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A screaming, puffed-up frog

Why Evolution is True Feed - 2 hours 14 min ago

This video of a Cape Rain frog (Breviceps gibbosus) should not be taken as amusing because, as National Geographic reported . . . . .

the footage clearly shows a frog in distress.

Simon Van Nierop, who captured the video, was taking a walk with his children and dogs in the Tokai Forest in Table Mountain National Park when they heard high-pitched screaming. They traced it to a yellow and black, puffed up cape rain frog, a species endemic to South Africa’s Western Cape and listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List.

The footage Van Nierop took is billed as “hilarious,” but not everyone agrees that it’s funny.

“I find it sad, not hilarious,” says Jill Goldman, a private animal behavior therapist. “I think people are drawn to videos that look funny when they don’t really understand why the animal is doing what [it’s] doing.” (See: “People Are Scaring Their Cats With Cucumbers. They Shouldn’t.”)

“Notice how the frog is backing up, trying to escape,” Alan Channing, an emeritus professor at the University of the Western Cape who’s written several books about frogs, says in an email. Channing, who has studied frogs in the wild for years, says he’s certain the frog was making the noise and puffing up its body to scare away potential threats.

They puff up their bodies by swallowing air, clearly part of a threat display. So if you live in South Africa, where the species is endemic, and you make one scream, back off.

I have to say, though, that I’ve never heard an amphibian make a noise like this.

Categories: Science

Eclipses show wrong physics can give right results

Science News Feed - 2 hours 14 min ago
Math for making astronomical predictions doesn’t necessarily reflect physical reality.
Categories: Science

Stem cell technique could reverse a major type of infertility

New Scientist Feed - 2 hours 44 min ago
Men with extra sex chromosomes can have difficulty producing fertile sperm. Now researchers have got around this in mice by making stem cells from their skin
Categories: Science

Speedy white dwarf may have survived a rare type of supernova

New Scientist Feed - 2 hours 44 min ago
Type Iax supernovae are weak enough that part of the exploding star may be able to survive. Now, we may have spotted the first star that lived to tell the tale
Categories: Science

Monkeys can be tricked into thinking all objects are familiar

New Scientist Feed - 2 hours 44 min ago
There is a cluster of neurons in monkeys’ brains that decides whether or not they have seen objects before, and stimulating it makes them see everything as familiar
Categories: Science

Embryos kill off male tissue to become female

Science News Feed - 3 hours 26 min ago
Female embryos actively dismantle male reproductive tissue, a textbook-challenging study suggests.
Categories: Science

Another van attack in Barcelona kills at least one, injures many

Why Evolution is True Feed - 3 hours 29 min ago

Multiple sources, including the New York Times, report that at least one person has been killed and at least 32 injured in Barcelona after a van plowed into crowds of people on street along the route between the Plaza de Cataluña and Las Ramblas. I’m well familiar with that lovely area, as it’s the epicenter of the tourist’s Barcelona. In early reports, the police wouldn’t say that terrorists were responsible, but the Times is calling it a “terror attack,” perhaps because it resembled attacks conducted in several European cities by Islamist terrorists. The Mirror has pictures of the aftermath of the attack, including the injured, but be warned that the pictures are gory and disturbing.

The white van involved in the attack was abandoned on the Ramblas, and there are reports that two gunmen are holed up in a nearby bar, but that’s not verified. You can follow The Independent‘s live blog here.

Here’s the route of the van as given in the NYT.

Categories: Science

How an itch hitches a ride to the brain

Science News Feed - 3 hours 30 min ago
Scientists have figured out how your brain registers the sensation of itch.
Categories: Science

Robert Sapolsky and Sam Harris on neurobiology, free will, and baboons

Why Evolution is True Feed - 3 hours 59 min ago

I’ve recently been introduced to neurobiologist and science writer Robert Sapolsky (see my post here), and am looking forward to reading his new book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. Apparently a lot of the book is devoted to the topic of free will, which was a big part of the NPR show mentioned in the first link.

Last week, YouTube posted a good discussion with Sapolsky and Sam Harris (also trained as a neurobiologist). Sam’s podcasts are often a bit long for me, but I like this one, especially because of the discussion of free will and the fact that for once two people agree that it doesn’t exist—not in the dualistic sense. And they both agree with me. Here’s the YouTube summary of Sam’s podcast.

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robert Sapolsky about his work with baboons, the opposition between reason and emotion, doubt, the evolution of the brain, the civilizing role of the frontal cortex, the illusion of free will, justice and vengeance, brain-machine interface, religion, drugs, and other topics.

The discussion of free will begins at 40:40 (Sapolsky explains why he rejects free will at 42:40) and ends at 1:14:50—about 35 minutes.

Sapolsky is distressed by the dilemma of realizing that we’re purely determined beings, yet we still feel we have agency. For some reason, that doesn’t bother me a bit. Yes, I act and feel as if I have a choice, even though I know I don’t, but where the rubber meets the road—on the societal and personal implications of fully grasping determinism—I can leave that sense of agency behind.

I think it’s likely that evolution, for reasons I don’t understand,  instilled in us a feeling of agency (I have some theories that are mine), but we can overcome that when we ponder how we reward and (especially) punish people. Both men agree that one of the most important implications of grasping determinism is the reformation of the criminal justice system.

Now both Harris and Sapolsky conceive of “free will” as contracausal  or “dualistic” free will: in other words, the notion that at any point in time, you could have done or decided something other than what you did, and independent of the laws of physics. They are not compatibilists who accept a Dennettian view that, despite the hegemony of determinism, we still have some form of free will, just one that’s different from what we think. (And yes, most people do accept contracausal free will.) I suppose that’s because Sapolsky and Harris think, as do I, that the implications of determinism are far more important than confecting some philosophical species of free will that’s compatible with determinism. But don’t argue with me—argue with Sapolsky, and chastise him for ignoring compatibilism!

I’d listen at least to the section between 40:40 and 1:15:00—if you’re interested in free will. If you have time, listen to all of it.



h/t: Julian

Categories: Science

Culture not biology is behind many differences between the sexes

New Scientist Feed - 4 hours 29 min ago
It is becoming ever clearer that environment and culture may be determining traits we think are down to male or female biology, says neuroscientist Gina Rippon
Categories: Science

Vitamin C helps genes to kill off cells that would cause cancer

New Scientist Feed - 4 hours 44 min ago
Many blood cancers are caused by mutations in the protective TET2 gene, but vitamin C may enhance drug treatments by helping to tell out-of-control cells to stop dividing
Categories: Science

Web firms shunning neo-Nazi site isn’t necessarily good news

New Scientist Feed - 5 hours 2 min ago
The neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer has been booted out by web services for crossing moral lines, but should tech firms decide what we see online?
Categories: Science

The New Yorker admits atheism

Why Evolution is True Feed - 5 hours 14 min ago

I’ve been critical before about the New Yorker‘s implicit dissing of science as well as its softness toward religion (see here, here and here, for instance).  After all, the clientele of the magazine is liberal, wealthy, and though they’re probably not religious, they like a gentlemanly, well-fed detente between science and religion. The magazine also has a postmodernist tinge, one that was mentioned in an email I got from a colleague last May (see last link). My colleague was trying to finger the New Yorker‘s problem with science:

The New Yorker is fine with science that either serves a literary purpose (doctors’ portraits of interesting patients) or a political purpose (environmental writing with its implicit critique of modern technology and capitalism). But the subtext of most of its coverage (there are exceptions) is that scientists are just a self-interested tribe with their own narrative and no claim to finding the truth, and that science must concede the supremacy of literary culture when it comes to anything human, and never try to submit human affairs to quantification or consilience with biology. Because the magazine is undoubtedly sophisticated in its writing and editing they don’t flaunt their postmodernism or their literary-intellectual proprietariness, but once you notice it you can make sense of a lot of their material.

. . . Obviously there are exceptions – Atul Gawande is consistently superb – but as soon as you notice it, their guild war on behalf of cultural critics and literary intellectuals against scientists, technologists, and analytic scholars becomes apparent.

But Adam Gopnik, one of their staff writers, is a welcome exception, for he does show an appreciation for science and a knowledge of how it’s done, even though he appears to take the view that there are “ways of knowing” about the Universe that can be derived from literature or the humanities rather than science (I’m hoping the two of us will write a back and forth article on this topic). Gopnik, while not explicitly asserting that he’s a nonbeliever, has been moving more and more toward admitting it and singling out the follies of faith. He even admitted to reading and liking this website, even if his praise was accompanied by a mention that my love of other topics on this site bespoke an “irrational love”, so that in some respects a scientist simply cannot be a fully rational being (yes, that’s true; we’re human):

If atheists underestimate the fudginess in faith, believers underestimate the soupiness of doubt. My own favorite atheist blogger, Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist, regularly offers unanswerable philippics against the idiocies of intelligent design. But a historian looking at his blog years from now would note that he varies the philippics with a tender stream of images of cats—into whose limited cognition, this dog-lover notes, he projects intelligence and personality quite as blithely as his enemies project design into seashells—and samples of old Motown songs. The articulation of humanism demands something humane, and its signal is disproportionate pleasure placed in some frankly irrational love.

Well, I can forgive the caveat, and let me now praise Adam’s new piece in the magazine, “What can meditation do for us, and what it can’t.” It is a review of Robert Wright’s new book, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.  (I suspect Wright filched the title from WEIT), as well as a general discussion of Buddhism in America and its connection with secularism (like a good reviewer, Adam never limits himself to merely evaluating a book’s merits). I haven’t yet read Wright’s book, but it appears to be an attempt to show that meditation works, there is a scientific basis for its efficacy, and that the benefits of this practice jibe with what we know from evolutionary psychology. As Antonio Damasio noted, in a glowing review of Wright’s book in the New York Times:

My take on Wright’s fundamental proposals is as follows. First, the beneficial powers of meditation come from the possibility of realizing that our emotive reactions and the consequent feelings they engender — which operate in automated fashion, outside our deliberate control — are often inappropriate and even counterproductive relative to the situations that trigger them. Second, the mismatch between causes and responses is rooted in evolution. We have inherited from our nonhuman and human forerunners a complex affect apparatus suited to life circumstances very different from ours. That apparatus — which is controlled from varied sectors of our nervous systems — was created by natural selection and assisted by genetic transmission over a long period of time. It worked well for nonhuman primates and later for human hunter gatherers, but it has worked far less well as cultures became more complex. Third, meditation allows us to realize that the idea of the self as director of our decisions is an illusion, and that the degree to which we are at the mercy of a weakly controlled system places us at a considerable disadvantage. Fourth, the awareness brought on by meditation helps the construction of a truly enlightened humanity and counters the growing tribalism of contemporary societies.

Gopnik is not nearly as enthusiastic about Wright’s book, though he does say it has its good points. One of his criticisms is that Wright ignores the traditional trappings of Buddhism, including the poetry, koans, and, especially, the supernaturalism (that, of course, is not Wright’s purpose, as he professes to be an atheist). Gopnik:

Wright’s is a Buddhism almost completely cleansed of supernaturalism. His Buddha is conceived as a wise man and self-help psychologist, not as a divine being—no miraculous birth, no thirty-two distinguishing marks of the godhead (one being a penis sheath), no reincarnation. This is a pragmatic Buddhism, and Wright’s pragmatism, as in his previous books, can touch the edge of philistinism. Nearly all popular books about Buddhism are rich in poetic quotation and arresting aphorisms, those ironic koans that are part of the (Zen) Buddhist décor—tales of monks deciding that it isn’t the wind or the flag that’s waving in the breeze but only their minds. Wright’s book has no poetry or paradox anywhere in it. Since the poetic-comic side of Buddhism is one of its most appealing features, this leaves the book a little short on charm. Yet, if you never feel that Wright is telling you something profound or beautiful, you also never feel that he is telling you something untrue. Direct and unambiguous, tracing his own history in meditation practice—which eventually led him to a series of weeklong retreats and to the intense study of Buddhist doctrine—he makes Buddhist ideas and their history clear.

Gopnik also argues that the evolutionary-psychology underpinnings of Wright’s thesis may not be accurate: at one point he says (my emphasis) “Whether or not evolutionary psychology is a real or a pseudoscience—opinions vary—one can believe that human beings are afflicted with too much wanting. . “.  While Gopnik correctly asserts that most of Wright’s claims about how Buddhism works are still supportable without the need for evolutionary psychology, I wish that Adam had granted the field a bit more credibility. Yes, there’s a passel of bad evolutionary psychology, but the attempt to uncover the evolutionary underpinnings of human behavior is not in principle or practice “pseudoscientific”, and it has led to some decent evolutionary understanding of our behavior.  Does Gopnik think, for example, that the differences in sexual behavior between men and women, which parallel differences among many of our relatives, near and far, and are well explained by evolutionary psychology, are merely “pseudoscience”? That’s just not fair, nor is it fair to imply that the field is intellectually bankrupt.

That said, I found the best part of Gopnik’s piece his discussion of whether “Buddhism without any supernatural scaffolding is still Buddhism.” That’s a good question, for, after all, the Dalai Lama, while professing to be down with science, still believes in the supernatural tenets of reincarnation and karma. In that sense Buddhism cannot be divorced from superstition any more than can Catholicism, with its adherence to a soul the dogma that of Adam and Eve are our literal ancestors.

Gopnik notes that Western Buddhists often fob off the supernaturalism of Buddhism by saying, “Well, everyone believes in something.” And here is where he takes out his silver scalpel and severs science from superstition (my emphasis):

Then there’s the shrug-and-grin argument that everyone believes something. Is it fair to object that most of us take quantum physics on faith, too? Well, we don’t take it on faith. We take it on trust, a very different thing. We have confidence—amply evidenced by the technological transformation of the world since the scientific revolution, and by the cash value of validated predictions based on esoteric mathematical abstraction—that the world picture it conveys is true, or more nearly true than anything else on offer. Batchelor tap-dances perilously close to the often repeated absurdity that a highly credulous belief about supernatural claims and an extremely skeptical belief about supernatural claims are really the same because they are both beliefs.

A deeper objection to the attempted reconciliation of contemporary science and Buddhist practice flows from the nature of scientific storytelling. The practice of telling stories—imagined tales of cause and effect that fixate on the past and the future while escaping the present, sending us back and forth without being here now—is something that both Wright and Batchelor see as one of the worst delusions the mind imprints on the world. And yet it is inseparable from the Enlightenment science that makes psychology and biology possible. The contemporary generation of American Buddhists draws again and again on scientific evidence for the power of meditation—EEGs and MRIs and so on—without ever wondering why a scientific explanation of that kind has seldom arisen in Buddhist cultures. (Science has latterly been practiced by Buddhists, of course.)

I’d like to think that some of this was influenced by my similar arguments in Faith Versus Fact (which I think Adam’s read), or my piece in Slate, “No faith in science,” but I just don’t know. Regardless, the distinction between religious faith and “trust” or “earned confidence” is important, and it’s time someone made this point in the New Yorker.

Finally, Gopnik seems to embrace secular humanism, implicitly arguing that, stripped of supernaturalism, religions often arrive at similar sets of values:

All secularized faiths tend to converge on a set of agreeable values: compassion, empathy, the renunciation of mere material riches. But the shared values seem implicit in the very project of secularizing a faith, with its assumption that the ethical and the supernatural elements can be cleanly severed—an operation that would have seemed unintelligible to St. Paul, as to Gotama himself. The idea of doing without belief is perhaps a bigger idea than any belief it negates. Secular Buddhism ends up being . . . secularism.

If that’s not the statement of a nonbeliever, I’ll eat my balaklava (though I’d wish it were baklava). Kudos to Gopnik for a thoughtful discussion, and for deep-sixing the “we take science on faith” argument.

h/t: Paul


Categories: Science

Here’s the marmot!

Why Evolution is True Feed - 5 hours 44 min ago

Did you spot the marmot in this morning’s photo by Leo Glenn? I thought it was, as Leo said, medium hard. Anyway, here’s the original and then his reveal:

Categories: Science

Why adding a drop of water can make whisky taste even better

New Scientist Feed - 7 hours 44 min ago
Scotch aficionados know that adding a little water to their dram can bring out the flavours – now we have glimpsed more of the chemistry behind it
Categories: Science

Reader’s wildlife and science post

Why Evolution is True Feed - 8 hours 29 min ago

Reader Bruce Lyon, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Santa Cruz, has sent us another great photo-and-science post on coots, a wonderful and bizarre bird. I have to say that the phenomenon of brood parasitism, described below, is fascinating, and a great evolutionary tale.

Bruce’s notes are indented:

Another installment of the American coot [Fulica americana] soap opera from studies my students and I have done on several wetlands in central British Columbia (previous posts herehere, and here). Soap operas are often spiced up with cheats and villains, and coots are no exception. When I went to BC in 1987 to start my PhD field research, I planned to study the various aspects of family life I described in previous posts. However, within a couple of weeks of starting the field work, systematic nest checks revealed fascinating cheaters in the system and I made a snap decision to focus on that aspect for my PhD research. Female coots were laying eggs in each other’s’ nests with wild abandon, and it was clear that coots provided a great study system for investigating these reproductive cheats. Many readers may be familiar with brood parasitism across species—like the cuckoos and cowbirds that lay their eggs in the nests of other species. There are actually more species of within-species parasites, but this form of brood parasitism is less well studied, partly because it is harder to detect.

When within-species parasitism was first observed, in ducks, it was called ‘dump nesting’. It was thought to be maladaptive (‘a breakdown of maternal instinct’), perhaps because it sometimes occurred at such high frequencies that it caused lots of nest desertion and reduced hatching success. At the time, there was also no conceptual framework for making adaptive sense of the behavior, but a few key papers in the 1980’s changed that by considering the behavior in an adaptive framework; and I stumbled into the phenomenon at just the right time.

Below: A photo of a coot nest with two eggs laid by a second female coot (the parasite eggs are the darker ones).

I discovered the brood parasitism by checking nests daily and marking all new eggs. No bird in the world can lay more than one egg per day, so when nests are checked daily and there is more than one new egg since yesterday’s check it is clear that more than one female has laid eggs in the nest. Since we mark eggs as they are laid, all eggs without numbers during a visit are new ones since the last check. More than one new egg = brood parasitism! Parasitism was very common—almost half the nests were parasitized.

Below: An important first step was to make sure that these intriguing nests were not examples of cooperative group living coots—in several bird species multiple females share a territory and all lay eggs in the same nest. By marking coots with neck collars, it became clear that all territories had only one male and female, so I had discovered brood parasitism rather than cooperative breeding. Here is a photo of a territorial pair, sans collar.

Below: Coot eggs vary a lot in color and markings, as this photo of eggs from several females shows. Eggs from different females differ in shape, background color and the pattern and color of the speckling. I find these eggs quite beautiful.

Below: Eggs from five females; each column has eggs from the same female. Note that eggs vary among females in features like shape, color and speckling pattern, but a given female lays very consistent eggs. This makes it possible match eggs laid by a given female.

Below: Once a parasitized nest is detected by the unusual laying rate, we then identify which of the new eggs are the parasite’s and which are the host’s. Coots lay an egg every day, so when checking nests daily there should be at most one new host egg. Usually, one new egg looks just like the rest in the clutch (the new host egg) and the other new one(s) look different and are the new parasite egg(s). The photo below shows all of the eggs in one nest (7 host, 2 parasites) and illustrates that sometimes parasites differ strikingly from the host eggs (parasite egg P2), while at other times the difference is much more subtle (egg P1; speckles differ). Clearly two different parasites laid in this nest. A small-scale genetic study confirmed that our egg assignments were very accurate.

Below. We can also use egg features to figure out which females laid the parasitic eggs. We temporarily borrow parasitic eggs to compare them with eggs in other nests in the population. If a parasitic egg matches the owners’ own eggs in another nest it means we have found the parasite’s own nest. Most parasitism is in fact by nesting females, and these females typically parasitize a next-door neighbor. Below an intrepid field assistant risks an icy dunking (water over the top of the waders) to compare parasitic eggs (in the egg carton) to those in some nests in deep water.

Below:  Nesting parasites typically laid their parasitic eggs before continuing to lay in their own nest—without skipping any days of laying. Brood parasitism by nesting females is particularly interesting because these females have their own nests: why not just lay the eggs in their own nest? Brood parasitism becomes a clutch-size problem, and I explored it in the context of David Lack’s clutch-size hypothesis. In coots, eggs are cheap but babies are expensive (because food for chicks limits family size), so most females can produce far more eggs than they can raise in their own nest. Parasitism allows them to produce extra eggs that can be fobbed off on the neighbors. Food is also limiting at the host nests, but if the parasites can lay the eggs early enough in the host’s laying cycle, they have a good chance of surviving—and it will be a host chick that starves instead. It’s basically a timing game—the early egg gets the worm.

Below: There is a second flavor of brood parasite—females without nests or territories in a given year. About a quarter of the parasitic eggs could not be matched to any nesting female in the population, and I concluded that these eggs were laid by non-nesting females. These non-breeders are apparent on some wetlands where little gangs hang out in areas that lack vegetation and therefore are not suitable as nesting habitat (as photo below shows). At our wetlands, nesting densities are very high and occupy all suitable breeding habitat, so not everybody gets to have a territory. It seems that non-nesting parasites resort to parasitism as an alternative to not reproducing at all. Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘making the best of a bad job’ to explain this type of reproductive tactic—these parasites would establish a nest if given the chance but parasitism is better than nothing.

Below: Parasitism is good for the parasite but bad for the hosts. Given the chick starvation at most nests, raising somebody else’s chicks is very costly—each successful parasite chick costs the hosts one of their own chicks. Coots have evolved some clever mechanisms to reduce the costs of parasitism. Many coots recognize and reject parasitic eggs from their nest by burying the eggs down in the nest material (where the leeches get them!). About a third of parasitic eggs are rejected. The photo below shows two eggs in the process of being rejected (the pale ones at the edge).

Whether parasite eggs are rejected depends, in part, on how similar they are to the host’s eggs in background color. I suspect that speckling pattern may also be important but I have not yet shown this. Coots also know what their own eggs look like and are not just using the simple rule of getting rid of the rare egg type that differs from the majority. When I swapped eggs among nests to make the host’s own eggs the rare type in their nest, they were not fooled and still knew their own eggs.

Within-species brood parasitism has been observed in quite a diversity of birds; I show a couple of examples below.

Below: Parasitism is common cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), a colonial nesting songbird. Remarkably, a parasite swallow sometimes lays a parasitic egg in her own nest and then transfers it to a host nest in its beak! (study by Charles and Mary Brown). In the photo below (not far from my house) I wondered if the bird in flight was a brood parasite. It kept entering different nests and getting chased away by the nest owners.

Below: Brood parasitism is very common in waterfowl, including these Barrow’s goldeneyes (Bucephala islandica) at my BC site. In ducks, unlike most other birds, females return to their birth site. This can lead to cases where hosts and parasites are related, and some have suggested that kin selection may play a role in favoring brood parasitism in some species. This aspect has been studied in some detail in goldeneyes.

Below: Parasitism has also been particularly well studied in the common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) a relative of the coots in Europe. I never observed coots in the act of parasitism but Sue McRae captured several brood parasitism events by moorhens on video camera. To lay an egg, the parasite female climbs onto the nest, usually occupied by the sitting host male, sidles up beside the male and squeezes out an egg, all while the male pecks her continuously.

Categories: Science

Spot the marmot!

Why Evolution is True Feed - 9 hours 29 min ago

Reader Leo Glenn sent a puzzler and some notes:

Here’s a photo taken last May in Yellowstone National Park of a Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris). I would give it an easy-to-moderate difficulty rating. Can you spot the marmot? The answer at 11 a.m. Chicago time. Click photo to enlarge:


Categories: Science

Thursday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Why Evolution is True Feed - 10 hours 13 min ago

It’s Thursday, August 17, 2017, and it’s National Vanilla Custard Day. Meh.

On this day in 1585, the first group of colonists sent to the New World by Sir Walter Raleigh founded the Roanoke Colony on an island off what is now North Carolina.  When the British returned in 1590, the colony had vanished completely—all 118 settlers. The only clue was the name “Croatan” carved in a tree: the name of a local Indian tribe. On August 16, 1585, the first animated cartoon, Fantasmagorie, created by Émile Cohl, was shown in Paris. Here it is at only a bit more than a minute long: it’s very crude, but what did you expect?

And on this day in 1915, a Jewish white man, American Leo Frank was lynched in Marietta, Georgia after being convicted of raping Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old employee in his pencil factory. He was convicted but sentenced to life imprisonment rather than execution, and that, combined with the anti-Semitism of the South, ensured that Frank would be dragged from jail by a mob and hanged. (See the photo here if you aren’t squeamish.) Most historians now think Frank was innocent and that the janitor who testified against him was the real murderer. Frank was one of the 1297 white people lynched out of a total of 4743 between 1882 and 1968.

On this date in 1947, the Radcliffe Line, the committee-designed border between India and Pakistan, was revealed—after both countries had already declared their independence. The mass migration of Muslims and Hindus toward their respective countries was accompanied by the deaths of 1-2 million people.  On August 16, 1962,  Peter Fechter, 18, was shot by East German guards while trying to cross the newly erected Berlin Wall. It took him an hour to die, bleeding and screaming in full view of both the guards and horrified observers in West Berlin. The guards didn’t try to help him and those on the West side couldn’t, as he’d fallen on the Eastern side of the border. On this day in 1998, President Bill Clinton finally admitted that he’d had an an “improper physical relationship” with White House intern Monica Lewinsky; In a television address later that day, Clinton admitted that he’d “misled people” about the relationship. There’s little doubt that Clinton was a sexual predator for years, but somehow everyone forgets about it.  Finally, on this day in 2008, Michael Phelps, an American swimmer, became the first person to nab eight gold medals in a single Olympic Game.

Notables born on this day include Davy Crockett (1786), Mae West (1893), Mark Felt (the real “Deep Throat”; 1913), V. S. Naipaul (1932), Robert De Niro (1943), Belinda Carlisle (1958) and Sean Penn (1960). Those who died on this day include Frederick the Great (1786), Conrad Aiken (1973), Ira Gershwin (1983), and Rudolf Hess (1987). I wasn’t a huge fan of the Go Gos, but I am of Susanna Hoffs (a nice Jewish girl) and the Bangles, so let’s hear one of their songs instead (the song, apparently performed at Hollywoods House of Blues in 2000; it ends at 3:55 and the band leaves the stage at 4:25):

Today’s Hili dialogue puzzled me, so I asked Malgorzata for clarification. She explained: “Andrzej took the picture through our wicker chair and it looks as if Hili were locked behind the bars. She looked at the picture and remarked that, thankfully, it’s just an illusion because she loves her freedom.” Maybe the dialogue is already clear to everyone else!

Hili: It’s good that it’s only an illusion of limited freedom. A: What do you mean? Hili: I can’t imagine life in confinement. In Polish: Hili: Dobrze, że to iluzja ograniczenia wolności.
Ja: Co masz na myśli?
Hili: Nie umiem sobie wyobrazić życia w zamknięciu. We learned yesterday that on a hiking vacation with his staff in southern Poland, Leon became smitten with Mawrula, a local female cat. But he appears to have been stood up! Poor Leon!

Leon: She promised that she would come…

Categories: Science

Why are the loops in the sun’s atmosphere so neat and tidy?

Science News Feed - 10 hours 44 min ago
Observations during the total solar eclipse may explain why the sun’s atmosphere is so organized despite arising from a tangled magnetic field.
Categories: Science

The Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus

Science-based Medicine Feed - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 10:00pm
The Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus, an officially-recognized Congressional Membership Organization, operates as an in-house mouthpiece for the dietary supplement industry. Both the caucus and the rules allowing it should be reformed to prohibit this.
Categories: Science


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