A cool veterinary hospital

From the WNC Radio Facebook page, a series of signs from a veterinary hospital:


I’ve verified that these signs are real, so someone there clearly has a sense of humor. These people are the Southwest Airlines of vets, and it’s refreshing.

You can see the website of the hospital, which is in Melbourne, Florida, here.

h/t: Hempenstein

A memorial for Kenny King from his brother Peter

On April 2 I posted a eulogy for my late (and great) pal Kenny King, who died suddenly on a walk near Watership Down the day before. He is now buried in Kingsclere, England, and I was sad to have missed his funeral.

Another eulogy has just appeared, this one by Kenny’s younger brother Peter King. If you’re a sports fan, you might know of Peter because he’s a commenter on NBC’s Sunday Night Football and a prolific writer for Sports Illustrated.

Peter devoted his weekly Sports Illustrated “Monday Morning Quarterback” column to Kenny, describing his trip to England for the funeral. One of the things Peter mentions, which I left out of my post, was that Kenny’s brother Bob, the middle brother of the three, died of a heart attack in 2010 while riding his bike. Bob was young and fit, and his death, like that of Kenny, was way too premature.

Here’s a bit from the column, and while Peter avoids excess sentimentality, the closeness of the brothers is clear:

Jane and Adam [Kenny's wife and son] spoke at the funeral, stupendously and emotionally, never faltering. After the service, we walked eight-tenths of a mile to the cemetery, where six men in black suits lowered Ken’s casket into the ground. The funeral home wanted us to go in hearses; Jane said she wanted to walk, because she and Ken walked everywhere. So we walked. The cemetery, wind-whipped, is on a hill that overlooks a soccer field and much of the village. It’s where Jane and Ken buried their stillborn daughter, Sally, two decades ago. Ken and Jane were walking to this place, to visit Sally’s grave, when he collapsed and died, and so it was right that Ken would be buried here. The vicar said some nice things, and invited us to throw dirt onto the coffin if we wished. A few of us did. Jane threw Ken’s sweat-stained three-decade-old Yankees cap (he was a very serious Yankee fan) on top of the casket. And then we walked back to the church hall.

On the last full day of his life, Ken went to a wine-tasting and bought a case of pink champagne. So of course the 80 or so folks who crammed into the reception toasted Ken with the champagne he and Jane, both retired, would have used for their Champagne Friday tradition. As the last of three King brothers, I did the toast, clumsily. I was grateful for a squeeze on the left arm from Jane when I faltered at one point. I just wanted her, and everyone in the room, to know what a full and happy life Ken lived, and how incredibly grateful the American side of the family was for the goodness of the British side, and how Jane so generously had enriched all of our lives.

Too right! The “champagne Friday” tradition (a good one!) was simply that Kenny and Jane would crack a good bottle of bubbly instead of still wine every Friday evening.

The photo below shows Peter (left), Bob (center) and Kenny (right) in 1978, and comes from the King family.  Only one of these three brothers remains: the one we all used to call “Little Peter.” He now has the job Kenny would have loved—a sportswriter, which would have combined two of Kenny’s great loves: prose and sports (especially baseball, but also soccer after he moved to England).

A couple of years ago Kenny, Bob, and Peter visited Chicago on one of their sporadic Great Baseball Odysseys. They’d all rent an SUV and travel across the U.S. going to major-league baseball games (Peter’s press credentials got them in). I remember trying to direct Peter, who was driving, to my house in Hyde Park, at the same time he was on his speakerphone giving a live interview about football to a radio station. He managed to pay attention to all three things at once, and his interview was eloquent. Good times.


I know this post won’t interest most readers, who didn’t know Kenny, but I wanted to put it up as a further memorial to my friend, as well as for those readers who also knew him.

Another dumb politician doesn’t understand the First Amendment

From the Raw Story (where there’s a video I can’t embed), we find another example of an ignorant politician—the mayor of Warren, Michigan—who doesn’t understand that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the one that guarantees freedom of religion) also guarantees freedom from religion. You can’t promote religious belief and at the same time ban unbelief. Sadly, that hasn’t penetrated the skull of Warren’s mayor:

A Michigan mayor who says that he believes in freedom of religion has refused to allow atheists to set up a so-called “Reason Station” inside City Hall, saying it could upset Christians visiting the nearby “Prayer Station.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, Warren resident Douglas Marshall proposed the “Reason Station” to promote separation of church and state, and to tell people about using free thought, reason and logic.

But Warren Mayor Jim Fouts rejected the display for a period of one year because of Marshall’s affiliation with a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In a letter to Marshall, Fouts explained that the Freedom From Religion Foundation was not protected under the First Amendment’s Establishment clause because atheism was not a religion.

That’s totally bogus; it’s irrelevant with whom Marshall is affiliated. If they can put up pro-religious stuff, they’re obligated to put up nonreligious or antireligious stuff.

“To my way of thinking, your group is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion,” Fouts wrote. “The City of Warren cannot allow this.”

“Also, I believe it is group’s intention to disrupt those who participate in the Prayer Station which would also be a violation of the freedom of religion amendment,” he added. “For these reasons, I cannot approve of your request.”

Curiously, Fouts also rejected the FFRF’s request for an atheist display last year, and that rejection was upheld by the courts. I’m baffled, for that rejection was clearly unconstitutional.

Fout is a deeply ignorant man, as evinced in the story’s last two paragraphs:

WJBK reported that the city of Warren has approved the “Prayer Station,” a Ramadan Display, a Nativity scene and a Day of Prayer — but nothing for atheists.

“I will continue to support all groups regardless of race or religion, but I will not support a group that denigrates those groups,” Fouts told the station.

I emphasize one thing,” he added. “The government cannot restrict an individual’s freedom of speech, but an individual cannot restrict the government’s freedom of speech.”

What does that last paragraph even mean?

This fight never ends, does it? Are these people truly ignorant of the Constitution, or willfully ignorant?

h/t: Barry

Moar foxes

As I consider foxes to be Honorary Cat™s, I have no compunction about posting pictures of these fluffy canids. Reader Gregory called my attention to a series of 22 fox pictures on Bored Panda, some of which are great. I reproduce Professor Ceiling Cat’s Favorites below.

By the way, that site also quotes this famous experiment, an experiment about which I’m quite dubious, for I haven’t been able to get the original paper (it’s in Russian, anyway):

The fox is a member of the canidae family, which also includes dogs, wolves and other similar animals. After 50 years of breeding experimentation in the Soviet Union, they’ve also provided us with extraordinary insight into the domestication process. Over several generations of selective breeding (by choosing foxes with less fear of humans), Soviet scientist Dmitry Belyaev was able to breed silver foxes that began to exhibit domestic traits like floppy ears, tail wagging and spotted coats.

I’m not dubious about the efficacy of selecting for tame foxes, as there’s certainly genetic variation for that. What I question is whether the floppy ears and coat color, or even tail wagging, automatically went along with tameness as a byproduct of the “tameness” genes. Science journalists have made a huge deal about selection for tameness being accompanied by these other traits, presumably as ancillary effects of the very genes that made the foxes less wary of humans. (If one gene has multiple effects, those are called “pleiotropic effects,” so color and floppy ears are said to be pleiotropic effects of the genetic variants producing tameness.)

An alternative hypothesis—which might not be checkable even in the original paper—is that the  researchers who selected for tameness also selected simultaneously (and perhaps inadvertently) on ear droopiness and coat color. Those things, too, could have been genetically variable and responded to selection for the traits themselves.

In fact, I’m not even sure why it’s so fascinating to people that genes for domesticity in ancestral canids might have side effects on coat color, even if that were true. Is that supposed to say something about how d*gs became domesticated? Is it supposed to say, for instance, that while humans were selecting the ancestral d*g from the wolf (or the wolf was selecting itself via reproductive advantages accruing to those individuals who could approach humans and their food more closely), the tameness automatically produced some of the traits of modern d*gs? I don’t believe that at all, but I’m open to evidence. And, after all, the closest relatives to modern dogs aren’t foxes but wolves.

Anyway, on to the foxes:

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 7.30.25 AM

Image credits: Edwin Kats

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 7.11.37 AM

Image credits: Roeselien Raimond

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 7.13.27 AM

Image credits: dailymail.co.uk

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 7.15.15 AM

Image credits: Jim Cumming

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 7.16.02 AM

Image credits: William Doran

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 7.32.18 AM

Image credits: Igor Shpilenok

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 7.34.38 AM

Image credits: Wenda Atkin

David Cameron goes all goddy again

I would have believed this in America, but in England? Granted, David Cameron wants to appeal to a faith-based constituency, but Britain isn’t as religious as the U.S., and when Cameron goes around touting God more often than Barack Obama, there’s something badly wrong.

And, according to the Guardian, Cameron’s gone way overboard.  His explicit and publicly stated faith is detailed in a new piece at the site, “David Cameron: I am evangelical about Christian faith.” An excerpt:

David Cameron has declared himself an “evangelical” about his Christian faith as he criticised some non-believers for failing to grasp the role that religion can have in “helping people to have a moral code”.

In his third effort this week to highlight his own strong faith, the prime minister said he wanted to see a bigger role for religion in Britain as a Christian country and urged fellow believers to be more confident in spreading their views.

What’s scary is that Cameron is buying into the same fallacy that afflicts most Americans: it’s harder for atheists to be moral because they don’t have a “moral instinct” or moral code handed down from God:

The prime minister’s religious messages began last week with an Easter reception at Downing Street, at which he said religion had brought him his greatest moments of peace and claimed “Jesus invented the big society 2,000 years ago”.

He also released a videoed Easter message for the country, in which he talked about the “countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ”.

In a separate article for the Church Times, he argued that some atheists and agnostics did not understand that faith could be a “guide or a helpful prod in the right direction” towards morality.

While acknowledging many non-believers have a moral code and some Christians do not, he added: “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality, or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.

“I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”

Yes, and some believers do not understand that faith can be a guide or malevolent prod in the wrong direction. Note, too, that Cameron sees missionizing as a duty, a God-sanctioned intrusion of religion into public life.  If he kept his faith to himself, and didn’t use it as a guide for government action, it would be far better. But of course if you have a belief—an absolute belief—in God, and that’s wedded to a set of moral principles that you think derive from God, then it’s almost imperative for you to spread the Good News, in this case by making laws.

And it isn’t only Cameron:

Traditionally, UK political leaders have been more reticent than their American counterparts about religion, with Tony Blair’s former spin chief Alastair Campbell once famously proclaiming that New Labour did not “do God”. However, both Blair and Gordon Brown have always professed strong religious beliefs and Cameron has been clear that he is a churchgoer. In contrast, Nick Clegg is an atheist, while Ed Miliband on a trip to Jerusalem last week set out his desire to become the first Jewish prime minister, although he caused confusion by forgetting about Benjamin Disraeli.

“I have a particular faith. I describe myself as a Jewish atheist. I’m Jewish by birth origin and it’s part of who I am. I don’t believe in God, but I think faith is a really important thing for a lot of people,” the Labour leader said.

This is what reader Sastra calls “The Little People Argument”: we nonbelievers are smart enough and rational enough to reject religion, but it’s a great comfort for the Little People, so let us support it. Can anything get more condescending than this stand, which Dan Dennett calls “belief in belief”?

Why is this happening all of a sudden? According to the Guardian, this goddycoddling is an attempt to repair damaged relations with the Church of England, which has taken issue with Cameron’s stands on welfare (he wants it cut) and gay marriage (praise Ceiling Cat that he’s in favor of it). Regardless, it’s unseemly for a British Prime Minister to break tradition by being so open about his faith, and, especially,  for insulting nonbelievers by claiming that they’re less likely to be moral.

h/t: Adrian

The spider that looks like a plant

by Matthew Cobb

This fantastic picture popped into my Tw*tter feed. It was taken by Kurt, a nature/macro photographer based in Kuala Lumpur. It is reproduced with permission and can be found on the spider page of his great website – that page also includes ant-mimic spiders mating (a terrible tangle of legs)!

What exactly it’s mimicking isn’t clear —it looks like a bit of honeysuckle flower to me. I initially assumed this was an ambush predator, but other photos by Kurt show that it spins a web (you can see the web underneath it), although it’s not clear whether that’s part of the deception or is used directly to trap prey. Here’s another image:

[JAC: I suspect that its mimicry is that it looks like a bit of flower or vegetation caught in a web, and the mimicry could also act when it was "between webs."]


Kurt says: “I still don’t know if it’s a Poltys or Arachnura or Cyphalonotus or  something else.” Can any readers help?

You can find more images of this and related spiders on Kurt’s Flickr page.

h/t @ziyatong



a nature/macro photographer based in Kuala Lumpur.
a nature/macro photographer based in Kuala Lumpur.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

To survey the almost-blooming cherry orchard, Hili has once again climbed to the second-story roof of the veranda, up where Gosia and Fitness live.

Hili: A few more days and you are going to see a sea of flowers.
Gosia: I can hardly wait.
Hili: While waiting, you could give me something delicious. I love invitations for dinner.

In Polish:

Hili: Jeszcze kilka dni i będziesz stąd widziała morze kwiatów.Gosia: Też już nie mogę się doczekać.Hili: Czekając możesz dać mi coś smacznego, uwielbiam zaproszenia na obiady.

Foto: Małgorzata Dwórznik

Squirrel buries nuts in a guy’s clothes

This video, taken in Battery Park, Manhattan, shows a biological instinct gone awry. This squirrel, given several peanuts, buries them in the clothes of the guy who proffered the nuts, hiding them in his hood and his pockets.  What was that squirrel thinking—that the guy would remain on the bench all winter?

h/t: Barry

My new Republic post on Hart and Douthat is up

As I’ve always claimed, I learn more from the commenters at this site than they learn from me. When I put up a post like Monday’s piece on Ross Douthat and David Bentley Hart’s views of God and religion, I pay attention to the readers’ comments, seeing whether I’ve made a misstep, been unclear, or missed some good points.

So let me offer the readers some kudos for the rewritten version of that post which just appeared in The New Republic under the title, “Religious believers’ favorite new book is a failed argument for God.” It’s been tightened and clarified, and my beef with Hart (and Douthat) is now disseminated more widely.  If you wish, go over to the site and give it a click, or perhaps engage in some discussion. It still delights me that such a prominent venue is willing to promulgate fairly explicit secular points of view.

I’m not sure I’m going to post a full review of Hart’s book here, as my comments are long and complicated, but I’ve begun pointing out its weaknesses, and will try to continue that by presenting and analyzing a few of Hart’s quotes over the next week. Suffice it to say now that this is NOT the book that you need to come to address if you’re to be a credible atheist. You’ve already encountered the main arguments before. They are these:

1. God is an ineffable Ground of Being who is neither anthropomorphic nor refutable by any empirical observations. He is the creator of all things, the sustainer of all things, and is immanent in everything. In fact, he could be considered to BE consciousness, bliss, and rationality.

2. Despite that, there is palpable evidence for God—in our consciousness (which, according to Hart, defies and will always defy scientific explanation), in our rationality and appreciation of beauty (also inexplicable by science), and in the fact that something exists instead of nothing. Hart gussies up these God-of-the-gaps arguments with fancy modern language, but, despite his denial of Gappism, that’s what his arguments boil down to.  And he’s also incorrect in denying that he’s not presenting evidence for God, but only clarifying the conception of God common to all religions. In fact, most of the book comprises the evidence for God that, says Hart, is so palpable in this world that you’d have to be deranged to remain an atheist.

If you’ve read Karen Armstrong and her apophatic theology (which says stuff about God despite claiming that you can’t say anything about God), you needn’t read Hart.

Russia’s lies about Ukraine

Today’s New York Times has a longish piece (“Russia is quick to bend the truth about Ukraine“) about how Moscow is doing its best to destabilize the eastern Ukraine, while at the same time pretending that it has nothing to do with the situation and urging the international community to bring peace. The object, as far as I can see, is to allow Russia to take over the region under the pretext of stabilizing it. That’s not rocket science.

It reminds me a bit of the beginning of World War II, when in late August of 1939 the Germans killed a few Poles and left their bodies on the border as evidence of Polish aggression, and then used that “evidence” as a pretext to invade Poland. It was the same kind of lies that Moscow is promulgating now. But read the Times piece; here’s a snippet:

The Facebook post on Tuesday morning by Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia was bleak and full of dread.

“Blood has been spilled in Ukraine again,” wrote Mr. Medvedev, once favored in the West for playing good cop to the hard-boiled president, Vladimir V. Putin. “The threat of civil war looms.”

He pleaded with Ukrainians to decide their own future “without usurpers, nationalists and bandits, without tanks or armored vehicles — and without secret visits by the C.I.A. director.”

And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies about the political crisis in Ukraine that have emanated from the highest echelons of the Kremlin and reverberated on state-controlled Russian television, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

It is an extraordinary propaganda campaign that political analysts say reflects a new brazenness on the part of Russian officials. And in recent days, it has largely succeeded — at least for Russia’s domestic audience — in painting a picture of chaos and danger in eastern Ukraine, although it was pro-Russian forces themselves who created it by seizing public buildings and setting up roadblocks.

In essence, Moscow’s state-controlled news media outlets are loudly and incessantly calling on Ukraine and the international community to calm a situation that Ukraine, the United States and the European Union say the Kremlin is doing its best to destabilize.

Even the United Nations weighed in. In a report released Tuesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that threats to ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, cited repeatedly by Russian officials and in the Russian news media as a potential rationale for Russian military action, were exaggerated and that some participants in the protests in the region came from Russia.

. . . “It’s all lies,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an expert on Russian politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “The Russia leadership doesn’t care about how it’s being perceived in the outside world, in the world of communication, in the world where we have plurality of information and where information can be confirmed and checked. This is a radical change in attitude toward the West.”

Ms. Shevtsova added: “We can’t trust anything. Even with the Soviet propaganda, when they were talking with the Soviet people, there were some rules. Now, there are no rules at all. You can invent anything.”

I gather some of our readers are sympathetic to the Russia’s drive to expand its borders, fuellng Putin’s megalomania for an old-timey, Soviet-style agglomaration of states.  Putin is an extremely dangerous man, the international community is timorous (who wants a war?), but at least we must start by admitting that this situation was created, engineered, and manipulated by a group of Russian warmongers who will stop at nothing to take over another sovereign nation. There’s a lesson to be learned from Crimea.


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