Sola fide made easy

by Grania

Here’s a little bit of illustrated theology to round out the day, the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, not deeds. You can read more about sole fide here (but alas there aren’t many funny pictures on the page).



Jerry also wrote about its inherent lack of morality here a few weeks ago.

The wonderful world of ant mimics: photos by Alex Wild

Should I have called this post: “You won’t believe these animals that look like ants!”?

I won’t reiterate the many reasons why I love mimics, and why every evolutionary biologist (or even admirer of nature) should, too. Just go over to photographer/entomologist Alex Wild‘s lovely “ant mimic” page to see the diversity of taxa that have evolved to mimic pismires.  Here are a few of the mimics; now guess the group to which the mimic belongs. Put your guess below. (No prize this time. .)

These are copyrighted and are reproduced with permission; please do not reproduce further without asking Alex here.










6. Some of these are real ants; others are not. What are the non-ants?


Go see several others at Alex’s site. This is what we in the trade call “convergent evolution,” but of course the selective pressures to evolve resemblance to an ant can be very diverse.

School reportedly bans Wonder Woman lunchboxes as being “too violent”

Well, let’s take this report with a grain of salt for the time being, although it’s been reported by several venues. I learned about it when a reader sent this tw**t from philosopher/writer/friend Russell Blackford:

Screen shot 2015-08-27 at 4.40.51 AM

Okay, if that indeed true, it’s one of the worst examples of Coddling Our Students I’ve seen. The photo and Russell’s link goes to a piece by Johnny McNulty on SomeLife, who in turn apparently got it (and the photos) from a post originally put on reddit:

Here’s the offensive lunchbox (click on photo to go to the original page):

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So a girl (neither her and the school are identified) went to school with that lunchbox, and reportedly came home with this letter (note: the fact that both parents are addressed by first name raises a bit of doubt in my mind):


Yes, that’s certainly a violent lunchbox—NOT!

The Mary Sue explains why the school is dead wrong about Wonder Woman:

But this lunchbox has a picture of Wonder Woman’s face on one side, and on the other a full-body picture of her flying while extolling her beauty and wisdom. Two very non-violent qualities. What’s more, she’s holding her Lasso of Truth, which she never uses as a weapon.

However, even more nonsensical is their blanket ban on “violent characters” who “solve problems using violence,” when anyone who’s ever actually picked up a comic book knows that most superheroes 1) turn to violence as a last resort, and usually in self-defense, or when the lives of others are in danger, 2) don’t want to kill anyone, and 3) often have other skills that make them so “super” and are worth looking up to (Batman’s power of deduction, Superman’s belief in humanity, Wonder Woman’s love of peace).

It’s sad to me that, whenever children are concerned, rather than actually engaging with the material – or with the children themselves – when determining what’s best for them or not, adults in positions of power too often take the easy way out, creating blanket bans rather than respecting children enough to deal in ideas and provide them with context.

I guess Superman and Batman are out, too. Stay tuned for the continuing story of the bowdlerization of American schools, and the dumbing down of both students and faculty.

“Pray to Play”: Jesus-loving coaches and the pervasive religiosity of American college football

I’ve posted from time to time about the growing incursion of religion into American sports: especially football. And it’s often an illegal incursion, for in public universities and high schools, it’s a violation of the First Amendment—the one mandating separation of church and state—for a coach to enforce religion on his/her players, or to act in an official capacity to advance a religion.

And, as shown by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in a new report, “Pray to Play,” that’s exactly what many public universities are doing. Most of the offending schools are, of course, in the South, where the Venn diagram of religion and sports has substantial overlap, especially for football. Not only do coaches conduct prayer sessions with athletes, but universities regularly violate the law by hiring chaplains for their football teams and giving the “chaplains”, their families, and their wives substantial benefits (including free season tickets and travel), all funded by the taxpayers.

The FFRF’s document is long (35 pages) but fascinating—and absolutely damning. It has extensive documentation, and paints a dire picture of how respected major universities regularly flout the law, permitting coaches to impose their faith (always Christianity) on the players. In fact, some coaches view their main job as bringing players to Jesus, with football itself a secondary aim. Further, although only 44% of players are Christians (and thus the proselytizing is divisive for teams), 100% of all chaplains sussed out by the FFRF are Christians. The FFRF also found several examples of non-Christian athletes (both Muslims and nonbelievers) who felt excluded or offended by the endless prayers and pressure to go to church. Such participation isn’t really optional, because coaches determine not only who gets to play, but how recruiters for professional football interact with their students. This pressure forces students to conform.

The pdf of the FFRF report is here, the two-page executive summary is here, and the press release is here. Kudos to FFRF lawyers and law clerks Andrew Seidel, Patrick Elliott, Neal Fitzgerald, and Chris Line, who worked a year on this report. Before I put up a list of their conclusions, let me add two things.

The FFRF requested records from 18 public universities about the involvement of religion in football (these are mostly southern schools, but include the Universities of Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois, as well as Oregon State). They got almost no response despite the fact that universities MUST respond. Auburn is still holding on to the FFRF’s $500 check to pay for getting records, but hasn’t provided any. That’s reprehensible.

Second, the FFRF’s proposal is also constructive: it gives, at the end, a one-page “model policy” (p. 23 of the full report) that sets out Constitutional guidelines to public universities on how to deal with religion in sports. (Private universities, of course, are exempt from First Amendment requirements about not putting religion into sports.)

Here are the main points lifted from the report:

Research for this report was conducted over the past year and included inspecting hundreds of pages of university records. The report examines:

1. The unique position student athletes occupy and their susceptibility to religious coercion by coaches and chaplains.

2. The extensive public financing of these chaplaincies, including direct payments to chaplains, paying for the chaplain and his family to travel, and using the university’s influence and resources to fundraise for the chaplains’ religious organizations.

3. Schools portraying chaplains as legitimate, official members of the coaching staff.

4. The use of religion and chaplains in recruiting players, often to skirt NCAA rules.

5. The recent history of chaplaincies, most of which can be traced to Bobby Bowden, Tommy Tuberville, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

6. The true purpose and actual effect of the chaplaincies, which is to promote the coach’s personal religion and to convert athletes to that religion.

7. The legal problems these issues raise for universities.

8. A model policy for public universities to adopt and a discussion of the misconception at the heart of this issue: that religion, and specifically Christianity, is required to be a complete or good human being.

Below are a few blatant examples of church-state violations taken from the full report.

First, we have a Clemson player being baptized in his uniform, surrounded by the team, on the 50-yard line of the school’s football field! (Clemson is a public university in Clemson, South Carolina, and its team is called the “Tigers”). The FFRF notes:

Clemson University went so far as turning its football field into a baptismal font. Former Tiger DeAndre Hopkins was baptized on the 50-yard line of the Clemson practice field, in football pads, surrounded by teammates and coaches, by local pastor Perry Noble. Noble also baptized Sammy Watkins at his church, NewSpring [sic] Church, the church head coach Dabo Swinney attends. Incidentally, Noble believes that “[w]e’ve bought into the lie that there’s a line between the secular and the spiritual. Jesus is Lord of ALL. And that means ALL.”

Jeff Scott, a university (and therefore a state) employee, is a co-offensive coordinator for the team’s wide receivers; and he tweeted this:

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 7.34.34 AM

Oy vey! Hopkins gets DUNKED on the field !

It gets far worse. Auburn University in Alabama is also a public school, and yet “Rev. Chette Williams” is listed on the football team’s website as “Team chaplain.” It’s illegal, of course, to even have a team chaplain.

RevChetteWilliamsasofficialmemberofteamThe FFRF report shows, as noted above, that many of these chaplains (all Christians) are paid with taxpayers’ money, and get to travel with the team and get free lodgings, food, seasons tickets, and sideline passes, also on the public dime. Their wives and children often get these paid perks, too! The amount subsidized by citizens runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Below are two videos that Andrew Seidel sent me showing the (unconstitutional) chaplain of the University of South Carolina’s (USC’s) football team (the “Gamecocks”) engaging in illegal activity—using his official state position to advance religion. Seidel’s notes:

Gamecock Football team Chaplain Adrian Despres is joined by Gamecock football players Marcus Lattimore, Nick Jones, Dylan Thompson, and Brandon Davis, as they share their personal testimonies of Faith at the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, SC. What an inspiring and fun-filled evening of worship, testimony, and evangelism.

Two things I’ll briefly point out.

(1) He gave a series of sermons to the team called “The Christian Man Laws” to teach them “to stop being sissies for Christ.”

Here’s the video:

(2) He claims to have debated the “top evolutionists” in the country.  I think it was actually a couple of high school teachers, but haven’t been able to confirm anything.

I haven’t confirmed those debates, either, so I suspect Chaplain Despres is lying. At the very least, he’s certainly NOT debated the “top evolutionists” in the country, for I’d know about that, and Googling reveals no debates at all. I, however, hereby offer to debate Chaplain Despres about evolution, violating my policy not to do it! Here’s the video, with the creationism coming right at the start, and Despres spews all the familiar creationist tropes. How embarrassing this must be to the more rational people at USC!

Now I wonder if the Department of Biological Sciences at USC knows that their official football chaplain is preaching creationism at church, and probably also to his players as well. Perhaps I’ll let them know.

Readers’ wildlife photographs

I was tempted to call this, á la BuzzFeed, “You won’t believe these bird photographs!”, but refrained.  They’re pictures of pied-billed grebes taken by Pete Moulton of Arizona, who wanted me to add that he’d be glad to answer readers’ questions in the comments.

I wanted to emphasize Pete’s offer because nearly everyone who sends me pictures looks at them when I post them, and also reads the comments. I also inform contributors when their photos are posted, which makes their participation easier. So always feel free to query the photographer!

Pete sent some great photos of adults and (adorable) chicks of the Pied-billed GrebePodilymbus podiceps, a bird widely distributed through the Americas (see range map below).

Pete’s notes:

Here are a few of my shots of this year’s Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps nesting season on my home patch at Papago Park in Phoenix. Birds in urban areas are under enough pressure as it is, but they’re especially vulnerable during their breeding season, so some of these images were made at considerable distances and then heavily cropped.
First, one of the nesting adults resting and casually preening on the day the eggs began to hatch (4 July). I included this one to show a foot, because grebes have interesting feet. Their toes aren’t webbed, as you might expect in birds which spend nearly all their time on the water, but rather have large, leathery lobes along the sides which serve the same purpose as webs.

PBGRa_7-4-15_Papago Pk_5047 copy

JAC: Here’s a photo of the weird foot taken from BenWeb 3.2:


The youngsters began to appear later that day, after I’d left, but I made a point of visiting the next day. Sad to say, I had another responsibility earlier, and didn’t arrive until late enough that the sun was fairly high, and the light rather harsh. The chicks are precocial, hatching with a coat of down and capable of swimming within minutes of hatching. This pair of adults hatched four young, of which this is one.

PBGR_7-5-15_Papago Pk_5136

The youngsters are constantly hungry, and this chick is calling for a parent to please bring some breakfast.
PBGR_7-5-15_Papago Pk_5226

The parents are most attentive, and here comes one now with a choice morsel. The food is a crayfish, not native to Arizona, but much relished by both birds and fish. My understanding is that these ponds were once part of Arizona’s fisheries system, and that the crayfish were intentionally introduced as food for the gamefish. Now the ponds are part of the Phoenix urban fishing program, and the crayfish are still present in high numbers.

PBGR_7-5-15_Papago Pk_5273

The adults typically remove the claws and most of the crayfish’s legs before handing the tail to one of the chicks.
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By now, the youngsters have fledged. They have their first coat of contour feathers, and all the flight feathers are fully grown. They’re diving and foraging independently, though they still associate with the adults on occasion. It won’t be long before the adults drive them away to take up their own lives on other ponds. They’ll undergo a preformative molt in the next few weeks, and the head striping will disappear, to be replaced with plumage indistinguishable from the basic-plumage adults.

PBGR_8-2-15_Papago Pk_6691

The range map from the Cornell site:


Songs the Beatles never recorded but were hits for others

It’s not widely known, except perhaps among Beatlephiles, that Lennon and McCartney wrote several songs they never recorded, with several of them becoming huge hits for other groups.

Here, for example, is a song that readers of a certain age will remember: “Bad to Me” by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Written by John Lennon, it was released by Kramer’s group in 1963 in the UK and went to #1; the following year it was released in the U.S. and went to #9. When I heard it on the radio the other day, I thought to myself, “That sounds just like a Beatles song. In fact, the arrangement is exactly like a Beatles song.” (I knew of this song, of course, as I was 14 when it was a hit.) Sure enough, I checked and was right.  Listen for yourself; this could easily have been the Beatles in the early Sixties:

The video below claims to be a demo by Lennon and the Beatles, and it sure sounds like it. I’m not sure exactly why Lennon and McCartney handed off this song to others; it’s perfectly in line, qualitywise, with what they were recording at the time. Note that there’s a slight difference from Kramer’s version in the melody.

Another Beatles discard that became a hit was “A World Without Love“, written by Paul McCartney and recorded by Peter and Gorden. It went to #1 in both the US and UK in 1964.

The Beatles were immensely talented, and their discards became #1 hits for others. I know some will disagree, but the group was, without question, the greatest rock group of all time.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

It simply can’t be Thursday already, as it was Monday just yesterday, wasn’t it? If it’s truly Thursday, then I am rushing graveward faster than I’d like! Well, so be it, and, in Dobrzyn, Hili seems to have become involved on social media, and also displays her catrobatic skills:

A: What’s up there?
Hili: A tweet.


In Polish:
Ja: Co tam jest?
Hili: Tweet.

Ariana Huffington asked for free help from a seasoned journalist. You won’t believe what happened next!

Well, yes you will; this is predictable, and I’m just mocking PuffHo’s clickbait.

All of us who think that writing skills should be remunerated despise the Huffington Post, for it pays nothing to most of its bloggers, counting on their desire for “air time” and name exposure. HuffPo gets the advertising money, and it doesn’t give squat to most people who write for them.

That’s simply exploitation. And that’s why I’ve always refused to write for that rapacious organ. If Ariana Huffington is supposed to be a caring liberal, why does she impose no-wage-slavery on her writers?

Anyway, reader Matt informed me that Ariana, needing help on a book, had one of her minions write for advice to journalist/author Lauren Lipton. The full story is at the media website., but I’ll reproduce the exchange here:


Subject: Inquiry from Arianna Huffington’s office:

Hi Lauren,
I’m David, a Research Editor from Arianna Huffington’s office. Arianna is currently working on a book about the importance of sleep in our lives. In our research, we came across your piece on hotel beds.arianna In that article, you mentioned that: “According to a 2014 Gallup survey, more than half of guests who stay in the highest-priced properties said they would pay more for an improved bed. Among all respondents, a comfortable bed was most often named as the most important feature of a hotel room”.

We were wondering if you have access to the Gallup research you mentioned in the article? We would like to cite it in Arianna’s book.

Thank you!



Hi, David:

I know you’re just doing your job. So what I am about to say has nothing at all to do with you. It is solely for your boss, and I do hope you pass it along to her.
I have worked my entire career as a professional journalist. I have a masters degree in journalism from the USC Annenberg School and developed my skills as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and other A-list newspapers and magazines. These days you can find my byline in the New York Times, the WSJ, Allure and Town & Country, as well as numerous additional print and online publications.

I am very, very good at what I do.

Unfortunately, your boss’s predatory business practices have deeply undercut the ability of all reporters, writers and editors to make any kind of living wage. The rapacious Ms. Huffington seems to believe that journalism skills are worth nothing, and that my beleaguered colleagues and I should be thrilled to help her make hundreds of millions of dollars in return for “exposure.”

If Ms. Huffington would like to know how I uncovered that particular statistic, she is free to hire me and pay me for my time and expertise.

If she doesn’t wish to do so, she is welcome to track it down herself.


That’s right on the money. I hold PuffHo largely responsible for debasing journalism and impoverishing writers in the U.S., and it’s now extending its sticky grasp to other lands as well. Good for Lipton to tell Ariana exactly what she needs to hear!

Sadly, I’m sure it will have no effect. And there’s no chance that poor and desperate writers will boycott her thieving website. So we do know what will happen next. . .

Deep into that darkness peering: an all-black chicken (with all-black meat)

by Grania

Boing Boing ran an article a couple of weeks ago on the Ayam Cemani chicken, mostly because it is all black but also because it makes for a really expensive dish if you want to eat one. Chicks retail at $199 each and Wikipedia observes that an individual bird can go for $2500.

Here’s a hen:

Credit: Jeffrey Pamungkas, Wikipedia

And the cockerel:

Credit: Kangwira, Wikipedia

Although the eggs are white, the flesh of the bird is completely black due to a dominant allele that causes hyperpigmentation called Fibromelanosis. The genetic basis of fibromelanosis has actually been studied at Uppsala University, and they note:

[A]ll fibromelanotic breeds carried the exact same very unusual mutation….This is a nice example of how humans have distributed a single novel mutation with an interesting effect when they developed breeds of domestic animals around the world.

It appears that they originated in Java, Indonesia and have spread through Europe where there are now several varieties.

If you’re thinking of getting your own hyperpigmented chickens (there’s a farm that sells them here), be warned they are notoriously bad at hatching their own broods. It seems like a lot of money for having an Addams Family-style Gallus gallus domesticus running around in your yard, but you can eat the eggs and they will look like normal hen’s eggs and not like Nibbler-esque leavings of Dark Matter.


If you do decide to eat one at least you will be able to say to your friends tastes like chicken and get a weak grin out of it.


[JAC: I wonder how many people wouldn’t even be able to eat a black drumstick because of its off-putting appearance.]


What don’t we know?

by Matthew Cobb

Here’s a quiz you can all respond to: what are the most interesting scientific questions we don’t know the answer to?

Please comment below. Let’s skip over the obvious Big Things – why/how the Universe began, why/how Life began, what is consciousness, why the Cambrian Explosion happened – we all know those.

Think hard and and come up with simple (ish) questions that the general public would like to know the answer to, and post them in the comments. Please cover the full range of science – maths, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, anthropology, psychology etc.

My favourite? Different bird species make different-shaped nests out of different material – we have no idea how those different construction programmes are encoded in genes. I can come up with a hand-wavy explanation, but no one actually knows.

Off you go!


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