RIP Hamish McHamish

Last May I reported on the existence of one Hamish McHamish, a large, fluffy tomcat in St. Andrews, Scotland, who, though formally owned, roamed the town freely, acquiring noms and fusses from all and sundry. He even had a fancy £5,000 bronze statue erected by the townspeople who loved him.


Hamish McHamish

So I am sad to report that, according to The Independent, Hamish just passed away from a chest infection at age 15.  It appears that he was euthanized after doing poorly.

The St Andrew’s town cat Hamish McHamish has passed away. The ginger cat was 15 years old and died after battling a chest infection. Hamish’s Facebook page broke the news, posting that he passed: “Peacefully, and with his Mum Marianne by his side” early on Thursday morning.

“In the end, the chest infection that he had been battling proved too much for him and the kindest thing to do was to let him go.” the administrator posted.

“Thank you Hamish for the years of joy you’ve given us and for letting us all be part of your life. May your remarkable spirit live on forever in the town you loved…and ruled! Here’s to you, old chum.”


Despite belonging to Marianne Baird, Mr McHamish adopted a nomadic life. He was indeed a remarkable cat who stalked the auld grey toon of St Andrews with majesty and pride. He had many homes, from student flats to shop windows. His ginger fur could be witnessed on coats across the town with many visitors, students and residents stopping to give the tom cat a cuddle.

I wish I had been able to see him. I was in St. Andrews not that long ago, but that was before I knew about Hamish. Here’s a video of him.

The Independent continues:

Mr McHamish was so well-loved by the town that in the end Mrs Baird was forced to get replacement pets to keep her company. Mr McHamish was just never home. In true St Andrews style, he was out networking across the town. He had his own ‘Hamish recommends’ section in Waterstones, which was stocked with everything from fish cookbooks to cat-based tales and often slept in the sun in the South Street estate agents. This year also saw the publication of his fantastic ‘biography’ -Hamish McHamish, Cool Cat About Town, by Susan McMullan.

There will be no replacement, I think, as how many cats who have homes roam so freely about a town, befriending its residents?

Farewell, old moggie. Local reader Anne, who called my attention to Hamish’s demise, also took and sent a photo of the shrine that has popped up around his statue. He clearly was greatly loved:

Shrine 2


What is a “true” religion?

As ISIS slaughters its way though Syria and Iraq, it became inevitable that we’d hear from the apologists who claim that ISIS is not in fact “true Islam,” and that its depredations are due to something other than religious motivation.  Those motivations, say the apologists, are political (usually Western colonialism that engendered resentment), cultural (societal tradition), or anything other than religion.

These apologists, of course, which now include President Obama, are motivated by two things. The first is the desire to avoid criticizing religion at all costs—expecially Islam, some of whose proponents have a nasty history of retaliating with extreme violence. And, in America, criticizing religion is political suicide. Further, the apologists cling to a double standard, whereby Middle Eastern Muslims are not expected to behave according to the same standards, as, say, Israel. They are treated like little children whose tantrums are simply fobbed off on their age, or, in this case, their ethnicity.

In a post on his website, Sam Harris dispelled the ludicrous claim that the actions of jihadis like those of ISIS aren’t motivated by religion. As he noted:

Our humanities and social science departments are filled with scholars and pseudo-scholars deemed to be experts in terrorism, religion, Islamic jurisprudence, anthropology, political science, and other diverse fields, who claim that where Muslim intolerance and violence are concerned, nothing is ever what it seems. Above all, these experts claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations.

As I mentioned to one of my Chicago colleagues, who had argued that Islamic violence was due to colonialism, “Listen to what they tell you are their motivations! What would they have to say to convince you that their motivations really do come from religion?” In his case, nothing, for the man was blinkered by his weakness for faith.

The apologists have yet another form of denial. Yes, they say, jihadis may be motivated by Islam, but it’s not “true” Islam. True Islam is peaceful, and its adherents would never slaughter apostates, behead journalists, or forcibly convert non-Muslims.  Their religion is simply a perversion of “true’ religion. This is what Obama said the other night when explaining his plan to dismantle ISIS (or “ISIL,” as he calls it):

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim…. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.

And here’s what Obama said in response to the beheading of journalist James Foley:

ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.

Well, the beheading did happen, meaning either that God is not just, or there is no God—something Obama clearly doesn’t accept. The alternative, which is even more frightening, is that America must become the agents appointed by God to take care of ISIS. (We’ll ignore for the moment that both the Qur’an and the Bible do indeed teach people to massacre innocents.)

The claims that ISIS is not a form of true Islam are repeated incessantly by those who coddle religion. Here are Igor Volsky and Jack Jenkins explaining “Why ISIS is not, in fact, Islamic.” After quoting one of the few verses from the Qur’an that seems to promote harmony among the world’s people, they note:

But ISIS clearly has little regard for this or other fundamental tenets of Islam. They have sparked the rage of Iraqi Muslims by carelessly blowing up copies of the Qur’an, and they have killed their fellow Muslims, be they Sunni or Shia. Even extremist Muslims who engage in warfare have strict rules of engagement and prohibitions against harming women and children, but ISIS has opted to ignore even this by slaughtering innocent youth and using rape and sexual slavery as a weapon.

They quote Senator Rand Paul:

“I think it is important not only to the American public but for the world and the Islamic world to point out this is not a true form of Islam. This is an aberrant form that should not represent most of the civilized Islamic world.”

Volsky and Jenkins conclude, apparently by fiat, that ISIS is not a “true” faith:

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not one is or isn’t religious is left up to God. But we are all tasked with religious life here on earth, where the opinion of a religious community should matter, and Muslims the world over have made their position clear: No matter how many people they kill to gain power, how many fellow Muslims they terrorize into submission, or how loudly they scream their self-righteous blasphemy to the heavens, ISIS is not — nor will ever be — Islamic.

Well, if ISIS is not Islamic, then the Inquisition was not Catholic. The fact is that there are no defensible criteria for whether a faith is “true,” since all faiths are man-made and accrete doctrine—said to come from God, but itself man-made—that becomes integral to those faiths. Whatever “true faith” means, it doesn’t mean “the right religion: the one whose God exists and whose doctrines are correct.” If that were so, we wouldn’t see Westerners trying to tell us what “true Islam” is.

No, 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.

First, the truest religion could be that which sticks the closest to scripture.  In that case the “truest” Christianity and Judasm would be literalist and fundamentalist. They would adhere to the creationism set out in Genesis, as well as the immoral behaviors sanctioned by God in the Old Testament. These include killing those children who curse their parents, as well as adulterers and those who work on the Sabbath.  Although these are clear moral dictates of God, no modern Christians or Jews obey them, for they are reprehensible. Nevertheless, there is a case to be made that a fundamentalist Southern Baptist is a “truer Christian” than a liberal Unitarian, and a misogynist Orthodox Jew a truer believer than a modern reform Jew.

Since most Muslims see the Qur’an as literal truth, this distinction doesn’t hold so much for Islam, so that the “true” versions must be construed in other ways. Nevertheless, 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. While Volksky and Jenkins quote one verse from the Qur’an that calls for harmony, there are a far greater number of verses calling for violence, characterizing the Jews as “apes and swine,” dictating the killing of infidels and apostates, and dooming nonbelievers to hell. Why shouldn’t adherents to those views be considered “true” Muslims?

In the end, what people like Obama, Paul, Volsky, and Jenkins consider “true” faith is this: “faith that promotes the kind of behavior that I like.” So, as do all believers, the apologists pick and choose from scripture the dictates that they find congenial, ignoring the bad ones.

Yet every religion has theologians and believers who either accept some of the bad dictates of scripture or accept some of the morally dubious interpretations that have grown up around it. William Lane Craig, a Christian, says that the genocide God decreed for the Canaanites was just—even killing the women and children.  Conservative Christians justify their demonization of abortions and homosexuality, and even the repression of women, through interpretation of Biblical statements. Those are their dogmas and their revelations, and who can say that their faiths are not “true”?

Many beliefs of some Muslim sects,  like female genital mutilation and devaluating a woman’s testimony in court (according to sharia law, it’s worth only half of a man’s), are not explicitly given in the Qur’an, the word of Allah supposedly dictated to Muhammad. Rather, they have become associated with Islam through the hadith and the Sunnah (reported sayings, practices, and beliefs of Muhammad), or through simple tradition. ISIS has an extreme and fundamentalist interpretation of Muslim doctrine. But in exactly the same way, dogma about the immorality of abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, and divorce have become part of Catholicism.  They are theological interpretations of scripture that appeal to some people’s sense of morality. Others disagree. Whose faith is “truer”?

Everyone who is religious picks and chooses their morals from scripture.  And so, too, do religious apologists pick and choose the “true” religions using identical criteria: what appeals to them as “good” ways to behave. The Qur’an, like the Bible, is full of vile moral statements supposedly emanating from God. We cherry-pick them depending on our disposition, our politics, and our upbringing.

In the end, there is no “true” religion in the factual sense, for there is no good evidence supporting their truth claims. Neither are there “true” religions in the moral sense. Every faith justifies itself and its practices by appeal to authority, revelation, and dogma. There are just some religions we like better than others because of their practical consequences. If that’s what we mean by “true,” we should just admit it. There’s no shame in that, for it’s certainly the case that societies based on some religions are more dysfunctional than others. Morality itself is neither objectively “true” nor “false,” but at bottom rests on subjective preferences: the “oughts” that come from what we see as the consequences of behaving one way versus another. By all means let us say that ISIS is a strain of Islam that is barbaric and dysfunctional, but let us not hear any nonsense that it’s a “false religion”. 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.


Readers’ wildlife photos

Mammals, birds, and insects today! There’s also a YouTube video, which Professor Ceiling Cat requests that you watch.

First, Joe Dickinson, to whom I misattributed some whale photos recently, sent me some real whale photos he took:

Having briefly been credited with some fine whale photos that were not mine, I went to my archives to find these.  Just outside Juneau, Alaska, a bit more than a year ago, we watched for a couple of hours as a pod of six or eight humpbacks [Megaptera novaeangliae] repeatedly sounded, then surfaced simultaneously in the cooperative “bubble net” feeding behavior.




What is bubble net feeding? It’s very clever, and Alaska Wildlife explains:

Bubble Net Feeding is a unique feeding technique employed by Humpback Whales, in which a group of whales swim in a shrinking circle blowing bubbles below a school of fish. This shrinking column of bubbles surrounds the school of fish forcing them upward. The whales spontaneously swim upward through the bubble net, mouths wide open, catching thousands of fish in one gulp.


Here’s a BBC video showing the feeding behavior, which involves three separate tasks, each performed by a whale or group of whales. This is a stunning video clearly showing the circle of bubbles and then the open-mouthed whales lunging up through the center. Do watch the whole thing, especially the reconstruction of the behavior beginning at 3:40. This is one of the most striking cooperative behaviors I’ve seen in any animal.

From Stephen Barnard, whose email was titled “The last thing you want to see if you’re dying of thirst. . . ” we have a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) on the wing:


Reader Mark Sturtevant sent two insects:

A battle damaged red spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis). This butterfly returned to our hydrangeas over several days. Interestingly, this species comes in two main varieties with partially overlapping ranges. The red spotted purple variety is shown here, and the other variety is known as the white admiral. This is explained here. I believe the white admiral was once considered a separate species.


A young widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa). Older specimens tend to have a whitish body, and areas of white on their wings. To take pictures of this wary insect, I first caught it and chilled it in a refrigerator for a couple minutes. After several minutes outside, it warmed up and flew away.


Friday: Hili dialogue

It’s Friday: which seat can you take? Meanwhile, in Dobrzyn, Hili is solipsistic as usual. Poor, befuddled Cyrus!

Cyrus: I can’t stop marveling.
Hili: What about?
Cyrus: How I became an admirer of cats.
Hili: Never make a generalization on the basis of one case.

In Polish:
Cyrus: Nie mogę wyjść z podziwu.
Hili: Nad czym?
Cyrus: Jak stałem się miłośnikiem kotów.
Hili: Nigdy nie generalizuj na podstawie jednego przypadku.

Squirrel guarding body of its friend?

Here’s a video that purportedly shows a squirrel guarding the body of its friend, who was bashed by a car, from crows who want to nom it.  And it sure looks like that, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe that squirrels have that kind of empathy.

On the other hand, recent experiments here at Chicago, by Peggy Mason and her colleagues, show that rats have a kind of empathy. When a rat is in an enclose with another rat trapped in a smaller box that is latched shut, the “free” rat will unlatch the box and release the other rat, even when it doesn’t get a reward.

Curiously enough, the trapped rat has to be one that the Samaritan rat is familiar with through experience. That is, the Samaritan will free a rat of the same strain that it’s been raised with, or of another strain if it’s been raised with that one, but it will not free a rat of its own same strain if it hasn’t been raised with members of its strain. That suggests what Paul Bloom’s studies on infants show: babies are proto-empathic, but only to people with whom they’re familiar.

So if rats can show a form of empathy, why not another rodent: the squirrel?

From One Green Planet, which simply presents the explanation as fact (bad science reporting!):

Animals aren’t as different from people as we sometimes tend to think they are. They understand more than we give them credit for, and have more emotionally complex lives than we assume.

This is heartbreaking; this squirrel just lost his friend, who was hit by a car on the road. But this squirrel won’t let the crows have him just yet. He is reacting in grief for the loss of his friend. We usually think this kind of mourning as an exclusively human quality. It’s easy to assume that because animals look so different from us, or because they can’t speak our languages, that they don’t feel the same emotions.

But let this squirrel prove that old mythology wrong. Maybe if we can all start realizing that animals are as emotionally complex as we are, then we would take more seriously the times when human activity effects their lives.

Judge for yourself. I have to say, though, that I once saw a squirrel dragging the body of a dead squirrel across the quad. At first I thought it just intended to eat the carcass, but I don’t think squirrels are that carnivorous. Maybe it was also being empathic in a way.

h/t: Jim E.

Sam Harris refuses to osculate the rump of Islam

As ISIS slaughters and beheads its way through the Middle East, the apologists for Islam are making their usual excuses: ISIS isn’t expressing “true Islam,” or, if it is, “the West brought it on through colonialism,” and so on.  I won’t have that, and, of course, neither will Sam. Unless you are so blinded by what ISIS declares as its motives, or are so contemptuous of the West that any reaction by Muslims can be blamed on colonialism, or are such a reverse bigot that you think that jihadis must be excused for their violent reactions, then you must conclude that ISIS is motivated by one thing: religion—the desire to establish an Islamic caliphate and wipe out the infidels. If it’s all due to the West, why are they killing mostly Muslims or those of other faiths who weren’t “colonialists”? It’s maddening to hear the likes of Glenn Greenwald and others excuse Islamic rage. They are as blind to the truth as are creationists. It distresses me that you can be just as blinkered by soft-brained liberalism as you can by religion.

But I digress, because I want Sam Harris to do the talking. On his website essay for today, “Sleepwalking toward Armageddon,” Sam goes after the Islamist apologists: not those who say ISIS is okay, but those who say that it’s not really Islam, or it’s not really motivated by faith. I didn’t realize that Obama said that last night, as I didn’t hear his talk (I didn’t want to), but Sam did. In his piece he goes after Obama’s mealymouthed attitude towards ISIS—meant, of course, to avoid upsetting the rest of the Muslim world.

A few snippets:

In his speech responding to the horrific murder of journalist James Foley by a British jihadist, President Obama delivered the following rebuke (using an alternate name for ISIS):

“ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt…. we will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. May God bless and keep Jim’s memory. And may God bless the United States of America.”

We’ve already covered that one here.  But the President said more last night (italics):

In his subsequent remarks outlining a strategy to defeat ISIS, the President declared:

“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim…. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way…. May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

Sam’s reaction, on the money:

As an atheist, I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away—either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.”

. . . But a belief in martyrdom, a hatred of infidels, and a commitment to violent jihad are not fringe phenomena in the Muslim world. These preoccupations are supported by the Koran and numerous hadith. That is why the popular Saudi cleric Mohammad Al-Areefi sounds like the ISIS army chaplain. The man has 9.5 million followers on Twitter (twice as many as Pope Francis has). If you can find an important distinction between the faith he preaches and that which motivates the savagery of ISIS, you should probably consult a neurologist.

Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces. But the task isn’t as simple as discrediting the false doctrines of Muslim “extremists,” because most of their views are not false by the light of scripture. A hatred of infidels is arguably the central message of the Koran. The reality of martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity. It is not an accident that millions of Muslims recite the shahadah or make pilgrimage to Mecca. Neither is it an accident that horrific footage of infidels and apostates being decapitated has become a popular form of pornography throughout the Muslim world. Each of these practices, including this ghastly method of murder, find explicit support in scripture.

And the most telling part is Harris’s indictment of Westerners, often academics, who excuse this stuff, or blame it on “other factors”:

But there is now a large industry of obfuscation designed to protect Muslims from having to grapple with these truths. Our humanities and social science departments are filled with scholars and pseudo-scholars deemed to be experts in terrorism, religion, Islamic jurisprudence, anthropology, political science, and other diverse fields, who claim that where Muslim intolerance and violence are concerned, nothing is ever what it seems. Above all, these experts claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations. What are their real motivations? Insert here the most abject hopes and projections of secular liberalism: How would you feel if Western imperialists and their mapmakers had divided your lands, stolen your oil, and humiliated your proud culture? Devout Muslims merely want what everyone wants—political and economic security, a piece of land to call home, good schools for their children, a little leisure to enjoy the company of friends. Unfortunately, most of my fellow liberals appear to believe this. In fact, to not accept this obscurantism as a deep insight into human nature and immediately avert one’s eyes from the teachings of Islam is considered a form of bigotry.

Note how his passion is, as always, expressed in great prose.

As I told one of these apologists, a Chicago colleague who blamed Muslim killings (mostly of Muslims, of course) as a natural reaction to Western colonialism, “What would they have to say to convince you that it really was religion that motivated them?”

That last paragraph is pure truth, and I have nothing but contempt for those who tie themselves in intellectual knots to blame anything but religion for the evils it causes. Like Sam, I hasten to add that not all Muslims are killers or oppressors of women, but must I keep saying that? When a Christian, motivated by the view that blastocysts of Homo sapiens are equivalent to adults, kills an abortion doctor, must we always tack on the caveat, “But of course not all Christians are like that.”? Of course they’re not. But there are many Muslims who share the ideals of ISIS and celebrate their barbarity.

Sam has some solutions to the problem (difficult ones, of course), but before we can even begin to solve the problems wrought by groups like ISIS, we must honestly admit to ourselves what is motivating them.

Critically endangered bat found—on a Florida golf course!

I love bats, yet because they’re nocturnal we see them far too rarely. The order Chiroptera, containing the bats, is the second most species-rich of all of the mammalian orders, with about 1240 species. Only the rodents (Rodentia) is more numerous, with about 2270 species.

At any rate, although there are many species, the ones in North America are endangered by white-nose disease, a fungal growth that has a mortality rate up to 90%. Other bats are simply rare. One of them is the Florida bonneted bat, (Eumops floridanus), which appears to have a population of only about 500. It is listed as “critically endangered,” which I think is the most critical status a species can have in the U.S.

As the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission notes:

Florida bonneted bats are thought to be exceedingly rare. Only a handful of  bonneted bat nursery roosts have been documented and none are in natural habitat  (i.e. all are in bat houses).

The Florida bonneted bat faces many threats to its population. The species’ small range leaves the population vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes since the impact could occur throughout its entire range. Diseases such as White Nose-Syndrome may be a threat to the bonneted bat population, although to date the disease is only known to impact cave-hibernating species. The loss of habitat, including natural roost sites, threatens the population. Pesticide use could also threaten the bonneted bat population by affecting their food source, although it has not been proven (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2008).

And, like all bats, they’re adorable: here’s one. Don’t you just want to give it a belly rub?


Photo: Joel Sartore/Getty Images

Here’s their distribution:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.24.46 AM

According to an article in Takepart published two days ago,”The world’s rarest bat is discovered living on a golf course in Miami,” a new group has been located near a golf course, though we don’t know where they roost:

Only an estimated 500 of the bonneted bats are left—no one knows for sure how many—and they are scattered around six South Florida counties. The small and high-flying bats have long eluded biologists’ attempts to capture them or even discover where they roost. Then one evening recently, Kirsten Bohn, a Florida International University bat biologist, was standing on her balcony in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables when she heard the distinctive call of Eumops floridanus. She used a high-speed recorder to capture the sound and make a positive identification of the species.

It’s not the first time the bats have come to the big city. An injured and pregnant bat, for instance, was found in Coral Gables in 1988, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which listed the Florida bonneted bat as endangered last year.

“One individual recently reported that a single Florida bonneted bat had come down the chimney and into his residence in Coral Gables in the fall about five years ago,” the FWS stated in its listing decision. Over the years, people occasionally recorded the bats flying near two Coral Gables golf courses but never found where they roosted.

“This is the same location they were recorded years ago but no one knew if they were still there until I moved here and started hearing them in my backyard,” Bohn said in an email on Tuesday.

The biologist started organizing a brigade of citizen scientists to fan out across Miami as the sun set to search for the bonneted bat and listen for its call. Members of the Miami Bat Squad—yes, they have a Facebook page—can download bat sounds on their iPhone to help identify the critters.

“As of yet, we haven’t located a roost site but we have added multiple new locations, never known before, where they have been observed around Miami,” said Bohn. “In fact, tonight volunteers are meeting at a location that may have a roost site to help observe at dusk where bats come out.”

Here is one being rehabilitated before release, and nomming a grubworm.

We all need to love bats more.  Although they’re often cited for their abilities to control insects (conservation all too often depends on the usefulness of a species to humans), they’re just marvelous animals: the only flying mammal; and we know very little about their evolution.

And, on another encouraging note, a snail in the Seychelles once thought extinct has been found—though only 7 individuals were seen. To read about that, and other “Lazarus” species once thought extinct but recently found alive, go to this piece in the Global Post


The Aldabra banded snail, back from the dead. See for more information

h/t: Matthew Cobb, Barry

Pennsylvania teenager faces jail time for “desecrating a venerated object”

Blasphemy in the U.S.???

Reader jsp called my attention to what seems a gross inequity in punishment, something that shouldn’t be happening in America. A teenager photographed himself in a compromising position with the statue of Jesus on a church lawn.  I’ve seen dozens of such pictures, and not just with Jesus, but it was the Jesus bit that got him in trouble. First, the picture and then the story, both from KRON 4 News in San Francisco:


EVERETT, Pennsylvania (KRON) — A Pennsylvania teenager is facing criminal charges after posting pictures to Facebook of him simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus.

The young man posted that he took the pictures in late July at the statue of a kneeling Jesus in front of the “Love in the Name of Christ” Christian organization in his hometown of Everett.

The criminal charge, which will be heard in family court, consists of “Desecration of a Venerated Object.”

Pennsylvania law defines desecration as “Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise, physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”

The teen, whose name has not been released, could face up to two years in a juvenile jail if convicted.

For crying out loud, what is that law doing on the books? “Venerated object?”, really? Let’s see them try to convict somebody for burning a Bible or the Qur’an under that law. While what the kid is doing doesn’t really qualify as “free speech,” the most it could be is trespassing, and he should just have been let off with a warning. Now he’s going to court and could go to jail (I predict he won’t).

But that law is unconstitutional. For instance, I suppose I could say that I venerate Hitchens’s book God is Not Great.  If somebody damages it, could I take them to court? If I couldn’t because “venerated objects” apply only to religious objects, then that’s a violation of the Constitution.

This is America, not Saudi Arabia. Religion gets no pass. There is no damage here, and maybe a bit of trespassing, but desecration? Give me a break.

Because the piece was published in San Francisco, you can guess what the comments are like. Here are two:

Screen shot 2014-09-10 at 4.27.16 PM

Readers’ wildlife photos

If you have some wildlife photos, send ‘em in, as the queue is getting uncomfortably small. But, as I always say, publishing them is at my discretion, as I hate disappointing people. So make sure they’re good ones!

Reader Ray sent some unusual photos: domesticated reindeer. They were taken in Ivalo, which is in Lapland (Finland):

Taken by me, August 2012, near Ivalo above the Arctic Circle. At the reindeer farm, a Sami reindeer farmer beat a tree with a stick, and they came running from all over. They ate from our hands and you will see that they are quite small. Both male and female have antlers, unlike other deer, and the antlers always have a forward pointing`prong’ (I forget the technical term.) Most Christmas cards that  purport to show reindeer from Lapland get them all wrong.

They are indeed smaller than I imagined; and I’d love to see the herds. I also didn’t know that reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are the same species we call “caribou” in North America, though that species is geographically variable in size and other morphological traits. Finally, I didn’t now they had a central, forward-pointing prong!



Regular Stephen Barnard from Idaho sent an amazing series of photos showing an interaction between Buteo swainsoni and B. jamaicensis:

Swainson’s and Red-tailed hawks in a dogfight high over my fields. The Swainson’s (with the darker  breast) seems to have the upper hand. There was a third hawk taking place in the acrobatics — a Red-tailed, I think.




Finally, reader pyers sent us a photo absolutely emblamatic of England:

Mute swans (Cygnus olor) on the River Severn at Worcester. Nothing very special (we in England have few animals that can equal the spectacular ones that you have highlighted)  but just an attractive sight ….

Indeed. If I saw that I’d immediately repair to the nearest pub to have a pint or three. Do they still have Landlord over there?


Chicago: sunset

Heavy afternoon showers yesterday finally cleared up by evening, and there was some sun on the skyscrapers.
Storm abating:


Storm lifts:



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