Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Rick Wayne sent some photos of a hawk couple raising their brood as well a passel of urban foxes (i.e., Honorary Cats™), all from Wisconsin. I’ll show the foxes today. His notes:

One of the difficulties with the memory card is that it was also crammed with stills and video of our campus fox family (see for details). I chucked a couple of my favorites of those in here too. What’s interesting about these guys is that they’re such urban predators; by no means tame, they still mostly ignore the crowds of people and vehicles teeming around their den and just go on being foxes. The fellow in charge of the Allen Centennial Gardens has noted that his lagomorph problem has been sharply reduced this season.

Rick’s album of foxes is on Picasa.

Mom on the left, crossing Linden Drive. Cars and buses were exceedingly careful around the den, thank goodness; the male got hit by a car and killed west of campus.


A sibling was messing about underground, near the burrow entrance.


This one of the fox kit looking up to its left always makes me think of religious art. I wonder how many of those “beatifically illuminated by God’s light” images could be equally easily explained by “crow flying over”, as was the case here?


The kits always seemed pretty alert aboveground. Of course, at any given second it was likely that a sibling was just about to pounce. So: CONSTANT VIGILANCE!


And finally, if I may be forgiven a selfie, this is basically what it was like on this end of campus for a few glorious weeks — foxes everywhere!


Wake up!: “It Never Entered My Mind”

Today you can wake up with some soothing music. This rendition of “It Never Entered My Mind” is a duet featuring two of the greatest saxophonists in jazz history: Ben Webster (who soloed on “Cottontail” yesterday, and was nicknamed “Frog”) and Coleman Hawkins, also known as “Hawk” or “Bean”). To my mind, it’s up there with the best jazz ballads ever.  It was recorded in 1957, when both men were near the end of their careers, but you wouldn’t know it from their playing. The incomparable Oscar Peterson is on piano.

If you really know your jazz saxophone, you should be able to pick out the parts where the players change. Hint: Hawkins always played in a brassier way than Webster.  And when you can barely hear the sax for the breathing, it’s Webster. (They never play at the same time.) I’m certain that much of this is pure improvisation.

The song is by Rodgers and Hart, performed on Broadway in 1940, and it had words. They’re not needed here.

Google Doodle: Fall is here

Today is the autumn equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (actually, it began in Chicago at about 9 last night, but we have 24 hours). Google celebrates that with a short but appealing animated Doodle that you can see by clicking the screenshot below:

Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 4.30.55 AM


From the Independent:

The animation shows a black and white cartoon figure hop past five grey trees, transforming the leaves into rich autumnal colours.

With the character’s final leap, the leaves fall from the trees – revealing the word ‘Google’ in gnarled branches. A large red leaf then floats down and lands on the smiling character’s head.

This year, the autumn equinox falls in the northern hemisphere on 23 September – the date where day and night are of equal lengths. The Latin term equinox, or ‘equal night’, is derived from this phenomenon.

Chicago: island in the clouds

There will be much persiflage and little hard thought today, as the Albatross needs some preening, as well as spell-checking. This quote from Winston Churchill (who wrote far more easily than I did—in fact, he often dictated his books to secretaries) perfectly summarizes the experience:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

The monster is about to be slain. Sadly, I’ve never gotten to the “toy and amusement” stage. . .

But I digress. I wish I had taken this picture, but it comes from imgur, kindly forwarded by reader John. I’ve flown over downtown Chicago many times (that’s the way you approach O’Hare airport from the east), but I’ve never seen anything like this:


Tuesday: Hili dialogue

Fall has come again, has come again, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling. But in Dobrzyn, Hili is arching and bristling!
A: What has frightened you?
Hili: Nothing has frightened me, I’m trying to frighten Cyrus.
In Polish:
Ja: Czego się wystraszyłaś?
Hili: Niczego się nie wystraszyłam, próbuję wystraszyć Cyrusa.


London Natural History Museum Photo contest

The London Natural History Museum and BBC are jointly having their 50th Annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest (the LNHM site is here), and Distractify has put up some of the 50 finalists

From those Professor Ceiling Cat has chose ten of His favorite images, which of course include felids. Here they are, with the photographers named below their pictures. I’ve had to leave out some great photos, so go over to Distractify to see the ones that didn’t make it here. (The LNHM site doesn’t seem to show the finalists.)


‘Stretching’ by Stephan Tuengler


‘One Eye On You’ by Mohammad Khorshed


‘Caiman Night’ by Luciano Candisani



‘Leaping Gentoo Penguin’ by Paul Souders


‘Moonlight Climber’ by Alexander Badyaev


‘Heavy Rain’ by Pierluigi Rizzato


‘Piraputangus’ by Adriana Basques


‘Winter Hares’ by David Tipling


‘Too Big But So Tasty’ by Alain Ghignone


‘Shoaling Reef Squid’ by Tobias Bernhard

and, big fight!:


‘Apex Predators’ by Justin Black

h/t: Gregory


Accommodatheism I: Salon proposes that we all stop criticizing the low-hanging believers

I decided to Coyne a new world to replace “faitheism,” and it’s in the title. “Accommodatheism.” It’s the tendency of some nonbelievers to try to make common cause with believers, or at least to stop criticizing them. (Watch Chris Stedman steal this word for the title of his next book!)

A prime example of accomodatheism is a new piece in Slate (which, along with Salon, now seems to be going after the low-hanging atheists). It’s by atheist Steve Neumann, and has the unfortunate (and largely irrelevant) title, “Cut it out, atheists! Why it’s time to stop behaving like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins.”

Overall, the piece isn’t horrible—not nearly as dire as some of the recent atheist-bashing pieces in Salon and the Guardian—but it still seems misguided. Neumann is an atheist himself and has little truck with religion, but, in the tradition of Chris Mooney, he thinks that loud, strident atheism, à la Dawkins and Maher, is inimical to the cause of atheism itself. We are, he says, polarizing Christians and preventing them from accepting our message because we’re too “in your face.”

Of course there’s not the slightest bit of evidence for this. Indeed, the number of “nones” (those who don’t identify with any formal religion) is growing in the U.S., as is the number of atheists. All this is happening in the very era of Hitchens, Dawkins, Maher, and Dennett.

Dawkins can in fact point to hundreds of people who have abandoned religion because of his books and talks (I always refer to his “Converts Corner”), yet I still haven’t heard of a single person—not one—who says, “You know, I have doubts about God, but when I hear that loudmouth Dawkins and his strident atheism, it made me want to hold onto Jesus even tighter.” (At this point I realize someone out there will tell me that one such person exists, but I want at least a thousand to counterbalance Dawkins’s converts.)

Nevertheless, Neumann proposes in his piece something called “The Atheist Positivity Challenge” (APC), whereby we’re supposed to refrain from going after Christians for one month. To wit:

I’d like to challenge all atheists, myself included, to refrain from posting disparaging commentary about Christian newsmakers on Facebook and other social media sites — including blogs — for one month. Let’s call it The Atheist Positivity Challenge, or the APC for short. The purpose of this challenge is to draw attention to two things: The fact that gloating about the lunacy and misdeeds of specific Christians is not only unnecessary, but probably counterproductive; and the need to rehabilitate the reputation of atheism in America.

. . . Refusing to indulge our desire to vilify the easy targets will make us look less arrogant and therefore less aversive. Not only should this make us less susceptible to open animosity, but it should help accomplish atheist goals which, as author and blogger Greta Christina put it, are about “reducing anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination, and to work towards more complete separation of church and state.” I know it seems like blasphemy to refrain from criticizing loonies like [megachurch pastor Mark] Driscoll, but we need to have “faith” that the cultural forces currently in play will accomplish what we want.

There are several problems with this besides the lack of evidence that our “arrogance” and “aversive” behavior is turning America off atheism. First of all, lots of people follow the “easy targets,” and criticizing them may indeed sway some people on the fence. And those “easy targets” are doing some pretty bad stuff, like trying to prevent gay marriage, enforce the teaching of creationism in the schools, and trying to stave off abortion and birth control.  Do we stifle ourselves when Christians say that? Is that going to help our cause?

Second, can we still attack Islam? Or is that an easy target, too? For Islam is by far more dangerous than Christianity, and a lot of religious criticism is directed that way.  But of course attacking Islam turns Muslims off far more than attacking Christianity does Christians. Why is just one faith exempt from criticism? (Do Jews count, too?)

Third, is just one month of laying off Christians supposed to make a difference? Is this like a Lent for Atheists? And when we go back to our normal activity after that, will things be much better with the faithful, and atheism will be advanced? Does Neumann really believe that? If he does, I’d question his judgment.

Neumann notes that atheists are in poor repute, which is true, but he says that it’s our own fault:

While many millennials are de facto atheists or agnostics — or at least politically secular and socially tolerant — atheism still doesn’t enjoy a very good reputation in America. In a 2011 survey, for example, atheists were distrusted as much as rapists; and even this year atheists and Muslims are in a statistical tie for most disliked. This is the main impetus for the APC. I think that we outspoken atheists, the ones who actively contribute to the culture wars by blogging, writing articles and engaging in public debates, have to ask ourselves: Are we sincere when we say we have a positive worldview? I mean, it’s not enough to just have positive beliefs — that is, beliefs in something, as opposed to not believing in God — what is needed is an emphasis on positivity itself.

After accusing us of insincerity when we advance a positive worldview (talk about arrogance!), Neumann ignores the fact that people like Dawkins, Grayling, Harris, and Hitchens all did that (remember Hitch’s final speech in Texas where he extolled the virtue of the secular, thinking life?). Did anyone read The Magic of Reality? Or Grayling’s works on humanism? How about Sam Harris’s new book, Waking Up? Nope, no positivity there.

So we have to lay off Christians for a month and be more positive and happy and stuff, and that, dear readers, is how we’ll promote atheism in America?

If you believe that, I have some swamp real estate in Florida I’d like to sell you.

Have atheists really hurt their cause by being negative and criticizing Christians? I doubt it. We are not, by and large, negative, and criticizing religious belief has brought many people to nonbelief. Our supposed negativity and criticism are, in fact, just excuses that religious people use to go after atheists. If we’d just shut up and be positive, they say, all will be well. Sound familiar? It’s the same advice offered to women who wanted to get the vote and, later, blacks who wanted equal treatment under the law.

I thought long and hard (well, not really that long and hard) about Neumann’s advice, and I think it’s just silly. If he had the slightest amount of evidence that this would do something to loosen religion’s grasp on America (say, 1000 Christians who would sign a document saying they’d give up their faith if we’d refrain from criticizing them for a month and be more positive), I’d take him seriously. But right now I think he’s talking out of his hat.

And Salon is silly for giving him space to say this, and mean-spirited in using a title that disses prominent atheists while telling us not to diss Christians.


Re-emphasis of a Rool

For some reason I’ve been getting a lot of items from people asking me to call attention to their videoes, their posts, their products, and their projects. Often these requests are accompanied by some statement like, “I think your readers will be interested in this.” Let me call your attention to the Rools, which are always on the sidebar of the site (look left if you’re on a computer and you will see them there). In particular I direct you to Rule #16

16. Please do not use this site to promote your project, book, website, and so on, or to raise money for your cause. If you think there’s a cause that deserves my attention, by all means email me simply calling it to my attention. Please do not tell me that I should post about your pet project, or that my readers need to hear about it or would love to hear about it. A simple mention of the project, without the pressure or, especially, fulsome flattery, will suffice.

That still holds, and in fact it makes me less likely to want to promote a project if the promoter tells me how important and interesting it is.  As always, I welcome people calling my attention to worthy causes, projects, and so on, but not with the rider that I should write about them. Professor Ceiling Cat is the Final Arbiter of All Things, and, like a bicycle tire, hisses when overpressured.



Readers’ wildlife photos

Surprise—birds today, but also two dragonflies.

First, two species of jays. Reader Ronaldo Bartl sent a photo of a species that was new to me, but was beautiful:

Hope you like it; a group of 3 plush-crested jays (Cyanocorax chrysops) taken at the Parque Nacional Iguazú (Argentina). Although there was a sign saying not to feed them, or any other animal life,it was obvious they were used to people doing so…

Taken with a Panasonic FZ7 compact superzoom,


Another jay from reader Glenn Butler, who did a good deed:

Here’s a friendly juvenile blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata). This bird was apparently orphaned and decided to rely on humans for food. This brave little blue jay followed me around for perhaps an hour, persuading me to offer some lunch bread. Convinced our feathered friend wouldn’t survive we both made a trip to a local, Chesapeake, Virginia songbird rehabilitator.



We don’t often get photos of dragonflies on the wing. Reader Stephen Barnard has sent two. His notes:

Dragonfly in flight — unidentified species. I’m pretty sure it’s a darner, but the only close matches I can find are
for species outside this range.

Can anybody help?





My heart is breaking

It used to be penis-enlargement devices, then Nigerian money scams, and now this:

from tgraffga []

I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, my family and I came down here to  Kiev, Ukraine  for a short vacation,unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed all cash,credit card and mobile phone were stolen off us but luckily we still have our passports with us.

We’ve been to the Embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all the bad news is our flight will be leaving in less than 8-hrs from now but we’re having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills.

I’ll need your help (LOAN) financially of $2,500. I promise to make the refund once we get back home. Please let me know if i can count on you and i need you to keep checking your email because it’s the only way i can reach you.

Does anybody actually fall for this, especially because such requests come from strangers?! Sometimes I have the desire just to play along with these people up to the moment when I have to surrender financial information.

As far as I know, you have to be an user to report this kind of stuff to aol.



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