The wonderful world of caterpillars

Environmental writer Elizabeth Kolbert had an interesting article in the New Yorker about the little-known world of caterpillars and other insects. I have to admit, caterpillars had not figured much in my consciousness but was impressed to learn that they undergo a dizzying array of transformations in their very short lives.

From a caterpillar’s perspective, humans are boring. The young they squeeze out of their bodies are just miniature versions of themselves, with all the limbs and appendages they’ll ever have. As they mature, babies get bigger and stronger and hairier, but that’s about it.

Caterpillars, for their part, are continually reinventing themselves. They emerge from tiny, jewel-like eggs and for their first meal often eat their own egg cases. Once they reach a certain size, they sprout a second head, just behind the first. They then wriggle free of their old skin, the way a diver might wriggle out of a wetsuit. (In the process, the old head drops off.) In the course of their development, they will complete this exercise three, four, in some species sixteen times, often trying out a new look along the way. The spicebush swallowtail, for example, which is found throughout the eastern U.S., emerges from its egg mottled in black and white. This color scheme allows it to pass itself off as a bird dropping. After its third molt, as a so-called fourth instar, it turns green (or brown), with two yellow-and-black spots on its head. The spots, which look uncannily like a pair of eyes, enable the swallowtail to pretend it’s a snake.
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Goal keeper scores goal

I would imagine that it is extremely rare for a goal keeper in a soccer match to score a goal for their team but that is what happened in this game.

Argentine goalkeeper Leandro Requena scored one of the most outrageous goals you are ever likely to see during his Cobresal side’s 3-1 win over Colo-Colo in Chile’s top soccer league.

With his team already leading 2-0 in the 77th minute, Requena took what initially looked like a fairly innocuous goal kick.

However, with Colo-Colo goalkeeper Brayan Cortés well outside of his penalty area, the ball bounced over his head and towards goal.

To add to his embarrassment, Cortés stumbled as he tried in vain to chase the ball as it crossed the line.

According to TNT Sports Chile, the goal was scored from a distance of 101 meters which, if ratified by Guinness World Records, would break the record for the longest range goal in history.

I do not know if they keep records for the longest shout of “g-o-o-a-l” by a TV announcer but this one could be a contender. It clocked in at about 12 seconds. Do announcers train for this?

The New War Between Science and Religion

As part of my process of posting my published articles here on my blog for easier access, here is one that was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education Review on May 9, 2010. Note that this was back in 2010 so the word ‘new’ may no longer be applicable. The editors of the magazine said that this article received one of the highest readerships that they had seen.

The New War Between Science and Religion

The Trump legal circus goes on and on

I have been avoiding much of the news about the possible indictments of Donald Trump because prosecutors’ offices tend to be pretty tight-lipped, so the constant speculation about if or when he will be indicted, by whom and for what, tends to be fact-free and thus of not much value. One might as well wait until something actually happens. But then last week Trump himself said that he expects to be indicted and also arrested on Tuesday by the Manhattan district attorney on the recommendation of the grand jury looking into his case and that caused a media frenzy. It is not clear if Trump had some inside source for this news or whether he was also guessing and simply trying to rally support in the event that he does get indicted soon.

Tuesday came and went with no indictment. Since the grand jury only meets on Mondays and Wednesday, that would make today the possible day. I do not how how the process works in detail but I would have thought that in complex, high-profile cases it would take at least a day or two after the grand jury ends its deliberations and delivers its verdict for the DA to prepare and file an indictment, so I would not expect anything today either.
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Timeshares are even worse than I thought

On the latest episode of his show Last week Tonight, John Oliver explains why timeshares (where one buys a period of time, say a week or so a year, on a property at a resort) is a terrible idea. He says that timeshares have been so widely ridiculed that pretty much everyone who bought one is now embarrassed that they got suckered into doing so. But they should also be skeptical of companies that say that they can get them out of their timeshares, for a fee of course, because they can be scams.

I was once staying at a hotel and was invited to attend a presentation in one of their hospitality suites with the promise of a free gift or lunch or something in return for sitting through a presentation. Such ‘free’ offers are always a warning sign and since I knew about timeshares, I declined. Besides, I couldn’t see the appeal of committing myself to go to the same place every year. But on another occasion my in-laws visiting the US went to Atlantic City. Being unaware of timeshares and this kind of pressure sales tactic, they succumbed to such an invitation and had to endure a long high-pressure sales pitch. My father-in-law finally managed to get away by repeatedly saying that he had to consult his son-in-law (me) before he could make any purchase. It was not true, of course but it worked to get the salesperson to finally let them go.

Communicating with the dead

I was talking with someone recently and during the conversation, she started telling me about the psychic she visits who had been very helpful in enabling her to communicate with her dead husband who had given her various kinds of advice. She said that the psychic has also told her many things that were accurate. She also said that on one occasion, she had seen her dead husband in the corner of the room and had made eye contact with him. She said that another person who was with her had also seen her husband.

I got to know this person just within the last couple of years, and while we are not close friends, she is very nice and I like her. While she was telling me this, I simply kept silent, even though I am dyed-in-the-wool materialist who does not believe in the existence of the afterlife and the spirit world. I am also aware that psychics and mediums use cold reading and other methods to give the impression of channeling the voices of dead people. And yet, my friend was so obviously happy with her experience that I did not have the heart to try and disabuse her of her belief.
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Now that’s optimism

I was struck by this news item.

The billionaire mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose conservative media empire spans the globe, is engaged to marry for the fifth time at the age of 92 years old, he told an interviewer in his own tabloid newspaper, the New York Post.

“I was very nervous. I dreaded falling in love – but I knew this would be my last. It better be. I’m happy,” Murdoch said of his new fiancee, Ann Lesley Smith, 66, whose late husband was Chester Smith, a country singer as well as radio and TV executive.

The pair intend to get married in the summer. “We’re both looking forward to spending the second half of our lives together,” Murdoch said. [My italics-MS]

Good luck with that!

The people who lied us into the Iraq war

The Iraq war began twenty years ago. Jon Schwarz says that those who lied us into that disastrous war that led to the destruction of Iraq and neighboring countries have not faced any consequences. His review includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, John Bolton, Condoleeza Rice, David Frum, David Brooks, Jeffrey Goldberg, Judith Miller, and Joe Biden.

THE U.S. AND its allies invaded Iraq 20 years ago in Operation Iraqi Freedom. President George W. Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer twice accidentally referred to it as Operation Iraqi Liberation, which was definitely not its official name and would have generated an unfortunate acronym.

The men and women who launched this catastrophic, criminal war have paid no price over the past two decades. On the contrary, they’ve been showered with promotions and cash. There are two ways to look at this.

One is that their job was to make the right decisions for America (politicians) and to tell the truth (journalists). This would mean that since then, the system has malfunctioned over and over again, accidentally promoting people who are blatantly incompetent failures.

Another way to look at it is that their job was to start a war that would extend the U.S. empire and be extremely profitable for the U.S. defense establishment and oil industry, with no regard for what’s best for America or telling the truth. This would mean that they were extremely competent, and the system has not been making hundreds of terrible mistakes, but rather has done exactly the right thing by promoting them.

You can read this and then decide for yourself which perspective makes the most sense.

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Exposing the closeted MAGAts in Congress

There is a lot of crazy people in the Republican party these days. But in terms of their visibility, most of the attention has been focused on people like Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz. But there are others who share the same extreme views but have kept a much lower profile, trying to pass themselves off as more mainstream politicians. The group known as Indivisible has decided on a campaign to identify 18 of those crazies who managed to get elected in districts that Joe Biden won in 2020 and make their extreme views well-known to the electorate so that they have a better chance of being defeated in their swing districts at the next election. (I have coined the term ‘MAGAts’ (pronounced ‘maggots’) to label those who are loyal to the Trump MAGA cult. UPDATE: My claim to fame was premature as larpar points out in the comments. Oh well, back to the drawing board!)
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