Readers’ wildlife photographs

I have a big backlog of photographs from Stephen Barnard in Idaho; these are what I have from the last two days alone. They include a wonderful pygmy rabbit, which Stephen is feeding with carrots and kale, and a newborn moose. The second photo shows Desi and Lucy’s chicks; look how fast they’ve grown! Only about two weeks ago they were ugly little fluffballs.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feeding two juveniles. It’s amazing how fast they grow.



Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) in the nest with a juvenile:


And these photos are lovely; look at that baby moose!

Newborn moose (Alces alces) following its mama. This calf was born last night or this morning [JAC: sent yesterday]:




Pygmy Rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis), and also a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight.



Great horned owlets:


Google Doodle celebrates Sally Ride

Had Sally Ride not died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, she would have been 64 today. She was of course the first American woman in space, having had two trips on the space shuttle Challenger at the age of 32. As the video at the bottom notes, she was chosen from 8,000 candidates.

The Doodle changes randomly each time you reload it (there are five of them), so you may want to click on the screenshot below, which takes you to the Doodle page, more than once.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 7.18.04 AMThe last time I posted about her I was taken to task by a reader for not mentioning that she was gay. Well, she was, and I knew that, but since she chose to not make a big deal about it, neither did I. The time will come when it won’t be necessary, when celebrating someone’s accomplishments, to mention their race, gender, or sexual orientation, and when those accomplishments won’t even involve such things. But for the meantime, she died way too young, in the middle of trying, through her foundation, to get more young people involved in science.

Here’s a video by the Doodle’s artist, Olivia Huynh, explaining how she made it:

And Sally riding the space shuttle:




The Staves

How about some music for the week? (The work week in America starts today.) A reader called my attention to this group of three sisters (last name Staveley-Taylor) from Watford, England: The Staves, who for some reason had escaped my attention. Their lovely three-part harmony reminds me of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and one of them, Camilla (avec ukelele), sometimes sounds a lot like the young Joni Mitchell. The other two are Jessica, who plays guitar, and Emily, who does vocals. Their official website is here, and their Facebook page here.

They have lots of songs on YouTube, and if you want an hour of live music, watch this video.  Meanwhile, here are two songs, including perhaps their most popular (“Blood I Bled”) and a great version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

The three-day weekend is over, and Americans will hie themselves back to work today. It will be a busy week for PCC, as I must travel to Washington D.C. tomorrow for a book event and then visit family for a day. Posting will therefore be light unless our usual crew of supplementary posters sees fit to help me out. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili, up in the trees again, spots an interloper:

Hili: I have to read up on international law.
A: Why?
Hili: An alien cat is wandering in our orchard. I don’t know whether it is legal.


In Polish:
Hili: Muszę poczytać o prawie międzynarodowym.
Ja: Dlaczego?
Hili: Jakiś obcy kot chodzi po naszym sadzie, nie wiem, czy to legalne.


Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the cats of war

Finally, for Memorial Day, Janis Row has written an article for PetPlace called “Honoring the cats of war.” Here’s just one of many stories:

In more recent times, cats and dogs have been banned from Naval vessels, but they are still valuable on land. In 2004, a tiny Egyptian Mau kitten wandered into U.S. Army headquarters in Iraq. Dubbed PFC [Private First Class] Hammer, he became a ratter, morale booster, and important stress reliever to the soldiers. When the battalion was set to ship back to Colorado, Staff Sgt. Rick Bousfield contacted Alley Cat Allies and Military Mascots for help in getting PFC Hammer back to the States. PFC Hammer was vetted and quarantined before traveling to Colorado Springs, where he took up permanent residence with Staff Sgt. Bousfield. When Hammer was being carried to Bousfield, he heard Rick’s voice and began purring and kneading the arm of the transporter. As it turns out, he remembered his Army buddy after all.

USA Today adds this:

When Bousfield found out his unit was leaving Iraq in March, he decided he couldn’t leave a member of his team behind.

“He has been through mortar attacks,” said Bousfield, a 19-year Army veteran. “He’d jump and get scared liked the rest of us. He is kind of like one of our own.”

Pfc. Hammer got his name from the unit that adopted him, Team Hammer. Soldiers would tuck Hammer in their body armor during artillery attacks, and in return, Hammer chased mice in the mess hall.

“He was a stress therapist,” Bousfield said. “The guys would come back in tired and stressed. Hammer would come back and bug the heck out of you. He wiped away some worries.”

The kitten earned his rank after nabbing five mice.

The U.S. Defense Department has a whole page on PFC Hammer, and here he is:


h/t: Larry

The Irish came home to vote

As Grania reported on Saturday from Ireland, nearly 50,000 Irish came home to vote for the gay marriage referendum (no absentee ballots can be used in such a case, for the number of expatriate Irish is huge). And of course it passed by a huge margin—some good news at a time when everything else seems dire.

To prolong the joy, go to theslicedpan and have a look at the tw**ts (on #HomeToVote) from the many expatriate Irish who came home, often from huge distances, just to cast a vote.  It’ll put a spring in your step.

Here are a few of my favorites:

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My podcast on Freethought Radio with Annie Laurie and Dan

It’s always a great pleasure to chat with Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-Presidents of an organization I much admire: the Freedom From Religion Foundation. About ten days ago I did an interview with them on Freethought Radio about my new book, an interview described here:

Faith vs. Fact
Jerry Coyne

On the first half of the show, we talk with evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne (author of the best seller Why Evolution is True) about his new book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. Then we hear excerpts of Chris Johnson’s new film, A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy & Meaning in a World Without God.

It was broadcast on Friday, and was posted last night. You can get free access to the podcast, which also includes a chat with Chris Johnson (whose new film I’ll see very soon), at this site (either direct access or via iTunes).

Membership in the FFRF is only $40 per year, and it’s money very well spent; you can join (or donate) here.

h/t: jsp

An atheist on Al-Jazeera explains why we should stop criticizing theism and go after capitalism

There’s nothing like those atheists who tell other atheists that we’re DOING IT RONG.  We should either shut up, cozy up to the faithful, read more Sophisticated Theology™, or, in the case of Chase Madar, a New York attorney writing in Al-Jazeera America (a venue that I find increasingly distasteful), we should give up our criticisms of God and go after those other irrational ideologies, which are clearly more harmful than religion. And by those he means these three:

  • Laissez-faire capitalism
  • The “cult of community.” After all, he says, there are some bad communities, like xenophobic religious communities. (He doesn’t mention the helpful communities, like those who gather supplies for the homeless or victims of disasters.)

Look how dreadful his discussion of community is!

If you live in the United States, you’ve most likely been exposed in some way to the cult of community (pronounced with a nasal elongation of the second syllable: com-muuu-ni-ty), that nourishing cosmic teat of the 501(c)3 firmament and even the nonnonprofit world.

What a cozy world we live in, so wall-to-wall full of communities! The Subway franchise community! The diabetes community! The Latino community! The international community! And, best of all if you’re in the nonprofit world, the funding community! Of course, this is sentimental nonsense. “Community” implies a kind of cohesiveness that is just not there in various business associations and broad categories of people who have little in common —granfalloons, in the old neologism of Kurt Vonnegut.

Brothers and sisters, let us be ecumenical in our disbelief, as religion has not cornered the market in rancid dogma.

And even when the phrase isn’t gibberish, the blessed realm of community is really no nirvana. Lynch mobs were and are a form of community justice; child molesting without legal consequence has been a feature, not a bug, of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community and many Catholic communities. Communities can be nurturing and warm, but they are also liable to be xenophobic, intolerant, suffocating.

Communal bonds are, of course, real — and there is such a thing as society — but we should at least be agnostic here and recognize that this goddess is not all Vestatending her hearth but more like Kali, the Hindus goddess who, despite a maternal streak, is known as a blood-fanged force of destruction. [JAC: TERRIBLE writing: drags in irrelevant erudition to no end at all.]

  • Air power, and by that Madar means everybody who bombs anybody else. But that’s no an ideology, it’s a tactic, which often doesn’t work but sometimes does. At any rate, it’s not at all the same as the supernatural, nor is it a belief based on faith alone.

To go to his article, click on the screenshot below:

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The article is so poorly written, and so incoherent and illogical, that I can hardly believe it got published. (Did the main get paid to write this?) And, in fact, the argument can be used against anyone. Helping the homeless in your town? You’d be better off giving money to starving children in Asia and Africa. Battling child abuse by Catholic priests? Waste of time: campaign against drones, which are far more irrational. Writing for Al-Jazeera to criticize atheists? Your time would be far better spent criticizing the oppression of women by Islam.

Here’s Madem’s stirring conclusion, ridden with snark and ill will. And notice how dreadful the writing is:

Belief in any of the above non-god gods is far more pernicious than belief in an old-fashioned god god, whose retro appeal I can often appreciate, what with Mahalia Jackson and all the stained glass. As for the list of secular idols, it could go on — education reform, the infallible wisdom of the U.S. Constitution, awareness, American exceptionalism and that creepy and narcissistic pseudo-divinity spirituality. [JAC: When in doubt, pile on the adjectives!]

Whether or not you’re, like me, an atheist, the odds are you know plenty of religiously observant people (including some clergy) whose bullshit detectors are splendidly calibrated when it comes to the more powerful irrationalities disfiguring our world. Heck, the popes in Rome, even the conservative ones, have been criticizing capitalism for ages! It would be a good thing if our atheist celebrities Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher diversified their Johnny One-Note disbelief and went looking for bigger Nobodaddies to dispel. [JAC: A common trope: breezy cuteness that actually weakens his argument.]

After all, given the choice between Maher, who espouses the apocalyptic belief that our Vietnam War was really great and noble, and the Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas, whose lucid and well-informed antiwar writing I find most enlightening, there can be no doubt of which is the more rational of the two. It’s funny how much theology remains standing even if you don’t buy the divinity stuff, buttressed as theology often is by logic, reason and experience.

How about given a choice between Maher, who espouses the doctrine that child rape by priests is unconscionable, and William Lane Craig, who claims that God’s orders to kill all the Canaanites were moral? Who would Madar go for?

That last sentence above, which I’ve put in bold, shows the intellectual vacuity of Madar’s whole approach. Criticism of people like Maher, Harris, and Dawkins has come in many forms, and from many directions, but I’ve never seen someone say that they should be directing their ire not at faith but at the Wrong Kind of Community, or at capitalism.  Has Madar never heard of the principle of comparative advantage, whereby things function better if each person does what he or she is best at?

A British judge rules that mother can’t indoctrinate son with religion

Perhaps the statement from a New Atheist that most angers believers (or faitheists) is Richard Dawkins’s characterization of religious indoctrination of children as “child abuse.”  Yes, them’s strong words, but there’s something to be said for their truth. Of course it depends on the religion, but nearly all forms of parental teaching about religion abuse the intellectual curiosity of kids by taking advantage of their natural credulity. If you’re a Christian, you teach your kids stuff that is regarded by Muslims as not only false, but worthy of death. If you’re a Christian Scientist, you teach them to reject scientific medicine, a decision that can ultimately harm or even kill them. Further, religions can instill in children horrible feelings of guilt (ask an ex-Catholic), fear of hell, and a moral code that is bigoted, irrational, and hateful.

I don’t know how to remedy this problem, because clearly the state doesn’t want to interfere with what parents tell their children. But it did in one case, and rightly so.

A comment by reader Matthew Jenkins called my attention to an article in Saturday’s Telegraph about a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) mother who was filling her 7-year-old kid with hatred of his father, who was separated from mom but shared custody of the child.  Apparently the mother’s indoctrination was so strong that the child simply didn’t want to have anything to do with his father:

The child, who teachers described as “troubled, angry and confused”, rejected his own father because he said he “could not be with people who didn’t believe in Jehovah”.

He appeared fixated with the idea that his father, who is separated from his mother but had shared parental responsibilities, would not be “going to Paradise” and told adults he “did not want to go to Daddy’s because he was not a Jehovah”.

Staff at his school became alarmed when he cut up teaching materials in RE class because he could not bear learning about mainstream Christianity.

One child psychologist who spoke to him for the proceedings reported how he would react physically even at mentions of the idea that Jesus died on a cross or references to the Bible.

Teachers said he also rejected other children, had only a small friendship circle and described him as “one of the most worrying children in our school”.

Well, this is an extreme case, of course, but it’s the first one I’ve heard of in which a mother’s “right” to brainwash her child was abrogated. Initially the judge made the mother sign a legal promise that she wouldn’t “talk to her son about her religion, take him to church or even say grace at meals”, all in an attempt to prevent her from alienating the son from his father.

It didn’t work. Though the mother signed the document, she began wheedling the judge to allow her to take the kid to the JW church and to let him pray at mealtimes. The judge, fed up, placed the children in foster care. Now I’m not sure this is the right decision (couldn’t the kid be placed with the father?), but at least it recognizes the invidious results that can come from child brainwashing.

Truly enlightened parents either tell kids to investigate different religions on their own, or help them do so without promoting one over the others. But such parents are rare.  Except in cases like the above, where the insidious consequences of brainwashing become clear, I suppose there’s nothing we can do.

Ian McEwan extols free speech in a passionate commencement address

At last, a graduation address that says something substantive! (Check out Jeb Bush’s lame and god-toadying lucubrations at Liberty University, and Jeffrey Tayler’s analysis, that I highlighted yesterday.)

Here’s novelist Ian McEwan’s recent 15-minute commencement speech at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. He first tenders some congratulations and a teeny bit of advice, and then gets to his real topic: the value of free speech. This is a great topic for college students, far removed from the usual trite and anodyne commencement-speech bromides. McEwan’s view is similar to mine, and he brings up all the recent issues: the fatwa against Salman Rusdie, the Charlie Hebdo murders, the silencing of Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis University, the widespread failure to criticize Islamic extremists. This address must have shocked the students—if they were listening. But you should listen, for it’s a Professor Ceiling Cat Recommendation™:

Dickinson has thoughtfully provide a full transcript at this site.

The speech was highlighted by—and once again we must share our bed with conservatives—the National Review, which says this:

McEwan criticized the cowardly behavior of six writers who withdrew from the PEN American Center’s annual gala over their discomfort with the organization’s support for Charlie Hebdo. He argued that the time to “remember your Voltaire” is precisely when confronted with scathing speech that “might not be to your taste” and said he was disappointed that “so many authors could not stand with courageous fellow writers and artists at a time of tragedy.”

. . . A window into the audience’s discomfort with McEwan’s message can be seen in the fact that the first applause came nearly eleven and a half minutes into the 15-minute speech after a reference to recent deaths of unarmed black men in police custody and grinding poverty — what McEwan called the “ultimate sanction against free expression.” His condemnation of the massacre of twelve cartoonists in their Paris offices by contrast drew near silence.


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