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Yes, Moderate Muslims Do Condemn Terrorism. A Lot.

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I swear, if I hear someone ask one more time in response to some act of Muslim brutality or terrorism why moderate or liberal Muslims don’t condemn it, I’m going to puke blood. Have they ever bothered to look? Do they expect those people to knock on their door and deliver such a message via singing telegram? Rabbi Marc Schneier notes that Muslim leaders do so all the time but get almost no media coverage when they do.

Why don’t Muslim leaders speak out?

That question comes up every time terrorists purporting to be deeply religious Muslims carry out armed attacks that kill innocent people. Where, commentators ask, are the moderate Muslim leaders and why aren’t they decrying the horrors perpetuated by fellow Muslims?

In fact, mainstream Muslims are speaking out, clearly and consistently. Leaders around the world, many of whom I know personally through my work at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, have issued strong and unambiguous statements virtually every time a violent attack has occurred, condemning such acts as immoral and counter to the fundamental precepts of Islam.

Yet somehow their responses are not being heard, barely registering in the public consciousness…

For example, after riots by a predominantly Muslim crowd in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles attacked a synagogue and Jewish businesses, the local Muslim Association sent a letter of solidarity and support to the vice president of the synagogue. National Muslim leaders took part in an interfaith ceremony that denounced the violence and called for reconciliation. French Council of the Muslim Faith head Dalil Boubakeur, who attended the ceremony, affirmed that the vast majority of French Muslims are not anti-Semitic. How could they be, he asked, when they themselves are battling racism?

Those responses should have been part of the story. But too often, Islam is portrayed negatively, and as a monolithic entity. People don’t realize that there is a diversity of opinion within Islam and that most Muslims condemn extremism and violence.

Yes, Islamist extremism is a genuine threat to world peace. But those who lump all Muslims together, and dismiss as meaningless the courageous stand of the moderate majority against extremism, aren’t helping to win that battle. Rather, they’re strengthening extremism by perpetuating a false narrative of perpetual conflict between Islam and the West. That is something which we must fight with all our might.

This. So very much this.

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brundlefly
2088 days ago
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O’Reilly: Protests are a George Soros Plot

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Bill O’Reilly, snuggled safely in the confines of the privilege of being an incredibly rich white man, just doesn’t understand why black people and their allies are protesting our racist criminal justice system. And since he can’t understand it, it must all be a bunch of “professional agitators” funded by George Soros and those evil communist unions who are doing it.

“The demonstrations you are seeing are not — are not — spontaneous dissent from regular folks,” he argued. “Rather, they are well-planned disruptions from professional anti-establishment provocateurs. That’s important to understand, because it is the American system that is being attacked, not the individual sagas of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.”

O’Reilly said that his program “has learned” that demonstrations in both city had been organized by a group calling itself This Stops Today, and that the “radical far-left” Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and groups funded by “shadowy radical” George Soros were involved with the protests.

However, while “This Stops Today” became a popular hashtag following grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in connection with the deaths of Brown and Garner, there does not appear to be a particular group using that name online.

O’Reilly also named two other “grievance groups,” Communities United for Police Reform and “Hoodies for Justice,” a possible reference to Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, an organization formed in response to the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman in 2012.

The Factor host said earlier this week that he did not feel Garner “did not deserve what happened to him,” but called the idea that police are more likely to behave violently toward Black men “a blatant lie.”

Well if there’s anyone who would know about blatant lies, it’s Bill O’Reilly. Every single word he said could have been taken verbatim from the 1950s and 60s. They were said by opponents of civil rights then about the protests going on, it was all being ginned up by communist “agitators.”

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brundlefly
2116 days ago
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It's not a religion problem it's a species problem #theworstinterviewCNNhaseverdone

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It's not a religion problem it's a species problem

by digby

There's an awful lot of talk these days about religions of peace vs religions of war and how some are intrinsically violent and others aren't. It's all nonsense. Right now, for a variety of reasons, Islam features some violent extremism on the fringe which happens to be in a part of the world where everyone has an interest. But you only have to look at history to see that all religions have their moments of violence. Even Buddhism, which I think we all would assume is one of the most peaceful religions in the modern world, can be drawn into violence:
Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead?

This is happening in two countries separated by well over 1,000 miles of Indian Ocean - Burma and Sri Lanka. It is puzzling because neither country is facing an Islamist militant threat. Muslims in both places are a generally peaceable and small minority.

In Sri Lanka, the issue of halal slaughter has been a flashpoint. Led by monks, members of the Bodu Bala Sena - the Buddhist Brigade - hold rallies, call for direct action and the boycotting of Muslim businesses, and rail against the size of Muslim families.

While no Muslims have been killed in Sri Lanka, the Burmese situation is far more serious. Here the antagonism is spearheaded by the 969 group, led by a monk, Ashin Wirathu, who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious hatred. Released in 2012, he has referred to himself bizarrely as "the Burmese Bin Laden".

March saw an outbreak of mob violence directed against Muslims in the town of Meiktila, in central Burma, which left at least 40 dead.

Tellingly, the violence began in a gold shop. The movements in both countries exploit a sense of economic grievance - a religious minority is used as the scapegoat for the frustrated aspirations of the majority.

On Tuesday, Buddhist mobs attacked mosques and burned more than 70 homes in Oakkan, north of Rangoon, after a Muslim girl on a bicycle collided with a monk. One person died and nine were injured.
I don't think the point is that because these Buddhists are acting violent that Buddhism is a violent religion. Obviously. But it does happen even to the most peaceful of them. All you have to do is look at what was done in the name of Christ the prince of peace to understand that.

Last night on CNN, I saw one of the most disturbingly obtuse interviews I've ever seen on cable TV (and that's saying something.) It featured Don Lemon, Alisyn Camerota and Reza Aslan, who tried in vain to make the point I just made above and was met by a brick wall of stupidity:

Alisyn CAMEROTA: Defenders of Islam insist it is a peaceful religion. Others disagree and point to the primitive treatment in Muslim countries of women and other minorities.

LEMON: So let's discuss this now.

We're joined now by Reza Aslan, a scholar of religions, a professor at University of California, Riverside, and the author of "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth."

Let's talk about this because it's a very interesting conversation every time we have it. Before we get into this discussion, I want to play with you this clip from Bill Maher's show just this Friday night. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHER: President Obama keeps insisting that ISIS is not Islamic. Well, maybe they don't practice the Muslim faith the same way he does.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: But if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS; it has too much in common with ISIS. There's so much talk -- you can applaud. Sure.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He went on for a good five or six minutes about that, talking about how women are -- circumcision for women, not respecting the rights of women, not respecting the rights of gay people. And what's your reaction? And then we will talk.

REZA ASLAN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE: Well, I like Bill Maher. I have been on his show a bunch of times. He's a comedian.

But, you know, frankly, when it comes to the topic of religion, he's not very sophisticated in the way that he thinks. I mean, the argument about the female genital mutilation being an Islamic problem is a perfect example of that. It's not an Islamic problem. It's an African problem.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Well, wait, wait, wait.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Hold on. Hold on a second Reza, because he says it's a Muslim country problem. He says that, in Somalia...

ASLAN: Yes, but that's -- yes. And that's actually empirically factually incorrect.

It's a Central African problem. Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.

But, again, this is the problem, is that you make these facile arguments that women are somehow mistreated in the Muslim world -- well, that's certainly true in many Muslim-majority countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Do you know that Muslims have elected seven women as their heads of state in those Muslim-majority countries?

How many women do we have as states in the United States?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Reza, be honest, though. For the most part, it is not a free and open society for women in those states.

ASLAN: Well, it's not in Iran. It's not in Saudi Arabia.

It certainly is in Indonesia and Malaysia. It certainly is in Bangladesh. It certainly is in Turkey. I mean, again, this is the problem is that you're talking about a religion of 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes very easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush by saying, well, in Saudi Arabia, they can't drive and so therefore that is somehow representative of Islam.

It's representative of Saudi Arabia.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: But hold on. I think that Bill Maher's point is that these aren't extremists. We often talk about extremists and that we should crack down on extremists and why aren't Muslims speaking out about extremists?

In Saudi Arabia, when women can't vote and they can't drive and they need permission from their husband, that's not extremists. Why aren't we talking more about what...

ASLAN: Why?

CAMEROTA: That's not extremist. That's commonplace. Why don't we talk more about the commonplace wrongs that are happening in some of these countries?

(CROSSTALK)

ASLAN: It's extremist when compared to the rights and responsibilities of women, Muslim women around the world. It's an extremist way of dealing with it.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But it's not extremist in that country, in Saudi Arabia. That's the norm.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: That's what she is saying.

ASLAN: Oh, no, it's not.

I mean, look, Saudi Arabia is one of the most, if not the most, extremist Muslim country in the world. In the month that we have been talking about ISIS and their terrible actions in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia, our closest ally, has beheaded 19 people. Nobody seems to care about that because Saudi Arabia sort of preserves our national interests.

LEMON: OK.

ASLAN: You know, but this is the problem, is that these kinds of conversations that we're having aren't really being had in any kind of legitimate way. We're not talking about women in the Muslim world. We're using two or three examples to justify a generalization. That's actually the definition of bigotry.

LEMON: All right, fair enough.

Let's listen to Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: So when it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS, and ISIS is Hamas. And what they share in common, all militant Islamists share in common.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Reza, the question at the bottom of the screen that everyone is looking at, does Islam promote violence?

ASLAN: Islam doesn't promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you're a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. There are Buddhist -- marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful. And that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves.

CAMEROTA: So, Reza, you don't think that there's anything more -- there's -- the justice system in Muslim countries you don't think is somehow more primitive or subjugates women more than in other countries?

ASLAN: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries.

I just told you that, Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men. In Turkey, they have had more female representatives, more female heads of state in Turkey than we have in the United States.

LEMON: Yes, but in Pakistan...

(CROSSTALK)

ASLAN: Stop saying things like "Muslim countries."

LEMON: In Pakistan, women are still being stoned to death.

ASLAN: And that's a problem for Pakistan. You're right. So, let's criticize Pakistan.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I just want to be clear on what your point is, because I thought you and Bill Maher were saying the same thing. Your point is that Muslim countries are not to blame.

There is nothing particular, there's no common thread in Muslim countries, you can't paint with a broad brush that somehow their justice system or Sharia law or what they're doing in terms of stoning and female mutilation is different than in other countries like Western countries?

ASLAN: Stoning and mutilation and those barbaric practices should be condemned and criticized by everyone. The actions of individuals and societies and countries like Iran, like Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia must be condemned, because they don't belong in the 21st century.

But to say Muslim countries, as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same, as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though somehow what is happening in the most extreme forms of these repressive countries, these autocratic countries, is representative of what's happening in every other Muslim country, is, frankly -- and I use this word seriously -- stupid. So let's stop doing that.

LEMON: OK, Reza. Let's -- I want you to listen to Benjamin Netanyahu again. This is actually the one I wanted you to hear.

ASLAN: Yes, the ISIS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NETANYAHU: But our hopes and the world's hopes for peace are in danger, because everywhere we look, militant Islam is on the march. It's not militants. It's not Islam. It's militant Islam. And, typically, its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He's making a clear distinction there. He says it's not militants, it's not Islam; it's militant Islam. Do you understand his distinction there? Is he correct?

ASLAN: Well, he's correct in talking about militant Islam being a problem.

He is absolutely incorrect in talking about ISIS equaling Hamas. That's just ridiculous. No one takes him seriously when he says things like that. And, frankly, it's precisely why, under his leadership, Israel has become so incredibly isolated from the rest of the global community.

Those kinds of statements are illogical, they're irrational, they're so obviously propagandistic. In fact, he went so far as to then bring up the Nazis, which has become kind of a verbal tick for him whenever he brings up either Hamas or ISIS.

Again, these kinds of oversimplifications I think only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS is a problem. Al Qaeda is a problem. These militant Islamic groups like Hamas, like Hezbollah, like the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn't actually help us to deal with them when, instead of talking about rational conflicts, rational criticisms of a particular religion, we instead so easily slip into bigotry by simply painting everyone with a single brush, as we have been doing in this conversation, mind you.

LEMON: Well, we're just asking the questions, Reza. And you're answering. And I think you answered very fairly, and we appreciate it.

Thank you, Reza Aslan.

CAMEROTA: We appreciate your perspective...

ASLAN: My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: ... and helping everyone understand your perspective.
I thought he was going to come through the screen and I don't blame him. Being interviewed by Beavis and Butthead had to be frustrating.

I'm not a religious person myself and really don't have a stake in defending any of them. I find an awful lot of allegedly religious behavior to be hypocritical and somewhat obscure. However, it's clear to me that the underlying problem of religious wars of the past or the violent religious extremism of the present cannot be attributed to one religion or another. This is a species problem --- the human species. We will always find a reason to fight one way or another if that's what we want to do. Religion is just one of many reasons we come up with to justify it.

You can see the interview here

.
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bibliogrrl
2185 days ago
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brundlefly
2185 days ago
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Two Impacts, One Landslide … on Mercury

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When I was a kid, I used to love looking through my telescope at craters on the Moon. Their size, shape, and subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences fascinated me, and still do.

Those differences still pull at me. Some craters are just odd, and that oddness is generally a clue to how they formed … formed… or what happened after they formed.

Mercury is Moon-like in many ways: It has a solid, rocky surface, and no atmosphere to speak of. That means it’s covered in craters, and that in turn means some will have that fun weirdness. Here’s one for your impactful enjoyment:

That image above was taken on July 19, 2014, 2014 by the ever-vigilant MESSENGER spacecraft, which has been orbiting the closest planet to the Sun for the past three years. The image is about 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) across nine km (5.5 miles) across, and shows part of a largish crater. The Sun was only about 20° above the local horizon (shining from the left), so the crater rim shadow covers most the floor. You can just see part of a central mound peeking out from the shadow (common in larger craters, due in part to material in the center flowing upwards, rebounding, after the initial impact).

You can see smaller impact craters dotting the crater, but right in the middle of the big crater wall is the weirdly shaped crater. Here’s a close-up:

At first you might think that feature in the middle with the wide, humped rim is the crater, but it’s not. In fact, the impact is the overexposed round feature just upslope a bit on the big crater’s wall. Impacts inside previously established previously-established craters are common on airless worlds like Mercury, since they get hit a lot. But this one is different because it looks like the event triggered a massive landslide.

The impact was huge; when the asteroid or comet slammed into the older crater’s wall it exploded with a yield far larger than any human-made nuclear weapon, leaving a pit a kilometer cross. The energy must have shaken the ground mightily, dislodging the material around it. That caused the huge runoff (what geologists call a “mass wasting event”) that flowed down the bigger crater’s wall, creating that wide crescent-shaped feature when it finally stopped.

You can also see a much wider fan of material spreading out around the crescent, getting wider toward the big crater’s floor. I suspect that’s lighter debris that flowed around the other debris. That very upper edge of the fan is interesting; it appears to be bright on the inside (toward the bottom of the frame) and darker on the outside. Given the Sun shining from the left, that makes it seem to me that the edge is actually a raised ridge; the inside edge lit by the Sun, the outside edge slightly in shadow. The resolution of the picture on that scale is low, so I can’t be sure. But that all seems to hang together.

What an interesting spot! Geologists like craters because they don’t have to dig down to sample older material; the impacting asteroid did that work for them. And here we have another crater exposing the ground underneath that, and a huge landslide on top that tells them even more about the consistency and constitution of the surface material. It’s a scientific bonanza.

Now all we need to do is get a geologist there to poke around. I wonder how long it will be until a human wanders the surface of this tiny and terribly hot world, exploring the amazing sights there? there…?

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brundlefly
2193 days ago
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Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Doctor Who Dinosaur Book - Part 2

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So it turns out that Doctor Who is quite popular - who'da thought? As such, there was much demand for a second instalment of The Doctor Who Dinosaur Book (1976), featuring everyone's favourite Doctor* - the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker - wandering around and posing like a prat among dinosaur art faithfully traced from the pages of earlier books. I do hope you enjoy.



I didn't mention any thyreophorans last time - but they do feature in the book, so please allow me to rectify the situation forthwith. Spiny-flanked Blackgang Chine fibreglass dinosaur massacre survivor Polacanthus puts in an appearance here, in full-on, 1950s-style retro guise. This restoration is nothing at all like the one we'd see today - it resembles an alarmingly armed lizard of some sort, and doesn't have the stocky, flat-topped appearance that ankylosaurs are noted for. No wonder the Doctor looks so unimpressed. If only some properly wide-gauge ankylosaurs could pop along to cheer him up...


...Ah, excellent! As you can see, the Doc is tickled pink at the sight of these stout fellows, who represent the other end of the retro ankylosaur restoration spectrum (yes) - wide, yes, but also short-tailed, no-necked, and with legs shorter than their heads. Vintage restorations tended to conflate true Ankylosaurus, Edmontonia, and Scolosaurus, often under the guise of 'Palaeoscincus'. TDWDB does refer to this animal as 'Ankylosaurus', but the meld of characteristics is quite obvious here.


Ankylosaurus' contemporary Triceratops, meanwhile, suffers from a bizarrely huge and fat tail and perspective-related head issues (horns go where?). In fairness, that's only because the original - from Album of Dinosaurs, illustrated by Rod Ruth - also had these problems, and this is a pretty faithful copy. Mind you, Ruth also managed to insert his creatures into a superbly painted, lush, atmospheric backdrop, whereas these two Triceratops appear to be fighting in the Late Cretaceous equivalent of the Final Destination stage from Super Smash Bros. At least we can admire the tartan detailing on the Doctor's waistcoat. Mmm, tartan.


Following my last post, a few people (not least Gary Campbell in the comments) mentioned the 1974 Doctor Who serial Invasion of the Dinosaurs as something that might be worth a look in the near future. Incidentally (PLUG ALERT), I have already written about it over on Dave Hone's Guardian blog, so do check that out if you love adorable puppets, Madame Vastra, and an unsubtle disdain for London. For its part,TDWDB does feature an illustration that looks very much like a puppet, complete with a flexible join where the head's attached - namely, the above ichthyosaur. The source for this one isn't too obvious, although it is rather generic; any suggestions are welcome.


Before we leave the Mesozoic behind, it's definitely worth mentioning that TDWDB isn't free from that contemporary dinosaur book staple of allosaurs gnawing on the necks of completely helpless gigantic sauropods, who could quite easily roll over and crush the bastards. Alas, the poor dears suffered a terrible inferiority complex - since they lacked sharp claws and teeth, or spines protruding from their sides, they thought themselves completely hopeless in a fight. Tiny brains, you see. For whatever reason, sauropods are portrayed with oddly pointed teeth in this book...


...Including when they're dead. In spite of being a time traveller with a lifespan extending into millennia, the Doctor has never quite got around to finding out exactly what killed off all the (non-avian) dinosaurs. Therefore this book, alas, offers us only speculation - mentioning insatiable egg-eating mammals (imagine the farts!) and Bakker's Dinoflu Pandemic Hypothesis. Still, the Doctor does manage to rock up a little late and perch on a boulder, looking thoroughly depressed at the sight of giant skeletons and a landscape more featureless than the Lincolnshire district of South Holland.


Having delivered on its title and shown the Doctor and dinosaurs side-by-side, TDWDB decides to expand its remit and move beyond the K/Pg extinction. A number of important prehistoric representatives of the Age of Hairies show up, including the loveable giant slothMegatherium (above). Given the animal's considerable size, it seems that the Doctor can add 'lifting impressively weighty timber' to his list of superhuman attributes. Cute though this is, I'd rather have seen the Doctor giving Megatherium a hug...or maybe evenriding it. Someone make this happen, please.


And finally...the Doctor documents the evolution of the most terrible killer of them all. That's right...MAN. For, in suitably chauvinistic 1970s style, it is most definitely MAN. With a capital M (and A, and N). On a spread entitled 'AN ANIMAL CALLED MAN', he outlines why MAN is so dangerous:
"He can thinkbetter than any of his rivals. He lives in a group, and co-operates with his fellows. And he's a tooluser...those clever paws of his can hold and shape things. Weapons, in particular. He began with clubs and spears - and in time developed weapons capable of destroying his own planet."
Now, you might scoff at the idea that any modern day weaponry - even every nuclear warhead in the world - could 'destroy the planet'. Irradiate it for millions of years and kill off most lifeforms, sure, but not destroy it completely. Of course, you forget that the Doctor has seen mankind in the future. In the future, blowing up a planet with a bomb the size of a briefcase will be quite trivial - although it'll only be done to stop marauding armies of Cybermen. Mark my words.

But I digress. Three whole spreads are devoted to stinking MAN, but at least we are treated to the sight of a nude primitive stabbing a Smilodon straight through the face (above). All that's missing is a dramatic geyser of blood, and we'd be in proper horrorshow territory. Great stuff.

Coming up next time: definitely something different!


*What do you mean, you like David Tennant best? Call yourself a geek? Pish.
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bibliogrrl
2198 days ago
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brundlefly
2198 days ago
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Footless urbanite pigeons

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Foot deformities are ubiquitous in urban pigeons – why? As you’ll know if you’ve spent any time watching the pigeons of towns and cities, something like one in every ten (or more) has missing or partial toes, or swollen toes, or other pedal deformities of some sort. And then there are really extreme individuals – the ones that are missing feet altogether. Here’s a sorry bird I photographed at Kew, London, the other day…

Poor footless urban pigeon, encountered close to Kew train station. The right foot is completely absent; the left one had at least one toe, curled round such that the bird was walking on the toe's lateral side. Photo by Darren Naish.

I’m talking here about the domestic form of Columba livia, the so-called Rock pigeon or Rock dove. And, while I’ve only noticed deformed pigeons here in the UK, it certainly isn’t a UK-only thing, as continental European and North American [UPDATE: and South American] people will confirm.

The bird in the photos here was able to fly around and feed itself, and it might be broadly described as ‘healthy’. However, note that it’s in pretty poor condition. The feathers on its head and neck looked terrible and its rectrices (the big tail feathers) were frayed and shabby. I reckon this is partly due to an inability to groom and scratch itself: obviously, birds use their feet to reach parts that they can’t get to with the bill.

Composite image showing preening pigeon and feather lice. Image by Dale H. Clayton and Sarah E. Bush, University of Utah.

The impact of this is more than cosmetic, since birds with a poorly maintained or unrepaired plumage are disadvantaged in flight relative to tidier individuals, and less able to keep themselves warm and waterproofed. And a bird that isn’t able to groom parts of its plumage is also at risk of being unable to keep on top of parasites like ticks and feather mites (see the ‘pigeon’s eye view’ Tet Zoo article linked to below). And, as has been demonstrated through various experiments, birds with shabby-looking plumage are less attractive as mates (Clayton 1990), so a bad-looking pigeon is likely to be a non-breeding pigeon. It’s also worth noting that (like many animals), pigeons preferentially use one foot more than the other as goes the way they land and perch and sit and so on (Fisher 1957), so individuals that lose or damage their preferred foot might end up being doubly disadvantaged (imagine being right-handed, and then having to rely only on your left hand for evermore).  ever more).  I don’t know how concerned people are about the emotional well-being of animals like urban pigeons (or how far they’re prepared to go in admitting that non-human animals have feelings and states of mind), but I think we can be fairly confident that the most severely deformed of these birds are – at least at times – miserable, unhappy and frustrated.

Near-footless pigeon again. Another question about these birds: would they be able to survive if they weren't making a living by picking up scraps in urban environments? Photo by Darren Naish.

Several ideas have been put forward to explain the many foot problems seen in urban pigeons. Some probably lose toes after getting them tangled in litter or anti-pigeon netting, or after they’ve injuries received from anti-pigeon spikes installed on signs and ledges. Fine wire, string, cotton thread and even human hair can all cause problems for birds when caught on or around digits, and some people say that interaction with fine thread and string and so on is the primary cause of pigeon foot damage. It’s also sometimes suggested that the deformities result from infections received after standing on excrement, and also that the birds become damaged through interaction with chemicals used on roofs and building stone. But the ‘chemical injury’ idea is unlikely to be correct, since (A) exactly what sort of chemicals are we talking about here, and why have they been used on buildings in the first place?, and (B) a chemical would basically have to be a powerful acid or alkaline agent (hydrochloric acid, or a very strong bleach) before it might damage a bird’s feet. For completeness, note that hereditary deformities like those reported for some captive populations of other pigeon species (Flach & Cooper 1991) might also explain some of the abnormalities observed in urban pigeons.

Other hazards that might affect an urban pigeon. At left: voracious park-dwelling pelicans! (photo: PA). At right: deceased Wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) following encounter with motor vehicle; note 'terror-moulted' lack of rectrices. Photo by Darren Naish.

Pigeons are not, of course, the only birds that end up with damaged feet. You might recall the foot-lacking Rock pipit Anthus petrosus I featured here recently

I’ve been photographing pigeons a lot lately, but pigeons of a different species from C. livia. More about that another time. For previous Tet Zoo articles relevant to some of the subjects covered here, see…

Refs – -

Clayton, D. H. 1990. Mate choice in experimentally parasitized rock doves: lousy males lose. American Zoologist 30, 251-262.

Fisher, H. I. 1957. Footedness in domestic pigeons. The Wilson Bulletin 69, 170-177.

Flach, E. J. & Cooper, J. E. 1991. Clinical and pathological findings in two Mauritian pink pigeons (Columba mayeri). Veterinary Record 129, 48-51.

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brundlefly
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