Common shelducks in Sweden


This video shows common shelducks, and an avocet and a ringed plover, on Öland island in Sweden.

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Right-wing Italian mayor wants death without trial for ‘Allahu akbar’


This video about Italy says about itself:

Venice Gay Pride: Mayor Brugnaro ‘wants to ban parade’

27 August 2015

The mayor of Venice has been quoted as saying that he will try to ban Gay Pride parades in the city, provoking fury from gay rights activists.

“There will be no gay pride in my Venice,” Luigi Brugnaro told La Repubblica newspaper, describing the event as farcical and kitsch.

The head of an Italian gay rights group criticised the mayor and invited him to join the next Pride parade in Venice.

“We will be back next year and we invite the mayor to march at the head of the parade with us,” Flavio Romani, from the Arcigay group, told AFP news agency. “That way he will see what a Gay Pride really is.”

He accused the mayor of trying to impose his views on a “cosmopolitan city”.

In the interview with La Repubblica newspaper (in Italian), Mr Brugnaro said he firmly opposed hosting the parade in Venice.

Mr Brugnaro earlier provoked controversy by withdrawing books that depicted same-sex families from Venice’s nurseries and primary schools.

The British pop star Elton John was among those who condemned the move, calling the mayor “boorishly bigoted” in an Instagram post.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant today:

Mayor of Venice repeats: “Who calls Allahu Akbar here will be shot straight away”

The death penalty was abolished in Italy in 1889. Except for Mussolini‘s fascist dictatorship. Under Mussolini, the death penalty could, in theory, only be applied after a trial (in practice, a trial at a fascist kangaroo court). Now, the far-right mayor of Venice wants the death penalty without trial; not even kangaroo court trial. Not for murder; not for rape. For saying two words.

‘Allahu akbar’ means ‘God is the greatest‘ in Arabic. It is a very common saying in mostly Muslim countries; eg, at funerals. The expression expresses the hope of the person using the saying that the forces of good will ultimately prevail, even in difficult circumstances.

In a very small percentage of the saying being used, it is by ISIS or similar terrorists during acts of violence. It was also said by Canadian islamophobic terrorist and Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen supporter Alexandre Bissonnette as he committed mass murder at a Quebec mosque, as a cynical reference to Islam intended to wrongfoot police investigations.

However, in far over 99% of cases, saying ‘Allahu akbar’ has nothing to do with terrorism. Just like saying ‘Thank God’ or a similar expression from a Christian tradition in the big majority of cases does not mean that the person saying it is a Christian fundamentalist terrorist aiming at killing supposedly ‘un-Christian’ persons.

The right-wing mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro,

According to Wikipedia:

Luigi Brugnaro is an … Italian politician, entrepreneur, business executive and the current Mayor of Venice, an office he took a hold of on June 15, 2015. …

Brugnaro has attracted controversy via his banning of forty nine books about discrimination and or homosexuality from the city’s schools, including a French Book on gay parenting entitled “Jean Has Two Mums”, and in declaring that there will be no gay pride parade in Venice.

The Volkskrant article continues:

wants frontier justice for potential terrorists. Anyone who enters the busy San Marco square and calls ‘Allahu akbar’ will, according to Brugnaro, be shot after three steps. …

Brugnaro: ‘Last year I said they will be shot after four steps, now I say: after three steps. I will say it in Venetian: ‘Ghe sparemo’. (‘We’ll shoot them’) ….

Brugnaro did not say what police would do if someone would call Allahu Akbar as a joke.

Ancient Cambrian arrow worms discovery


This video says about itself:

This ancient sea worm had a spiky mustache | Science News

23 August 2017

A newly discovered species of arrow worm that lived over half a billion years ago had about twice as many head spines as its modern kin.

Read more here.

Scientists have discovered traces of life more than half-a-billion years old that could change the way we think about how all animals evolved on earth. … The fossils found date back to a geological and evolutionary period known as the Ediacaran-Cambrian transition. This was when the Ediacaran Period, which spanned 94 million years from the end of the Cryogenian Period, 635 million years ago, moved into the Cambrian Period around 541 million years ago: here.

Saudi royal air force butchering Yemeni farmers


This 23 August 2017 video is called Dozens killed as Saudi-led coalition strike hits hotel near Sanaa, Yemen.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Yemen: Scores die in air strikes by Saudi forces

Thursday 24th August 2017

AT LEAST 71 people were killed yesterday morning in a series of air strikes by Saudi-led forces in Yemen, news agency Saba reported.

A 3am attack on a hotel, Bayt al-Edhari in Arhab district, killed at least 50 people, who local doctors said were all farmers of the stimulant qat.

Physician Ali al-Rakmi, who was helping with rescue efforts, said that there had been more than 100 people inside at the time of the attack.

Fahd Marhab, head of the Umrah hospital six miles away, said there were no wounded and that all the people in the hotel were killed in the 3am air strike. …

Another air strike hit Sanhan, just south-east of the capital, killing at least six civilians and wounding 15 others.

Other air raids hit the Khashm al-Bokra area of Bani Hushaesh district, damaging houses and farms.

Reports indicate that approximately 100 farmers were sleeping in the two-story building in Arhab at the time that it was blown up: here.

Saudi economic future looks bleak amid falling oil prices: here.

Carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin, lecture report


Norbert Peeters, 11 August 2017

On 11 August 2017, before we went to the carnivorous plants exhibition in the botanical garden, we went to a lecture in Leiden University about carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin. The lecture was by Norbert Peeters, on the left of this photo. The title of the lecture was Darwin’s little shop of horrors.

All photos on this blog post, mainly of slides shown during the lecture, are cell phone photos.

Today, Darwin’s best known book is On the Origin of Species. However, Peeters said, during Darwin’s life his best sold book was his 1875 Insectivorous plants.

Before Darwin, people either thought carnivorous plants did not exist; or they looked at them with fascination often mixed with exaggeration of how big carnivorous plants’ prey was.

In 1768, for the first time live Venus flytrap plants were brought from North America to England. In a 1770 book, John Ellis described them. He named the genus Dionaea, a Greek name for the goddess of beauty Aphrodite (Venus in Latin).

Venus fly-trap from Ellis' description

Ellis strongly suspected Venus flytraps were carnivorous. He wrote so to the most famous naturalist of the eighteenth century, Carolus Linnaeus, sending dried specimens with his letter.

However, Linnaeus did not believe that carnivorous plants existed.

Linnaeus, 11 August 2017

In support of that view, Linnaeus quoted the Bible, Genesis 1:30:

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

So, Linnaeus interpreted the Bible as saying that animals eat plants, not the other way round.

In this, Linnaeus was in a tradition, as pictured in this 17th century book, of seeing reality as a hierarchical ladder. God on top, humans below God. On the lower end, stones, etc. Plants one step below animals, forever unable to catch up with them.

Hierarchy, 11 August 2017

Linnaeus made tremendous contributions to systematic biology, still relevant today. However, comparable to earlier naturalists like Scheuchzer, he was still what would now be called a ‘creationist‘. He opposed the idea of evolution, in his own eighteenth century advocated in rudimentary form by Buffon, and later elaborated by Darwin, including as an explanation for the origin of carnivorous plants, as we shall see.

The poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) reacted to the newly discovered Venus flytrap with the lines:

The Lord deliver us!
Think of a vegetable being “carnivorous!”

Venus flytrap, 11 August 2017

Now, from denial to fascination mixed with exaggeration.

Tree eating humans, 11 August 2017

In Victorian England, there were fictional stories, as well as stories claiming to be non fictional, about plants eating people; like a tree in Madagascar supposedly feeding on humans.

Today, we know that the biggest animals eaten by carnivorous plants are mice. And even that size is too much for most of today’s about 680 carnivorous plant species.

This video from the USA says about itself:

20 January 2017

While the carnivorous cravings of most flesh-eating plants are limited to small insects, one exception is the pitcher plant. It can consume anything that fits in its mouth–including a mouse!

However, Peeters said, twentieth century films like The Little Shop of Horrors and The Day of the Triffids continued the nineteenth century stories of carnivorous plants being dangerous to humans.

The little shop of horrors, 11 August 2017

Though about 1800 much was still unknown about carnivorous plants, they fascinated many people. Empress Josephine of France and President Thomas Jefferson of the USA owned Venus flytraps.

Since Darwin’s 1860s-1870s experiments with carnivorous plants, we know much more about the Venus flytrap.

Peeters illustrated that by playing this 2009 BBC video.

The video says about itself:

Life – Venus Flytraps: Jaws of Death – BBC One

Hungry Venus flytraps snap shut on a host of unfortunate flies. But, despite its name, flies aren’t the flytrap’s only meal. As long as its prey is roughly the right size and touches two of its hairs within twenty seconds, the plant will dine on any insect or spider that comes its way. Glands in the lobes then secrete enzymes that break the dinner down into a digestible soup. Ten days later, the trap pops open to reveal nothing but a dried out husk.

Thanks to Darwin and others, we now know more about the European carnivorous plant sundew than centuries ago.

Sundew has liquid droplets on it. Many other plants have dew droplets on them early in the morning. These evaporate as the sunshine gets stronger. In sundew, they don’t evaporate. People thought the sundew droplets were a peculiar kind of dew resistant to warmth; hence the plant’s name ‘sundew’.

Erasmus Darwin, 11 August 2017

In the late eighteenth century, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, said the sundew droplets were not dew. He correctly thought they had to do with insects. He did not know yet they had to do with eating these insects though.

Insectivorous plants, 11 August 2017

Erasmus Darwin’s grandson Charles experimented with carnivorous plants. In 1875, the results of these experiments were published in his Insectivorous plants. Why did plants become carnivorous? Because they grew in soils with few nutrients, Charles Darwin pointed out. They needed other sources of nutrients. In the course of evolution, carnivorous plants developed mechanisms to lure, catch and digest arthropod prey.

Sundew leaf, 11 August 2017

Like this specialized sundew leaf from Darwin’s book.

Carnivorous plants' traps, 11 August 2017

Peeters pointed out there are three kinds of carnivorous plants’ traps. Traps snapping tight, glue traps and pitcher traps.

The sequel of this will come on this blog. So, stay tuned!

‘Darwin’s Backyard’ chronicles naturalist’s homespun experiments. Breeding pigeons, growing orchids and other hands-on work provided evidence for the theory of evolution. By Sid Perkins, 10:00am, August 24, 2017.