Sunday: Hili dialogue

Today’s dialogue has a title (perhaps it should be “Poor Cyrus!”).


Cyrus: I’m afraid I’ve eaten your breakfast.
Hili: I’m afraid I have to punish you.
P1010668a (1)
In Polish:
Cyrus: Obawiam się, że zjadłem twoje śniadanie.
Hili: Obawiam się, że muszę cię ukarać.



Dreadful, dreadful journalism

Well, I never! Click the screenshot below to go to the shoddy piece at The Raw Story. I think they got the names reversed.

Screen shot 2014-09-13 at 6.04.54 PM

Pot, kettle, anyone? The article is about a book, probably also worthless, by Tom Roston, called The Quantum Prophets: Richard Dawkins, Deepak Chopra and the Spooky Truth about their Battle Over God.

The article is almost completely about Chopra’s dislike of Dawkins. There are four full-sentence quotes from Chopra and just a few quoted words or phrases from Dawkins.

The headline is biased and misleading. It’s a really dumb story, and more journalistic Dawkins-bashing. Have these people no sense of how a journalist should behave? It’s a sad state of affairs that journalists like David Ferguson (and Andrew Brown) have to be set straight by their commenters, as Ferguson was in this stinker of an article.

I swear, places like BuzzFeed, HuffPo, and The Raw Story, which specialize in short, sensationalistic stories, and pay their writers either nothing or next to nothing, are going to be the final nail in the coffin of journalism. When the dust has settled, we’ll be awash in e-tabloids and maybe one newspaper: the New York Times. 

But of course we’re partly to blame, because people simply don’t have the time or mental effort to create the demand for decent, well-researched stories. It’s easier, and sells better, for e-tabloids to simply beat up Dawkins.


Another Pastafarian gets a driver’s license picture

This is at least the third such incident I’ve heard of: a Pastafarian—an atheist with noodly tendencies—named Shawna Henderson in Oklahoma, got her driver’s license picture taken with the Sacred Headgear (a colander) atop her head. That, apparently, is legal. Here’s the story from KFOR News, and her driver’s license:

As PuffHo reports:

Hammond told KFOR that she is an atheist who believes that unbelievers should be able to express their views.

“I’m glad I was able to do it. It’s hard living as a non-religious person in Oklahoma. It felt good to be recognized that we can all coexist and have those equal rights,” she said.

A screenshot of her license:
Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 11.16.27 AM

Quite fetching, I’d say.


Spot the Finnish mammal

by Matthew Cobb

This was tw**ted by my pal Professor Sophie Scott of University College London, who is in Finland at the moment. At first I thought it was just paranoia (all those birch trees) but apparently not…There’s a mammal in this pic. What and where is it? (Click on the pic to embiggen).



Penn State deep-sixes Bibles in its hotel rooms

A hotel run by a public university should not have Bibles in its hotel rooms. (Yes, Universities do run “hotels,” or paid lodging; I’ve stayed in such places many times.) Yet according to the Centre Daily Times, a Central Pennsylvania newspaper, until just recently the two hotels at Penn State University had a Gideon Bible in every room.

That’s clearly unconstitutional.  The University realized that, although the reason they gave for just now removing the Bibles (and putting them in the hotel library) was not quite that. It was the Zeitgeist!:

“Penn State decided to remove Bibles from individual guest rooms in both of its hotels, The Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, and to place them in public access areas,” Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.

The move was made not to limit the beliefs of one group but to be more inclusive of all, Penn State said.

“In the past few decades, the world and its people have changed dramatically. We wish to be respectful of all religions, and also of those who have differing beliefs, yet we still wanted to ensure the publication was available to those who desire to read it while staying with us,” Powers said. “This action was taken in the spirit of recognizing other religions and beliefs among our guests.”

The move also makes it possible for other groups — such as Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. — to have their beliefs, and their religious books, be put on the same footing.

“It’s my understanding that those publications are certainly accepted if a group wishes to make them available at our hotels,” Powers said.

The religious tomes have been moved to the hotel’s libraries. Maybe not every hotel has its own book collection, but the university’s do. In fact, the Nittany Lion Inn has two of them. The Bibles are also available in some other public access areas. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay there.

And they shouldn’t, at least not in public lounges where other religious tomes aren’t available.  At any rate, I think a few generous readers should donate copies of The God Delusion, The End of Faith, and God is not Great to the Penn State hotels for inclusion in their book collection. Don’t you think readers would be drawn to them? Here are the addresses:
Nittany Lion Inn
200 West Park Avenue
State College, PA 16803

The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel
215 Innovation Boulevard
State College, PA 16803

Send in your dogeared copies of the Horsemen books! If you send a book to both places, with proof, I’ll reward you with a Jerry Coyne the Cat keyring. I know it’s not much, but it’s cute.
There’s one more item:

Maggie Biddle, general manager of the Atherton Hotel in downtown State College, said her 149 rooms still have Bibles, but that she appreciated the motivation behind Penn State’s move.

“That’s something we might think about ourselves,” she said.

And that got me wondering. Hotels, like all public facilities that cater to travelers, are covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination. Can it be possible that every Gideon Bible in a hotel (even though they’re all donated), is resting there illegally?

Until this is litigated, if it ever is, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sells “Bible warning labels” for $2.00 per dozen, perfect for sticking in those offending Gideon Bibles in your hotel room. The thing is, though, that it still costs 17¢ to assert your freedom from religion:


A cheaper alternative is to simply take a pen and write this at the beginning (it’s not vandalism, as the Bibles are gifts and you’re even urged to take them with you):


ADDENDUM: Reader Adrian just sent me a new t**t that originated from Alistair Coleman about an addition to a hotel Gideon Bible:

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 1.15.57 PM

h/t: Sanjiv

Readers’ beefs of the week

It was a productive two weeks for beefs, given my heavy criticism of religion, which always brings the faithful out of the woodwork to defend their God. And, surprisingly, they are often nasty! (That’s a joke.) Most (but not all) of the following people will have had only one chance to post on this site. As usual, all misspellings and infelicities of language are from the original comments.

Here’s a bad one: Reader “justice” commented on my post “Pennsylvania teenager faces jail time for ‘desecrating a venerated object,’ which proved surprisingly popular (though not with “justice”!) You may recall that that post showed a teenager who was in trouble for simulating fellatio with a Jesus statue:

degenerate faggot will be sucking cock in jail.
you stand for nothing.

“Justice” has clearly been drinking too much Mountain Dew in his parents’ basement.


Reader Geoff commented on another popular post “John Dickson at the ABC: Theology is so sophisticated that it doesn’t need a subject“:

There are many people who believe in God and there are many interpretations in practiced belief. So it’s really none of your business if the want to design an academic study course on it.

Of course it’s my business to go after courses of study that contribute to the dissemination of lies and delusions. Many people believe in homeopathy, too—should I stop criticizing the courses about it and the many homeopathic products peddled in stores and pharmacies?


Reader Daphne, no doubt a Jehovah’s Witness, had this to say about my post, “A Jehovah’s Witness criticizes me for criticizing their policy on blood transfusions“:

Actually if you were up to date on your research, you would know that blood transfusions are actually old medicine, it’s been proven that people who get bloodless surgery heal faster and better than people who recieve the blood. Even the military is recognizing this and using it on a more regular basis.

Old medicine? Gee, I wonder why the Red Cross is urging people to donate blood during the “Natonal Preparedness Month” of September, and has just launched a blood donation app for your mobile phone. that will schedule your donations, keep track of them, urge others to follow, and even give you credits? I guess the fact that blood transfusions are “old medicine” simply hasn’t reached the Red Cross, which promotes the app by saying, “The Blood Donor App is a great new way to help meet the constant need for blood.” It hasn’t reached my physician, either, who says he’s seen Jehovah’s Witnesses die after refusing transfusions, when a simple dollop of blood could have saved them.


There were, however, a few more substantive comments that took me to task for not understanding religion. Here are three (one abridged) about my post “What is a “true” religion?”. The first is from reader “Ronk” (the quote in the first paragraph is from my post):

“if “true” means anything, it must mean “true to some principles.” As far as I can see, there are only two such principles: true to scripture or true to some code of conduct that the writer approves. But these definitions often contradict each other, so no “true” religion can be specified….ISIS, like all religious movements, is based on faith; and faith, which is belief in the absence of convincing evidence, isn’t true or false, but simply irrational.”

You clearly have (or are pretending to have) no idea what religion and faith are. True faith must of necessity be true to the principle that it cannot cannot assert anything which contradicts reason. Any religion which asserts anything irrational or which promotes actions which are immoral, is clearly not a true religion.

I take your point that ISIS is generally representative of the beliefs and actions of Moslem rulers over the last 1380 years. Howveer you seem unaware of the fact that the fundamentalist Christianity which you describe was not invented until Christianity was already 1900 years old; was virtually unheard of outside of the USA until 50 years ago; and still represents only a tiny minority of Christians currently living on earth.

Here we have another dime-store theologian trying to tell me what “true” religion is. First of all, Ronk claims that “true” religion cannot assert anything that contradicts reason. Well, that eliminates about 95% of the faiths on earth: those that make unfounded or unevidenced truth claims.  There goes literalist Christianity and most Islam, and even those Buddhists who believe in karma and reincarnation.  As for the claim that “true” religions don’t promote immorality, there goes Catholicism as well, with its claims that condoms don’t prevent AIDS, its demonizing of gays (whose behavior sends them to Hell), its acceptance of a historical Adam and Eve (which science has conclusively disproven), and its equating a human blastocyst with an adult human, since both supposedly have souls. And of course Islam goes again for promoting immorality. (Here’s one example: to prove a claim of rape, a woman requires the presence of four witnesses—or eight women, I guess, since sharia law says that a woman’s testimony is worth but half of a man’s—who will vouch for the rape. How likely is that?)

We already know about the canard that “fundamentalist Christianity began 50 years ago.” (actually, “The Fundamentals” began publication over a century ago, so Ronk doesn’t even know the facts). But that, pardon my French, is irrelevant bullshit. Every church father, from Aquinas on down, was a fundamentalist (or literalist, if you will) about some biblical claims. They all took Adam and Eve, the Genesis story, Hell, the Resurrection and so on as real, literal truths, and that, of course, is what I was talking about. I could give a hoot when the American Fundamentalist movement started (around 1910); what I care about is whether Biblical literalism has been on the go for the past two millennia. And it has. I claim that more than 90% of Christians are fundamentalists about the literal truth of at least one Biblical claims.

I recommend for Ronk a heavy and emetic dose of Aquinas and Augustine the Hippo, as well as Martin Luther.


Another comment from reader Richard Field:

I’m a materialist (atheist, if you will) and I have no desire to coddle religion, but it seems to me that ISIS are clearly motivated by political and social interests. Sam Harris, as well as those that talk of ‘true religion,’ often seems to treat religion as though it were a ‘thing’ in itself with clearly defined boundaries. It isn’t a thing; it is, in part, an ideology, and like any ideology it has no fixed form: it is a bundle of varying beliefs which melt into one another and also into other forms of ideology including political and economic ones. All developed religions are also political and economic movements. As soon as a group of believers get together they begin to have a group identity, a group, and therefore a political interest. As soon as they begin to acquire property or operate within the fundamentally economic nature of society they have economic interests. There is no clear way of distinguishing between what is ‘religious’ and what is political or economic. These things are just ideologies and all part and parcel of what human beings do in society.

Of course ISIS is a political movement and of course it is politically motivated. Religion is just the ideological form through which they express their political and economic interests. Religious ideologies are like ponds into which you can dip a bucket and draw out whatever beliefs you need to support your material aims. When has that not been the case?

This is just apologetics. Of course religions eventually get their tentacles into society, and affect politics, economics, and so on, but what is the pivot point? If Islam had never started, it’s highly doubtful that many of its malfeasances would be here. Would Sunnis kill Shiites, and ISIS kill apostates and Christians if there were no Islam? I doubt it.  Religions come with moral codes that cause the harm.  If Catholicism had never been started as the first institutionalized form of Christianity, would we still have had the Inquisition, the notion of a soul that does so much damage, the opposition to assisted suicide, the demonization of gays, and so on? Let me put Field’s misguided comments another way:

Of course ISIS is a religion movement and of course it is religiously motivated. Politics is just the ideological form through which religion expresses its need to control the behavior of others.

Religion comes first, the incursion into society comes after.

As for “religious ideologies” being so malleable that they can support their material aims, well, it’s not in the interest of the Catholic Church to oppose abortion or homosexuality or birth control. Why hasn’t it dipped the bucket yet to change those beliefs!


Finally, reader Patrick Hornqvist sent a very long comment—too long to reproduce here. I excerpt the relevant parts:

A good article, marred only by the author’s evident unfamiliarity with the Bible. Christians understand the Old Testament as “laying the groundwork” and gradually acclimatizing the barbaric culture of the time to a different standard. The overarching narrative is one of civilization and moral development. The “introduction” is laid out in the Old Testament (e.g. Do not kill, do not commit adultery) and the “conclusion” in the New Testament, in which Jesus states that killing is not enough to be perfect; one must not want to kill, or hate. Refraining from the physical act of adultery does not make one perfect; one must not objectify others, etc.

To put it simply, the logic is that for warlike nomads living thousands of years ago, not killing someone was a steep enough command; the whole “not hating others” thing needed to be put off until later.
This evolution is most obviously demonstrated by the shift in tone from the powerful, authoritative God (The Father) in the Old Testament dispensing righteous fury to protect the chosen people to the New Testament God (The Son) who meekly dies as a sacrifice. This contrast makes evident the new standard the adherent is to be judged by.

. . . Dr. Coyne’s assertion that, “You can cherry-pick the Qur’an as easily as you can the Bible: for both are filled with calls for violence and genocide that distress us.” displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how religious groups interpret their own texts. This is made all the more apparent when we consider that a good part of the Koran was simply lifted from the Old Testament, yet Jews, Christians and Muslims would arrive at wildly different conclusions as to the context and meaning of those same passages.

Some “logic”. What we have here is a posteriori special pleading designed to reconcile the supposedly disparate messages of the Old ad New Testaments, making them part of a single plan hatched by God.

And which Christians, exactly, say that the Old Testament has been superceded by the kindness of Jesus-Time? I know enough of the Bible to remember Matthew 5:17: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”  What part of that does Hornqvist not understand?

The reason why Christians like Hornqvist have reinterpreted the Old Testament, pretending that God was laying the groundwork for Nice Jesus Time, is because we now see that Old Testament morality is reprehensible. The rest is simply that the documents were written years apart, and by different humans.

And really, “the not hating others” thing would have been incomprehensible to those living in the Middle East? Give me a break! God could tell those people anything, and they’d obey him out of fear, if not reason!

As for the claim that Christians don’t cherry-pick the Bible for both literal truths and moral guidance, that’s just bunk. The Qur’an is indeed derived in large part from the Bible, but the disparate notions of what both dictate actually invalidates Hornqvist’s thesis, for how can you get such different interpretations out of what is largely the same stuff? Through cherry-picking! (The Qur’an, of course, is not the same as the Bible, and has a bunch of nasty stuff that contradicts the Bible, e.g., Jews as apes and swine, going to hell for claiming the Jesus was divine, etc.)  But you don’t need to contrast Islam and Christianity to show how cherry-picking is pervasive. Just look at all the different doctrines of all of the Christian sects, ranging from Pentecostals to Unitarians to Presbyterians to Methodists to Lutherans. Each sect has different moral codes and beliefs about sex, the status of women, the validity of the Trinity, consubstantiation vs. transubstantiation, the morality of homosexuality, and so on. That’s not to mention which literal truths are embraced, starting with Genesis and evolution.

Anybody who claims that people don’t cherry-pick their morality from the Bible, choosing that which comports with their extra-Biblical notions of what’s good and bad, is simply blind.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Ed Kroc sent us a passel of photos from a recent trip to Canada:

Here are a few pictures from a trip last month up to Whistler, BC.  It’s known as an international ski destination (made famous recently by the 2010 Olympics), but in the summer it’s a convenient and beautiful place to do some alpine hiking.  Of course, there are many fascinating animals running around up there too!

First up, the Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata), North America’s largest ground squirrel.  The town of Whistler actually derives its name from these guys: since they often emit high-pitched whistles in alarm, they are nicknamed “whistlers” or “whistle pigs.”  To me, they look like giant guinea pigs; they’re about twice the size of the Yellow-bellied Marmot (M. flaviventris) so common to the American west.

Hoary marmot chomping:

Hoary Marmot chomping

Hoary marmot spying:

Hoary Marmot spying
Next, a group of Melissa Blue Butterflies (Lycaeides melissa).  I’m only mostly positive about the ID since there are so many different species of butterfly that look superficially similar, it’s hard to be certain if you’re not an expert.  These tiny butterflies like to crowd together in large groups near the many mountain snowmelt streams.

Melissa's Blue

Kind of a weird name, Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is a high mountain relative of the jays and corvids.  Apparently, they play a vital role in the creation and health of new pine forests: they bury thousands of pine seeds every summer, but don’t end up retrieving them all later.  This particular individual was hunting for lunch at the end of a dead-looking tree branch.  In the sequence of photos, you can see how well suited the beak is to a quick, precision dissection.

Clark's Nutcracker hunting

Clark's Nutcracker fishing

Clark's Nutcracker with lunch

Finally, I included a landscape, just because it was too beautiful a day not to share.  The shot was taken from Whistler Mountain, looking northeast toward Blackcomb Mountain.  The wildflowers were in full bloom, with lots of Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) hugging the banks of the snowmelt streams.

Alpine meadow

Caturday felid: World premiere of “Hili and Cyrus”

I am extremely honored to present reader Carol Piller’s polka/klezmer composition (and performance) in honor of Hili and Cyrus. But I will let her explain the origin. First watch the video: an original piece of music accompanied by slides of our favorite cat and her canine staff.

A few years ago, I started writing my own piano music to play in ballet classes. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m always looking for ideas to inspire a new piece of music. Cats, my own and those of friends, have been one of my favourite sources. The story of Hili and her introduction to Cyrus was irresistible. I started this piece when Jerry was in Poland, but didn’t quite get it finished until last week.

Since it was to be in honour of Hili, I started thinking about Polish music; mazurkas and polonaises and such but my first musings just didn’t feel right. That is, until it turned into a polka! Then it took off. Shortly thereafter, I realized that the polka had taken on a decidedly Klezmer feel. Once it went Klezmer, then I had to add a slow hora on the beginning. This section has Cyrus barking in the background, (a la Vivaldi) and a plaintive melody on top (should be played on violin or clarinet) then it launches into the quick hora/polka representing the delicate interplay between Jerry and the cat and the d*g. You can make up the rest of the story.

I was in an Isreali folk group for many years and we played many styles of music, but the Klezmer music was the most fun for the orchestra. Accordion, violin and clarinet are common and are often attempting to imitate the voice and use many special effects to imitate weeping, laughing and various inflections of the Yiddish language. The Klezmorim were virtuosic performers and the music is full of joy, sorrow, vitality, humour and theatre. I am not Jewish, but am lucky that the ensemble I belonged to was very welcoming and more interested in love of music than the culture you were born into.

There are lots of great Klezmer groups out there. Here us just one example by Beyond The Pale. This video of ‘Oy I Like She’ demonstrates so much of what is wonderful about this music.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

When Malgorzata is working in her chair at the computer, Hili often tries to squeeze behind her (Hili, as you may recall, is the titular editor of Listy (see below):

Malgorzata: I can’t say I’m having a very comfortable time of it with you here.
Hili: Can’t be helped, I’m running the editorial office from the back seat.


In Polish:

Małgorzata: Nie mogę powiedzieć, że jest mi z tobą wygodnie.
Hili: Trudno, kieruję redakcją z tylnego siedzenia.


Here’s the editorial banner for Listy (“Redaktor nasczeny” means “Chief editor”):

Screen shot 2014-09-13 at 4.57.37 AM

How does the week end?

Not with a squirrel but a cat. (A facepaw!) Have a good weekend, and don’t forget to try the roast beef!


You call those paws? Now THESE are paws!



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