Monday, December 31, 2018

The Rarest Ducklings on Earth

A Chick Called Albert Jul 7, 2018 14 min. 29 sec.

The hatching of the rarest ducklings on earth. Hi everyone we’re back with a wonderful story about three ducklings of a species that has almost gone extinct. Ever since I was a little boy, ducklings have been my first love. So I was thrilled when I got the chance to get some precious rare eggs to incubate and help to protect a once famous duck species from vanishing for good. 
The Anas Curvirostra – The Hook Bill 
It was capable of producing over 300 eggs a year and had a funny appearance with its curved beak. Once there were millions of this ducks and now there are only about 80 good (well formed) egg laying female ducks of the Hook Bill left. I got in contact with a man that is trying to keep the species alive. We discussed that giving this duck some attention and telling its story could maybe help. I have learned a lot from him and I was also happy to share my 30+ years of experience in incubating and raising ducklings. The species could use your help. So in case you’re serious about keeping ducks and you’re interested in the Hook Bill, please send us a mail at and we will take a look at the possibilities in your country.

Happy New Year

Remember "Misty"?

On an island famous for wild ponies, a dangerous infection is killing horses

A wild pony at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, where several horses have succumbed in recent months to “swamp cancer,” or pythiosis. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
In the cold months, this barrier island is a place of austere stillness, its famed wild ponies grazing along brown marshes, their long faces reflecting in waters often skimmed in ice, their seasonally shaggy coats flickering in the chill breeze. 

But the offseason calm covers a foreboding anxiety. There is a danger lurking, literally, underfoot. In recent months, several of the horses have picked up a fungus-like infection in their hoofs and legs, probably by stepping in contaminated wetlands. Seven have died, including four that were euthanized Friday at a field hospital set up to treat them on the Chincoteague Fairgrounds.

“Shadow, Lightning, Calceti’n and Elusive Star as well as the others received the very best care money could buy,” Denise Bowden, a spokeswoman for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which manages the herd, announced on Facebook Friday night. “They just couldn’t fight this off.”

Managers of the herd worry that warmer weather come spring will bring yet more infections and, potentially, a serious threat to the beloved ponies, one of the region’s iconic tourist draws and a feature of the Virginia coast for centuries.

“We’re not panicking, but we’ve never faced a situation like this before,” Bowden said as vets were still trying to save the four ponies the week before Christmas. “It’s been very, very trying.”

Most of the 150 or so horses roam loose in different parts of the refuge. But Bowden was standing next to a pen where several late-born ponies were spending their first winter with their mothers. Sheltering from the offshore breeze behind a line of bush, the gangly little foals alternately dozed in the sun and nudged the mares for milk. A group of three adult horses grazed in an adjacent enclosure, newly arrived gifts from Chincoteague pony raisers wanting to replace some of the recently lost animals.

A foal nestles beside its mother at the Chincoteague Fairgrounds. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

A pedestrian walks past a mural depicting the wild ponies of Chincoteague. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

In the middle of the compound is a long shed newly fitted with canvas sides. Inside, the four remaining infected animals were being seen regularly by two herd veterinarians. Before their deaths, about 20 volunteers from the fire company tended to their daily needs, which included removing and burning the stable muck.

The unexpected malady is pythiosis, an infection typically caused when a horse steps in water carrying a fungus-like organism known as Pythium insidiosum. Pathogens can enter small cuts or abrasions and, in some horses, create itchy, swelling lesions that will eventually become tumor-like growths. Untreated, the infection is invariably fatal.

The disease, sometimes known as swamp cancer, strikes mostly horses and dogs and has long been known in subtropical areas, including Florida. But cases are becoming more common in higher latitudes in recent years, with some reported as far north as Minnesota.

“It’s an emerging disease,” said Richard Hansen, a research veterinarian in Oklahoma working on a vaccine and new treatments for pythiosis. “It seems to be moving north with the changing climate.”
There have been occasional unconfirmed cases of the disease among Chincoteague ponies over the years, according to Charles Cameron, the herd’s primary veterinarian for 29 years. But he’s seen nothing like the spate that began two years ago and spiked significantly this past autumn.

It was in late summer of 2016 when volunteers spotted a mare with small sores above her hoofs. Blood tests would confirm pythiosis and, caught early, it was successfully treated. But finding it at that initial stage may have been rare luck, as the ponies roam largely unmonitored over more than 4,000 acres. In 2017, two more infected animals were found with more advanced infections and, despite aggressive treatment, both died.

A wild pony reflected in the water at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
This year, one was successfully treated in the spring, Cameron said. But then started a grisly run. In late August, volunteers spotted a 13-year-old mare, Lyra, with suspect lesions. Several other cases were diagnosed in the fall, prompting managers to set up an intensive treatment regimen that has included immunotherapy and, in some cases, cutting away infected tissue surgically. The group has spent more than $25,000 on treatments.

“When you don’t catch it early, it’s just out of control,” Cameron said of the rapid growth of the tumor-like tissue. “It’s like a brain growing on their fetlock.”

At one point, hopes grew that at least some of the horses could be saved. But secondary infections set in and the pythiosis seemed to return in some cases. One pony died in October, another on Dec. 3. Two weeks later, Lyra, the first case discovered this year, was euthanized after she was no longer able to stand.

“It’s horrible,” Bowden said. “I’ve seen grown men bawl like babies when we have to put a horse down.”

It would be hard to overstate the cultural and economic role the horses have played here for centuries. They are long-feral descendants of domesticated livestock, and local legend has it that they first swam ashore as refugees from a foundering Spanish ship in the 1600s. Biologists, though, say they are more likely remnants of animals introduced by mainland settlers.

Whatever the origin story, they have long been a defining feature of island life, cared for by folks, like Bowden, who grew up with them on Chincoteague and beloved by visitors from around the world, including many entranced by the 1947 children’s classic “Misty of Chincoteague.” With about 1.3 million visitors a year, the herd is a 150-horsepower economic engine that keeps the refuge near the top of Virginia’s most popular tourist destinations.

Michael Dixon of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps manage visitors to the Chincoteague refuge. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The ponies graze across 4,000 acres of refuge and mostly roam unmonitored. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post) 

The geography of the ponies can be confusing. Chincoteague is an island of motels and houses. But the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge, where the horses spend most of their time grazing, is actually on Assateague, an undeveloped island just across a narrow saltwater channel. (The flip-flop comes from a tradition of naming such federal facilities after the nearest post office.)

The horses have a permit that lets them roam across the refuge in three fenced areas. Three times a year, they are rounded up and corralled for veterinary care. And each July, as tens of thousands look on, they are driven across the channel at low tide for an auction that keeps the herd’s numbers in line and raises money for the fire company.

The fame of the herd has proved to be an asset as the local veterinarians reach out to experts for help in addressing the outbreak. Robert Glass, a Texas-based researcher, has been providing his new immunotherapy drugs free of charge.

“He read ‘Misty’ as a kid,” Cameron said.

And Hansen, who hopes to secure final government approval for his company’s pythiosis vaccine in 2019, is seeking permission to vaccinate the Chincoteague herd even sooner on an experimental basis, a prospect that Cameron hailed as their best chance to avoid a bigger epidemic.

An effective vaccine would protect the herd, but it wouldn’t clear the pathogen from the natural habitat, Hansen said, especially with more infected horses spreading it from pool to pool. Still, the keepers of the ponies want the refuge to take action, including clearing away old barbed wire that can be exposed by storms and increase the risk of cuts. The organism can’t penetrate healthy skin.

Refuge officials said they were in contact with the herd managers and were exploring steps they could take. No other animals have been found with the infection, they said.

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” said Michael Dixon, the refuge’s visitor services manager. “But we’re partners, and we’ll do what partners need to do.”

He was walking on Assateague’s north end, a patch of bristly pine trunks denuded by a recent pine beetle infestation. It’s not easy living for anything on an island that, in biological terms, ranks as an extreme habitat.

Not far away stood a group of the refuge’s most famous residents, casting long shadows in the winter sun. The stallion and three mares picked for greens amid the cold, dormant marsh grass, grazing their way through a season of uncertainty.

The Witch Head Nebula


Image Credit & Copyright: Digitized Sky Survey (POSS II); Processing: Utkarsh Mishra
Explanation: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble .... maybe Macbeth should have consulted the Witch Head Nebula. A frighteningly shaped reflection nebula, this cosmic crone is about 800 light-years away though. Its malevolent visage seems to glare toward nearby bright star Rigel in Orion, just off the upper left edge of this frame. More formally known as IC 2118, the interstellar cloud of dust and gas is nearly 70 light-years across, its dust grains reflecting Rigel's starlight. In this composite portrait, the nebula's color is caused not only by the star's intense bluish light but because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in planet Earth's atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen.

Yay for Our Side!

California Bans The Sale Of Dogs From Puppy Mills

A new law has been signed in California to ban pet stores from selling animals that come from puppy mills. It’s the first law of its kind in the US and ensures that pet stores work alongside shelters, rescue homes, and humane breeders if they want to sell animals.

Governor of California Jerry Brown announced last Friday that by January 1, 2019, anyone found selling dogs, cats, and rabbits from mills could face a fine up to $500.

There have been several horror stories about puppy mills in America. In fact, earlier this year it was reported that 105 dogs were rescued from an illegal kennel just outside Charlotte in North Carolina, where an unlicensed breeder named Patricia Yates had been breeding dogs for years. She was later charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty. Puppy mills like Yates' have been described as “the secret shame of the pet industry”. 

Puppy mills have always been controversial due to the terrible conditions the animals are kept in, their lack of care for the animals' health, and the irresponsible breeding that takes place within them. 

President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Matt Bershadker, told Business Insider, “This landmark law breaks the puppy mill supply chain that pushes puppies into California pet stores and has allowed unscrupulous breeders to profit from abusive practices.”

“By signing this groundbreaking bill, California has set an important, humane precedent for other states to follow," added Gregory Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society. "We commend Governor Brown's signing of this lifesaving legislation to codify statewide what cities across California have already done to help put an end to the cruelty of pet mills."

Although some stores claim to only sell puppies from independent and licensed breeders, there are a large number of pet stores in the US still supplying customers with puppies, and even kittens, from mills.

Animals in these mills are usually kept in overcrowded conditions, with very little food and water. They can also suffer from serious problems, like mental instability or aggression, as a result of their traumatic early lives.

California Passes Law To Ban The Sale Of Dogs From Puppy Mills

If you’ve never heard of a puppy mill, they’re sort of like factory farms, but for puppies. Have you ever wondered how giant pet stores get so many puppies? Well, they’re bred at puppy mills, where many dogs never see outside of a cage, let alone the light of day. The conditions they live in are terrible, and these mills operate all over North America in order to meet the demand for pets.

In truth, there are around 10,000 puppy mills in America, although this number is only a rough estimate; many facilities operate illegally, which is why animal cruelty within them is so common. Puppy mills vary in size, as the number of adult dogs kept to breed new puppies can range from five to over a thousand.

It’s not uncommon for any sick or aging dogs to simply get tossed aside at these mills. Dog breeders will often just leave them to die, or alternatively will shoot or kill the injured dogs themselves. People wonder why we have millions of dogs living on the streets, and end up euthanizing 2 million dogs every year in the U.S. alone; well, it’s in part because puppy mills breed too many dogs.

There are strict laws in other parts of the world against the mass breeding of dogs. For example, in England, there were only 5,000 dogs euthanized in 2015, which is largely due to the strict laws imposed on dog breeding. In England, dog breeders require a license for every single dog they breed.

Well, California is finally doing something to help mitigate this problem. A new law has just been signed banning all pet stores in California from selling animals that come from puppy mills. This law represents the first in America to take a stand against puppy mills, ensuring that pet stores start to work with shelters, rescue homes, and humane breeders.

California to Ban the Sale of Animals From Mills

Last Friday, Governor of California Jerry Brown announced that the state would be enforcing a ban on the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits from mills. Those who break this law will be forced to pay a fine of up to $500. Puppy mills have a terrible reputation for perpetuating animal cruelty and representing the “secret shame” of the pet industry.

The Rolling Stones published a revealing report on puppy mills earlier this year, exposing just how cruel the secret world of dog factories can be. The article notes:

Given the duress in which mill pups enter the world and make their way to the stores – birthed by sick and stressed-out moms; snatched from their litters at eight weeks of age and loaded onto trucks for the hours-long drive to the next stop in the supply chain, puppy brokers; kept in a warehouse with hundreds of other pups, many of them sick with respiratory problems or infections of the eyes and ears; then again trucked with dozens of those dogs for the one- or two-day drive to distant states – it’s remarkable that any of them survive the gantlet, let alone turn up well..

President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Matt Bershadker stated to Business Insider, “This landmark law breaks the puppy mill supply chain that pushes puppies into California pet stores and has allowed unscrupulous breeders to profit from abusive practices.”

“By signing this groundbreaking bill, California has set an important, humane precedent for other states to follow,” explained Gregory Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society. “We commend Governor Brown’s signing of this lifesaving legislation to codify statewide what cities across California have already done to help put an end to the cruelty of pet mills.”

Final Thoughts

This marks an exciting step toward abolishing animal cruelty in North America. It’s fascinating that people take such strong issue with dog abuse in other countries like China when they still support the very industries that contribute to dog abuse in their own backyards.

The cruelty that exists within puppy mills is well-known, and many animals are subject to abuse or die as a result of these conditions, yet people continue to purchase animals from pet stores.

We say this a lot in our articles, and I’ll say it again: You vote with your dollar. If you don’t want to support this type of animal cruelty, then simply don’t purchase products or animals from conventional pet stores.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

1981 - Mick Helps Save the Cable Cars

Rocker Mick Jagger and Mayor Dianne Feinstein board a mo torized cable car on Oct. 20, 1981, to save Muni’s workhorses.Photo: Steve Ringman / The Chronicle 1981

When Mick Jagger joined Dianne Feinstein to save SF’s cable cars

The SF Chronicle
Dianne Feinstein’s early 1980s fight to save the cable cars had no shortage of star wattage: from Tony Bennett to members of Jefferson Starship to Pac-Man.

But no one gave a bigger impression — while expending very little effort — than Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger. In town on Oct. 20, 1981, for a pair of sold-out concerts at Candlestick Park, he dropped by San Francisco’s City Hall and made his pitch for the historic but aging Muni transit system.

“Mick Jagger paid a brief call on Mayor Dianne Feinstein yesterday at San Francisco City Hall, posing with her on a motorized cable car in a publicity stunt for the ‘Save the Cable Cars’ fund,” The Chronicle reported the next day. Jagger “told reporters he agreed to the photo session ‘when I heard the cable cars needed a relatively small amount of money from the private sector or they would disappear.’”

Video HERE

California Could Soon Have Its Own Version of the Internet

George Rose/Getty Images
The Chinese internet is not like the internet in the rest of the world. More than 150 of the world’s 1,000 most popular internet sites are blocked in China, including Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Instead, domestic platforms like Baidu, WeChat, and Sina Weibo thrive.

Internet freedom advocates have worried that the internet will fracture into multiple national "splinternets" since France banned Yahoo's ecommerce users from selling Nazi paraphernalia in the country in 2000, whether due to state censorship or well-intentioned policies that alter the web experience. The Tor Project says at least a dozen countries, including Pakistan and Russia, censor the internet. Meanwhile, search results within the European Union can differ from those elsewhere due to its right to be forgotten law, and web publishers around the world are still grappling with the effect of the sweeping EU privacy regulations that took effect this year.

A series of laws passed in California this year raise a new possibility: that individual US states will splinter off into their own versions of the internet. In July, California passed a privacy law, similar to the European Union's policies, that will give users more control about the data companies collect about them. Governor Jerry Brown followed by signing a net neutrality law in late September meant to replace federal rules banning broadband internet providers from blocking or otherwise discriminating against lawful content, as well as a law that requires bots to identify themselves if they promote sales or try to influence an election.

These are hardly the first attempts by a state to regulate online life. Illinois, for example, has a biometric privacy law that has been invoked to cover facial scanning software used by Facebook and Google. And states such as Washington have also passed net neutrality rules. But California’s size and the sweeping nature of its regulations, especially when taken together, set it apart from other states.

Milton Mueller, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy and author of the book Will the Internet Fragment?, calls policies like California's net neutrality law and Chinese censorship “alignments” rather than “fragmentation” for technical reasons. But he does think such policies can be dangerous. "We're undermining what's good about the internet, the ability to offer services anywhere, the permissionless innovation idea," he says.

Mueller likes the idea of bots having to identify themselves, for example. The new law will require that anyone who automates all or “substantially all” posts to platforms with at least 10 million monthly US visitors to disclose that the account is run by a bot or bots, if the account is being used to promote products or services or to influence an election. But Mueller worries about the effects of implementing the policy at a state level. "It encourages this trend of breaking up the internet into different islands of jurisdiction that could be worse than the benefit that might be achieved by this," he says.

Rather than splinter the internet, Mueller says California’s laws could over time become national, or worldwide, standards, depending on how publishers apply them. He points to the way a dozen other states have adopted California emission standards for new cars. Some companies, including Microsoft, have opted to follow European data privacy laws worldwide and offer a privacy dashboard that enables users to delete or download the data the company has collected from them.
Others note that California’s rules aren't radical departures from how the internet already works. "I think that California, like Brussels, certainly might set the bar for compliance on several important tech issues," says Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University. "But this might not lead to balkanization in the way we’re seeing in China and Russia."
For example, the privacy rules passed in California are similar to those passed by the European Union. In that sense, rather than fragmenting the internet, California would be bringing the state or possibly the country into harmony with other countries.

In the case of net neutrality, the purpose of the rules is to avoid fragmentation by ensuring that people's ability to access content doesn't vary from one broadband provider to the next. Stanford University law professor Barbara van Schewick points out Europe had a patchwork of different net neutrality rules until the EU passed more unified regulations in 2015. The patchwork era of net neutrality in Europe didn't result in fragmentation, van Schewick argues.

It's also possible that California's laws won't stick. The Department of Justice has already sued California over its net neutrality law, arguing that only the federal government has the authority to regulate interstate communications networks, while Congress considers multiple proposals to regulate net neutrality at the federal level. California agreed to pause the law while lawsuits play out over federal regulators’ decision to dismantle net neutrality rules. 

Meanwhile, the tech industry is lobbying Congress to pass a less stringent national data privacy law that would override California's law.

"I think the more likely outcome in our system is national legislation as lawmakers heed industry complaints over facing a 'patchwork' of laws," says Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington specializing in privacy and cyber law. "A lot of folks see privacy legislation as nigh inevitable."

But with Washington's gridlock, nothing is inevitable.

'I'm a Knight and I Live By the Chivalric Code'

Jason Kingsley owns a games company but in his spare time he keeps horses and jousts

Name: Jason Kingsley
Age: 54
Income: ‘Millionaire’
Occupation: Games developer

My video games company, Rebellion, has really taken off over the past five or six years. On paper I’ve probably been a millionaire for about 10 years or more, but in terms of spending power probably five years.

I’m a medieval knight in my spare time. Essentially for that you need land and horses. I do all of that myself with my partner – she’s a horse person as well. I’ve got 15 horses. Horses vary hugely in price and I have horses which have cost £25,000 or more to buy, while others are rescue horses which cost me nothing. But the big cost of horses is keeping them – every horse will probably cost a few hundred quid a week to look after – food, bedding, vets’ bills, getting hay cut from the fields and so on. But I do all their training myself. Horses are money pits, but they’re lovely money pits.

I have suits of armour custom made for me. They are significantly more expensive than a very expensive Savile Row suit. A high quality harness (“suit of armour” is a Victorian term) designed to keep you alive in the joust would cost a bare minimum of £10,000, but more realistically £25,000 to £30,000. Of course, it’s going to get damaged and need to be repaired too. The armour I joust in is late 15th century Milanese armour which is a specific type of armour from a specific period in history.

I have three full harnesses – that people would recognise as plate armour – and I’m having a fourth one made. It’s a 13th century harness modelled after a church effigy.

I also have plenty of mail, helmets and swords from the 1066 era. There’s a general rule that once you get into this area of enthusiasm, it’s not possible to have too much kit. I’ve spent many hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years on my armour and kit.

I live by the chivalric code. It’s quite a nebulous concept – no one really knows what the chivalric code is and it’s not written down anywhere. The idea is that even though you’re a big strong man with armour and a sword, and you can kill people, you don’t have to do that. 

Jason Kingsley owns 15 horses. Photograph: Kasumi Kitano for the Guardian 

It’s a way of attempting to control people who otherwise could just terrorise the landscape. The idea is to moderate or modify “toxic masculinity”.

The chivalric code is about be strong, be true, be brave, be kind to women and treat them well. It was quite sexist back in the day. Respect the law, give honour to your king, don’t lie, treat your servants well, and so on. Basically it comes down to ‘“be a nice person please’”.

In business the chivalric code means paying people on time, doing fair deals and being a decent person. It doesn’t mean being a pushover, but standing up for what’s right.

As for what else I spend my money on, I’ve collected quite a lot of original artwork from comics. That’s very collectable and valuable. I don’t drink, fast cars don’t do anything for me, and I don’t have yachts. I occasionally indulge in first-class flights if I’m travelling – because that means I can get to meetings in good spirits.

At the moment I’m also spending quite a lot on buying video equipment and doing my own YouTube channel called Modern History TV. I’m experimenting with it. For example, I’m commissioning craftspeople to make me medieval saddles – these cost a few thousand quid each – and you need one for each horse.

Through the company we give quite a few tens of thousands of pounds a year to SpecialEffect, a charity which helps people with special needs access and play computer games. I have also been giving money to Unicef my whole life. When I was a student I set up a direct debit for a few quid a month. It’s scaled up since then to a few hundred pounds a month.

I was a trustee at the Royal Armouries. It’s a charitable organisation that looks after the Royal Armouries museum, and I gave my expertise each month for nothing. I’m also chair of Tiga, a trade body for the games industry and I do that for nothing too. The aim is to promote best practice in the games industry.

I’ve reinvested some of my money in a studio in Didcot, Oxfordshire. The complex is valued at about $100m (£79m). There’s a shortage of studio space in this country so we decided, in typical Rebellion fashion, to buy our own studio. It’s an old newspaper print works with huge open spaces – I’ve invested tens of millions of pounds in it.

The idea is we can use it to make our own film and TV products. We’ve got a number of TV things happening including a Judge Dredd series called Mega City One and a feature film called Rogue Trouper with Duncan Jones.
I've watched a few of this guy's videos and enjoyed them.  Here's one explaining what a horse is/can do.  

Modern History: Medieval Horsemanship

Modern History TV Dec 21, 2018 16 min. 18 sec.

How a knight might have been able to manoeuver his horse on the battlefield. Credits: Ghost Directing, Camera, Sound, Editing Kasumi Presenter Jason Kingsley OBE Music licensed from PremiumBeat.

Illuminating Islam’s Peaceful Origins

A student recites from the Quran.CreditCreditNoah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Jack Miles
241 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.
Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires
By Juan Cole
326 pp. Nation Books. $28.

Is Allah, the God of Muslims, a different deity from the one worshiped by Jews and Christians? Is he even perhaps a strange “moon god,” a relic from Arab paganism, as some anti-Islamic polemicists have argued?

What about Allah’s apostle, Muhammad? Was he a militant prophet who imposed his new religion by the sword, leaving a bellicose legacy that still drives today’s Muslim terrorists?

Two new books may help answer such questions, and also give a deeper understanding of Islam’s theology and history.

Jack Miles, a professor of religion at the University of California and the author of the Pulitzer-winning book “God: A Biography,” has written “God in the Qur’an.” It is a highly readable, unbiasedly comparative and elegantly insightful study of the Quran, in which he sets out to show that the three great monotheistic religions do indeed believe in the same deity — although they have “different emphases” when it comes to this God, which accounts for their divergent theologies.

To begin with, one should not doubt that Allah is Yahweh, the God of the Bible, because that is what he himself says. The Quran’s “divine speaker,” Miles writes, “does identify himself as the God whom Jews and Christians worship and the author of their Scriptures.” That is also why Allah reiterates, often with much less detail, many of the same stories we read in the Bible about Yahweh and his interventions in human history. The little nuances between these stories, however, are distinctions with major implications.

Take, for example, the story of Abraham, which is so central to both the Bible and the Quran. Miles examines Abraham in both and highlights a key difference: In the Bible, Abraham is presented as the father of a great nation that will multiply and inherit a holy land. “To your descendants I give this country,” Yahweh vows, “from the River of Egypt to the Great River.” In the Quran, however, the stress is on Abraham as the great champion of monotheism against idolatry: His biggest mission is smashing the idols — a story foretold not in the Bible, but in an ancient rabbinical exegesis of it, a midrash. “Yahweh is a fertility god,” Miles provocatively suggests, whereas “Allah is a theolatry god” — theolatry meaning the worshiping of God alone.

The story of Moses, again a crucial one in both the Bible and the Quran, comes with similar nuance. In the Bible, the great mission of Moses is to liberate his people, the children of Israel, from the yoke of the Pharaoh. In the Quran, too, Moses rises up against the Pharaoh, but his main problem is that the Pharaoh and his people worship false gods. Yahweh “wants to defeat Pharaoh,” Miles observes, for he has “no intention of ever becoming Egypt’s God.” In contrast, Allah wants to convert Pharaoh and to make all Egypt monotheist.

Through such scriptural comparisons, Miles gets to the core of the Abrahamic matrix: The monotheism that the Jewish people developed over the centuries was inherited by Islam and was turned into a global creed. All the national elements within Judaism, meanwhile, were then muted.

What about Christianity, the third, and the largest, piece of the matrix? It seems to be, just like Islam, a universalization of Judaic monotheism. But Christianity introduced a new theological element to the scene — a divine Christ and triune Godhead — which proved unacceptable to both Judaism and Islam. In the chapter comparing the Quran with the New Testament, Miles shows this by explaining how Islam rejects Christian theology, while showing great respect for Jesus Christ and Mary. He also sees “a brilliant symmetry” in how Islam combined Judaism’s criticism of Christian theology with Christianity’s criticism of Jewish particularism.

The book underlines other distinctions between Yahweh and Allah. The former comes across as more disputable and “less absolute and overwhelming.” Allah, on the other hand, appears as more “compassionate.” And while Allah offers both great promises and threats for the afterlife, Yahweh is focused on this world.

In observing such nuances, Miles, a Christian, is as objective, fair and gracious as one can get. In the beginning, he declares his own “suspension of disbelief,” which means letting go of his non-Muslimness and reading the Quran on its own terms. At the end, he turns back to his faith and reminds us: “The Bible is my Scripture, the Quran is theirs.” Yet by reading the latter with respect, he thinks non-Muslims can find it “a little easier to trust the Muslim next door, thinking of him as someone whose religion, after all, may not be so wildly unreasonable.”

Non-Muslims who take the time to read the Quran may end up feeling a bit baffled, though. For they will hear a lot about Abraham, Moses, Joseph or Jesus, but almost nothing about the person they may be expecting the most: Muhammad. For while the Quran often speaks to Muhammad, it almost never speaks about him.

That is why the Islamic tradition developed a post-Quranic literature on the life and times of Muhammad, recorded in the books of sira, or biography. And a cutting-edge version of sira comes from the pen of Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan and the author of the popular blog Informed Comment.

Cole’s book, “Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires,” is not just eruditely informative, but also ambitiously revisionist, with two unorthodox arguments he keenly advances throughout the book.

The first argument links the birth of Islam in early-seventh-century Arabia to the major geopolitical conflict of the time — the clash between the Christian Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople and the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire based in today’s Iran. Cole’s starting point is the Quranic sura, or chapter, titled “Romans.” “The Byzantines have been defeated in a nearby land,” it reports, but also heralds that their victory will come soon, adding that “on that day, the believers will rejoice.” This famous passage has traditionally been taken as an indication of sympathy among early Muslims for Christians as fellow monotheists against pagan enemies. But Cole thinks there is much more to it, postulating an alliance with Rome in which Muslims became “members of the eastern Roman Commonwealth.” It is an interesting theory to consider.

Cole’s second argument is more important. Going against familiar if not frequent militant images of the Prophet Muhammad in the West, he portrays Islam’s founder as a peacemaker who wanted only to preach his monotheism freely and who even tried to establish “multicultural” harmony.
The first years of Muhammad’s mission, which he spent as the leader of an oppressed minority in Mecca, provides ample evidence to support this argument. The next decade in Medina, during which swords were unsheathed and battles were fought, complicates it. Cole solves the problem by advancing the explanation that modern Muslims typically offer: All these wars by the Prophet Muhammad were “defensive” in nature, fitting into a vision of “just war.”

Cole goes as far as rejecting some of the violent episodes attributed to the Prophet Muhammad as later fictions by belligerent Muslim empires. These include the most disturbing incident of all, the massacre of the male members of a Jewish tribe in Medina for collaborating with the pagan besiegers — a story doubted also by a few Muslims, including myself. Cole may be the first, though, to doubt the Tabuk Expedition, a would-be battle between the armies of the Prophet Muhammad and the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius.

Some of Cole’s well-intentioned hypotheses, clearly aimed at challenging Islamophobia, may never be proved. But he is demonstrably right in concluding that Islamic orthodoxy deviated from its foundations by “abrogating” the peaceful and tolerant verses of the Quran, by reserving salvation only to Muslims, or by adopting some cruel practices like stoning. Beneath this thick layer of what became Islamic tradition, there is a more uplifting image of the Prophet Muhammad, waiting to be discovered not just by non-Muslims, but also many Muslims themselves.

Mustafa Akyol, author of “Islam Without Extremes” and “The Islamic Jesus,” is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute.

How Japanese Immigrants in the Amazon Created a New Cuisine

Native fish sashimi and green papaya pickles provided a taste of home.
At Shin Suzuran, Takano handles nettle leaves.
At Shin Suzuran, Takano handles nettle leaves. Courtesy of Shin Suzuran
In the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of Japanese people sought opportunity abroad. Many ended up putting down roots in a tropical new home, and now, Brazil sports the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. By many estimates, the number of Brazilian citizens with Japanese ancestry currently clocks in at more than 1.5 million.

The highest concentration of nikkei, or people of Japanese ancestry, is in São Paulo. Many people of Japanese descent also live in Brazil’s south and southeast, where their forefathers came to work on coffee plantations more than a century ago. But a smaller number of Japanese immigrants also landed in Brazil’s north, settling in the state of Amazonas after the local government offered free land to those willing to farm it, starting in the 1930s. Surrounded by the Amazon rainforest and amidst temperatures that could reach highs of 95°F, Japanese immigrants needed to adapt to radically different surroundings. Part of that meant a new cuisine, featuring everything from bean sushi to sashimi made with native fish.

One researcher has taken it upon herself to research Amazonian-Japanese cuisine. Linda Midori Tsuji Nishikido, of the Universidade Federal do Amazonas (UFAM), studied the eating habits of Japanese immigrants in the Amazon in the post-war period for her Master’s degree. Nishikido herself is nisei, or second-generation Japanese, and she interviewed her own parents, family members, and other Japanese immigrants for insight. Soon, she had reconstructed their adaptation process and documented their food creations.
Linda Nishikido's family, sharing a meal in the 1970s.
Linda Nishikido’s family, sharing a meal in the 1970s. Courtesy of Linda Nishikido
The results were creative. Nishikido found that without the ingredients they had in their homeland, new immigrants ingeniously replicated traditional recipes from Japan’s rich gastronomic tradition, using local fish, native fruits, and even cassava, one of the starchy cornerstones of Brazilian cuisine. They couldn’t have had a richer pantry: After all, the Amazon rainforest is a wonderland of biodiversity.

But while the forest offered variety, Japanese immigrants found many of their old staples unavailable. Finding equivalents for soy sauce, miso, and tsukemono pickles in their new home proved difficult. According to Nishikido, many Japanese in Amazonas had no choice but to use local produce in familiar recipes. In the absence of soybeans, they recreated soy sauce using tucupi: a liquid extracted from bitter cassava that Brazilians in the north traditionally use as a seasoning. Plus, they engineered a miso recipe from native asparagus beans, owing to their similarity to more-familiar soybeans.

Recreating tsukemono pickles took even more creative leaps. Lacking radishes, turnips, and cucumbers, they pickled green papayas and overripe bananas. One thing that they did have in abundance was fish from the Amazon river. With many different river fish, they made sashimi and kamaboko, a type of fish cake made of pureed fish, cooked in a loaf-like shape and sliced for serving.
A flower-decked plate of waterlily <em>sunomono.</em>
A flower-decked plate of waterlily sunomono. Courtesy of Shin Suzuran
The immigrants also foraged the rainforest, looking for familiar ingredients such as edible mushrooms, fern buds, and palm hearts. “Over time, the table of Japanese immigrants became richer, because they learned to appreciate both the adapted cuisine and the local cuisine” of Amazonas, Nishikido says. After all, says Nishikido, food is far more than just a biological necessity. It is also a mirror on culture and society. To Nishikido, this hybrid cuisine reflects the emotions of a community doing their best to adapt to new surroundings. Replete in Amazonian-Japanese cuisine are “human feelings, such as unfamiliarity, homesickness, hope, [and] perseverance,” she says.

This type of food isn’t just eaten at home, either. Hiroya Takano arrived in Brazil with his family when he was 8 years old. Today, at age 66, he runs Shin Suzuran, a restaurant opened by his father in 1978. His journey from Japan was rooted in both disaster and opportunity. Originally from Wakkanai in the province of Hokkaido, his father was a farmer and manufacturer of potato starch until a strong, early frost devastated the region, leaving the family with few future prospects. So, his father decided to immigrate to Brazil, lured by the land concessions granted by the Amazonas government for farmers.

But the new farm wasn’t very successful, and his father instead opened a trailblazing restaurant. Shin Suzuran was the first Japanese restaurant in Manaus, Amazonas’s capital, and one of a few to focus on bringing together Japanese culinary tradition and local ingredients. There, Takano serves unique creations, such as vinegary sunomono made with water lily stems instead of the typical cucumber, fried nettle tempura and a lightly seared tataki made with tucunaré, or the indigenous peacock bass.

<em>Pirarucu</em>, also known as <em>paiche</em>, are massive Amazonian river fish.
Pirarucu, also known as paiche, are massive Amazonian river fish. fukapon/CC BY 2.0
While the rivers offer many fishy treasures, it was an adjustment for Takano to move from chilly Wakkanai to one of the wettest places on earth. “When I got here, I was struck by the vastness of the rivers,” Takano says. “I had only seen so much water like this in the ocean.” He recalls his father gathering him and his siblings together and saying, “To stay here, you’ll need to learn how to swim.” Today, he has become familiar with the rivers, preferring to source local fish for the restaurant such as the peacock bass and pirarucu, an ancient, air-breathing, giant fish of the Amazon.

After the restaurant opened, the family recruited Japanese cooks from São Paulo to replicate traditional recipes. But one cook after another left Amazonas to return to the city. “Few adapted to life here, without other countrymen, without karaoke,” Takano says. In the 1980s, Takano started working as a kitchen assistant to learn the recipes himself and prepare them his own way: with lots of local ingredients. Today, his children also work in the restaurant. His eldest daughter, Adriana, studied nutrition and became a chef, responsible for the hot dishes. His son, Adriano, is in charge of sushi.

In a way, using local ingredients was a defense mechanism. “Japanese people have a great adaptive capacity. We are very determined,” says Takano. “When we arrived, Japan had lost the war, and the world was looking at us with different eyes. My dad then said we needed to learn to follow the laws and adapt to the country.”

Takano and his children at their restaurant.
Takano and his children at their restaurant. Courtesy of Shin Suzuran
Using local ingredients in recipes was his way of following his father’s advice. “We had to show that we valued and respected what the locals already had. The cuisine is Japanese, but the ingredients are Amazonian,” says Takano, who is now working on adding wild greens from the rainforest to the menu. One example of adaptation is his use of waterlily, a plant that has a huge cultural and symbolic value in the region but is not widely consumed as food in Brazil. However, water lily is an ingredient in cuisines across Asia.

Nikkei cuisine (often defined as Japanese-Peruvian food) is a current culinary trend around the world. But according to Nishikido, the cuisine developed by Japanese immigrants in the Amazon is unique, with its own ingredients and style. While much Amazonian-Japanese cuisine leans on Japanese technique, some old strictures have softened during the process of adaptation. For example, eating raw river fish such as jaraqui and tambaqui (ocean fish is the norm) has slowly become more accepted.

Nishikido believes that all the adaptations are highly innovative. New immigrants used local ingredients to mimic their original cuisine, and they succeeded in developing a distinctive new one. According to Nishikido, some ingredients are entirely intangible: the “emotions and longings,” of Japanese-Brazilians, she says, created a cuisine capable of helping them adapt to their new land.
Hiroya Takano couldn’t agree more.