterpillar from Ecuador: https://rumble.com/v311ab

But this is an exceptional case of a caterpillar disguised as a feather. It even makes steps back as it moves as if it was agitated by the wind.

And some slow-motion photography of a beetle. The carapace could be regarded as vestigial wings, as it evolved from wings in an ancestor:

Tortoise beetles, Cassidinae own their name to the carapace under which they can find shelter like a tortoise, with the difference that their carapace can open for flight. This species with the scientific name Stolas coalita is from the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

The weeks is already drawing to an end, and I, for one, often forget what day it is—probably one of many symptoms of the pandemic. Good morning on Thursday, July 2, 2020:  National Anisette Day.  It’s also World UFO Day, also celebrated on June 24. The July holiday commemorates the bogus UFO crash in the 1947 Roswell UFO Incident. It was actually a fancy weather balloon that looked like this, and there were no aliens taken for President Eisenhower to inspect:

News of the day: The Seattle police finally began dismantling CHAZ (or CHOP) yesterday, with 44 arrests. Fortunately, most protestors left peacefully, and the violence I envisioned didn’t occur.

The U.S. set yet another record for new Covid-19 cases in a single day: nearly 50,000. States continue to roll back their “openings,” with California largely halting indoor dining.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is  128,103, an increase of about 650 death over yesterday’s report.  The world death toll now stands at 516,078, an increase of about 5200 from yesterday.

In the New York Times, Frank Bruni argues that Trump is “toast,” and that he’s already lost November’s election. I agree. I will be fun to see his tantrums then.

Stuff that happened on July 2 include:

Here it is, though it was used for only a few jobs:

In the end 35 of the 43 survivors were freed and then returned to Africa.

  • 1881 – Charles J. Guiteau shoots and fatally wounds U.S. President James Garfield (who would die of complications from his wounds on September 19).
  • 1897 – British-Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi obtains a patent for radio in London.

Here’s Marconi’s first transmitter (caption by Wikipedia). He won the Nobel Prize in 1909 along with Karl Friedrich Braun:

Marconi’s first transmitter incorporating a monopole antenna. It consisted of an elevated copper sheet (top) connected to a Righi spark gap (left) powered by an induction coil (center) with a telegraph key (right) to switch it on and off to spell out text messages in Morse code.

  • 1900 – The first Zeppelin flight takes place on Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen, Germany.
  • 1934 – The Night of the Long Knives ends with the death of Ernst Röhm.
  • 1937 – Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan are last heard from over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to make the first equatorial round-the-world flight.

Here’s the last known picture of Earhart, taken on July 2, 1937 before she left New Guinea (credit: National Archive/Handout Handout/EPA):

  • 1964 – Civil rights movement: U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 meant to prohibit segregation in public places.
  • 2000 – Vicente Fox Quesada is elected the first President of México from an opposition party, the Partido Acción Nacional, after more than 70 years of continuous rule by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional.
  • 2002 – Steve Fossett becomes the first person to fly solo around the world nonstop in a balloon.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1906 – Hans Bethe, German-American physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2005)
  • 1925 – Medgar Evers, American soldier and activist (d. 1963)
  • 1929 – Imelda Marcos, Filipino politician; 10th First Lady of the Philippines
  • 1942 – Vicente Fox, Mexican businessman and politician, 35th President of Mexico (2000-2006)
  • 1947 – Larry David, American actor, comedian, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1990 – Margot Robbie, Australian actress and producer

Those who faced the final curtain on July 2 include:

  • 1961 – Ernest Hemingway, American novelist, short story writer, and journalist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1899)

Hemingway committed suicide by shooting himeself in the the head with a double-barreled shotgun. He was a troubled soul, but he could write.

  • 1973 – Betty Grable, American actress, singer, and dancer (b. 1916)
  • 2007 – Beverly Sills, American operatic soprano and television personality (b. 1929)
  • 2016 – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, activist, and author (b. 1928)

Wiesel, of course, won a Nobel Peace Prize and wrote many books about his experiences, including his survival of Auschwitz. A photograph exists of him in the camp; he’s circled here:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, you’d think Hili would be glad that the starlings are there, but Malgorzata notes that “Hili is a very loyal cat. She knows that cherries are valuable to us and she feels that she is co-owner of them. After all, she is family. So she worries about cherries.”

Hili: There is no end…
A: No end of what?
Hili: This swarm of starlings which are only waiting until our cherries are ripe.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie ma końca…
Ja: Co nie ma końca?
Hili: Ta chmara szpaków, które tylko czekają, aż nasze wiśnie zaczną dojrzewać.

From David, a lawyer:

From Jesus of the Day:

Duck tracks at Botany Pond; photo by Jean Greenberg:

Here’s the video of the woman who didn’t know where her gas tank was; it was embedded in a tweet yesterday but the tweet was removed.

Eight tweets from Matthew. Here Joe Biden gives his American flag lapel pin to a kid, and then explains who he is. It is a touching video showing the decency of the man.

Matthew says, “Why didn’t they teach us this?”

I saw this the other day with a dolphin and a trumpet, with the choice of the mouth or blowhole:

Spot the crater! The second tweet gives the answer:

Matthew says about the tweet below, “Everyone sitting down – city ordinance against dancing in clubs cos they hated the hippies and the black folk.”

I don’t know the ins and out of pricing, but this does sound like a gouge. On the other hand, if it saves four days in the hospital, which costs more than the drug, though it doesn’t save lives. This tweet has been removed, but I saved it. I do object to taxpayers funding research that results in products for which they have to pay lots.

Here’s a link to a really nice article with swell pictures:


Photos of readers

Again, this entry empties the photo tank. Send in yours or I’ll shoot this cat!

So, today’s reader is Barry Lyons, whose words are indented:

I’m a writer and a freelance copy editor, and my work, such as it is these days, takes place in my small but not-too-cramped studio in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When I decided to update my profile photo on Twitter, I thought it would be fun to put up an “arty” photo where I would not look into the camera. I like how it turned out (though I ought to reshelve some of those books), but then Gareth, who goes by the name @1stClown on Twitter, decided to turn me into digital art—and his rendering of me now serves as my profile photo.


Digital me:


Templeton pays $1 million for an unanswerable question: do keas feel joy?

Keas, Nestor notabilis, are the world’s only alpine parrots, found in New Zealand. What is it like to be a kea?

When Tom Nagel wrote his famous article about what it is like to be a bat, he concluded that although bats may have consciousness, the content of that consciousness is inaccessible to us. He’s pretty much right about that, though, as I note below, perhaps some subjective sensations can be sussed out in nonhuman animals. But it would be hard, and probably impossible.

But the way to do this is not the way that the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) and the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) are doing. They’ve just spent a million dollars on grants to see if animals feel joy. The description of the project is below at stuff.co.nz (click on screenshot).

This is one of those wonky Templeton projects where the organization throws a pot of money at a bizarre issue, one unlikely to have any useful results. I’ll leave it to you to guess whether the results will be anything more than “keas like to do X and don’t like to do Y.”

But I digress. Here’s the project:

Two New Zealand professors have joined a team of international researchers to try to answer one burning question – can animals, like humans, feel emotion?

Experts from Scotland, the United States and New Zealand, including University of Canterbury (UC) associate professor Ximena Nelson and the University of Auckland’s Dr Alex Taylor, are taking part in the joyful by nature research project, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation.

The Scottish and American researchers would focus on dolphins and apes, while Nelson and Taylor would focus on New Zealand’s native kea, the world’s only alpine parrot and a species well-known for their unique social attributes.

Experts believe the study could have significant implications for animal welfare and ethics.

. . . . The John Templeton foundation has provided $1 million funding for the research which has been given a three-year term, with an option for a two-year extension.)

(This is a bit confusing, because it seems that two branches of the Templeton Empire are funding the same work.)

First of all, even if we could figure out if keas (or other species) felt “joy” in the same sense we do, would that really have “significant implications for animal welfare and ethics”? I don’t see how. What’s more important is whether they suffer and feel pain, prefer some conditions more than others, and whether we have the right to make animals suffer and die to improve our own well being. Whether they have emotions similar to those of humans is an anthropomorphic and misguided way to formulate an ethical policy.

But, more important is the presently unanswerable question of “do animals like keas experience joy”? Here are the data the article adduces to suggest it:

Many New Zealanders were familiar with kea as cheeky and destructive, but few would realise how remarkably intelligent they were, Nelson said.

“Their cognitive ability is similar or better than many primate species, or humans up to the age of 4,” Nelson said.

Cognitive ability, can, of course, be measured in various ways, and is much easier to assess than emotions. And it could be relevant to animal welfare and ethics. But that’s not what Templeton is funding (my emphasis below).

There were a number of factors into kea behaviour that suggested they feel emotion or joy, Nelson said.

Their babies are raised by adults in crèches, they play and roll around like children, kick stones and dance about and are naturally social creatures, she said.

“They get excited – [their warble] is like laughter.”

Animals develop play behaviour between one another for many reasons. An example of this is young cats or kittens, who play fight to hone their predatory skills. The reason why kea play is unclear.

. . .The lack of any obvious predator allowed kea “spare time” to do whatever they liked, which may have initiated their play behaviours, Nelson said.

Kea also appear to be affected by the seasons, just as humans are and responded in the same way and played in the snow and sun but hid from the rain, she said.

And there you have it: there is an alternative explanation to “play behavior” enacted because it’s fun. It’s enacted because it helps hone skills useful later in life. And, in fact, most ethologists think that play behavior is practice for adult skills (not just predatory ones; my ducks zoom and flap to practice flight motions). It could also be fun, but that would not be its raison d’être. (However, fun or joy could be the proximate stimulus that prompts the animals to begin doing adaptive behaviors.) But in the end the question remains: How do we know whether keas can experience joy?

We can’t, not in any way these researchers could find out. The only way I see to begin addressing this question is to do extensive brain analysis in humans and keas, finding out what areas of the brain (better yet, which neurons are activated) when a human feels joy and when a kea “plays.” If there are consistent neuronal patterns and brain areas associated with joy in humans, and those same areas light up when keas are playing, we might begin to wonder if keas feel something akin to joy.

But we don’t even know the brain patterns of joy in humans, and comparative studies of brain function between humans and birds is fraught with problems.  Further, keas are heavily endangered, and looking at their neurons and brains is out of the question.

I thought of one jocular way: teach the keas to speak English and then ask them if they feel joy. You can already figure out the problems with that, though this kind of self-report is how I know that other humans feel joy.

No, at present the question of whether keas (or any other creature, really) can feel joy like we do is unanswerable, and may be forever unanswerable. Templeton has wasted a million bucks, as they do so often, on a dumb project that can’t even address the questions of animal welfare it asks.

Keas, of course, will be protected whether or not they feel joy. We refrain from bashing them on the head not because we know they feel joy, but because they’re amazing animals and are endangered. And if by some miracle we find out they can feel joy, well, that’s not useful for questions of animal welfare: we’d need to look at chickens and ducks and other fowl that we kill or cage.

Templeton, this looks like another million bucks down the drain.

Here’s a kea, photographed by me in New Zealand two years ago:

h/t: Gordon

Lying liars promote false information about Israel, pretending that a photo from Chile shows Palestinian resistance

A common way to attack Israel is to disseminate fictitious photographs on social media, photographs that pretend to show Israeli malfeasance but often show something completely different. And the photos are often, as in this case, not even from Israel.

The article below, taken from India Today, reports on a striking photograph purporting to show a Palestinian girl facing down an Israeli policeman. She does look determined, and the supposed occasion was the detention of five Palestinian women by Israelis at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (I can’t find any information about why they were detained, nor any reports in the Israeli media about it, though Middle East Eye has a video report). At any rate, that’s irrelevant to this story, which disseminated the photo, which has “gone viral” on social media, to show fierce resistance by Palestinian children against Israeli oppression. But the photo, while real, has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine.

Click on the screenshot to read:


When I saw the photo, the officer’s uniform looked very familiar. It turned out that it was, for the photograph is from Chile, and I’d seen confrontations just like this one last fall on my visit to Valparaiso on the way to Antarctica. The article reports that the photo and caption appeared on the Facebook page of USA Muslims, looking like this (archived link):

Well, the kid may be brave and determined, but she’s a Chilean kid. From India Today:

More recently, according to media reports, Israeli security forces had detained five Palestinian women and a guard at the mosque compound last Sunday. Amid this, a picture of a young girl locking eyes with a policeman is going viral on social media with the claim that this Palestinian girl bravely stood up to Israeli police to protect the al-Aqsa mosque.

India Today Anti Fake News War Room (AFWA) has found that the four-year-old picture is from Santiago in Chile, where a young demonstrator locked eyes with a riot policeman during a political protest.

The archived version of the post can be seen here.

Among others, Facebook page “USA Muslims” posted the picture with the caption: “I am not a brainless stupid tiktoker muslim girl. I am an arabian muslim girl. I will fight for my Masjid-ul-Aqsa until the last breath of my life. Stop me if you can!” A brave Palestinian sister.May Allah protect our Palestinians brothers & sisters… Ameen Ya Rabb.

We ran a reverse search of the viral photograph and found it in the stock of Reuters. The picture was clicked by Reuters photographer Carlos Vera Mancilla on September 11, 2016, outside the general cemetery in Santiago, Chile. The caption with the photograph reads, “A demonstrator looks at a riot policeman during a protest marking the country’s 1973 military coup.”

We also found a news report on the famous stare. The protest marked 43 years of Chile’s bloody military coup that led to then President Salvador Allende being overthrown, killed, and replaced with a military government led by Augusto Pinochet.

Therefore, it is clear that the viral image is from Chile and has no relation to the al-Aqsa mosque dispute between Israel and Palestine. This mosque in Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam, but also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as “Temple Mount” because it was the location of the first and second Jewish temples in antiquity.

Hand it to Facebook: at least they’ve flagged the USA Muslims post as bogus. Here are the things you see when you click on their post:


The original from Reuters:

This of course is only one of a gazillion misleading images disseminated to demonize Israel and Jews. Many are done by private individuals, others by organizations like Muslims USA, and many by Hamas itself. If you want to see a whole list of these distortions, go here to see many cases of “fauxtography.”


Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ The Protocols

In this week’s Jesus and Mo strip, “climes”, Moses is finally leaving his quarantine with the boys. But as a parting shot, he pulls Mo’s leg.

Moses is of course referring to the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian Tsarist anti-Semitic forgery describing a Jewish plan for world domination. (You can find the English translation here.) It’s still bandied about by some anti-Semites as evidence of Jewish perfidy; as Wikipedia describes,

The 1988 charter of Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group, stated that the Protocols embodies the plan of the Zionists. The reference was removed in the new covenant issued in 2017. Recent endorsements in the 21st century have been made by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, the education ministry of Saudi Arabia, and a member of the Greek ParliamentIlias Kasidiaris.

Mo falls for it:


Readers’ wildlife photos

Bring out your photos! I have a fair few, but always worry that they’ll run out. Today’s contributor is Mark Sturtevant, whose notes and IDs are indented:

This batch finishes the queue of pictures of arthropods from two years ago.

It is not unusual in this hobby to discover much later that I had taken pictures of something with an interesting backstory. In the first picture, we see a rather gangly looking male spider that strongly resembles an orb weaver. I had assumed that was what it was. But notice that it is eating a jumping spider, which is no small feat. Also, look at those especially prominent spines along its legs. This is a species of pirate spider, probably Mimetus notius, and these spiders are specialist predators on other spiders. They will even take a spider in its own web by luring the owner to investigate evidence of captured prey, and then disabling it with a very fast acting venom.

Next is an odd looking caterpillar that is new to me. This is Heterocampa obliqua, which belongs in the Prominent moth family. Many caterpillars in this group have rear pro-legs that are artfully extended in order to merge their profile into a leaf. I found it only by inspecting hundreds of leaves along a forest trail. This is one of the best methods of finding things that would otherwise be overlooked.

The onset of autumn is always a bummer, but one highlight is that there is drama under the apple trees in our back yard. At this time the squirrels open up many of the wind-fallen apples, and this attracts insects. Among the most abundant visitors are yellowjackets, and these are entertaining since fights can break out among them as one wasp decides to take ownership of an entire apple. The result is what I like to call an “epic wasp battle.”

The first two pictures show two species. The one on the left is the Eastern yellowjacketVespula maculifrons, and the one on the right is the German yellowjacketVespula germanica. The latter species was introduced to the U.S. in the 1960’s and it is displacing native species. They did have a skirmish, which I managed to somewhat capture.

The third picture shows a more substantial contest, but this one was between two V. germanica wasps. The loser usually just flies away to find a different apple, although sometimes they go at it repeatedly. No injuries result from these encounters as far as I have seen, so the above name, epic wasp battle, is really just an exaggeration for the fun of it.

During one outing at a park, I ventured much too far off the trail and became fairly lost in the woods for a time. But it was still worth it because I came across this female scorpionfly (Panorpa) feeding on bird poo. Scorpionflies are odd looking insects, and they are carnivores, but that probably means they do most of their feeding on dead insects. This bird dropping must have contained some delicious yum-yums since the scorpionfly completely ignored me as it spent several minutes energetically probing into it. She eventually dragged out the carcass of a rove beetle.

The Magic Field that I often describe here has its seasonal specials. Late in the season, the finely powdered soil is marked by many traces of arthropods, including ant lion pits, entrances to the burrows of solitary bees, wasps, and wolf spiders, and the meandering indented trails left by the ‘chonky’ insect in the last picture. This is a female ‘oil’ blister beetle (Meloe impressus), and she is indeed impressively heavy with eggs. She will lay those eggs in the ground, and the hatched larvae have their own rather amazing backstory. This includes ‘hypermetamorphosis’, where the larvae pass through several distinctly different larval stages. But even more remarkable is the way in which the murderous larvae begin their lives, as explained in this terrific video. I am still geeking out about it.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue (and Mietek monologue)

We’re in July already! Good morning on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.  As it’s the 182nd day of the year, we’re just about halfway through 2020. For nearly all of us it’s been a dreadful year: good riddance to the first half!

Here are the official Food Month designations for July:

National Baked Bean Month  [JAC: Just one baked bean being celebrated? Which one?]
National Culinary Arts Month
National Hot Dog Month
National Ice Cream Month
National Picnic Month
National Pickle Month

And it’s National Gingersnap Day. Further, it’s International Chicken Wing Day, Canada Day, International Tartan Day, Second Half of the Year Day, and International Joke Day. Here’s a joke:

A rabbi walks into a Manhattan bar holding a frog.  “Where’d you get him?!” asks the bartender.  “Brooklyn,” says the frog.  “They’ve got hundreds of them over there.”

Add your joke below!

News of the Day: All bad, despite the attempt of television news to inject some “good news tonight” at the end of a dismal broadcast. CNN reports that Trump’s phone calls with leaders of other nations have been so dire, with the Prez so woefully unprepared, that they constituted a threat to national security.

You all know how the coronavirus is coming back with a vengeance. Yesterday a one-day record for new cases was set: 48,000 of them! Here’s a NYT plot of new cases per day since March. Look at that uptick! Not only that, but Anthony Fauci has declared the pandemic out of control, and says that we could hit as many as 100,000 new cases per day.

Tom Friedman suggests a new bumper sticker for Biden: ““Respect science, respect nature, respect each other.”  I don’t think it has much zing. The “science” and “nature” parts look a bit dweeby. And “respect”?  I don’t think Friedman gets out much.

A federal judge has struck down another aspect of Trump’s immigration policy, one applying to (and restricting) refugees from Central America.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 127,460, an increase of exactly 1,300 death over yesterday’s report.  The world death toll now stands at 510,837, an increase of about 6000 from yesterday.

Readership on this site continues low: the views of the site are about a third of what they were a few years ago.

Stuff that happened on July 1 includes:

Darwin wasn’t there, of course. Here’s the beginning of those papers. I still maintain that Wallace’s theory was one of group selection, and Darwin hit on natural selection more accurately than did Wallace, though both envisioned the way selection operates:

Oddly, in his annual report for 1858, the President of the Linnean society said this: “The year which has passed… has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionise, so to speak, the department of science on which they bear.” That was a spectacular misstatement!

  • 1863 – American Civil War: The Battle of Gettysburg begins.
  • 1881 – The world’s first international telephone call is made between St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, and Calais, Maine, United States.
  • 1903 – Start of first Tour de France bicycle race.
  • 1908 – SOS is adopted as the international distress signal.
  • 1931 – Wiley Post and Harold Gatty become the first people to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engined monoplane aircraft.

Here are Post and Gatty in that plane:

  • 1963 – ZIP codes are introduced for United States mail.
  • 1980 – “O Canada” officially becomes the national anthem of Canada.
  • 2007 – Smoking in England is banned in all public indoor spaces.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1804 – George Sand, French author and playwright (d. 1876)
  • 1818 – Ignaz Semmelweis, Hungarian-Austrian physician and obstetrician (d. 1865)
  • 1941 – Twyla Tharp, American dancer and choreographer
  • 1952 – Dan Aykroyd, Canadian actor, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1961 – Diana, Princess of Wales (d. 1997)

Remember Akroyd’s parody of Julia Child on Saturday Night Live?

Those who checked out on July 1 include:

  • 1896 – Harriet Beecher Stowe, American author and activist (b. 1811)
  • 1925 – Erik Satie, French pianist and composer (b. 1866)
  • 1997 – Robert Mitchum, American actor (b. 1917)
  • 2004 – Marlon Brando, American actor and director (b. 1924)

And in honor of one of Brando’s great (and late) roles, here he is as Vito Corleone discussing, on his daughter’s wedding day, a request from one of his “constituents”. It is a very great scene, and note the cat. (The “service” that the guy, a funeral director, performed was making Sonny’s body presentable after he was shot to bits.)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes fun of Szaron’s difficulty in jumping up to the windowsill. As Malgorzata says, “Szaron falls off very often. It’s quite obvious that when he jumps he doesn’t know how high things are. But sometimes he manages to get there.”

Hili: Can a cat be a poor mathematician?
A: Why do you ask?
Hili: Because Szaron cannot calculate even the height of the window sill.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy kot może być kiepskim matematykiem?
Ja: Dlaczego pytasz?
Hili: Bo Szaron nie umie nawet obliczyć na jakiej wysokości jest parapet okna.

And in nearby Wloclawek, Mietek smells a new scent (look how big he’s gotten!)

Mietek: I’m not sure I like the smell of lavender.

In Polish: Nie jestem przekonany, czy podoba mi się zapach lawendy.

From Jesus of the Day. This is totally macabre:

From reader Pliny the in Between’s Far Corner Cafe:

A cat meme from Nicole:

From Simon, who says this video a bit long but funny anyway.. It’s amazing that she can’t figure out which side to park the car next to the gas pump. Read the commentary, too. (The tweet seems to have vanished but I’m searching for a replacement.)

Tweets from Matthew.  Dawkins is of course right in his language, but he’s gonna get slammed anyway:

The great comedian, director, and writer Carl Reiner died on Monday at 98. Here’s a tweet, and look at what Dick Van Dyke is doing in the gif!

Matthew took the COVID-19 antibody test and turned out negative. Here’s his tweet about it but crikey, what a bloody job!

This gets the TWEET OF THE MONTH award, even though the month has just begun. Those foxes are not only smiling, but laughing. This requires you to turn the sound up!:

A prescient film about the future from 1947. Everyone’s looking at their mobile devices!

How come I didn’t take this bus? What a cool trip—FURTHUR! (Look at the itinerary and “amenities”.)

Look at the mouth on that nightjar (the yawn is right at the beginning)!