Thursday: Hili dialogue

September 23, 2021 • 6:30 am

Greetings on Thursday, September 23, 2021: National Pancake Day.  Have some today!

Sadly, today I return to Chicago after a swell visit with friends. I will commune with my ducks as the days dwindle down to the time of departure. I will be traveling much of the day, so this may be the only post you see.

It’s also National American Great Pot Pie Day, National Snack Stick Day (jerky, string cheese, etc.), Celebrate Bisexuality Day, National Checkers Day, and International Day of Sign Languages.

News of the Day:

*Yesterday the FDA approved booster shots in the U.S., and today they’ll ponder exactly who gets them.

On Wednesday evening, the Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots of the vaccine for people over 65 who received their second at least six months earlier. The agency also approved boosters for adult Pfizer-BioNTech recipients who are at high risk of severe Covid-19, or who are at risk of serious complications because of exposure to the virus in their jobs.

The first bit is easy (and I’m qualified) but they have to decide who, exactly, is a risk because of risk of complications or risk on the jobs. And what about those who got the Moderna shots? With my doctor’s okay, I’m going to get the booster, and I will NOT take Ivermectin (see below).

*The trial of Elizabeth Holmes is in its third week (she must have some lawyers’ bill!), and yesterday former Secretary of State Jim Mattis testified that he invested $85,000 in the organization but became puzzled:

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified Wednesday in the criminal trial of Theranos Inc. founder Elizabeth Holmes that he and other board members were blindsided to learn in 2015 that the company hadn’t been conducting all of its blood tests using its proprietary technology.

“There just came a point where I didn’t know what to believe about Theranos anymore,” the retired four-star general said.

Prosecutors presented Mr. Mattis’s testimony to support their allegations that Ms. Holmes and her top deputy lied to investors about having a profitable business relationship with the Defense Department and kept board members in the dark about the limitations of Theranos’s devices.

But, as reported on the trial’s live timeline, defense attorneys countered with what I see as a weak riposte:

During cross-examination of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, an attorney for Elizabeth Holmes tried to show Theranos Inc.’s board was accomplished enough to know how to ask questions if they had concerns.

I doubt that. Mattis didn’t ask questions; the big investors were not doctors or scientists.

*The first 28 minutes Sam Harris’s latest podcast, “Ask me anything,” can be heard for free here.  Reader Tom, who sent me the link, told me this:

Only 28 minutes in length, with Harris directly addressing [Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying’s] recent shenanigans about 10 minutes into the podcast after an interesting intro.

It actually starts at 10:32 and goes on to the end of the segment, with Sam very critical about the duo’s “lack of quality control about the information they’re putting forward” about the advantages of ivermectin and especially the problems with Covid vaccine.” He also raises several issues with their claims about the supposed ineffectiveness and dangers of vaccines.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 681,341, an increase of 2,075 deaths over yesterday’s figure. Remember when 200,000 deaths was an unthinkable figure? We may get to four times that number before this is over. The reported world death toll is now 4,734,397, an increase of about 10,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on September 23 was accidentally listed in yesterday’s Hili dialogue (I don’t screw up like that very often), so go here to see what happened on September 23. The rest of the information on births and deaths below is new:

Notables born on this day include:

The man who decreed the stately pleasure dome. Reread the great eponymous poem fragment by Coleridge here.

Valadon (photo below) is now more famous as a model (she modeled for, among others  Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) but was a noted painter in her own right. She was also the mother of painter Maurice Utrillo.

First, her photo (avec chat):

Her depiction in Pierre-Auguste Renoirs 1883 painting, Dance at Bougival:

. . . and one of her own paintings, “Casting the Net” (1914):

  • 1889 – Walter Lippmann, American journalist and publisher, co-founded The New Republic (d. 1974)
  • 1899 – Louise Nevelson, American sculptor (d. 1988)

Here’s one of Nevelson’s paintings, “Mrs. N’s Palace”:

  • 1915 – Clifford Shull, American physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2001)
  • 1920 – Mickey Rooney, American actor, singer, director, and producer (d. 2014)

Rooney was married eight times, including to the world’s most beautiful woman, Ava Gardner:

  • 1930 – Ray Charles, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and actor (d. 2004)

Here’s Ray singing the Leon Russell composition, “Song for You” in 1997:

  • 1949 – Bruce Springsteen, American singer-songwriter and guitarist

Those who croaked on September 23 include:

  • 1241 – Snorri Sturluson, Icelandic historian, poet, and politician (b. 1178)
  • 1889 – Wilkie Collins, English novelist, short story writer, and playwright (b. 1824)
  • 1939 – Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist (b. 1856)

Here’s Freud’s famous couch, which I saw when I visited the Freud Museum (his house) in London; he took the couch with him when he moved to England in 1938. It looks quite comfortable! (He was, of course, a fraud.)

  • 1973 – Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet and diplomat, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1904)
  • 1987 – Bob Fosse, American actor, dancer, choreographer, and director (b. 1927)

Here are some miscellaneous clips of Fosse dancing, including on on “The Dobie Gillis Show”! The commentary is by Gwen Verdon, who danced in many of his shows and was also married to him.

  • 2013 – Ruth Patrick, American botanist and immunologist (b. 1907)
  • 2014 – Irven DeVore, American anthropologist and biologist (b. 1934)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has a goal. When I  asked Malgorzata who Hili was pursuing, she said this:

“Hili, knowing what’s happening in Poland and around the world, concluded that forces of darkness intensified their attacks and it’s time to fight them. I’m not sure how she intends to do it.”

A: What are you doing?
Hili: I’m going into battle with the forces of darkness.
In Polish:
Ja: Co robisz?
Hili: Idę walczyć z siłami ciemności.

From Lenora via Cole & Marmalade: Dances With Cats

A post from Facebook:

And from Not Another Science Cat Page:

Titania goes after Justin again:

From Masih, showing how odious some Iranian men are about the obligatory hijab. Watch the video:

From Barry; sound up for this great example of sexual selection:

From Ginger K.: Has anybody ever thought of this question before? Well, here’s the answer, guaranteed to make you the life of the party.

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. Only professional animal photographers have this worry. Walter Chandoha was the master.

Schopenhauer got reamed out by his mother:

Another issue I hadn’t thought of. Matthew says, “Can’t help thinking the person taking the film should have stayed further away, but no harm done.”

Food in the Boston area

September 22, 2021 • 11:00 am

I have eaten very well on my vacation, having gone to several semi-upscale ethnic restaurants and also eaten well in the homes of two people who were kind enough to put me up. But I often forgot to use my camera when I was absorbed in the food, so I’ll present a melange of photos of different foods, restaurants, and the like.

First, though, a scene from Harvard Square, which has changed immensely since I arrived in Boston in 1972.  It’s gentrified now. My erstwhile favorite place to eat as a grad student, Elsie’s Deli (home of the huge “Fresser’s Dream” sandwich), has long disappeared. As has Steve Harrell’s ice cream shop, which made the best hot fudge sundaes in Massachusetts. The Coop is still there, and Cardullo’s is hanging on, but the magazine store in the center of the Square is defunct.

This is one thing that remains. If you listen to NPR, you’ll recognize the name of the fictional accounting firm on the third-floor window: “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe.”

Yes, it’s from Car Talk. Wikipedia has an entry for this fictional firm, which was also used as a joke by others.

The name of the DC&H corporate offices (otherwise known as the headquarters of the radio show Car Talk) is visible on the third floor window above the corner of Brattle and JFK Streets, in Harvard SquareCambridge, Massachusetts.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, of NPR’s Car Talk radio program, named their business corporation “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe”. Their corporate offices were located on a third-floor office at the corner of Brattle and JFK Streets in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Magliozzi brothers declared that they established DC&H in 1989.

We went out several times, first to this excellent Spanish restaurant in Brookline, specializing in tapas. But I forgot to take pictures of the food! We had a fine Rioja with the meal, and were full after dinner. (The first question you have to ask when evaluating a restaurant is, “Did I get enough to eat?” If the answer is “no,” then you need go no further.)

The flavor board at my favorite ice-cream shop in the world, Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream in Cambridge.  If you go to Cambridge and don’t go here, you are a reprobate. There are usually many more flavors, but I expect the pandemic reduced the choice somewhat. Still, there are more flavors than you could try on several visits. I had the very best flavor, “burnt sugar” (the world’s best ice cream flavor) with a scoop of ginger-molasses, itself a wonderful combination. It was a great postprandial treat. They make ice cream the real way, dense and with all natural flavors. I wanted green tea with a scoop of adzuki bean, too, but I couldn’t pass up the burnt sugar.

Every reader here knows that my favorite British beer is Timothy Taylor Landlord, which has won Championship Beer of Britain four times and is a wonderful, tasty session ale that is not overhopped. It’s hard enough to find on tap in the UK, but there’s a bottled version as well, and four bottles were available in the Boston area. Andrew, my host, tracked them down and then cycled 22 miles to get those four bottles so we could have some. What a kind chap!

And even though it was bottled, it tasted nearly as good as a freshly-drawn pint in England. (As it had been kept in the fridge, we warmed the pints, 500 ml., up to 11°C in the microwave.)

Yesterday I moved to my second set of hosts, old Harvard friends Andrew and Naomi. Naomi is a world-class cook, and never uses recipes. I begged her not to go to any trouble to cook for me, as she always does, but she ignored my instructions and produced a wonderful dinner, which included this shepherd’s pie (a treat with a pint of Landlord!):

We also had a half avocado with lime for appetizer, green beans and baby asparagus on the side, and the apple-raspberry crumble below for dessert, served warm with vanilla ice cream.

I am allowed only one breakfast at this house due to Andrew’s insistence: two cakes of Weetabix with bananas as well as a strong mug of superb coffee. But Andrew is absolutely insistent on how one eats Weetabix. (He buys them by the case, and sometimes eats them three times a day when his wife is out of town: two for breakfast, four for lunch, and six for dinner. He is a Weetabix fanatic.)

Andrew displaying the breakfast item to come:

First, put two Weetabix biscuits, round side up (there are two different sides) in a wide, shallow bowl so that the milk doesn’t saturate the biscuit. The point is to retain most of the crunch of the biscuit while also getting the milk. You must always eat two Weetabix (I like three) as there are an even number of biscuits in the box and you don’t want to be left with just one. Four or six are permitted at other meals, but neer an odd number.

Half a banana is then sliced atop the biscuits with a sharp-edged spoon:

Then add milk, making sure to splash some atop the biscuits so they won’t be dry. The milk should be about a quarter-inch deep in the bowl.

Only then do you add the sugar, as you don’t want it dissolved in the milk when it’s poured:

Finally, tilt the bowl towards you so you can nip off a bit of biscuit and spoon it up with some milk, retaining the crunchiness but also getting the milk. For Andrew the consumption of the entire bowl takes about 40 seconds; he insists that speed is essential so that all the elements of the bowl are properly mixed with the right texture.

Here I am trying to eat properly. Note that I’m tilting the bowl:

I persuaded my first set of hosts to try Weetabix, and Andrew located one store in Cambridge that sold them. My hosts’ son-in-law went there and got a box, which was delivered yesterday by their granddaughter. I am curious about whether they’ll like Weetabix, as both of them eat only homemade granola (a different mix for each person) for breakfast. Son-in-law and second grandchild to the rear; photo used with permission.

I think this photo would make a great Weetabix commercial!

Jack the Cat improving rapidly, takes a short walk!

September 21, 2021 • 10:00 am

On my post about Jack the Cat two days ago, you probably thought he was in pretty bad shape—and he was. He had taken a very bad fall.

But he’s an intrepid moggie, and yesterday took a pretty substantial walk (vet’s advice), even putting weight on his injured front paw. A report from his staff:

We both think it’s a great tribute to Jack and his misadventure. It’s wonderful to have friends, family and strangers rooting for his recovery.

He started eating better yesterday and he’s up to walking around the house (short periods of time, no jumping) a couple of times a day. See attached video.

Go Jack! I am going over to visit him and his staff this morning, and hope to put up more photos on this post later on today.

The heritability of IQ from an adoption study

September 13, 2021 • 11:15 am

One of the big hot-button issues at the intersection of science and politics is the degree to which human behavioral traits, particularly IQ, are based on genes. To be more specific, the one question that can meaningfully answered about genes and IQ is this one: What proportion of the variation among individuals in a population for any human trait (not just IQ, but also propensity to smoke, risk-taking, neuroticism, etc.) is based on variation among those individual’s genes?  The figure showing that degree of genetic determination of variation in a population is called the heritability of the trait, symbolized by  h², and ranges from 0% (or 0.0), meaning that none of the variation you see in the trait is based on variation in genes (it’s due to environmental factors) up to 100%, or 1, meaning that all the variation we see in the trait is due to variation among individuals in their genomes.

I don’t want to go back again and explain heritability, what it means, and the difficulties with measuring and interpreting it, because I did that in a recent post, and if you want to know more, you might want to read that one first.

That earlier post also summarizes a new practice of finding an individual’s “polygenic score” (PGS) for a trait by correlating the variation in many DNA markers in an individual with that individual’s trait of interest, usually as an adult. This gives you a way to suss out suggestive information about an individual’s future behavior when it’s just born, for you can sequence the DNA of a newborn and. combining that with previous data on the PGS correlation with, say, educational attainment (degree of school completed) to get an idea of how far that individual will go in school. This is of course not absolutely predictive, of course, and has only one possible useful consequence that I can think of—more about that later—but it’s also a way to locate genes that influence variation in a trait. (We now know of 1271 regions in the genome that are correlated with educational attainment; each of these, of course, can have only a tiny influence on variation in a population.) Right now, the correlation between the “polygenic score” of an individual and his/her educational attainment is about 14% (it varies between 12% and 18% in the study below).

The use of PGS values in studying human behavior was the subject of the New Yorker’s recent profile of behavioral geneticist Kathryn Harden, which is a very good piece.

These PGS correlations are much lower than the traditional heritabilities that measure the contribution of the genome as a whole—via correlation between the performance of relatives with known relatedness)—with heritabilities of human traits, which, as I noted in the previous post, often range between 25% and 70%. The heritability of IQ in the American white population, which (for reasons that are debated) increases with age, ranges from 40% to 75% for adults, but I’ll use a conservative general estimate of 50% or 0.5. That means that about half of the variation in IQ in the white population is due to variation among individuals in their genes. While everyone is interested in IQ because, in good American fashion, it’s substantially correlated with conventional measures of “success”, remember that there are lots of interesting traits whose genetic variation we’d like to know about—my previous post listed about 30.

Today’s paper, which you might be able to access by clicking on the screenshot below (or get the pdf here), is a new study of the heritability of IQ that uses adoption instead of the “twin studies” described in my previous post. Twin studies have small samples because they estimate heritability of IQ using either identical or fraternal twins reared apart or together, and the “apart” number is quite small. I’ll describe the adoption method below:

I’ll try to briefly summarize a complicated paper.

The principle is that if genes play a big role in variation of IQ, then if you take a child from its parent and have it brought up by an unrelated family, the IQ of the child, when it grows up, should correlate very closely with its biological parents and not very much with that of its adoptive parents. If, on the other hand, the correlation with the adoptive parents is quite high and with the biological parents low, we can guess that variation in the environment plays a much bigger role than variation in genes in IQ: in other words, the heritability is low. (This assumes that environmental factors that affect IQ are uncorrelated between biological and adoptive families, an assumption that was validated in this study.)

And these adoption studies exist. This one, in fact, was quite large. The researchers had access to 486 families who had given up a child for adoption or taken in one. 95% of the parents were of non-Hispanic white Caucasian ancestry, but 21% of the adopted kids were white, 66% Asian (probably inter-country adoptions), and 13% were of other ethnicities. This somewhat weakens the measurement of IQ as a statistic within a population, but it turns out that there was no difference in heritability whether you used the white or the Asian children.

The mean age of the adopted children was 4.7 months (oldest was 2 years old), assuring that there’s not much cultural influence on their intelligence before they’re adopted out. When older, these children, along with as many adoptive and biological parents who would assent, were given IQ tests. The adopted children were IQ tested at both 15 and around 32 years of age. The children’s IQ’s were then matched (when data from both parents existed) with the “midparent value” (average of mom and dad’s IQs, separated by “biological” or “adoptive” families), or with only one parent if that was all that was available.

The upshot is what you’d expect with a high heritability of IQ: the IQs of children at either 15 or in their 30s was much more highly correlated with the IQs of their biological parents than with their adoptive parents. Below are the charts showing the correlations with biological parents (left) and adoptive parents (right). Actually, they use “g” as the term for IQ, and they also have these data for a number of different sub-tests, which you can find in the paper.  The red lines are the regressions of offspring on parents at age 15, the blue lines for the 30-ish followup IQ tests. (Each dot is presumably one family.) The correlation of adults with their biological families (not the regression slope) is 0.42, a highly significant value, while with the adoptive parents it’s 0.10—close to zero but probably still significant (they don’t say), meaning there may be a slight rearing effect: the IQ of your adoptive parents could slightly affect the adoptive child.

(Caption from paper): Fig. 2. Scatter plots and associated regression lines for measures of cognitive ability g taken at intake and follow-up 3 for both biological (left panel) and adopted (right panel) offspring and their rearing parents. Intake measure of g is full-scale Wechsler IQ score, and follow-up 3 measure is ICAR-16 score. All parent-offspring pairs are included, which means that the data points are not independent. All values are standardized.

Now the figures given are the correlations, not the slopes of the midparent-offspring regression lines, which are the heritabilities—what we want to know. The authors have calculated that heritability, but in a slightly more complicated way, and I give it below for adult data, along with its equivalent for environmental effects: the proportion of variation in IQ due to variation in an adopted child’s rearing environment. Here are the figures (“CI” is the confidence interval).

Heritability of IQ was estimated to be 0.42 [95% CI 0.21, 0.64]

Proportion of variance in IQ attributable to environmentally mediated effects of parental IQs was estimated at .01 [95% CI 0.00, 0.02]

The heritability is close to the 50% figure I’ve taken to be a conservative value for IQ, and it’s still substantial: 42% of the variation in the population (although there are really more than one populations conflated here), is due to variation in genes.  The 95% confidence interval for IQ heritability is 21% to 64%, so the chances are 95% that the true value of heritability lies within that range. Ergo, IQ is pretty damn heritable.

In contrast, the proportion of variation due to parental environment (adoptive parents) is estimated atjust 1%, with a 95% confidence interval of 0% to 2%.  There seems to be a very small effect of rearing environment on IQ compared to genes.

Why do we want to know this? I’m running out of gas, as this paper was complicated, so I’ll devote a very short post to that either today or tomorrow.

h/t: Luana

NYC schools propose ditching honor rolls and class ranks

September 3, 2021 • 9:30 am

The elimination of the meritocracy in schools is proceeding quickly, with abandonment of standardized testing, grades, and now, in a New York City proposal, class rankings and honor rolls as well.  Although a frequent excuse is that, during the pandemic, it’s unfair to hold people to “normal” academic standards, my prediction is that these changes will be permanent. That’s because the pandemic suspension is somewhat of a ruse, masquerading what’s envisioned as permanent change.

Everyone knows that the real reason for such changes—and the ones under consideration in this post are essentially post-pandemic—is that a meritocracy disadvantages some minority students because, on average, they don’t perform as well as Asian or white ones. And if people’s success depends on their performance in a ranking system, then there will be “inequity” in the Kendian sense: people will not be represented in achievements, or positions that require achievement, according to their proportion in the general population. According to Ibram Kendi, this kind of inequity is prima facie evidence of ongoing racism.

I doubt that’s true most of the time, but it may well be evidence of past racism. Regardless, it must be fixed, because even without current “structural” racism, many members of minorities don’t start at the same place as others. In other words, they lack equal opportunity from the outset, and inequities result from that combined with cultural differences that may devalue achievement.

Do we fix inequities by dismantling meritocracy in schools (or other areas)? Well, affirmative action does that a bit, but to me that’s justified as a form of reparations—a way of leveling the playing field. But you can practice affirmative action not by a wholesale dismantling of standards (e.g. eliminating SATs or grades), but by enriching your pool of students or job hires with people who are all qualified, but are more weighted with minorities.

This is a tricky balancing act, and it requires admitting that adhering strictly to a meritocracy will cause inequities, and admitting that yes, conventional measures of “merit” will fall. There’s also a problem of fairness. While the treatment of minorities in the past (and, for some, in the present) was unfair, there’s also unfairness in denying high achievers the rewards of their work. Finally, it requires admitting that in positions where quality is crucial, an average lowering of standards could be injurious (surgery, for example).

To me, the answer lies in realizing that nobody is really “responsible” for their failure or success: these things are determined by factors beyond people’s control. So while merit should be rewarded and failure punished as external stimuli to change behavior, this should be supplemented by a meaningful attempt to make up for inequalities of the past. My solution is, as I said, to see affirmative action as a form of reparations, but to be very careful how to exercise it, and, most important, to realize that the ultimate solution is not an indefinite continuation of affirmative action, but the creation of fundamental societal change that, by giving everyone equal opportunities from the outset, will make such reparations obsolete. That will take, as I say repeatedly, a lot of time and money, and it’s a lot easier to think that you’re fixing the problem by taking down statues or eliminating standardized tests.

Now the article below is from the New York Post, but checking other places seems to confirm that what it reports is accurate. I haven’t been able to find the official school guidelines.

Click to read.

The plan: Get rid of honor rolls and class rankings.

The reason: Several are given in the article (indented):

The city Department of Education wants schools to rethink honor rolls and class rankings because they’re “detrimental” to some kids, according to a new grading guidance.

“Recognizing student excellence via honor rolls and class rank can be detrimental to learners who find it more difficult  to reach academic success, often for reasons beyond their control,” the document states.

The DOE wants schools to widen recognitions to include “contributions to the school or wider community, and demonstrations of social justice and integrity.”

. . . “Grades are not only a reflection of student performance but can be self-fulfilling prophecies,” the document states. “Influencing future student performance either directly through their psychological impact or indirectly through instructional decisions, placement in courses, and guidance in post secondary options.”

I don’t think that honor rolls and class ranks are detrimental to those who don’t perform well. They might cause envy, but is there really a psychological route that will improve your performance if you do badly but are not told about it?  Don’t you need to know where you stand? In what sense is knowing you’ve performed poorly a “self-fulfilling prophecy”? As for “institutional decisions” not relying on ranking, that route leads to complete abandonment of rewarding achievement. And if achievement is not rewarded, nor failure “punished,” then there is no incentive to achieve.

John McWhorter had addressed a version of this, whereby low-performing students wash out of schools—not because of self-fulfilling prophecies, but with the realization that they’re just not cut out for a particular curriculum. His selection is to send lower-tier students to lower-tier schools, where they can get an education without washing out.

Now the new rules also say that other measures of student success such as behavior, attendance, and participation “should not affect grades.”  I disagree in part. To me, attendance is a sign of being serious about achieving, as is behavior. Participation not so much, for that depends on how much of an extrovert you are.

We all understand what’s happening here, but it becomes clearer in this sentence:

Staffers should “minimize the effects of bias and eliminate practices that penalize students who have been marginalized based on their race, culture, language and/or ability.”

If you count lower achievement as an “effect of bias”—past bias—then yes, this diktat tells us to get rid of ranking. But if you’re talking about accusations of present bias, it’s not so clear.

In the end, I wonder if the above rationale applies to the increasing criticisms I hear from the “progressive Left” about capitalism. If you listen to some of these people, you get the impression that they’d like to return to the Soviet era of collective farms! For capitalism, like schools, rewards achievement and merit, but does so with money rather than rankings. While I believe in the injection of socialism even into the most capitalistic societies like ours—it’s a way of giving a social cushion to the disadvantaged with programs like Medicare, unemployment benefits, and Social Security—you will never hear me say that we need to get rid of capitalism. That has been disastrous whenever it’s been tried, and even the most socialistic Western nations, like those in Scandinavia, are largely capitalistic.

But this is just a thought.


Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ presuppositionalism

September 1, 2021 • 9:45 am

The new Jesus and Mo strip, called “science”, deals with “presuppositionalism,”  (or “presuppositional apologetics”) defined in the strip. (You can also read about it here, and it will come up in a post later today when we learn that Christianity was necessary for the advent of science because science began as a way to understand God’s plan and his Roolz.)

The whole presuppositionalist enterprise is indeed question begging, as it presumes the truth of Christianity.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 1, 2021 • 8:00 am

We have about a week’s worth of photos in the tank, so, if you have good pictures, please top it up.

Today’s photos come from Tony Eales in Queensland. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

It’s coming into Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, and many of the early spring flowers are opening up. An I noticed that a number of the ones around now are purple, so I thought I would send a collection of purple blooms from the east coast of Australia. 

Thysanotus tuberosus, Common Fringe Lily. These lovely plants are fairly common in undisturbed grassy forest. The small tubers were collected and eaten by Aboriginal Australians.

Viola betonicifolia, Mountain Violet. This was a new one for me, and despite the common name it was nowhere near a mountain.

Utricularia dichotoma, Fairy Aprons—one of the lovely flowering Bladderworts that can be found in the right habitat.

Desmodium rhytidophyllum. Rusty Tick-Trefoil, one of the numerous small pea flowers that scramble through the grass in open forests around here.

Hovea heterophylla, Common Hovea. Another small pea plant that flowers profusely in September:

Murdannia graminea, Grass Lily. Another plant of the grassy understory that has small edible tubers:

Patersonia sericea, Silky Purple Flag, looks like nothing in the grass through most of the year. Then, in Spring, you realise they’re everywhere, with their large flowers that often last just for a morning.

And in the marshes behind the mangroves, Spergularia marina—Saltmarsh Sand Spurry.

Clapton breaks my heart for the third time, goes anti-vax again

August 29, 2021 • 1:45 pm

Clapton has let me down for the third time (see also here and here). NME, a news, music, and entertainment site, has an article about a new Eric Clapton song, “This Has Gotta Stop”. It’s not rocket science to see that this is a protest against lockdowns, if not masks and vaccinations.

I quote the website:

The veteran rocker has been publicly vocal about his opposition to lockdown restrictions and vaccinations in recent months and last December he teamed up with fellow sceptic Van Morrison for the track ‘Stand and Deliver’, one of many anti-lockdown songs Morrison recorded and which were met with significant backlash.

Now, Clapton has shared ‘This Has Gotta Stop’, a new song on which he appears to air his frustrations with the measures in place to help curb the spread of COVID-19 while criticising the vaccine.

I can’t take this B.S. any longer/ It’s gone far enough/ You wanna claim my soul, you’ll have to come and break down this door,” Clapton sings on the track.

Appearing to touch on his “disastrous” reaction to the vaccine – which he detailed in May after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine – he continues: “I knew that something was going on wrong/ When you started laying down the law/ I can’t move my hands/ I break out in sweat.

The track comes with with a video that features illustrations of an evil puppeteer, hypnotised people, and protesters displaying signs that say “Liberty” and “Stop”. You can watch it below.

He doesn’t do politics very well, at least in song. What ever happened to the guy who wrote “Layla” or performed “Promises”? It all goes to show that you can be brilliant about music and a moron about public health.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

Keep those photos coming in, folks (or, as it’s spelled now—for reasons that elude me—”folx”).

Today we have one of my favorite arthropods, jumping spiders. The photos come from Tony Eales of Queensland, whose notes are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Just a quick one to celebrate the fact I photographed my first Maratus volans.

The is THE classic Peacock Jumping Spider, widespread along the south-eastern seaboard of Australia. They are also one of the most colourful, but that can be relative in a genus with so many colourful species. Next things to tick off are photographs of a male displaying and to photograph the other local species, Maratus ottoi. A friend of mine has spent 6 years trying to get a photograph of M. ottoi displaying and finally got a beautiful shot last weekend.

Much to the disgust of many of my Peacock Jumping Spider obsessed friends, two common and fairly dowdy jumping spiders have been shifted from genus Hypoblemum to the Peacock Spider genus Maratus. This had the effect of instantly upping lots of people’s peacock spider counts from zero to two. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the purists. I present my photos of these two new members of the elite genus. I think they are quite nice.

Maratus griseus male:

Maratus griseus female:

Maratus scutulatus male:

Maratus scutulatus female:

John McWhorter cancels Substack column

August 24, 2021 • 8:45 am

This announcement was just sent to me from John McWhorter’s Substack column, “It bears mentioning”. Click on screenshot to see more.

I predicted that McWhorter couldn’t keep up the pace of writing two essays per week in the New York Times and also do his own website AND his book and his regular academic duties at Columbia. Well, I was right, but maybe for the wrong reasons:

I had a couple of thoughts about this.

First, it’s good that McWhorter’s ideas get an airing on a major media site, though you have to subscribe to read them. Because of the wider exposure, I can forgive him for what I once would have characterized as “selling out to the New York Times.” On the other hand, the the paper would never (or so I think) let him write the kind of stuff in their pages that he could put on his own site. His vigorous criticisms of anti-racism won’t, I suspect, fly at the newspaper.

He’s offered to refund subscriptions to his site on a pro-rated basis, but otherwise will freeze all contributions. But if he’s stopping for the foreseeable future, he really should give all the money back now.

Best of luck to him, and let’s see what he writes on the NYT site.