A milestone

Subscriptions have risen quickly over the last few days, and we reached this figure last night:

Screen shot 2014-11-20 at 5.08.45 AM

I’m chuffed, but, sadly, am unable to identify person number 30,000.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

It is a cold Thursday in Chicago, but at least we’re not Buffalo, where five feet of snow blanket the ground. More good news: Professor Ceiling cat may not need a root canal; we will wait and see over the next week how the nerve fares after drilling. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, little Hania (one of Fitness’s staff) asks Hili an important question.

Hania: How did cats get rid of dinosaurs?
Hili: We ate them.
In Polish:
Hania: Jak koty pozbyły się dinozaurów?
Hili: Zjedliśmy je.
Hili did eat a bird yesterday . . .


RIP Jimmy Ruffin

Another Motown great left us. This time it was Jimmy Ruffin (born 1936), older brother of David Ruffin, lead singer of The Temptations. Although Jimmy never attained the fame of his brother, he had one indubitably immortal soul song, and that was this one, released in 1966:

What becomes of the broken hearted” was written by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean, which explains why this was Ruffin’s only top ten hit. He had the pipes, but not the ability to write songs (Riser was the genius there). Nevertheless, this song will always be a golden oldie, and I’ve danced to it many times.

The spoken introduction in the version above was ditched from the final recording, which you can hear here.

And, just for fun, here’s the best cover of that song ever, sung by Joan Osborne on “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” video, in which the original Motown sidemen, self-named “The Funk Brothers”, played some of the label’s greatest hits. (Video highly recommended by Professor Ceiling Cat.) Osborne’s version is a bull-goose rocker, and features many of the people who played on Ruffin’s original hit. They didn’t lose a beat over the years.

Notice how a Motown song is instantly recognizable from the first bars, and every song had a different and special lick to start it off. (Listen to “Ooo, Baby Baby” and the beginning three drumbeats, for instance.) That was due largely to the improvisatory skill of The Funk Brothers.

Screen shot 2014-11-19 at 6.05.20 PM

Jimmy Ruffin. (Photograph: Detroit Free Press)



In his spare time, a Russian miner takes stunning pictures of foxes

Bored Panda, which I’m starting to realize is the most aptly named site on the Internet, tells the story of Ivan Kislov, who works as a miner in the remote Russian town of Magadan but spends his spare time photographing local wildlife, and has a special passion for foxes:

When he has time during his long shifts, he looks to photography for “relaxation from routine.” He likes to go on “hikes to inaccessible places, raftings,” or just simple walking tours to “observe the wildlife.

Though he takes pictures of everything from bears and reindeer to wolves and stoats, Kislov says the foxes are often very willing models: “Foxes are curious and can come very close, and I shoot with wide angle and telephoto lenses.

There are more pictures at Bored Panda, and a gazillion great ones on Kislov’s site, and another site called “500 px“. He also has a Facebook page (we’re now “friends”).

Here’s a selection of fox pix from Bored Panda:









A fox and a rabbi walk into a bar. . . .





And here’s Kislov himself:wild-foxes-ivan-kislov-3

h/t: Diana MacPherson

Kerri Miller’s journalistic double standard

Kerri Miller is either a dreadful journalist or an uneven one, and here’s the evidence: her interviews with Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins. The former is saccharine and uncritical, the latter hypercritical and unfair.

Yesterday I mentioned Kerri Miller’s interview of Karen Armstrong on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). I didn’t hear the whole thing, but did watch three 10-minute video clips and commented on one. Now you can hear the whole interview, which is 58 minutes long, at this site.

Go there and press the button that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.05.40 AM

If you are even a bit critical of religion, you’ll find the interview infuriating. Armstrong, with Miller’s approbation, excuses religion and fields Miller’s softball questions. Miller didn’t ask a single hard or provocative question, but merely eggs on, worshipfully, Armstrong’s long-winded lucubrations.  (Warning: don’t listen to this unless you have a strong constitution!). Armstrong apparently doesn’t know how to answer a question without nattering on for ten minutes. Arrogant, self-centered, and afflicted with a chronic case of logorrhea, Armstrong even reads her entire Charter for Compassion, and lets us know that she won the TED Prize for it. And, of course, she exculpates religion for every evil supposedly done in its name, blaming oppression (that goes for ISIS, too).

Now, if you have time, listen to her 2009 interview of Richard Dawkins here (there are six YouTube pieces that will play in order).

It’s the usual aggressive interview leveled at Richard by those who believe in belief. She accuses him of conceiving of religion as “infantile” and “unsophisticated” (the usual strawman), calling Dawkins a “fundamentalist” similar to religious fundamentalists. She even asks him whether, as an ageing male, he might possibly find God on his deathbed. Miller also doesn’t seem to evince much understanding about how science works, and asks him why on Earth he would bother writing his book on the evidence for evolution (The Greatest Show on Earth). It’s clear that she is hostile, and I’m gratified that Dawkins remains fairly calm when under attack.

Now I don’t mind interviewers being hard on their subjects, but it’s simply bad journalism to be hard on an atheist while kissing the rump of a closet religionist like Karen Armstrong. Welcome to America, and National Public Radio.


Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.25.02 AM

The stuff below is from an interview of Kerri Miller by Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine. The warning signs are already there:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.22.31 AM





The best license plate ever


And don’t forget to feed them!

h/t: Several readers

BBC shows winners of photography contest for osculating faith

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: The contest wasn’t held by the BBC, but by a pro-religion organization called Faith Through A Lens.  I erroneously assumed the BBC held the contest as I missed the link at the very bottom of the post. Rather than hosting the competition, the BBC simply presented the results as heartening news.  I’ve changed the title of this post and a bit of the wording to reflect that. Apologies for the error. Nevertheless, I object to the continuing claim that “faith” (i.e., belief in the absence of convincing evidence) is a virtue, and doubt that the BBC would show pictures like the two at the bottom if there was a “Religion is Dangerous” contest.

Oy gewalt—we have yet another instance of British media banging on about how wonderful religion is.  The BBC presented results of a contest called “Faith Through a Lens,” which has been running for five years.  Here’s its purpose, given in the latest selection of winning photos:

[T]he competition aims to show the positive role faith plays in everyday life through the medium of photography.

I’m not inspired to show a selection of pictures, though I’ve put the winner below. Granted, religious faith has motivated some good acts, but it’s also motivated many bad ones. (On balance, my view is that religion has been harmful for the world, and is useless in the modern world). However, as reader Oliver noted when sending me this link:

In the interests of balance, I hope they also run a competition to show the negative role it plays…

And indeed, where’s the journalistic balance? This “contest” has an avowedly political purpose, which the BBC bought into.

So here’s the winner of the “We love religion” contest:


Photo by Merryn Fawsett. BBC caption: Fawssett has chosen to donate her charity prize to The Feast, a charity group based in Birmingham which works to promote community cohesion between Christian and Muslim young people.

And here’s my entry for the counter-contest. Believe me, I could have shown much worse:


Oliver contributed his own entry, showing malicious and hateful behavior of Christians against Muslims in the Central African Republic:


You can add your own photo LINKS below, but please, don’t show anything grisly, as it makes some people ill.


Philae finds organic molecules on comet: what’s the big deal?

Everyone is excited that organic molecules have been detected by the probe Philae on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  This, people say, could explain the origin of life on Earth: the planet was seeded by the carbon-containing molecules on comets, and those organic seeds help create the first replicators that eventually became things that were indubitably “alive.”

But wait: we already had carbon-containing molecules on Earth, and we have no idea what molecules Philae found. The cometary compounds could, for example, be methane (a simple molecule with one carbon and four hydrogen atoms)—a molecule unlikely to have played a major role in the origin of life. Ditto for carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide (CO and CO2 respectively). The early Earth already had carbon in those molecular forms in the atmosphere, so why did we need to get them from a comet or asteroid? There were also physical forces on Earth, like heat and pressure around thermal vents, that could synthesize more complex organic molecules like amino acids. We also know that peptides (small proteins composed of amino acids) might have formed under early-Earth conditions.

Given that the constituents of early life could have formed under early Earth conditions (granted, as Matthew mentioned yesterday, we have little idea of how it happened), why invoke life being helped along by molecules on comets, molecules that haven’t even been identified yet?

I’ll be more impressed if they find complex amino acids or—even better but even more unlikely—proteins on the comet.  But until they do, at present I would echo Laplace and say that there’s no real need for a “cometary theory of abiogenesis.” Did the comet have geophysical conditions, or come from some planet with those conditions, that were even more favorable to the formation of complex organic molecules than the conditions on Earth?

What I’m saying, then, is that all the heated speculation that life on Earth might have been catalyzed by stuff on comets like  is a very premature speculation. Let’s wait and see what they found on comet 67P.

h/t: Melissa

Another amazingly industrious spider

[JAC: I have to weigh in to express my amazement at this phenomenon. I don’t know if this spider’s behavior is learned or genetically hard-wired—or perhaps some combination of both—but it’s surprising and wonderful. The great thing about being a biologist, or being a layperson who follows biology, is that stuff like this appears on a regular basis, providing constant intracranial infusions of wonder.]

by Matthew Cobb

I don’t know how I missed this. It was shown on the BBC TV programme about Madagascar in 2011, and features spiders that raise shells into vegetation in order to spend the night safely and damply. Quite remarkable. And they observed it *twice*! I have posted the tl;dw version as a gif (pronounced…) below. But watch the video, it’s only 2 minutes long.

obDzCuL - Imgur

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Jerusalem

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “Rage,” highlights the fracas and violence surrounding the murder of five people, including three rabbis, in a synagogue in East Jerusalem. (Please do not argue that the victims deserved it, for the murder of anyone like that is a bestial act regardless of politics).

And, of course, religion’s solution is ineffectual:





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30,026 other followers